The Walking Dead 6×07 ‘Heads Up’: The world we’re in…

The Walking Dead 6x07 Cover

The more characters you include on a show, the more difficult it is to deeply explore them. If The Walking Dead had, say, five main characters, then it might be easier to do episodes that focus heavily on one point of view because you wouldn’t need an entire season for character development. Only The Walking Dead has something like twenty characters that it focuses on, and while not all of them are “main characters”, they’re all characters that are integrated into the story. That means that single-POV episodes are, if anything, a luxury, and that the rest of the multi-POV episodes play catch-up. And catch-up episodes (or set-up episodes, or whatever you want to call them) really aren’t that interesting.

The Walking Dead 6x07-1

Source: AMC

“Heads Up” is a catch-up episode, and while it sets up some major story threads that are sure to converge in the finale, it stumbles quite a bit while doing so. Carol and Morgan run into philosophical differences about how to deal with the world. Ron wants to learn to shoot because he’s mad that the world has taken control away from him and wants to take it out on Carl. Rick and Deanna come to a peaceful resolution. Glenn is alive (hooray!) and takes Enid with him back to Alexandria, where they watch as zombies surround the town. It’s all halfway interesting, but the issue is that it’s largely plot set-up for next week, to the point where it feels like we’re skipping through a highlight reel to get to the bloody action next week.

The Walking Dead 6x07-2

Source: AMC

In an alternate universe, this episode would entirely revolve around Glenn and Enid. Glenn just went through a traumatic experience, watching the man he tried so hard to save blow his brains out and get torn apart by zombies. Enid has had a life filled with trauma, as she watched her parents get torn apart and now runs from any situation that makes her uncomfortable, any situation that looks to end in loss. There’s a great parallel in the way that both of them have experienced the world around them that an episode entirely focused on them could have teased out those parallels into something really great. Instead, we spend half of the episode learning how Glenn survived (he hid under the dumpster) and watching him chase Enid through a series of buildings. The back half of the episode has the two of them returning to Alexandria, picking up some balloons along the way, but little more happens than that. Their interactions are some of the best parts of the episode, but they’re also the most frustrating because they could be so much more than what they are.

The Walking Dead 6x07-3

Source: AMC

This is why “Heads Up” isn’t necessarily a bad episode of television – just a frustrating one. There is so much potential for an episode like this to blossom into something really amazing, like “The Grove” from Season 4 or “Clear” from Season 3, but it just doesn’t. Glenn could have been developed into somebody that we actually know instead of somebody we would like to be alive because, yeah, that would be nice. We could understand more about how Enid clearly is afraid of loss instead of that just being a vague facet of her character. And, as probably the most egregious example of potential wasted, we could understand more about how Ron is reacting to a loss of control and the lie of how the world really works. This is something that could be connected to the way that teenagers experience life now, how the world shifts out from under them and becomes something exponentially more savage and uncompromising, how kids go to extreme measures to take back control from a society that reminds them that they never really had it. Instead, Ron’s just this mopey kid who we’re reminded “lost” his girlfriend to Carl in this ridiculous love triangle. So much potential wasted.

The Walking Dead 6x07-4

Source: AMC

One of the most interesting facets of this episode is the internal struggle within Morgan and how he’s now at odds with Carol. Morgan represents a desire to find peace and understanding in a new world, while Carol represents a desire to push it all out of the way as fast as possible. In what was probably the best moment of the episode, Rick insinuates that it’s Morgan’s fault that he was assaulted by the Wolves, but Morgan traces back his survival to Rick letting him go, to the rescue of Daryl and Aaron, to the Wolves finding Aaron’s bag. You can trace back anything far enough and come up with convoluted results. There isn’t a black and white to the world that Morgan and Rick and Carol and the rest of the Alexandrians live in. You do the best you can to be a person, then you move on. The worst that this show could have done is to make Morgan out to be a villain, but it smartly avoids that pitfall. It shows that Morgan makes himself vulnerable while he tries to navigate the world, that Carol doesn’t understand people who make themselves vulnerable (likely because of her past as a victim of domestic violence), and that they’re bound to clash. That kind of characterization works wonders, and The Walking Dead needs to find ways to use more of it on characters like Spencer who desperately need it. Of course, before Carol or Morgan are able to move forward in resolving their issues with the world, the tower falls and takes down part of the wall, forcing them to fight to survive again. It’s an interesting reminder that these are people who have the power to find their way in the new world, but are so immersed in the fight to survive that they can’t utilize that power. They’re stuck in purgatory, hoping to make it to the other side.

And so we’re back to the zombie carnage that Season 6 has thrived so well on. The mid-season finale, “Start to Finish”, is sure to give us some brutal character deaths, a horde of zombies, and Chekhov’s rocket launcher. It’ll probably be a lot of fun in the same way that the front end of the half-season was so much fun. But The Walking Dead has to get better at connecting the dots between the set-pieces. There’s so much potential, but so much of it goes unrealized. And until that potential is finally realized, The Walking Dead is going to be a bifurcated show, one that boasts fantastic highs like “JSS” and irritating lows like “Now”.

What did you think of “Heads Up”? Was it as interesting as you wanted it to be? And who do you think is going to become zombie food in the finale? Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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  • Gui

    I think that, in the long run, one of the biggest issues this series has had regarding setup episodes has been the influence of the comics. People want those big moments from the comics, the action, and with how the general public reacted to the bottle episodes in the back half of season 4 and the first half of season 5, that doesn’t help. Or even recently how many people reacted to “Here’s Not Here”. A lot of people want the ensemble cast and a constant fast pace, which I think is part of what complicates the situation.
    As you said, in an ideal world the episode would be all about Glenn and Enid, and maybe have some Rick, Ron and Carl to add more depth to the themes. Glenn’s survival worked well for me (frankly, it makes a lot more sense than how the van landed on its wheels in Consumed instead of flipping) and this episode showed potential for some interesting changes in Glenn’s character, but as you said, it could’ve gone further. Enid also happened to be interesting and, based on the sneak peek AMC uploaded, it seems we’ll be dealing with more of her trauma and fear of attachment.
    The way Morgan was handled was also something I enjoyed. It’s no surprise they decided to show Glenn surviving this episode, Glenn is one of the few characters who has lived this long without killing someone else and counters Rick’s main question and gives merit to his thinking. And it’s noble that he’s trying to save and reform that wolf, but the question is: Can everyone change? Or are some people too far gone? I have the feeling Carol and Morgan will be locked in together next episode, and their conflict should be interesting. They have a bigger enemy outside, but with that wolf in there, their ideologies are sure to clash at the worst possible moment.
    That said, I also appreciated Rosita’s speech to Eugene, and Rick’s moments with Spencer and Tobin. Rosita’s speech fits with that theme of fear of loss and others dying around you (Glenn lives only because Nicholas died, Enid lives thanks to her parents’ deaths), and it should give Eugene a good shakeup he needs. As for Rick’s parts, those are making it clear that even now he hasn’t fully gotten rid of that us vs. them mentality, while most of his group and even the Alexandrians themselves are done with it. They’re starting to adjust to this world and they can contribute, question is, will he listen to them? He just might have to in the upcoming episode.
    But yeah, next episode will be intense. That promo was fantastic, I’m pretty sure that was Emily Kinney singing which added a very haunting touch to it. I have the feeling Deanna’s done for, her giving those plans to Michonne seems pretty final. And I have the feeling Ron won’t make it through, but he’ll put Rick and Carl in dire straits before he goes. Father Gabriel is another likely one for me, he’s been trying to find a way to contribute and redeem himself since the season started, and I think he’ll make up for locking all those people outside the church as we learned last season.
    Whoa, that went on for longer than I thought, sorry about that.

    • Michael St. Charles

      Haha, it’s alright. I think you’re definitely right in that these set-up episodes are largely impacted by the comic books and how there are “BIG” events in place that are being set-up. It’s really easy to get wrapped up in “BIG MOMENTS”, such as Game of Thrones, which sometimes becomes a highlight reel instead of a television show because there are so many “moments” to hit.

      I get this feeling that Rick is being set-up to get knocked down, and that it’s easily the most interesting direction to take his character. This entire season has had every plan of his fail: the quarry barricade breaks early, the Wolves attack an undefended Alexandria, half the herd breaks off towards Alexandria, the tower collapses part of the wall and zombies come pouring in. I’d say that a lot of this season is Rick trying to be the leader and failing because he’s trying to do everything himself. It’s good character development, so amid all of the “BIG MOMENTS” next week, I hope we get some of that.

      I’m still so excited for next week’s episode, and judging of the promo, the body count is looking to be high. Haha, I hate getting wrapped up in the bloody gladiatorial nature of the show, but I am excited to see who makes it and who dies.

  • George Liapes

    i liked this episode more than the last two, but like you said, it was mainly set up (besides Glenn’s survival).

    Surprise, surprise Glenn lived, but I fear it may have damaged the show’s “Anyone can die” state for quite some time. I read an article online a few weeks back that mentioned one aspect of Glenn’s survival that he would forgive would be if his faith in humanity would be ultimately shattered and he would be a lot more like Rick or Carol. unfortunately, despite almost getting eaten alive thanks to Nick, he is still a believer in optimism. Not that its a bad thing, since the episode did a good job of contrasting his optimism to Enid’s cynicism, but it just seems disappointing that he hasn’t even been affected by his near death experience.

    totally agree with you on the number of characters on the show being too much to flesh out all of them, even though there a good few that I do feel a bond to.

    Ultimately, while I’m excited at the action-packed finale next week, I’m disappointed that this half-season’s highs have mainly been based around action (with the exception of “Here’s not Here). The show has proven with the first half of Season 5 that it can create good storytelling even with low-key episodes. I’m hoping that the second half will be like that with Alexandria finally gone and the survivors once again on the road.

    As for casualties, Ron, Deana, Jessie and probably Spencer are likely deaths, though I’m hoping that at least one of them will be spared to see how they react to the outside world. Eugene may very likely be dead too, if the scene with Rosita is setting up the whole “coward dies overcoming his fears and saving people” cliche.

    Great review!

    • Nate

      I don’t think Glenn living ruined the “anyone can die” thing. Nicholas still died and Glenn almost did. I don’t want to spoil anything if you haven’t read the comics, but Glenn is very important in some of the upcoming story lines (if the show follows the comics).

      Continuing on that point, I THINK Alexandria will survive, mostly because it’s a major longer arc in the comics and there are some upcoming characters on the show that were featured in this arc in the comics. So I guess we will see what happens at the end of next week’s episode/6B.

      I personally don’t want them to be back on the road because it gets kind of boring. Like, they already made it to the DC area, are they going to try to go even more north to Canada or something? Maybe the walkers are nicer there? Lol. For real though, I want them to have some sort of home for a while.

      • George Liapes

        The thing is that Glenn is a much bigger character than Nicholas ever was, so his fake out was a huge disappointment, considering how they were willing to spend a month teasing us before revealing his survival. It’s not like Game of Thrones, which kills off major characters every season and always changes the status quo and deserves the “Anyone can die” slogan a lot more than this show right now.

        I’m looking forward to that scene with Glenn you’re talking about (.I know what it is by the way), but it’s possible that he won’t be involved, or the scene won’t happen at all, since the show proved in the past that it doesn’t just follow the comic.

        I think it’s pretty obvious that Alexandria will fall, considering they’ve been building up the zombie horde this whole season, though the show might actually surprise us and keep it going for the time being, like they did the with the Season 3 finale.

        You’re entitled to your own opinion though, man.

        This is George, just I’m typing from a different computer and I can’t access Facebook.

        • Michael St. Charles

          Thanks for commenting, guys! It’s interesting to talk about television and the whole “Anybody can die” idea. The Walking Dead has always tried to embody this, for sure, but being a major television show it certainly has some unkillable characters like Rick, Carl, and Michonne. I’ve heard Gimple talk about the Glenn fake-out, saying that he’s trying to comment on the idea of uncertainty, and I guess that makes sense. I’m hoping they use Glenn’s return to say a little more though.

          I’m hoping that they move away from Alexandria after this next episode, if only to shake things up a bit. In order to keep the show interesting though, they’ll definitely have to give the characters some sort of new goal. They’ve spent the whole series traveling and going to different places, so they’re definitely gonna have to get creative. But I think they could do well with keeping Alexandria too. Just have to stay creative.

          Let me know what you both think about the mid-season finale this Sunday!

        • Nate

          Just a warning, I’m going to mention stuff from the mid-season finale just because it’s still kind of relevant to the discussion.

          I’m not trying to say that they won’t leave Alexandria. And let’s be real: with the mid-season finale, it definitely appears that they will have to abandon ship. But at the same time, I’m tired of all of the running. I know that that’s what makes it exciting, trying to find a new place to survive. But it’s also getting to the point where they (or at least a few of them) run whenever something bad happens.

          Furthermore, I guess it is just confusing how they will bring in some of the new characters (Negan and Jesus, and anyone else from this comic arc) without keeping Alexandria around for at least the second half of the season. Or maybe they’ll run and then come back to the town next season? I don’t really know.

          The other thing is that not everyone escaped. Well, not everyone was with the group that was trying to escape. Carol, Morgan, Rosita, and Tara are all stuck without a plan to leave. And the writers/producers wouldn’t kill off four of the “main” characters. So somehow there has to be a way for them to get out/people have to come back to save them.

          • George Liapes

            don’t worry i saw the episode too. i get that the survivors constantly running on the road looking for the next best place gets pretty repetitive after a while. but i don’t really see them as running away like cowards considering how the zone is covered with walkers and theres no way that they’re going to spend the rest of the season trying to wipe out the whole herd and risk getting bit.

            as with Jesus and Negan in regards to Alexandria, i actually approve of that choice in regards to them appearing somewhere different, since the show shouldn’t just adhere itself to the source material, though we’ll have to see whether or not its done in a way that looks appropriate.

            yeah, it will definitely take a miracle for the six (you forgot Eugene and Spencer, even though the latter didnt even appear) to escape Alexandria unharmed. but for the most part (with the exception of the midseason premiere and probably an episode detailing how the five get out of the zone) i think alexandria has run its course.