Over the years of watching and recapping AMC’s The Walking Dead, I can’t recall a single episode which managed to get so much right in such a visceral, entertaining way. “No Way Out” factored in all of the character-focused dramatic conflict that has been building this season alongside the series’ most ambitious practical effects spectacle to date. Somehow, director Greg Nicotero and writer Seth Hoffman not only resolved the tension between Rick’s group of survivors and the Alexandrians in the most epic way imaginable, they were also able to pull off one of Robert Kirkman’s most shocking moments from the comic books. (Watch out because Nicotero will also be directing this season’s 12th episode as well as its finale…)
Almost all of the members of The Walking Dead’s huge ensemble cast got their hero moments in this episode, which really went a long way towards establishing a hopeful tone to an hour that started out looking quite desperate for our survivors. And while “No Way Out” features some of the best individual performances by cast members, it’s a testament to the strength of the behind-the-scenes creative team and crew that they were able to pull off the most solid and entertaining episode of the series so far, an episode that broadens the focus from not only surviving, but to rebuilding civilization.
The previous five-and-a-half seasons of The Walking Dead have been solely about survival. From the moment that Rick puts a bullet between the eyes of a little girl who has re-animated as a Walker to the epic battle that takes place in this very episode, The Walking Dead has focused on the survival of its core protagonists, by any means necessary. Make no mistake, the show will always have that feeling of ever-present danger and the promise that any character could be killed off at any moment, but in its sixth year it’s finally evolving to the point that those who have survived might actually be able to build something worth dying for. Let’s take a look at how our heroes made that happen in “No Way Out.”
Abraham and Sasha:
Though they get relatively little screen time, their scenes are quite literally the most explosive. There’s been an interesting tension developing between these two over the last few episodes, one that is rooted in their shared similarities. Sasha previously went on a somewhat suicidal bent after Bob’s death, but eventually worked her way through it; Abraham went catatonic after the realization that Eugene was a liar and his mission was a charade, and one could argue that he’s still getting over it. The point is, Sasha and Abraham have both gone through some tough trials only to emerge the stronger for it on the other side. So when they’re faced with this unnamed group of “saviors” demanding their weapons, they’re not exactly thrilled to just hand them over.
What’s interesting here is that Sasha and Abraham are both Alpha personalities in a world increasingly populated by similar types; after all, by this point, only the strong have (mostly) survived. So the way in which they handle the Savior’s demands – Abraham’s obvious disdain as a power play, Sasha’s attempt to shut Abraham down so she can reason with the Savior – aren’t really so different from each other after all. Clearly, neither approach is effective. It’s only through superior strength of arms that they’re able to escape alive. And it’s a good thing, too, since they get a chance to provide one of the episode’s many heroic moments by saving the citizens of Alexandria.
Though Daryl was with Sasha and Abraham during the brief conflict with the Saviors, Daryl does as he always has and manages to take care of things on his own. If you’ll remember back to the previous episode, Sasha and Abraham were hanging around waiting for Daryl to show up while Daryl was busy dealing with another offshoot of the Saviors and the man and woman they were after, a double-crossing couple to whom Daryl had offered sanctuary. Though they ultimately turned this offer down, it’s a reminder that Daryl is putting his life on the line to bring other survivors back to Alexandria, a job which will inevitably lead him to cross paths with some real nasty folks.
If you had any doubts that Daryl’s life would be in peril in this episode, those concerns were put to rest once Daryl used the RPG launcher to negate Negan’s gang of Saviors in spectacular fashion. It’s almost as if the writers are saying, “Look, we know you love Daryl, so we’re going to put him to the test but also give him some really cool ways to get out of a jam.” And if blowing up a group of motorcycle-riding thugs wasn’t awesome enough, Daryl manages to distract most of the Walkers in Alexandria thanks to his lake of fire, set off by yet another use of the RPG launcher.
Denise and the Wolf:
This was an interesting little side plot that could easily have felt like filler material on any other episode except for the fact that it tied so well into a number of other conflicts. Remember that once upon a time this particular Wolf came across a wandering Morgan in the woods and tried to take his possessions, along with his life. Morgan did not allow that, but neither did he kill the man because of his newfound view that “all life is precious.” As a result, this Wolf was able to: find Aaron’s knapsack that led him and his fellow Wolves to Alexandria where their raid killed numerous citizens, confront Morgan again (who treated his illness with the town’s antibiotics), and escape captivity by taking Denise (the town’s only doctor) hostage.
In “No Way Out”, despite keeping Denise captive, the Wolf seemed to be taking a liking to her. The Wolf even saved her from a Walker, getting himself bitten in the process, but instead of escaping to safety, Denise returned to help him. She offered to get him to the infirmary to save his life, and though they almost made it, Carol shot the Wolf dead, even as he tackled more Walkers to the ground so that Denise could get to safety. Despite all of this, Denise’s newfound confidence allows her to keep her head in order to help treat the wounded, but more importantly, it plays into the unresolved conflict between Morgan and Carol.
Morgan and Carol:
There’s a great dynamic to these two that we thought was resolved during their fight at the end of the previous episode, but “No Way Out” continued to explore the difficulties in their conflicting ways of life. Simply put, Morgan refuses to kill while Carol is only reluctant towards killing under certain circumstances, as pointed out by Morgan himself when he confirms that she couldn’t kill him, even though Carol says she should have. What’s interesting is that each of them has a black-and-white view of the world, and that both of them are wrong.
This conclusion plays out in the scene in which Carol kills the Wolf who had kidnapped Denise, even as he was trying to save her so that she could, in turn, save him. Whether or not Carol shows any regret about this action when she sees that the Wolf was trying to help Denise is up for debate; Morgan gets his own chance to apologize to the Wolf (again) just before killing him, since the Wolf has risen as a Walker. Carol ultimately achieved her intention while Morgan ultimately failed in his (though he didn’t exactly take the Wolf’s life, he just couldn’t keep him alive); the real question is, which of them, if either, made the right decision?
Speaking of right and wrong, even the fatally flawed priest gets a chance at redemption (and even a heroic moment) in this episode. Remember that Gabriel’s greatest sin to date was locking his congregation out of the church in order to keep himself safe while they were devoured by Walkers outside. When Rick’s group found out about this, they understandably kept Gabriel at arm’s length. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Gabriel then attempted to sabotage Rick’s position in Alexandria by undermining his leadership. Though Rick’s last few interactions with Gabriel were little more than disapproving sidelong glances or tearing down the priest’s prayer notices, he’s fully willing to let Gabriel take Baby Judith to safety when there’s no safer alternative, since they’re currently surrounded by Walkers and any plans to escape their situation put Judith in grave danger.
Despite concern on the part of Michonne and Carl, Gabriel stays true to his word and keeps Judith safe. While he has a long way to go toward atoning for his sins, Gabriel actually gets a chance to go into Hero Mode as he takes up arms and joins the fighting in the streets of Alexandria.
Eugene’s sins may not have been as dire as Gabriel’s (that’s up for debate), but he’s been proven pretty useless when it comes to a fight. Though he tried to bolster the confidence of Rosita and Tara, saying that they’d soon be fighting their way out, Rosita doubted he had the stones to do the same. So kudos to Eugene for not only fighting alongside his friends, but getting one of the episode’s best one-liners to go along with it.
Jessie, Sam, and Ron Anderson:
Unfortunately, with every heroic victory, some sacrifices must be made. While the plan to coat themselves in Walker guts and walk hand-in-hand through the herd of Walkers seemed to work just fine during the day, by the time night fell, the terror started to seep into little Sam Anderson’s mind. Carol’s earlier words about the monsters coming to eat him up came unbidden into Sam’s thoughts. Distracted and terrified, he called out to his mother, allowing the Walkers on either side of him to viciously tear him apart. Jessie could only watch, horrified, and her screams drew the other Walkers to her. She was devoured before their eyes, but still held Carl’s hand in her own…until Rick hacked it off with an ax.
Despite a few small changes from Kirkman’s pages, this scene played out almost exactly as it did in the comics. It’s a scene I’ve been waiting a long time to see on this show, and one that actually exceeded my expectations. When his mother and brother are eaten alive by Walkers, Ron draws the gun he’s been threatening to use for a few episodes now and aims it squarely at Rick, saying simply, “You.” The intent behind the word is clear: Rick killed Ron’s dad and, in Ron’s mind, is wholly responsible for the death of his entire family. Luckily, Michonne takes Ron out before he can kill Rick, but not everyone is so lucky.
As Jessie was being torn apart, we saw Rick’s memory flash to moments of better, happier times with her, images that then flash red as he’s forced to hack her own hand off. As if that wasn’t emotionally traumatizing enough, Rick then stared down the barrel of a gun held by a boy who, in another life, could have been his step-son. Though Michonne is able to neutralize Ron, the gun still goes off, and in doing so, takes Carl’s eye with it.
I’d imagine that this moment will go down as the most-shocking in the show’s history, whether you’ve read the comics or not. It was one of the most rewarding and intense experiences I’ve had watching The Walking Dead and I, for one, am glad they decided to go there. (I just feel bad for Chandler Riggs having to wear an eyepatch and bandage for the rest of his time on the show.)
But back to Rick. If you thought he has been a badass on the show to this point, the moment when he singlehandedly took on the entire herd of Walkers is the single most heroic moment in the show’s history. Not just because Rick’s dad rage caused him to do something stupid, but because it inspired the Alexandrians to come to his aid, uniting the whole town against the Walker threat and in defending their very livelihood. This exact moment was the turning point for a disparate group of survivors to come together, unite against a common danger, and make strides toward re-establishing civilization. It’s also the moment that all of the petty squabbles and differences of opinion were put aside in order to face the most immediate threat, a theme that will likely play out again this season.
Enid, Glenn and Maggie:
While all Hell is breaking loose in Alexandria, you’ll remember that Glenn and Enid are outside the walls. They found refuge in a church, along with a gun and some ammo, and something to help Maggie climb down from her precarious position. It’s here that Enid saw a quote from scripture: “Faith without works is dead,” which led to reassurance from Glenn to keep fighting for the memory of the people she’s loved and lost. It’s a nice moment for the pair, one that will hopefully convince Enid to stay in Alexandria and that also reinforced Glenn’s status as one of the most mature members of the group. But nice moments usually come immediately before horrible deaths…
Back in Alexandria, Glenn was able to draw a huge number of Walkers away from Maggie while Enid climbed up to rescue her. And in what felt like the hundredth time, Glenn was in a situation in which certain death seemed inescapable, but luckily the cavalry arrived in the form of Sasha, Abraham, and Daryl. Glenn lives to see another day, and so do the Alexandrians since they use the fuel truck to light the lake on fire (maybe not the best idea since…isn’t that a water supply?) and hack away at the remaining Walkers until the streets are literally full of the dead the next morning.
This is the first time in the show’s history where I can remember feeling like our heroes had a well-earned hope of a better tomorrow, like the odds were not actually insurmountable even though they certainly felt that way. There’s even a fantastic montage of each of the citizens, named and unnamed, dealing death blows to the Walkers, ending fittingly with Rick’s last strike. And when it’s all said and done, while the wounded are being tended to, Rick is at his injured son’s side, talking about building a future and pleading for Carl to survive so he can show it to him. As Carl squeezed his father’s hand at the very end, that’s when I knew that “No Way Out” would go down as my favorite episode of The Walking Dead to date.
With all of the excellent character drama and insane action beats in this episode, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the phenomenal effects work on display. Of course, with Nicotero at the helm that should come as no surprise, but each and every one of those hundreds of Walker extras deserves a round of applause. And yet, even as Rick’s impassioned plea to close out the episode tugged at the heartstrings and promised a more hopeful tomorrow, I’m aware that the Saviors are still in the area, and that Negan lurks on the horizon. Still, what a brilliant way to make his eventual arrival that much more terrifying than by playing on the optimism suffusing Alexandria at the end of “No Way Out.” Buckle up, The Walking Dead fans; we’re in for a helluva ride.
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent
Savior: “Your property now belongs to Negan.”
Savior: “If you have to eat shit, best not to nibble. Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.”
Abraham: “Who’s Negan?” Is this better than Abraham’s “Who’s Deanna?” line?
Abraham: “Nibble on that.”
Can we upgrade “Chekhov’s gun” to “Chekhov’s rocket launcher?”
“Faith without works is dead.”
Wolf: “They’re moving towards the gunfire. That shout, I assume someone thought they could put up a fight. I’m guessing you all did.” Denise: “We did put up a fight. That’s why your friends are dead.”
Carol: “I should’ve killed you.” Morgan: “You can’t.”
Gabriel: “We’ve been praying, together, praying that God will save our town. Our prayers have been answered. God will save Alexandria. Because God has given us the courage to save it ourselves.”
Eugene: “No one gets to clock out today. And Hell, this is a story people are gonna tell.”
Abraham: “Can you get the gate? Appreciate it, pal”
Rick: “I was wrong. I thought after living behind these walls for so long that maybe they couldn’t learn. But today, I saw what they could do, what we could do, if we worked together. We’ll rebuild the walls. We’ll expand the walls. There’ll be more, there’s gotta be more. Everything Deanna was talking about is possible. It’s all possible, I see that now. When I was out there, with them, when it was over, when I knew we had this place again, I had this feeling. It took me a while to remember what it was because I hadn’t felt it since before I woke up in that hospital. I want to show you the new world, Carl. I want to make it a reality for you. Please, Carl. Let me show you.”