‘The Walking Dead’ Review: ‘JSS’ Just Might Be the Most Intense Episode In the Show’s History
Recap and review of The Walking Dead – Season 6 Episode 2 – JSS:
Two episodes in, this might already be the most exciting season of The Walking Dead yet, and this is due in large part to what is probably the most intense episode in the history of the show. “JSS” is basically a siege episode, showing us the events that led up to the horn being blown in Alexandria. Here, the people of Alexandria are uniting to combat the gang that’s been roaming around on the outskirts of the community for an entire season now.
The Wolves are straight out of a nightmare, as the group lays siege to Alexandria and begins killing indiscriminately. It’s no small thing to say this is probably the most blood-soaked episode The Walking Dead has ever seen, due in large part to just how many people die. Granted, we don’t really know any of the people who bite it, as most of them are background characters, or ancillary players who only had a line here or there. But their loss is still felt through the sheer enormity of the carnage. The Wolves not only hack people to death, they keep hacking once the person is lifeless, writing a “W” on their foreheads using the blood of their victims. Seriously, the first part of the episode is just business as usual around Alexandria: Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) approaches Carl (Chandler Riggs) about learning how to contribute to the community; Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) tries to get through to her thick-headed teenage son, Ron, while Carol (Melissa McBride) does her damndest to get Jessie’s youngest to move on from his father’s death already; Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) remains catatonic over her recent losses; and Tara (Alanna Masterson) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) attempt to help the de factor doctor of Alexandria, Denise (Merritt Wever), get a damn hold of herself. But all of this goes flying out the window when the Wolves attack, seemingly out of nowehere. Carl suddenly has to stand guard over Judith with a rifle in his hands, keeping his friend Enid (Katelyn Nacon) inside as well to prevent her from running away like she planned to. Meanwhile, Carol goes full-on Assassin’s Creed, killing various members of the Wolves, donning their own outfits, and sneaking around town to save whoever she can, and kill as many Wolves as she’s able.
And, caught in the middle of all this, is Morgan (Lennie James). The episode goes a long way in illustrating the degrees to which Morgan is a badass, since his skills with the staff are equaled only by Michonne’s skills with the samurai sword. But I get the feeling the show wants us to be somewhat annoyed with him. I say this because…well, he’s not really learning anything from his past mistakes. Morgan’s entire backstory centers on how, after his wife died and turned into a walker, he was unable to go through with killing her — a choice that led to the death of their son. It’s a pain that Morgan clearly still carries with him. And yet, he doesn’t appeared to have learned much from the tragedy he endured. Basically, Morgan goes out of his way to keep from killing anyone attacking Alexandria, which is shortsighted at best, and downright catastrophic at worst. In one moment, he decides to tie up a captured member of the Wolves rather than kill him. In the process of doing this, we hear countless people just outside the window who are being slaughtered — people Morgan could have saved if he weren’t trying to preserve the life of someone who’s just going to escape and kill again. This wouldn’t be so egregious if we hadn’t seen Morgan encounter some of the Wolves last season. In that instance, he refused to kill, and in so doing, left Wolves alive to invade Alexandria now. Granted, it’s not as if this is Morgan’s fault, since we learn that the Wolves found the community due to the pictures Aaron (Russ Marquand) had been carrying with him in his satchel. But you would think, by now, Morgan would see that there are some people who simply can’t be saved.
Then again, we don’t necessarily know why Morgan can’t kill. Sure, it’s easy for me to say he should just kill every one of the Wolves he comes across. I don’t actually have to do any of that killing. But Morgan? Well, he’d have to bloody his hands, get in close and do the deed (since he refuses to use guns). And I can only imagine that changes a man, particularly if you do it enough times. Perhaps Morgan is terrified of losing his humanity and becoming no better than the Wolves he’s trying to defend his people against. There’s a sense of predestination here, however, since these are the types of conflicts that have always happened in this world, and always will happen so long as civilization is in ruins. There will be some groups of terrible people, unsalvageable souls who make murder their business. Sometimes, good people need to do what’s necessary to stop that evil from proliferating. This is more or less what we get with Carol, who takes a completely different approach from Morgan. She lets absolutely no one live. If they’re one of the Wolves, and they’re breathing within earshot, Carol is going to pop’em, as she does with an injured woman in the armory, and a downed man Seth and Morgan were interrogating. Carol has been hardened by circumstances, too much so to ever allow people like the Wolves to live. This contrast between Carol’s and Morgan’s styles of dealing with the crisis is interesting to me, particularly since we’re being presented with an enemy that has no nuance, so we don’t have to worry about the morality of it. These aren’t people trying to survive. Despite all their talk of how they didn’t choose this life, but were chosen, the Wolves clearly exalt in killing. I know it’s not exactly new for The Walking Dead to show irredeemable evil, but I have to admit that I’m somewhat weary of antagonists who are so nakedly awful, they barely resemble actual humans anymore. But that sort of evil exists in the world of this show, just as the moral ambiguity of our heroes exists as well. For instance, what’s the deal with Enid? She appears to have had a life of some sort outside the walls of Alexandria, but she’s notoriously secretive about what that life entailed. And yet, she cares enough about Carl to want to say goodbye to him before leaving, and eventually just leaving him a note that reads “Just Survive Somehow” (which gives the episode its “JSS” title). Did Enid leave with the Wolves? Was she once one of them?
These are all questions that are yet to be answered, but it’s clear that we haven’t seen the last of the Wolves. Granted, while this is a pace that is unsustainable for the show, the infrequency of these sorts of all-action episodes makes this all the more special. Hell, “JSS” is one of the most instantly memorable hours of television this season, with a ton of cool character moments and grisly demises. The Walking Dead is firing on all cylinders, and delivering some of the most genuinely thrilling television of the fall so far.
But what did you think of The Walking Dead, “JSS”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on The Walking Dead, lighten the mood with this hilarious Walking Dead/Friends mashup!