(This review contains NO spoilers)
As with most seasons of The Walking Dead, the front half of the sixth season was both exhilarating and frustrating. The season kicked off with a phenomenal premiere, an episode akin to a zombie caper that set the stage for the next eight episodes. With thousands of walkers on the outskirts of Alexandria, Rick had to quickly devise a plan to save their community. The plan, as plans are wont to do on The Walking Dead, went awry, and after eight episodes, half of those zombies had knocked over the Alexandrian fences and were threatening to overrun the community in the midseason finale. Meanwhile, Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham had managed to steer the other half of the walkers away from Alexandria, but they’d run into their own problems as well. Daryl had a near-death run-in with a few members of the Hilltop Community, and in the midseason finale, they’d been stopped by a few members of The Saviors and asked to hand their possessions over to their leader, Negan.
Meanwhile, the front eight episodes also revealed Morgan’s whereabouts between the season three episode “Clear” and his return in the fifth season finale; Alexandria dealt (mostly) with the threat from the mysterious Wolves; Glenn managed to survive a near-death experience; and Nicholas died, as did Deanna, who had already lost her ability to lead Alexandria after the deaths of her son and husband. We also witnessed some growth in Abraham’s character as he came to terms with his death wish and even developed a crush on Sasha.
Beyond some philosophical differences between Carol and Morgan, however, the front half of season six didn’t advance any new themes or explore much new territory. In fact, beyond Glenn’s death fake-out, the first half felt a lot like it was building toward something huge, an event that would completely shift the narrative. Unfortunately that payoff didn’t arrive in the midseason finale, another episode that seemed to be working toward a pivotal moment in the series but that frustratingly stopped just short of it.
That event finally arrives in the midseason premiere. The first episode back delivers exactly what viewers have wanted to see for months: Character deaths, massive carnage, a lot of near-death experiences, the biggest crowd-pleasing moment of the season, and hands down the best cold open of the series so far.
I won’t go into any of the gory, heartbreaking and fist-pumping details, except to say that the episode picks up exactly where it left off in the midseason finale — with Daryl, Sasha and Abraham facing the Saviors, and the rest of the crew walking amongst the zombies — and it delivers in every way for which viewers could have hoped while also meeting, and arguably exceeding, expectations from readers of Robert Kirkman’s source material. It’s a tense, anguish-filled episode filled with huge surprises, heroic moments, and the biggest walker body count in the series so far. It may have come an episode too late, but “No Way Out” is exactly the midseason finale we’d hoped for, the episode that seemingly ends one story arc and begins to hint at another.
There’s not a lot of character development in “No Way Out,” but given the amount of action, there’s hardly any time for it. The entire cast returns — even almost-forgotten members like Aaron and Heath — and while I wouldn’t dare to reveal who lives and who dies, Robert Kirkman was not wrong when he said “many people die” in the episode.
Where the series goes from here — the Hilltop Colony, the Saviors, Negan — and how successful it will be is anyone’s guess, but for one hour when the series returns on Valentine’s Day, it is a thunderous success. To anyone who may have considered bailing after last year’s midseason finale, we have only one suggestion: Don’t. The Walking Dead may stumble at times, but no show recovers better, time and time again.