by Thom Yee
So four important things are happening this week here in Edmonton, Canada. First, it’s time to get out and vote in the Canadian federal election on Monday, second, the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer also debuts on Monday (an event that’s important for the world), third, it’s Back to the Future day on Wednesday (and, lest we forget, Michael J. Fox was born here in Edmonton), and fourth, this week we can talk about one of if not the best episodes of The Walking Dead. Guess which one of those four things I’m probably going to skip. Hint: you’re reading about the last one right now, the second can be watched from home in less than five minutes while lying on the couch, and the third is one of my favourite movies of all time. Oh, and spoilers, “JSS” is one of if not the best episodes of The Walking Dead ever, ever.
Last week, Ethan Embry’s Carter died just after Rick gained his trust in one of the show’s more horrific deaths and in the midst of one of the show’s more ambitious action sequences, and this week a bunch of other people we don’t care about and hadn’t met before also abruptly die with terror in their hearts. This time, though, it’s for not listening to Rick. “JSS” is basically a siege episode as the Wolves infiltrate Alexandria while most of Rick and co.’s more outwardly offensive threats are busy herding the walkers of Zombie Gulch away from the former Safe-Zone, and it’s a blood bath in the stabby-stabby, slashy-slashy, choppy-uppy, murdering innocents vein. Even after a show featuring them, however, the Wolves are still very much a mystery, a group whose motivations remain unclear, and the only thing we really learn about them in “JSS” is that, beyond a predilection for killing and taking delight in violence, they really like to play around with the dead, with many of the Wolves literally sitting atop their victims and just chop-chop-chopping away at their long-dead bodies.
From these act, we can perhaps infer some characteristics about the group, chiefly that they’re nuts, but that there might be an intentionality behind the nuttiness that hints at a greater game being played beyond the seemingly random strike. The haphazard nature of the attack was a little disappointing in that it underplays the group’s potential threat — particularly because it seemed that a greater plan was being hatched and the Wolves were specifically striking at Alexandria at their most vulnerable when the horn sounded at the end of last episode — but it’s possible to look at the events of “JSS” as a mere first strike in what may be a long, bloody war.
It’s also possible to throw all of the headier, more contemplative aspects of “JSS” aside and appreciate the episode for what it is: a crazy, nutty, action-packed episode of a show about the post-zombie apocalypse that you could show to someone who’s never seen The Walking Dead that would probably make them instant fans. This is the first time the show has engaged in all-out urban warfare, and even though death is always sort of serious in The Walking Dead, here it’s so fast and loose and kind of hilarious that it makes for one of the most exciting and most fun episodes in series’ history. Between the ill-identified members of Hershel’s family that we really never got to know back at the farm and the ill-identified people of Woodbury Rick and co. alternately killed and then took in that we really never got to know back at the prison, we’ve been witness to more than a few cannon-fodder-dispatching moments in the show, but never before has the show allowed itself to play with this level of violence almost purely for entertainment value. We’ve got undercover, Assassin’s-Creed Carol sneaking around, stealth-killing everyone she can, Captain Morgan showing us how to use a bo staff like a ninja, and even Carl gets to save a few lives with a gun that was bigger than him.
Like I said in my review of last week’s episode, The Walking Dead’s strong suit has never been subtlety, and this is an episode that revels in that lack of subtlety. It’s easy to be a fan of Carol in this episode for her canny, survivor’s-instinct saving the day, but right now I’m probably an even bigger fan of Morgan, not for his actions but for his belief that all life is precious. It’s a hard attitude to defend —especially when you see him letting large groups of defeated bad guys escape, and especially when you recognize that two of the Wolves we meet in “JSS” were left alive by Morgan in last season’s finale only for them to come back and kill a bunch of innocent Alexandrianites — but, unlike bleeding hearts like Tyreese, Morgan carries himself with a certain honourable, zen-like authority that it’s hard not to believe in him. He kind of reminds me of that scene at the end of Pulp Fiction when Samuel L. Jackson lets the restaurant robbers get away:
Now all of this effusion isn’t to say that it was a perfect episode OF The Walking Dead. Building up the divide between Morgan’s side and Rick and Carol’s is still a presentation of two binaries, where one side means letting your enemies go and even arming them on their way out, and the other means killing everyone even if it would’ve been more tactically sound to leave one or two alive to gather information. That may be the case with many dramas of this ilk, but it’s still frustrating to see. Still, for all of its violence, for all of its death and destruction, and especially for that one crazy, absurd moment when that woman, outside taking a smoke, gets slashed to death out of nowhere, it was a perfect episode FOR The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead — “JSS” final score:
Items of Note
- That poor turtle.
- So Father Gabriel’s character arc is to prove that religion is wrong, right? Or at least Christianity?
- Ron needs a haircut, what about Carl?
- Merritt Wever!
- The return of Aaron! And it’s his fault!
- Tara still sucks! “Help her! Help her! Surgery’s not that hard!” Just shut up.
- Enid: “That’s how we were able to—”
- That was a pretty sturdy table! When was the last time you saw a fully grown man thrown onto a wooden coffee table and its legs don’t give out?
- It would have made no sense, but I still couldn’t help but be disappointed that ‘JSS’ had nothing to do with the Justice Society.