Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Twice As Far,” is reminiscent of a bad relationship, as its sketching of two Alexandria groups searching for supplies is so unimaginatively and patronizingly drawn as to make one rethink all the complexities, aesthetic and otherwise, proffered by the show’s last two episodes. Carol (Melissa McBride), in last week’s remarkably self-contained “The Same Boat,” brilliantly engineered her and Maggie’s escape from a Saviors bunker with the same savvy she exuded while setting the Terminus compound ablaze from the outside. Last week, her pretending to be a woman of faith so as to manipulate her captors seemed consistent with the behavior we’ve come to expect from this character so spectacularly cut from the cloth of a B-movie badass. This week, though, the show suggests that she may not actually have been pretending. Carol, it seems, has found religion.
Well, maybe not religion exactly, but as Carol moves her fingers across the rosary she pulled off the zombie’s body that Polly dragged out of the bunker, it’s evident that all the chatter about belief systems that took place within that room did a real number on her. By the end of “Twice As Far,” Carol writes a Dear John letter to the people of Alexandria, bidding adieu for reasons that feel insufficiently articulated given how bogged down the episode is by world-building incident that prevents any substantial justification of the character’s motivations. McBride, an incredible actress, is perfectly capable of etching out the full scope of whatever moral crisis now grips Carol, and while it’s possible that a future episode might open up a window onto her agony, for now it scans as if the show’s makers are so overwhelmed by their brave new world’s booming population that they feel the need to push a fan favorite to the sidelines and keep her on reserve for when a sticky wicket of a situation will conveniently benefit from her reappearance.
If Carol feels like a prop throughout, she isn’t alone. Written by Matthew Negrete, whose teleplay for “Knots Unite” was mostly notable for its litany of exposition, “Twice As Far” is a similarly dull setup and telegraphing of future conflicts. In one of the shards of incident that open the episode, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) catches Morgan (Lennie James) putting the finishing touch on a prison cell and asks him, “Why?” To which Morgan replies: “It’ll give us some choices next time.” But neither the script nor the camera cares to linger in this room, or on either Morgan or Rick’s face, so as to have the actors draw from the well of their characters’ part torments. If the scene doesn’t meaningfully connect with the events from “Here’s Not Here,” it’s because there’s no sense of Morgan passing on the moral and civic learning handed to him by the forensic psychologist who kept him prisoner. He’s just superficially trying to help Rick keep his anger in check, and the only takeaway from the scene is that Alexandria’s leader will, sooner rather than later, have to difficultly choose to put someone in this cell.
The episode primarily focuses on two separate runs for supply—storylines that exist to create more forks in the narrative road toward the mysterious Negan. In the stronger of the two, Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) walk through the streets of a nearby town, shooting the shit about RPGs and survival, with Eugene trying to convince Abraham that he’s no longer the man who tricked him into thinking that he knew of a cure for zombism. They arrive at a warehouse where Eugene reveals his intention to make bullets for Alexandria and the Hilltop. Abraham calls the plan “outside-the-box thinking” with a calculated mix of sincerity and condescension, and after Eugene calls “dibs” on killing a walker, only for Abraham to intervene on his behalf, they come to a head over their unique skill sets.
Their struggle isn’t unlike that of lovers who thrive on conflict, perversely pushing each other away in their attempts to patch things up between them. But they come to a sort of reconciliation by the end of the episode, with Eugene engineering his escape from a group of Saviors by calling out Abraham’s hidden location. There’s a sense that Abraham finally respects Eugene for having pushed his incredible capacity for cowardice into practical use—though Eugene’s decision to create a diversion by biting a Savior’s cock is also clearly, and understandably, endearing.
That storyline is intercut with and eventually intersects with the second, which focuses on Rosita (Christian Serratos), Daryl (Norman Reedus), and Denise (Merritt Wever) looking for drugs at a nearby apothecary, through a series of blunt graphic matches and narrative parallels. That quirkily down-to-earth humor that Wever brought to her role on Nurse Jackie is evident throughout scenes of Denise teaching Daryl how to drive stick, and of the doctor bemoaning the vomit she gets on her glasses after Daryl and Rosita allow her to kill her first walker. But not even an actress as talented as Wever can spin gold out of the expository upchuck Denise unloads on her companions, about taking chances if you want to live, about why she didn’t say “I love you” to Tara, about why killing the walker was crucial to her trajectory as a human being. Or as a character. Indeed, Denise’s impromptu psych session so conspicuously touches on all her issues, with herself and others, that the moment flagrantly foreshadows itself as a preamble to a fall.
Many have acknowledged their struggle to stick with The Walking Dead because the sudden death of characters like Denise feels like a cruel return on one’s emotional investment in them. But an arrow through the head is just another one of life’s possibilities in the time of the zombie apocalypse. Having to reconcile oneself to the prospect of never seeing Denise come into her own as a savior of injured life is small potatoes compared to how “Twice As Far” reduces her to a punchline.
By having Denise clumsily give what’s essentially her own eulogy before the Saviors roll in with Eugene in tow, the show’s makers effectively dehumanize her. She’s the red carpet that’s rolled out to (re)introduce us to Dwight (Austin Amelio), first seen in “Always Accountable” and now sporting a nasty burn across the entire left side of his face. When Amelio turns in the direction of where Abraham is presumably hiding, the scar on his face registers, like most things in the episode, as a dangling carrot—just one more thing waiting to be explained to us. And after a while, all this calculated teasing can come to feel like a partner’s unnecessarily passive-aggressive punishing.
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