There are spoilers ahead, so don't read this until you have seen the mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead.
Now, having gotten that out of the way, did you notice how the release of the first four minutes of this episode made everything seem as if everything was about to turn bad for Sasha and Abraham? And if you weren't expecting the return of the rocket propelled grenade launcher that Abraham found, well, I don't blame you. This is a show you can't go to sleep on.
This was a strong episode--much stronger than expected. And the best thing you can say about this episode is that they got the band back together. The worst thing you can say is that it was a mistake to get rid of Alexandra Breckenridge. Everyone knew that Jessie was doomed and so it was not a surprise when she succumbed to the walker herd along with her sons. It wouldn't have made a difference as to whether or not Jessie allowed Sam to leave with Father Gabriel. Her son Ron had been harboring a blood lust against Rick and Carl for a long time. At some point, he was going to snap and try to kill Carl again. Now you know why Michonne is one of the most indispensable characters.
I thought that they were going to remix Jessie with Andrea and make her the version of Andrea that survived Seasons 3, but oh well. Now I read that they're bringing in Alicia Witt. Well, if you already had Breckenridge, why did you need to bring in Witt? I guess we'll never know.
The use of the flashback to Carol's terrorizing of Sam was done to demonstrate that she is due for something awful. This was her way of trying to toughen up Sam to the realities of the world at a time when she and Rick and Daryl didn't trust the Alexandrians. Carol has always been about tough love with regards to kids. She made an honest effort to bring Sam into the present. Instead, it caused him to freeze as they were trying to move through the herd. This could have been done to show that Carol is culpable for the deaths of Sam and Jessie but not Ron. Ron was on his own separate path and his death had everything to do with his inability to process his father's death. Rick's act of killing his father was legitimate. Now you have to make up your mind as to whether or not Carol should have frightened Sam and whether that was justified. The Anderson family is no more. This is one of two moral quandaries introduced over the last few episodes.
The other quandary centers around Morgan and his inability to kill living people. His choices didn't lead to anyone's death, just the temporary escape of the Wolf. Again, we come back around to Carol. She doesn't hesitate this time--she kills the Wolf without reservation, wisely taking custody of the only gun and separating herself from Morgan so that she can do what needs to be done. Morgan, on the other hand, is not broken by what happened. He joins in the fight and he gets past the moment where he realized that he could have ended up being responsible for the death of Dr. Denise. There were at least four redemption moments in this episode. Enid came out of her shell to help Glenn save Maggie, and there was a moment each for Father Gabriel, for Dr. Denise and for Eugene, so can Morgan be too far behind? The survivors are about to be confronted by the worst villain yet. How does Morgan change his fate? Or is he now too far gone? Your morals aren't going to survive the zombie apocalypse for very long.
Let's not minimize Rick's speech to Carl. This is an opposite speech, different from Carl's monologue when Rick collapsed after the fall of the prison. Rick is mirroring what Carl said but there is no recrimination. He goes all the way back to the pilot and talks about waking up in the hospital. He has a whole world to show Carl but we know what has happened to it. Rick is not dwelling on that--he just wants to keep trying to show Carl what the world could be like. He has hope now that they came together and defeated the walker herd. I think this is where the show really shifts from being about surviving to thriving and to confronting the human threat. This season will be the start of a story arc that does exactly that.
The act of getting the band back together gives us something rare for the Walking Dead. We get to see something incredible and rare. We get to see a moment of triumph for the group of survivors. Everyone pulls together and goes on a walker-killing rampage. It's a methodical elimination of the threat, one that starts small and builds momentum through example. Rick unleashes his rage, and everyone sees it, just like other soldiers will stop retreating and rally around a leader who is fighting back. This is a definite war movie moment set against a vastly different backdrop. You see nameless Alexandrians come out of their shelters and fight. You see Eugene give a monologue about not being able to take a day off. You see Glenn rally to save Maggie and then he, himself gets saved a second time by Abraham (the first time being outside of the prison).
Everything culminates in fire. Daryl sets the lake on fire and it consumes the rest of the walker herd. Fire is the only thing that can save the Alexandria Safe Zone, and now they have hundreds of bodies that need to be burned and disposed of. It seems like they're leaning towards rebuilding Alexandria. If so, why? For the running water and the convenience of suburban living? If anything, they need to look for a new compound to fortify and live in because Alexandria is now a tomb. How do you make everything work for you when what you need is a fortress, not a compound?
And is there anything more badass than Daryl setting a lake on fire?