[This is a review of The Walking Dead season 6, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
'Always Accountable' is a solid representation of the Scott M. Gimple era on The Walking Dead. It is a mostly quiet episode that narrows its focus to just a handful of characters and puts two of them in a situation where the only thing they have to talk to one another about is their current state of mind. But the episode also has larger ambitions than trying to be another 'Clear' or even 'Here's Not Here.' There is a lot of world building going on that will undoubtedly have a greater impact on these characters moving forward, as the "pay for what you take" group hunting Daryl's temporary traveling companions certainly look (from what was seen of them) and sound like the proverbial storm cloud on the horizon, but the hour seems reticent to acknowledge it, let alone chase it down like it normally does.
The idea that The Walking Dead would suddenly become shy when it comes to making introductions might have been less of a problem (and it might have even felt like a solid bit of tension building) if the season wasn't still teasing out an answer to Glenn's fate during 'Thank You.' There are the slightest hints at where the season is going with the introduction of another group of survivors who have a strong code and an intimidating leader. This, in and of itself, is nothing remarkable, but when coupled with Daryl and Glenn's (because even if the voice on the radio isn't Glenn, it could be related to him) recent interactions with survivors, might make that group's way of doing things seem like a seductive alternative to their current situation.
While that is an intriguing proposition, there's nothing to confirm it, as the episode, for one reason or another, isn't allowed to move past doling out hints, so the hour feels mostly like a circuitous piece of table setting. The scenes following Daryl are mostly designed to show how, once again, as bad things might seem to be, they can always get worse. This is one of the basic tenets of The Walking Dead, and given what Daryl, Dwight, Tina, and Sherry witness in the woods, as Wade lops a recently bitten soldier's arm off and then tells him to "walk it off," the show certainly seems as though it is headed down a familiar path.
And yet, despite the intrigue of this new group – intrigue that is mostly predicated on recent casting news – the episode fails to give anyone (Dwight, Tina, and Sherry included) enough weight that they come across as anything but a momentary distraction, something to be remembered for later in the season, Chekov's dude in denim, essentially. Although it succeeds in hinting at new antagonists, the episode wasn't busy enough to justify how thinly sketched Daryl's short-lived acquaintances were. This is especially evident by the way the greenhouse sequence registered more as a way to kill time and to cull the group's numbers down because three people can't fit on Daryl's motorcycle.
Mostly, it’s a matter of context. The script is playing with the idea of assumptions quite a bit, which is interesting, but not explored nearly enough. The survivors assume Daryl is "one of them" but since Daryl never asks for specifics about "them" everything Dwight and his companions fear is left unknown. This not only makes the mostly unseen squad traipsing through the burnt forest less of a tangible threat, it also distances the audience from these new characters, as viewers have no real grasp on what they're talking about.
Since Daryl never sweeps his greasy hair back to show he's not sporting a 'W' on his forehead, it can be assumed this new group isn't the Wolves, but the fact that it never comes up feels like too much of an assumption and too much of a lead on the part of the writer. Daryl has had limited interaction with the Wolves, but he's aware they pose a threat, and if he was willing to take Dwight and Sherry back to Alexandria, then it stands to reason he might also want to know whether or not the people chasing them were the same ones causing trouble in his neighborhood, or if he had just stepped in excrement and was potentially dragging a new threat home on the bottom of his shoe.
When it comes down to it, 'Always Accountable' is too concerned with setting up what's coming around the corner. There's some nice character development given to Abraham, and Michael Cudlitz does a great job handling his speech to Sasha – that's basically a long-winded way of hinting at a future romance – but the emphasis on his finding an RPG again feels too deliberate in where it's leading the audience. Moreover, the obviousness of the weapon's appearance isn't undercut enough by Abraham's recklessness, which results in his journeying out on a precarious ledge to scream in death's rotting face.
The Walking Dead has made great strides in the way it focuses on character, often creating episodes that demonstrate how much better the show is when its not just about bashing zombies or confronting a human threat. And while that seems to have been the goal here, the episode lacked a central idea upon which the hour could be built. The result was a wobbly hour of television that shyly introduced a number of potentially compelling elements, but never really found a way to make itself very interesting.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with 'Heads Up' @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Gene Page/AMC