I’ve been chatting with a Facebook friend throughout season six so far who has repeatedly told me: they’re setting up the pieces. They’re arranging everything to come together in a big way later on. Be patient.
We’ll have to wait and see how elements of previous episodes do or do not come to fruition later on, but “Always Accountable” seems to most clearly be setting the stage for the rest of the season. While the action was front-loaded and the Sasha/Abraham bits were fairly boring and poorly written (more on that in a bit), they’ve introduced what everyone on the Internet is convinced will be The Saviors — a rival group from the comic books, the leader of which (Negan) has already been cast and will apparently make his first appearance in the season six finale.
The opening few minutes of the episode are great. Just as Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham hit the twenty-mile mark and break off from the zombie herd, turning to head back to Alexandria, they’re ambushed by unseen attackers (with vehicles and guns). After a quick car chase, our trio is split up as Daryl heads into the woods to escape. Injured and bleeding, he stumbles through a burned and blackened area of the forest, which is visually effective not only due to its mystery — what exactly happened here? — but also because it takes a setting we’re so familiar with in The Walking Dead (the woods) and makes it new, creepy, and unsettling. When Daryl collapses onto the blackened ground — next to an incinerated walker wearing a motorcycle helmet, no less — and the camera takes in the entire ominous scene from high above, it’s clear that something bad is looming close by.
Most immediately, Daryl is knocked out and tied up by three frightened, scrawny characters who become the catalyst to our first encounter with the Other Group (The Saviors, allegedly). These three — two women and one man — reveal that they are the ones who burned the forest back when the outbreak started, that it was overrun by walkers, that this is where they used to live. They think Daryl is an assassin sent by the group they’re running away from, who sound like bad news based on the vague, foreboding things these three have to say about them: “You made the choice to kill for someone else,” the man says to Daryl, “to have them owing you for a roof over your head and three squares.” Later, he adds, “We should’ve never trusted you people to begin with.” Daryl temporarily escapes his captors only to find an insulin cooler in the duffle bag he takes with him; the blonde woman, at one point referred to as Tina (the only one of the three runaways named in the episode), is diabetic. Daryl returns the insulin, of course, just in time for the Other Group to show up.
They catch up to the runaways in the woods but never get too close. Their leader is absent, referred to (not by name) in the third person, and someone named Wade (whose face is never shown) seems to be calling the shots on this, shall we say, roundup mission. From what we see, they’re clearly organized: they have manpower, vehicles, weapons, and rules, which one of the women calls “batshit.” It’s not unlike Joe’s group, the one Daryl got mixed up with at the end of season four. This Other Group has rules, a clear code, but they’re obviously bad. In this world, you need a code to maintain some semblance of civility and combat the chaos, but a code does not always translate to morality. It’s a motif we’ve seen before: the Governor, Terminus. Organized groups or individuals who establish their own rules and systems to survive but are anything but virtuous. Sometimes these systems merely mask an underlying chaos and depravity. Maybe, then, having a code is necessary to make it in this world (at least, if you’re living with other people), but it’s not sufficient to make it out with your humanity intact. With Negan’s promised appearance at the end of the season, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of this Other Group and what their particular brand of evil/crazy is before too long.
Of course, Daryl Dixon fits into this puzzle beautifully. He has his code, but it stems from his goodness, discernment, and loyalty. When he sees the insulin in the bag, we know what will happen next because we know that Daryl does the right thing. Tina dies a ridiculous death anyway, practically throwing herself onto the reanimated corpses of two friends they come across in the woods. It’s meant to be an emotional scene, with the build up of her realization that these friends didn’t make it out alive like they thought, and then the other woman weeping over Tina as she bleeds to death, but I simply didn’t have the capacity to care about this character I just met. (It’s like, I don’t know, two thirds of the people at Alexandria all over again.) While burying Tina’s body, Daryl tries to recruit the other two runaways for Alexandria, but he’s wary of making a mistake and risking the vulnerability. “Why the hell did you come back for us?” the man asks Daryl at one point. “Maybe I’m stupid, too,” Daryl responds. So it’s a blow when they turn on him in the end, stealing his iconic crossbow and riding off on his motorcycle (thankfully, he retains his angel-wings vest).
Meanwhile, Sasha and Abraham hide out in an insurance office and wait for Daryl. Sasha says the best way to find a tracker is to let him find you, which is a fair point and legitimately seems like a smart move on their part, but after last week’s speech-laden episode I wasn’t thrilled by the prospect of watching more characters sit around talking. Their dialogue is pretty awful, full of overblown metaphors like “We don’t need to leave a trail of breadcrumbs,” “play chicken with the ground,” and “the table is set for the rest of our lives.” Who talks like that?
Abraham decides to take a stroll, and in a cartoonish twist ends up finding both a rocket launcher and a box of cigars. He unleashes some of his pent up rage by screaming at a walker, but while I understood the concept of the scene I didn’t find it very affecting. In fact, everything with Abraham felt a little off to me. For the first half of the episode he was almost acting like he was drunk, swaggering around and smiling at Sasha as if they hadn’t just been ambushed and almost killed. Maybe he was drunk in a way: on the overwhelming chaos and the rush of killing walkers, as Sasha confronts him about (chiefly via clumsy, confusing metaphors) in the insurance office. It’s his escape from their new Alexandrian reality, where he might have to actually make choices and be accountable for their consequences. This seems to get through to Abraham, and it also prompts him to proclaim his attraction to Sasha, which she smoothly defuses, although doesn’t outright reject. (And I don’t really care enough to look into it in detail, but wasn’t Abraham with Rosita? Was that just sort of a casual on-the-way-to-D.C. thing? I don’t remember how clear their relationship was, but I do remember them sleeping together at least once.)
Anyway, Daryl finds a fuel truck and rolls up to Sasha and Abraham at the end of the episode. On their way back to Alexandria, Daryl radios out for anyone to respond, and in the final moments we hear a single word reply: “Help.” Of course, it could be anyone, but it didn’t sound like Glenn to me.
Before I wrap things up, I have some more thoughts on Daryl.
In an interview with MTV earlier this week, Norman Reedus said that this episode kicks off a new trajectory for Daryl: “He goes to a very dark place, and that place just gets darker, and darker, and darker.” Scott Gimple et al. have also been saying that everything is significant, that the ramifications of everything that is happening will come back again to affect these characters.
And as I’ve been reflecting on this episode, I’ve gotten nervous that the show is maybe, possibly setting up Daryl’s death. I mentioned this fear to my husband before we sat down to watch the episode together (my second time viewing it), and when we got to the shot of Daryl lying in the forest between the walker and his motorcycle, my husband said, “Oh yeah. Daryl’s dead.” When I asked him to elaborate, he said, “You don’t collapse into a cruciform onto the ground in a scene of death without dying yourself pretty soon.” He has a point: the imagery in this episode is undeniably bleak, and there’s also speculation swirling around that Daryl may die at the hands of Negan when he’s introduced in the finale (in the comics, Negan kills Glenn with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire, but some are wondering if perhaps Daryl will take Glenn’s place). Of course, the fate of any character is anyone’s guess at this point, and the more the show can tease us about who might die next, the more viewers they’ll draw.
It’s Daryl’s goodness that really makes me fear for him. In thinking of possible ways he’d be killed off, he’s too skilled to get surprised by a walker or lose in a fight. Of course, while the “anything could happen, nobody’s safe” rule always applies, if they want a death that makes sense with how they’ve built the character, there’s really only one option: Daryl will die so someone else can be saved. He’s already willing to sacrifice himself for his friends; he told Joe without hesitation to kill him instead of Rick back in the season four finale, and when he and Aaron were surrounded by walkers in the car (due to the Wolves’ trap in season five), he offered without a second thought to lure them away, and surely die in the process, to give Aaron a chance to escape. Maybe he’ll willingly sacrifice himself for someone else, or maybe the sacrifice will be inadvertent (such as Negan choosing to kill Daryl instead of Glenn or someone else in The Group — assuming Glenn turns out to be alive, but I’m pretty spent on that strand of speculation by now).
Daryl has grown so much as a character over the course of the show. He’s come into his own as a leader, someone people trust and rely on, Rick’s right-hand man. By his own admission, his life pre-apocalypse was pretty meaningless. When the world collapsed, the things that limited and marginalized him before collapsed along with it, so he now has the opportunity to become the type of person he always had the potential to be. In this way, Daryl reminds me of Jesse on Breaking Bad, AMC’s other hit drama; both characters are, to an extent, victims of their circumstances, but given the right opportunity they demonstrate their potential for goodness, which makes any losses they suffer hurt all the more.
It sounds like they’re planning some losses for Daryl in the coming episodes; perhaps he will harden his heart and shut off again now that his attempt to help these strangers turned out so badly for him. He’s in a delicate place personally, because he’s had to be tough and cold most of his life in order to survive. It takes a lot for him to open up, to trust others and trust himself. Because of all of this, the stakes are high for Daryl. He’s got more to lose because he’s gained so much — respect, self-worth, people who care for him, a family. We get invested in characters like this. We want their goodness to be rewarded, but as I’ve said before, The Walking Dead is not known for rewarding its virtuous characters.
This episode’s dropping a lot of hints about what lies ahead, for Daryl and everyone else, and it doesn’t bode well. If they’re looking for a character death that will really hurt, they’ll be aiming at Daryl.
In the meantime, I’m watching with my fingers crossed.
The “convenient plot device” walkie talkies continue to pick up only two frequencies: Static or Cryptic Cliffhanger.
OK. Seriously. It’s time for Daryl to get a haircut. All I saw in this episode was hair.