Review: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘JSS’: Wolves at the door?

A review of tonight's “The Walking Dead” coming up just as soon as I learn from a cheesemaker…

“How do you just live know that's the world?” -Spencer

“JSS” opened up with a prologue of the sort I'd like to see “Walking Dead” – a show with lots of characters, only some of whom have been properly defined – do more of: a quick, concise series of vignettes explaining how Enid's parents died and what her life was like in between their horrible deaths and her arrival in Alexandria. Nothing fancy, but it still turned her into a more well-rounded individual than most of the show's newbies (which would make it a shame if this is the last we're going to see of her). “Breaking Bad” used to do this a lot: turn the teaser into a little short film that offered a glimpse into an unknown facet of a character who had been around a while.

One of the notable choices made in that prologue was to cut away immediately before acts of violence, and to cut back almost immediately after. So we don't see Enid's parents murdered, but come back to watch her having to watch from inside the car as they're consumed by zombies, and we skip right over her killing the turtle to her eating it and using its bones to spell out the initials of her Just Survive Somehow mantra(*). It was an interesting way to show that mantra in action: she's now so desensitized to the violence, or to anything that will prevent her from moving forward, that it barely even exists as she thinks back on it.

(*) Enid's JSS vs. Matthew McConaughey's JKL: discuss. 

Or maybe the deletion of violence in the teaser was there to set us up for the Wolves' extremely violent assault on Alexandria in the main part of the episode.

We knew something had gone wrong back home when the horn went off and distracted the walkers at the end of the season premiere, and the Wolves seemed a likely candidate to be involved, given their proximity by the end of last season. Still, the way the show staged the attack was unnerving, starting with Shelly getting abruptly hacked with a machete while out for that smoke Carol had scolded her about. Peril on this show usually comes shuffling along, and here was an attack that was as savage as any herd of zombies, but much quicker, and from people who aren't quite dead yet. The gambit last season with the trailer trucks and the disco ball suggested the Wolves are organized, but they're also not too far removed from what most of humanity has turned into.

The assault wasn't all that necessary to show us that the Alexandrians were too soft, since we knew that already. But it did help convey that point to the survivors, who will be more apt to listen to Rick – assuming, that is, the rest of them don't get wiped out when the herd from the quarry shows up and knocks Reg's walls down through sheer numbers.

But even with Jessie using one of the Wolves to take out some of her aggression about the last person who attacked her inside her own home, the more interesting material involved the characters we've already known for a while, and particularly Carol and Morgan. She finally has to ditch the secret identity to play Batman and stop the Wolves, but her willingness – at times, eagerness – to kill comes into conflict with Morgan's new Shaolin monk reluctance to do the same. You can see where both are coming from – Carol (like Jessie) exploding after years of victimhood, Morgan having shot his zombified wife (but too late to save his son) and been through a long period of dark isolation – and it speaks to the larger conflict Rick is having with the Alexandrians right now. Morgan wants to avoid killing at all costs, but some people in this world just need to be dead, and the Wolves even more than a loud idiot like Carter.

Good action, good character conflict, and the show is slowly but surely working on the newbies, even if some (Aaron, Denise) quickly fit in while others (Ron, Spencer) could vanish tomorrow without the show missing them. An interesting start to season 6 so far.

Some other thoughts:

* One of the downsides to watching on screeners: No “Previously, on 'The Walking Dead'” montage, which meant no reminder that Rick had sent Morgan home early to tell Deanna and the others that their dry run had turned into the real thing. So I spent a while wondering how Morgan had gotten back so quickly when none of the other characters – let alone the rogue walker horde – were turning up.

* Hey, it's Emmy Winner Merritt Wever! A bleak show about life in the zombie apocalypse perhaps isn't the first place you'd expect to find a talented comic actress, but she also has dramatic chops. And with Eugene, Carol, and others, it's not like “TWD” has no room for comedy. Glad to have her around for a bit as Alexandria's new doctor of sorts.

* The length of time for the corpse-to-zombie transformation has never followed an exact pattern, but either the Wolves stuck a zombie behind the wheel of their big rig for some reason, or that is the fastest change from dead to undead that we've ever seen on the show.

* Father Gabriel's attempt at rehabilitating his image – and the show's attempt to make him a functional character rather than someone Rick wants to give the Carter treatment to – continues, with him apologizing to Carl, and later being handed a couple of guns by Carol and Morgan. It would have been a bridge too far for this episode, but I'm kind of hoping we eventually get a scene with him busting out both pistols like Chow-Yun Fat, or at least wreaking a little righteous vengeance a la Monsignor Martinez.

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 the previews for the next episode.

2. 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.

3. 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