Review: ‘The Walking Dead’ gets to killing in its best episode in a long time

Senior Television Writer
03.06.16 100 Comments

A review of tonight's The Walking Dead coming up just as soon as I enjoy some beet and acorn cookies…

Last week, I expressed some concern that Rick's group going to war with the Saviors would play like a rehash of the feud with the Governor, or at least their rumble with the Terminus cannibals. We may still get there, since Negan has yet to appear, and since the surviving Saviors have apparently taken Maggie and Carol prisoner, which could in turn lead to even more people being taken prisoner, killed, tortured, and all the other fun stuff that the series enjoys.

But that's to worry about next week. For the most part, “Not Tomorrow Yet” managed to feel not like a rehash of past conflicts, but new and unsettling territory for both Rick and the group at large. The hour wasn't perfect – Carol's flirtation with Tobin came out of nowhere, and I still have no idea how not telling Rick about Morgan's stupidity with the Wolf is a way to protect Denise – but on the whole this was the most interesting, tense, and satisfying episode of the series in a good long while.

The show has largely treated Morgan's anti-killing philosophy as the ridiculous strawman argument it is for this environment. But there's a difference between killing, or going to war, in self-defense, and pre-emptively killing people who literally don't even know you exist yet. This is a transition from being scrappy resistance fighters to being a black ops hit squad, and even if everything we've heard and seen about the Saviors suggests the world is better off without them, this is still an hour about our “heroes” plotting to murder a whole lot of people in their sleep. 

That's dark stuff, and something that “Not Tomorrow Yet” rightly treated as worthy of debate and reflection. Before the assault on the Saviors' compound, it's a very quiet episode, as everybody wrestles with the implications of the deal Maggie made, and with the question of how far they're willing to go to survive. When even Carol – long the show's toughest, most cold-blooded character – is feeling like this might just be too much killing for her, you know how extreme this is.

In particular, the stuff with Glenn and Heath was excellent. In the midst of all the dumpster-crawling stupidity back in the fall, Gimple and the rest of the creative team kept pushing out the idea on that Glenn had never killed another person, which was why Nicholas was still around to put him in that terrible position, and what would the whole near-death experience do to his innocence? None of what happened here excuses that silliness, nor does the one really tie in with the other – Nicholas or not, Glenn would have been stabbing guys in the head here – but all that creative team damage control in the fall publicly reinforced the idea of Glenn as a character with relatively clean hands, which in turn added to the impact of him finally crossing that line. That he then elected to stab the second guy in the bedroom to spare Heath from feeling what he just went through was a nice touch, and then their desperate gunfire while trapped in the Saviors' armory provided a grim punchline to the whole idea. For all the hand-wringing about having to kill another living person, when the bullets start flying and their own lives are in jeopardy, Glenn and Heath both act on instinct and kill a bunch of people all at once.

It's hard at this stage of The Walking Dead to find new ways to surprise or shock the audience. Even upping the gore factor can only do so much after six seasons. But this was something terrible the group did, even if they did it to bad people, and “Not Tomorrow Yet” wrung every last queasy drop out of the idea up to and even during the massacre. It was the kind of episode that reminded me why I keep riding this particular creative roller coaster.

Some other thoughts:

* The jaunty opening sequence, with Carol preparing the cookies (and stabbing a zombie along the way), came perilously close to seeming like an SNL parody commercial for a feminine product marketed to the women of the zombie post-apocalypse.

* The Walking Dead wiki agrees with Carol's assessment that she's killed 18 people so far. But several of those were people she didn't directly kill, like Termites who were devoured as a result of her letting zombies into their compound, and whose numbers she wouldn't count. Does Alexandra have Google? And/or might there be some people she's killed that we never saw?

* Given that The Walking Dead creative team has always sounded much less enthusiastic about a Daryl/Carol hookup than many of their fans, I wonder if this random Tobin flirtation is an attempt to get the 'shippers to stop asking. If so, I don't think they understand how 'shipping works.

* The brief pit stop at Alexandria gives Abraham the opportunity to officially end things with Rosita. If he makes it back there alive, perhaps the show can explore the logistics of a break-up in such a small, precarious community.  Are there open houses available for Abraham to move into? Does he just crash on the couch? Try to move in with Sasha straightaway if she'll have him? Though, again, that seems more like Last Man on Earth territory – or, at least, Man Seeking Woman territory.

* If Rick's group has the makeup expertise to apply convincing Gregory beards to a trio of zombie skulls, maybe Jesus should let them take a crack at his goofy fake facial hair. (And, yes, I hear that Tom Payne has since grown out a real beard, and perhaps Jesus will look less silly when we get to episodes filmed with it.) Jesus seems a more well-rounded character than Michonne was when the show introduced her, but he suffers somewhat from the same problem she did back then: a character who looks badass on the comic book page needs more than a kewl visual design to get by in the show's more three-dimensional world.

* Speaking of our long-haired savior, it was an amusing touch to have Tara confess to Father Gabriel, only to realize she was also confessing to Jesus himself.

Before we go to the comments, it's time once again to explain how this blog's No Spoiler rule applies to this show:

1. No talking about anything else you know about upcoming episodes from other sources – and, yes, that includes anything Gimple and Kirkman have said in interviews.

2. No talking about anything that's happened in the comic that hasn't happened in the TV show yet. (Or anything that's been revealed, like character backstory and motivation.) As with Game of Thrones, the goal is to treat The Walking Dead TV show as exactly that, and not as an excuse for endless comparisons with the comics. If you want to talk about the comics, feel free to start up a discussion thread on our message boards.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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