Everything that was mentioned in the review for The Walking Dead‘s season six premiere, “First Time Again,” can be echoed for the second episode, “JSS.” Not only is there an equal amount of suspense and ambiguity affixed to this episode, but the carpet was once again lifted from beneath our Alexandrian characters. This time, however, it is not the predominant roles, Rick, Daryl, Glenn, and Michonne, who are the focus of the show. The secondary characters who we’ve also come to love, Maggie, Carol, Eugene, Tara, and Morgan, are suddenly pitted against an invasion.
No, it’s not the invasion that we all thought was imminent; one of the walkers who was making a grand exodus from the quarry last week. In fact, it is an act of… canines. The “wolves” have returned. (Viewers should have known, for the bandits’ season five graffiti read: “Wolves not far.”)
While Rick and company are supposed to be directing the horde of walkers toward the next town, behind Daryl’s motorcycle and Sasha’s vehicle, the homebodies are coping with the post-Reg, post-Pete life. A new doctor, of sorts, is also introduced in Denise Cloyd (Merritt Wever). As the episode seems to build toward an hour of character development, the wolves strike, mutilating the native Alexandrians.
“JSS” is set simultaneously against Rick’s quarry solution — the first half hour coincides with Rick’s mission, but in the back half of the show, viewers learn where the ominous horn came from. An aimless tractor trailer comes barreling through the fence, crushing into Spencer’s (Austin Nichols) lookout tower. The truck, wedged into the wall, has the horn pressed down by a walker inside the cabin.
Right when it seems as though Spencer will help silence this Mack truck, Morgan returns to the village and whacks the growling zombie with his wooden staff. The horn stops blaring, but the invasion is still rampant. Carol goes undercover as a wolf, painting a bloody “W” on her forehead like the rest of the ruthless invaders. She kills off a few of them, but is ultimately questioned by Morgan who says she does not need to kill these people.
Brushing off this statement, she continues her murderous efforts. In the process, Ron (Austin Abrams) is threatened and saved, as is Gabriel (Seth Gilliam). In both instances, the men are spared — by Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Morgan. When asked to stay with Carl to remain protected, Ron refuses and rushes off.
Enid (Katelyn Nacon), who appears to be the loose foundation of this episode, also begrudgingly seeks refuge with Carl for a time. She is shown earlier on in the episode on her gradual approach toward Alexandria. She appears to be an unemotional nomad (the turtle she butchers would probably have some further words for her). Eventually, she abandons Carl, leaving a note that reads “just survive somehow.”
Also featured in this episode, amid the attack, is Aaron (Ross Marquand), who kills a few wolves before rummaging through the belongings of one of his victims. In a satchel, he finds a selection of black and white photographs of the Alexandria community. They appear to be similar to the ones he used for recruitment purposes in season five. He is emotional over the discovery.
Finally, the wolves start losing the battle, for they have no guns and Carol has reached the armory in time to rip a couple holes in people. As the final wolves fall, Morgan is trapped by a few of them. Even with his pacifism flaring, he is able to fend them off. He tells them to leave before the others kill them. They oblige.
Morgan’s unique brand of passivity is again highlighted as he enters an Alexandrian house, but encounters one of the wolves he dealt with on his way to Alexandria last season. The man tries to pull at his heartstrings a bit, saying Morgan apparently doesn’t have the wherewithal to kill him. The two fight and, unsurprisingly, the wolf is knocked unconscious with the staff.
As the episode closes, Morgan walks down one of Alexandria’s main streets, passes a camouflaged Carol without saying a word, and continues walking toward the fence. Next week, it seems, the show will revert back to the chaos at the improvised wall where Rick, Glenn, and Nicholas (Michael Traynor), among others, will struggle to redirect the walkers.
The show’s success comes from the expeditious writing, the gory killings, and the unbreakable bond that has formed between the main cast. But further, the show is able to move from anecdote to anecdote, and locale to locale, and still hook viewers with its tales of perseverance and debauchery. In “JSS,” The Walking Dead continues its longstanding tradition of captivating viewers.
It is able to focus on a narrow sample of characters while still featuring a community full of others. Its breadth is wide, yet the sympathy viewers develop comes from the limited, bare-bones elements — Rick’s psychology, his protection of baby Judith, and Glenn and Maggie’s marriage.
It is a show of antitheses — large and small, brash and shrewd — but one that effectively makes the zombies background noise, and underscores interpersonal relationships. The writing and directing of “JSS” (done by Seth Hoffman and Jennifer Lynch, respectively) remains competent and poignant. The struggle for humanity continues…
Catch AMC’s The Walking Dead on Sunday nights at 9 p.m.
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