If, by the time you got to the midway point of tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, you came to the realization that, no, oh God, no, we would not, as I speculated last week, get to see what happened to Glenn Rhee, you’d be forgiven for throwing your hands up in the air, even bailing on the series. If you did, then you missed yet another spotty spectacle of narrative table-setting that happened to be capped by a gesture of cold comfort: As Daryl (Norman Reedus), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) drive back toward Alexandria, Daryl attempts to check in with Rick, with anyone, on his walkie takie, from which a voice weakly echoes out: “Help.”
The voice isn’t exactly recognizable as Glenn’s, but it’s understand to be his. The series has methodically moved us, physically and emotionally, from the scene of his possible demise in “Thank You,” only to move us slowly back. The faintness of that “help” on which this episode ends is such that it suggests a survivor who doesn’t want to call too much attention to himself, maybe one who’s wormed his way beneath a dumpster with only a walkie takie in his hand. It’s a cocky bit of trolling that, again, is justified by the season’s cannily layered design. The title of the episode is nothing if not self-referential.
In terms of effectiveness, the stacked relationship between the season’s first six episodes only pales in comparison to that of The Leftovers’s impeccable second season. The HBO series, in the way it moves us forward and back in time, is more sophisticatedly placing its characters, new and old, on a timeline that speaks deeply to our dependence on home and each other—at least more so than the first season’s new-age-isms ever did. Conversely, The Walking Dead is more simply charting a course to and away from conflict, and only skimming the surface of its characters psyches in the process, though the season’s almost Jenga tower-like narrative construction, so abundant in red herrings, has been a source of constant and exasperating dread.
“Always Accountable” pauses the season’s forward momentum to engage in a bit of character shading.
In “Always Accountable,” this layering yields more confusion than reward. Less than a minute into the episode, Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham are shot at by strangers riding a series of vehicles. Daryl, separated from his companions, rides slowly through nearby woods and collapses in exhaustion, a small, burnt-to-a-crisp zombie with a helmet over its head growling beside him. The patch of land that surrounds him appears to have been torched by fire or some kind of explosion. Soon he stumbles onto two young women, and before he knows it, a man knocks him unconscious with his gun.
If you’re fuzzy on the identities of this trio (only Tina, played by Liz E. Morgan, is listed in the closing credits), exactly when and why they exploded the area, why they’re even back here, that’s because the episode deliberately holds its cards close to its chest, trying to summon a mood of pervasive doubt. “I ain’t who you think,” says Daryl to his kidnappers, who believe him to be associated with the group that ostensibly shot at him, Sasha, and Abraham. “Whoever the hell they were” is how Abraham describes them as he and Sasha survey a building near where they crashed their car. Later, after Daryl first escapes from his kidnappers and then returns to them, so as to give them back a cooler full of insulin, a truck full of strangers, faces obscured, rolls onto the scene. “We earned what we took,” says one of the women. “We’re done kneeling,” says the man. Even if you haven’t read The Walking Dead comic, you know that we’re being introduced to a new group of survivors and the antagonizing methods by which they control others within their reach. Hang tight, all will be revealed soon enough.
“Always Accountable,” like “Here’s Not Here,” pauses the season’s forward momentum to engage in a bit of character shading. Pity, though, that it all amounts to pat psychoanalysis. Daryl’s thread reveals nothing about the character that we don’t already know: that a kind heart beats beneath his gruff exterior. In Sasha and Abraham’s more schematic thread, she calls him out for thriving amid chaos, as it allows him to not be accountable for his feelings, after which he dutifully puts his trauma into audience-benefiting practice by getting purposefully up close and personal to a zombie impaled on a fence. By the time he’s seen smiling as he and Sasha and Daryl drive back to Alexandria, cornily basking in Sasha’s validation of his ego, the “help” emanating from the walkie talkie may as well be the audience crying “uncle.”
For more recaps of The Walking Dead, click here.