The horn blaring at the end of “First Time Again” put a major dent in Rick’s plan to shift a quarry full of walkers away from Alexandria. But there’s more than an undead horde shambling toward town that threatens their idyllic safe zone — the wolves. And they’re striking with a ferocity to which the people of Alexandria aren’t quite accustomed.
“JSS” showcases how susceptible to threat Alexandria is and the kind of ruthless behavior required to maintain its peace and tranquility. Or is it required? That lingering question has been growing in prominence and is crystallized in the approaches Morgan and Carol take to defend the town throughout “JSS.” Is there a less deadly way to make a life in this type of world, or do violent, brutal attacks call for a proportionate response?
Before that attack, however, “JSS” winds the clock back to Alexandria while Rick, Michonne, and the rest were plotting a walker parade. In the relief of what’s happening, Carol’s problems are comically domestic. She’s being praised for her cooking, and the toughest topic of the day seems to be the varying opinions on paprika. She chastises one of the women in the pantry for smoking, but other than that moment of tension and Sam continuing to wait around for her at home, life is…normal.
And that sense of normalcy trying to mask the darkness around them pervades the rest of town. Maggie is preparing a garden to plant vegetables while building Deanna back up. Jessie is trying to give Ron a haircut, but Ron is being a standard TV teen who won’t take off his beanie…and is also upset that his mother is friends with the man who killed his father. Eugene and Tara meet with the town’s new doctor, Denise (Merritt Wever), who may not actually be a doctor who’s trained to operate — she went to med school but switched from wanting to be a surgeon to becoming a psychiatrist, so she’ll have to do her best.
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It’s all so simple and quiet that you know it’s only a matter of time before chaos descends upon them all. (Father Gabriel asking Carl for weapons training is probably a good indicator of that, too.) And sure enough, as Carol is putting food in the oven, setting up her timer, and watching Judith on the baby monitor, she takes a moment to appreciate the situation.
She walks to the window, looks outside, and sees an Alexandrian smoking…until she’s cut down by a bedraggled man who looks like an extra out of The Warriors.
Suddenly, the town is thrown into peril. Molotovs are being thrown at the wall, lookouts burned alive in the process. Maggie and Deanna witness the destruction as a squadron of unfamiliar faces finds its way into town. Screams are coming from every direction: Jessie and Sam are hiding in their home while Ron remains unaccounted for. Carol warns Carl to stay with Judith as she goes to investigate. And Spencer, Deanna’s son, is sniping from the guard tower and watches in horror as a truck comes careening into the town wall, a perpetually sounding horn blaring from it.
And then things start to get really bad.
Most of the horrors plaguing Alexandria are initially showcased via Carol, as she weaves her way through houses and streets, watching her neighbors knifed down and arriving too late to stop some of those deaths. She takes out a wolf, but there are plenty more to confront before Alexandria is safe.
NEXT: Can Carol and Morgan work together? [pagebreak]
The biggest worry of all may be that horn, though. Spencer, fighting his way out of the wreckage at the foot of the guard tower, opens the door of the truck to find a walker trapped inside. He pauses, unable to bring himself to attack, and before he finally can, Morgan appears from the other doorway and ends the walker’s second life. Morgan is going to help, but he realizes the sniper is too frazzled to come with him, so he warns him to hide instead. (Luckily, Maggie and Deanna come by later so worried mother can reunite with worried son.)
Good on his word, Morgan heads into town, where he faces off with a particularly cocky wolf. Morgan warns him to leave. He doesn’t want to kill this man and believes this whole ordeal can avoid bloodshed. Carol disagrees, coming in disguised as the wolf she killed to end this axe-wielding one’s life, much to Morgan’s dismay. He knows she doesn’t like the killing and firmly believes they don’t have to kill to survive, but she doesn’t want to hear it. She’s doing what she believes she has to, and, for the moment, Morgan goes along with her.
In her disguise, Carol drags Morgan through the streets by a chain, fooling her fellow wolves until Morgan sees someone in pain and runs off to help. Carol continues putting down wolves while making her way to the armory (none of her foes have guns, and that is one upper hand she’d like to maintain).
She finds her way into the armory, mowing down a couple more wolves, including one whose blood splatter lands on the camera. (It seems to be an accident that the crew rolls with, as the episode doesn’t repeat that trick all that often during the other struggles). Once inside, she finds Olivia hiding out, but she trains the frightened woman to point and shoot should anyone coming at the armory door.
While she’s giving a quick lesson in target practice, Morgan is saving Father Gabriel from the pointy end of a wolf’s weapon. But he’s doing so in Morgan fashion, tying up the wolf instead of killing him. Unfortunately for Morgan’s precious life directive, Carol comes along and shoots the wolf and gives them guns, though neither is particularly excited by the prospect of a firearm.
(ASIDE: Extending out of the Rick/Michonne tension developing last year, I don’t know yet if I’m sold on the Carol/Morgan opposition as its own unique dichotomy to watch or if it will feel like a retread. Carol and Morgan are two of my favorite characters, and so I hope this is a sign of their continued prominence this season, particularly as, though their approaches may be different, Morgan sticks to his vindication that Carol, deep down, feels the same way as he does. END ASIDE)
And as Carol goes off to stop every wolf in sight, Morgan is ambushed by a pack of them, including a familiar face from last season. Fighting off a few of them, Morgan warns them all to leave. His friends have guns, and they will use them against their bulletless foes.
“You keep choosing this life, you will die,” Morgan warns them, but the head wolf responds that choice had nothing to do with it, before they eventually flee out the front gate. Morgan shuts the gate behind them, seemingly putting an end to the threat… for now.
Morgan and Carol aren’t the only Alexandrians on the offensive, though. Rosita and Aaron are fighting their way through the town and taking down whatever foes they can. But their assault leads Aaron to a guilt-ridden discovery: his backpack, full of the photos he had of Alexandria, slung on the body of one of the wolves.
NEXT: Just survive somehow. [pagebreak]
Meanwhile, Carl has holed up in his home, letting only Enid in at first. She’s there to say good-bye, but he won’t hear a word of it and makes her stay put while they wait out the attack. The episode also starts out with Enid’s story pre-Alexandria, from which the episode’s title is also derived. Enid, once with a mother and father, is forced to watch her parents eaten by walkers. Left alone in the world, she travels on foot, writing the letters “JSS” into dirt, dust, and bone as she finds hiding spots and meals (in the form of a poor turtle).
She arrives at Alexandria alone, and it seems the permanence of her stay was always in question. Despite Carl’s intentions to keep her there, his attention is diverted away when stupid Ron has to stupidly be attacked by a stupid wolf. He wants Ron to stay inside with them, but he refuses and runs away.
Once the attack comes to an end, Carl loses track of Enid; all that remains of her is a note: “Just survive somehow.” And so they did for another hour, but not without plenty of bloodshed. (It’s also a nice touch that Carl takes Carol’s food out of the oven, her timer going off just as the battle comes to a close and suggesting we saw the fight almost in real time.)
Denise loses her first patient in the infirmary, at first afraid to do anything. But she dives in to help thanks to some peer pressure from the group. There’s nothing she can do for Holly, though, who flatlines, and the loss of her at Denise’s hands is too much for the new doctor to handle with all these eyes on her.
Jessie faces a horror of another kind, as she and Sam hide inside a closet in their home. She eventually leaves to investigate, heading downstairs where a wolf waits to attack. The two throw each other around, and though it looks like this might be the end for Jessie, fury wells up from inside her. In a flurry of screams and stabbing strikes, she kills the wolf just as Ron comes home. (For more on Jessie’s big moment, read Dalton Ross’ interview with actress Alexandra Breckenridge.)
In nearly every corner of Alexandria, the reality of the world has hit home. For many, it meant the end. For others, it was a tough lesson in what survival actually requires. Maggie tries to remind Deanna that they did survive, but the town’s leader is quite aware of the body count hanging over the day. And Spencer expresses his concerns over the world he knew and the world as it exists outside those confines when he asks Rosita if this day was how it is normally outside the walls of Alexandria. It is, and the message seems to be, they better prepare for more if they intend on keeping their lives.
Of course, Morgan wishes the question of life or death could be removed from the equation. He wants an existence free of these violent wars of man versus man when such a lingering threat looms. But his stance is put to the test when he enters a home, only to be ambushed by a lingering wolf. Morgan, the newest ninja on the block, is too quick to be killed, however, and though the fight goes back and forth, he eventually comes out on top.
This wolf knows Morgan doesn’t want to kill him, though. But there comes a point where he has few options left, so Morgan apologizes and lands a powerful strike on the wolf’s head.
He and Carol later pass by wordlessly in the street. Neither comes to a stop, barely registering each other’s existence, instead continuing on their own paths. Alexandria is safe for now, but, as they’re ostensibly on the same side, their paths will continue to cross and their ideologies will continue to clash now that the wolves are a more clear and present danger than ever.