More proof that we’re increasingly entrenched in an era of “peak television,” and that we’re all struggling to keep up, last week the Vulture’s Margaret Lyons answered a series of questions by readers asking for the best “batches” of TV episodes. In calling her recommended blocks “sure things,” Lyons inadvertently exposes the struggle that such infuriatingly spotty shows like The Walking Dead may face in lingering in the public consciousness after they go off the air. Indeed, thinking back to the entirety of its last season, and the current season up to tonight’s episode, even this sometimes apologetic fan of the series is struggling to come up with three episodes in a row to recommend to someone looking to fill in a few hours between lunch and picking up the kids at school. But if you only have one, then you can’t do better than “No Tomorrow Yet,” which exudes a corkscrew tension that’s redolent of some of John Carpenter’s finest work.
The episode begins with Carol (Melissa McBride) setting up to make beet and acorn cookies (yes, you read that right). First she grabs a can of beets from the pantry, then gathers acorns outside the safe-zone’s walls, pausing at one point to drive a knife through a walker’s skull. Pulling the cookies out the oven and placing them into plastic containers, she distributes them to Alexandria’s citizens, and as Parsonsfield’s “Weeds or Wildflowers” plucks away on the soundtrack, the wryly and deliberately cornpone-ish atmosphere of these opening minutes effectively attests to the community’s success at regaining a sense of normalcy. And if the thought of eating a beet and acorn cookie sounds as repulsive to you as it does to Tobin (Jason Douglas), then the satisfaction that washes over his face once he puts one in his mouth also confirms the savvy it takes to achieve that normalcy.
The mood of Norman Rockwellian bliss is, of course, deceptive. Danger will haunt Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his survivors as long as The Walking Dead is on TV, but the ease with which Carol and others dispatch zombies during humdrum activities, pointedly acknowledges that humanity is evolving past its fear of the walking dead. The zombie is less threat than nuisance—at least less of a threat than the very survivors of the apocalypse, and as Rick gathers his group inside Alexandria’s church and details his plan to attack Negan’s group, the episode begins to keenly fixate on the toll that killing takes on the individual. Morgan (Lennie James) never gets a straight answer from Carol about why she never tattled on him for keeping the Wolf safely imprisoned, but even before she opens a journal to reveal a page filled with the names of all the people she’s killed up to this point, one understands that it has everything to do with empathy.
“No Tomorrow Yet” plays out during its first half as an elegantly staged prelude to an invasion. Snapshots of Alexandria’s citizens bidding farewell to each other for one reason or another pivot around Rick elaborating on his plan of attack. Carol and Tobin lock lips, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) declares that she will fight alongside Glenn (Steven Yeun), and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) leaves Rosita (Christian Serratos) with the excuse of having met her when he thought she was the last woman on Earth. His farewell address is poignant for its brevity, but also profound for how it dovetails with the introductory sketch about Carol’s incredible skill at making do with what’s at hand. Throughout The Walking Dead, people have coupled almost obligatorily, but now enough of the living have found each other that they no longer have to settle. And the shot of Eugene (Josh McDermitt) standing in the doorway eating one of Carol’s cookies, all while Rosita cries, is a masterstroke for how comically and suggestively it ties together all of these ideas.
The centerpiece of the episode, literally at least, is a conversation between Glenn and Heath (Corey Hawkins) about killing, conducted during their run to ghoulishly find a zombie head that they can pawn off as Gregory’s. Throughout, Gregory Nicotero’s direction conveys a tensile sense of control, his camera ominously hanging above Rick in one scene as Andy (Jeremy Palko) charts the interior of the Saviors’ outpost. And as the camera swirls above them, the entire episode evokes a kind of clockwork—positing the denizens of Alexandria as parts in an elaborate mechanism. Every time the episode cuts to a different corner of the safe-zone, as in Tara (Alanna Masterson) telling Denise (Merritt Wever) that she loves her, you may feel the ticking of this doomsday clock in your gut.
Later, at the outpost, Andy presents faux Gregory’s head to two guards, at which point Rick and his group spring their trap. And as they sneak into the outpost in the dead of night, peeking in and out of corridors and rooms, they drive their knives into the heads of the sleeping Saviors with tortured precision. That some are able to do so a little easier than others is just one of many ways the episode announces its kinship to Carpenter’s ferociously genre-defying masterpiece Assault on Precinct 13. And among the more explicit signs are the splashes of neon colors on walls and faces and the soundtrack’s electronic throbbing. Many have borrowed from Carpenter simply for the sake of fetish, but few for reasons as deep as this episode supplies, primarily the idea that the moral uncertainties of Rick’s world aren’t too different from the ones that hounded them before the zombie apocalypse.
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