The Walking Dead has a habit of stalling in its penultimate episodes. Sometimes that has to do with certain comic book elements; sometimes that has to do with a lack of content before moving into the finale. Weirdly enough, the best penultimate episode of The Walking Dead is in its worst season: Season 2. That’s the episode “Better Angels”, the one where Shane confronts Rick and is killed as a result. It’s a great episode with one of the best endings that The Walking Dead has had, probably the best episode of that season. But the penultimate episodes of late have been shaky, spinning wheels in order to set everything up for the finale.
“East” is one of those episodes that prepares for what looks to be an intense finale (“Last Day on Earth” is a pretty ominous title), but doesn’t have much content to speak of as a result. Carol runs away from Alexandria because she doesn’t want to kill anymore, which is a powerful message for the way that Rick leads the group, but also kind of a foolish thing for Carol to do. Clearly, being away from Alexandria is far, far more dangerous than being in Alexandria, so running away is just going to make her run into more danger, which will make her kill more people. But maybe being around Rick, a person that not only invites brutal violence against his enemies, but now is thankful for the violence she committed in the past, feels poisonous to her. Rick sees Carol as a tool for Alexandria; she sees herself as something better, even if she doesn’t know what that is.
Going into the finale, Rick’s conversations with Morgan are very, very important. The juxtaposition between the two of them isn’t only a reminder of how important it is for Morgan to be a healing force in Alexandria, a person that genuinely believes in the good in people, but it’s also a reminder of the forces within Rick. Rick has no problem with inviting violence, but he also has an ounce of good in him as well. He listens to Morgan when told about the Wolf that Morgan let live in Alexandria, long enough to understand where he’s coming from. But Morgan also talked about how your actions have a way of coming back to you. Sure, you can be innocent like Denise and end up dead, even though I would argue that her yelling out in the open and getting killed was an example of an action coming back to her. But Rick has committed so much violence during this season, and it has to catch up to him at some point. The question now is when it will happen, when Rick will finally see his actions catching up to him (a question that comic book fans already know the answer to, and one that the promo for the finale basically spoils).
Aside from Rick and Morgan’s comments, the episode is a whole lot of setup. Daryl goes out on a hunt for revenge and essentially gets what’s coming to him (a shot in the shoulder). Glenn, Michonne, Rosita, and Daryl are all captured by a group of Saviors, led by Dwight. It’s all leading up to a conflict in the finale, and while that bodes well for the finale, it can be kind of frustrating to watch a whole lot of buildup with no real payoff. It would be more interesting if there was some kind of character development during the excursion, but most of the scenes with those four characters boiled down to Daryl being angsty about Denise dying (something that makes sense, but still feels strained because his interactions with Denise were so short and so few). The rest of the characters, Glenn, Rosita, and Michonne, don’t really have much character development to speak of. There’s a lot of personal connection, such as Glenn and Maggie’s shower scene or Rick and Michonne eating an apple in bed, and it’s great that “East” goes out of its way to emphasize it in a way that feels real enough. But it’s not particularly dense, and it can be frustrating to see The Walking Dead operate on such a surface level, especially when “Here’s Not Here” was so unbelievably great.
“East”, while being kind of a slow episode, still works as a setup episode, both in terms of plot and in terms of thematic resonance. It goes to show that actions resonate, that seeking out violence means that violence will eventually come to you. But it doesn’t simply apply to violence. While karma might not exist, the attitude with which you approach life echoes throughout the way that the world interacts with you. And eventually, as Daryl, Michonne, Rosita, and Glenn have seen, things catch up with you. It’s just a matter of when.
So what did you think of “East”? What do you think is going to happen in the finale? Let me know in the comments!