The Walking Dead Season 6 Episode 7 Review: “Heads Up”

The Walking Dead

In an odd way, the ridiculously drawn out reveal of Glenn’s fate worked out for The Walking Dead: separated a month from the initial backlash of the poorly-handled cliffhanger, the opening moments of “Heads Up” benefit greatly from the space in between. It’s not like the show’s handled said space very well – save for the isolated pleasures of “Here’s Not Here,” the last three hours have been some of the worst the show’s offered in the last three seasons – but they serve their purpose in killing time, checking in with popular characters like Morgan and Daryl to keep our attention diverted for a few hours. The second “Heads Up” opens, they finally let the other shoe drop on the worst plot twist The Walking Dead‘s ever offered – and rather than crash and burn in the embers of the anger exhibited the week after “Thank You” aired, it just kind of lands with a dull thud, an inevitable sequence a million think pieces, reviews, and Twitter fans predicted weeks ago.

I’ve said my piece already on the implications of having such a horribly written cliffhanger, so I won’t repeat that here: what I will say is The Walking Dead has placed itself in an interesting situation, given the events of “Heads Up,” an hour that exhibits the same blatant narrative repetition of previous episodes to a frustrating degree. Everything in this episode is designed around setting up major conflicts: Carol/Rick vs. Morgan, Ron vs. Carl, the zombies versus the Alexandria idiots (including Spencer, who does one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen someone do on this show – but we’ll get back to that). All of these scenes are eventually interrupted by the church falling on Alexandria, of course, but they’re all the same story: and The Walking Dead‘s proved its reluctance to kill off major, important characters in the past (save for Beth’s inexplicable death last season), leaving many of these conflicts heavily weighted to one side.

Just look at Glenn’s return in this episode: literally everyone he traveled out with from the town of Alexandria died, the only person returning with him a fellow survivor from the wild. If there’s one thing this show’s desperately failed to do this season, it’s present the people as Alexandria as people worth saving: and there’s nothing in “Heads Up” that tries to change this, stacking the deck against them in the process. Their utter uselessness, be it Spencer’s inexplicably stupid decision to try and high-wire himself past the zombie horde alone, or the images of other Alexandrians reading books or talking about how scared they are, really sets them up as either pointless or useless.

That makes the debate between Rick and Tara a lot more one-sided than The Walking Dead wants it to be. The show’s always proven Carol’s stated, nonsensical motto in this episode, that killing people (alive or undead) is the only way to maintain one’s humanity (in fact, she’s the definitive example of the show’s philosophies). It makes no sense, of course, except when you consider how every single arc of this show has operated: Rick’s group acts normal, get forced into tons of violence and anxious escape when zombie hordes and crazy people roll through, and then they find some semblance of normalcy again, wondering how much of their humanity remains. But every time, the point remains the same: those unwilling to kill, or too stupid to let go of the old world, will lose against humans or die fighting off the dead – and there’s been absolutely no sign that anyone, save for maybe the reluctant doctor (her name’s Denise – I know I can’t remember it) and Enid, is capable of embodying that.

Which makes them a bunch of boring meat bags to hang around, except for Jessie’s family, of course, which has devolved into a collection of near-psychopaths. I’m not sure if this is just bad writing, or The Walking Dead‘s attempts on depicting the emotional horrors of domestic violence – either way, this family becomes more ludicrous with each week. The unstable father who murdered someone in front of his wife, the wife who goes ham with scissors and likes making out with Rick days after her abusive husband’s death, and the two sons: one of whom has acquired a gun (through Rick, who has become blindly trusting of people, considering he probably knows a useless Alexandrian guards the ammo), and the other who refuses to accept reality, pushing farther and farther into the kind of behavior that will probably lead to “The Grove” like events. Being the only people in town – besides Deanna, who is making expansion plans, and clearly has lost her mind – that have been offered characterization, it’s pretty telling how The Walking Dead feels about the people of Alexandria.

But, that’s all pretty much a moot point now. The church is down, so next week’s mid-season finale will undoubtedly “cash in” on all this build up, depicting the deaths of many nameless Alexandrians, while possibly taking out a minor side character or two to remind us all how deadly this world can be, to people who aren’t central to the cast. Of course, there’s always the chance we’ll get our single Big Cast Member Departure of the season here – but given some of the recent news around the casting of Negan, I’m willing to bet that’s not until the season finale.

Which begs a final question: how well has this whole Alexandria arc gone? It appears to be nearing its end here – or at least, the current form of Alexandria will die, even if the constituents don’t leave – and appears to be leaving behind a muddled legacy. While there were undoubtedly some strong moments at the end of Season 5 and the beginning of 6 the Alexandria arc made a return to The Walking Dead‘s lesser forms of storytelling, constantly (and overtly) setting up plot dominoes for “game-changing” episodes, rendering most of what’s happening in the present pointless. This season was clearly designed around a set of large plot points – Zombie Horde, Wolves Attack, Morgan Backstory, Glenn Cliffhanger, etc. – which is not the show’s strength. As late Season 4 and early Season 5 proved, the show’s ability to tell stories with poignancy and immediacy on a small scale makes for evocative television. “Heads Up” and the two repetitive episodes preceding it are the complete opposite of that, exercises in watching the other shoe dangle in mid-air while building tension for the inevitable drop. Now that said shoe is going to drop in next week’s finale, maybe The Walking Dead can get back on track.

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Why is Rick totally cool with Carl baiting Ron as he trains him with a gun? And again: why is Rick suddenly stupid enough to give Ron a gun?
  • How come Dan’s (is that his name?) face is totally intact when Glenn finds him? It’s weird how one zombie ate all of Lori, yet an entire horde of them barely nibble on his face. I know, it’s because Glenn has to find that stupid note he wrote, but still… c’mon.
  • Seriously, Spencer: what the hell is wrong with you?
  • Tara giving Rick the finger was the happiest moment of the season for me. Glenn’s “You point a gun at me, and I’m an a**hole?” is a close second. The Walking Dead doesn’t do snark often, and it works so well.
  • Oh hey, remember Rosita? She’s still here, teaching people in open-toed shoes how to use machetes. Rule one: don’t wear open-toed shoes!
  • Carol should not be giving children advice. Or giving Rick’s kid to Jessie, because we know how her children turn out. Ok, I’m totally kidding about Jessie – but doesn’t the show kind of paint her as a terrible parent?
  • “Things moved slow, then they started moving fast.” The Walking Dead dialogue, everyone.
  • Shouldn’t the person protecting all the WEAPONRY have some sort of weapon? UGH, why do the walls of Alexandria make everyone so stupid!
  • “I don’t know what’s right anymore.” Neither do we, Morgan, neither do we.

[Photo via AMC]

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