“No one is actually kind. We are selfish. We are brutal.”
So there we have it, another half-season gone in the blink of an eye. Though this episode didn’t give us an action-packed mid-finale, it did wrap up the themes and ideas that we’ve been seeing for the past eight weeks. This half of the season has been the ‘Cold War’ with the Whisperers, with both sides taking shots and being careful not to overstep. By the end of The World Before, it’s apparent that, going forward, the war will be anything but cold.
The first thread that needs wrapping up is Dante. The episode begins with an explanation of how he integrated himself with the Alexandrians, how he plotted their downfall from the shadows, why Lydia didn’t recognise him. Basically, it answered all the niggling questions that people were complaining about last week. And it makes sense. The Alexandrians are trusting. Given the right story, they’ll set you up for life. It was Dante’s story of his son that won Gabe over – and having medical experience probably didn’t hurt his chances too. The sad truth to this story is that, after being there for months, Dante stayed loyal to Alpha. His indoctrination was so complete, so all-encompassing, that even the obvious facts of a better life did little to sway him. He said he like Siddiq, but how much you believe him is up to you.
Ultimately, it’s Father Gabe who kills Dante, shanking the traitor in a very un-religious manner. The Dante plot shows how much the heroes are led by trust, by faith. And who better to represent this crumbling faith than pious Gabe himself. It reminded me how much more interesting Gabriel is in the show, compared to the comics. He just disappeared and then briefly came back to die unceremoniously. (Honestly, because the characters aren’t always distinct in the comic, it took me a few issues to work out it was him who died). Here, he is excellent. This is thanks in part to the masterful performance from Seth Gilliam, who’s been top-notch since The Wire. But the role he’s been thrust into, leading this community and juggling his faith, is compelling. And though the relationship with Rosita is strange – having it happen mostly off-screen drains the chemistry – their scene in this episode was well-played.
We get some more Michonne this episode, after not seeing her for a few weeks. We all know Danai Gurira is leaving at some point, but she’s been given an interesting story before she disappears. We meet Virgil in this episode, a man who lives on an old naval base. This idea is already cool in itself, like one of the stories from World War Z. But it piques Michonne’s interest when he says he has weapons, and she figures there might be something to help with the walkers. She agrees to accompany Virgil home, in return for some weapons.
This scavenger-hunt is intriguing. Sending Michonne off into the wilderness to gather weapons, like The Trashcan Man in The Stand, is something I didn’t anticipate. I also can’t guess what weapons she’ll bring back. Are we just talking guns? Or something more heavy-duty perhaps? If Michonne goes out by dropping a nuke on Alpha and her horde, I’ll be surprised. But we’ve already had a satellite crash this season, so I wouldn’t be that surprised. Whatever happens, it’s a good way to give Michonne some agency before her exit. And, I might be being far too optimistic, maybe we’ll get a few clues about Rick.
With some help from Aaron and information from Gamma (who is seriously beginning to question her loyalty) the rest of the gang head out to put a stop to Alpha’s herd, once and for all. I’ll admit, this plan hasn’t sat right with me for a while. I mean, what will they do when they get there? There are thousands of walkers. How will they stop them all? My guess is that they’d turn the herd loose, obviously in the direction away from their communities. But even that doesn’t seem like a particularly good plan. Of course, it could be that the characters have as little idea as I do – they have to find the herd first. Which they do. In a roundabout way.
After reaching the spot where the herd is supposed to be, they are surprised to find nothing there. The Whisperers have moved on. Deflated, the group head back. But on the journey back, Carol spots Alpha in the woods and gives chase. Now, Alpha wanted to be seen. Carol should have known that. Daryl has also warned Carol about going off half-cocked. Both these things make it frustrating when Carol gives chase – but I won’t lie, my heart was pounding. And I understand her motivations. We’ve seen that she’s not being having the best time of things recently. But it’s annoying that Alpha one-upped them again, after a season of wins for the Whisperers.
And through this lapse in judgement, Alpha leads them into a trap and into her herd. It turns out that she’s moved them all into a cavern within a mine. Apart from being a logistical nightmare, this is a really cool idea. Once they’re all in, you can block the exits until you’re ready to use them. Plus, it’s unlikely someone will stumble on the herd. It also makes me wonder just what weapon Michonne could bring back to help. Because short of a nuke, I’m not sure it’ll make much difference.
Though a solid plan from Alpha, it’s less good for our heroes, who find themselves surrounded by zombies, as if they’d taken a wrong turn into the service tunnels of Willamette Mall. I don’t know if we’ve ever seen this many walkers before, or at least not in a confined area like this. Naturally, the walkers have lost some threat over the years. But as the camera moved away, and we saw the full breath of the cavern, filled to capacity with rotting flesh, it was pretty horrifying. Of course the gang will escape – the question is who. Daryl and Carol are safe, but the rest are fair game.
So not an explosive episode, it’s still a good one. And it’s an episode that leaves the show in a good position for its return. I like that instead of doing something crazy, they doubled-down on the Cold War. It’s intense, it’s quieter, like the rest of the series so far. This half of the season has been great, with some of the best character moments we’ve had. It’s also been bleak, but not unrelentingly so. The gang’s back in February, to deal with the Whisperers once and for all.