JSS. Stands for ‘Just So Surprised’ at what happened in this episode. I mean, it doesn’t stand for that, but it might as well. Let’s jump right in.
The episode begins in the past. Enid sits in a truck…somewhere with her parents. She’s looking out and spots some approaching walkers in the distance. Just as walkers approach from behind, we cut to Enid watching walkers feast upon remains.
Enid then walks the lonely streets in the rain, covered in blood and on her own. She should have had a poncho. She protects herself as best she can to avoid being protected when she hears walkers, but she still has no weapon. Instead, the writes JSS in the dirt.
The next day, Enid continues and finds a car with not a body, but a walker outside of the door. She kills the walker and takes shelter inside…this time writing JSS on the window. You get it? As Enid continues along, she spots a turtle. And she fucking kills and eats it! I mean, we’ve seen characters eat dogs, so this isn’t too out of left field, but come on!
Oh, and JSS out of bones. I sense a theme here.
Enid’s journey takes her to some abandoned and quite wrecked homes right by a giant wall. She hears voices within the gates and waits. At first, she turns away, weighing her options, but after giving it more thought, and scrawling JSS on her hand, she approaches and is welcomed within the gates of the Alexandria Safe Zone.
In the present, Carol stocks up from the armory to prepare a soup. Since supplies are running low, she’s thinking about mixing up ingredients. Hell, she once made a miracle with water chestnuts. Of course, Carol keeps up her mask. She even offers to teach Shelly make pasta. In exchange, though, she wants Shelly, who enjoys cigarette, to take her smoking outdoors. There are already enough things that can kill you.
Carol tells Sam, who is on her porch, that Pete is dead and it’s done. Live with it or it’ll eat you up. That and go home.
Jessie, meanwhile, calls for Ron to come downstairs for a haircut, which he doesn’t want. It’s all set up, but Ron sees through this: Jessie just wants to talk to him. She asks if he blames her for what happened. That and to raise his left hand. He can’t. Pete was dangerous, but Ron says that Rick is dangerous as well. Jessie stands by Rick, as the two are friends.
Outside, Maggie and Deanna are set to put up some panels for a hard day’s work. Maggie gives Deanna a card about a nursery with supplies like tomatoes to plant. The expansion needs to be finished and the wall needs to go up. Rick wants the community to grow, as does Deanna, as everyone is here because of her. Now it’s time to show that they’re all still there.
Elsewhere, Eugene and Tara discuss potential expansion. Denise, the new doctor, played by Merritt Wever from Nurse Jackie, overhears this conversation. Eugene doubts her ability, but then, Denise doubts him as well. She’s at least a psychiatrist and wanted to go to medical school. But then the outbreak happened. Eugene is still skeptical, but Tara is willing to give her a shot. Pete didn’t want Denise there, but she is. So why the aspirin? Tara and Eugene are working on a platform at the guard tower and Tara got a bit dizzy.
Carl takes Judith for a walk. I assume someone in Alexandria was nice enough to lend him a stroller. Anyway, he spots Enid and Ron, but Gabriel approaches him. He admits that what he told Deanna was about himself, not the group.
He still wants to help and Carl did teach him at the church, so he’s ready to learn. Carl responds that he needs to tell everyone, and to come around three o’clock. They’ll start with the machete. Rather than just continue on, Carl continues to watch Enid and Ron.
Following this, Carol gets to cooking, but she spots Shelly smoking before she’s hacked down to size by a random attacker. That escalated fast.
Maggie and Deanna hear a scream. They call out to Richard, who is attacked by Molotov cocktails and subsequently burned. No, seriously, this shit is escalating very fast!
As chaos reigns outside, Jessie prepares to head out and tells Sam to lock himself in their home, but they hear a noise and soon head upstairs and lock themselves in the closet.
Enid grabs a set of keys and meets up with Carl so she can say goodbye. She’s not staying, but Carl insists that she stay. No one is getting inside or, preferably, outside this house. So the two sit back to back. When asked if she saw them, Enid says that they’re just people. There are too many blind spots and this place is too big to protect. Right now, Carl does not want Enid to tell her goodbye.
Carol watches men massacre some Alexandria members and use their blood to mark Ws on their faces. She finds one man just as he hacks one of the women in her stomach. Carol, in no time at all and quick thinking, puts her out of her misery.
Up in the guard tower, Spencer takes aim and shoots who he can see, but then the bad day gets much worse when he spots a truck approaching. At full speed, the truck rams into the gates of Alexandria. Ah, so that’s where we got that sound.
The attackers retreat as the horn continues to blare. Spencer makes his way out of the tower. Aaron and Rosita bring Holly into the infirmary while Denise and Tara prepare to operate on her. Aaron rushes out to help. Eugene, though, is kept inside since, let’s be honest, he wouldn’t be of much good.
Before Spencer can kill the walker inside the truck, Morgan enters the scene and takes care of it and the horn himself. He learns of the situation and tells Spencer to hide when he doesn’t answer about helping.
Inside, Morgan comes face to face with one of the Wolves, who stares him down with an axe. Carol kills the man and tells Morgan that they need to get to the armory. Morgan insists that they don’t need to kill, but Carol’s insistent on getting to the armory.
Deanna and Maggie run into Spencer. Deanna chooses to stay outside with Spencer. After all, she doesn’t have a weapon and she can’t fight, so this is the best thing she can do. So she gets inside the truck next to the walker.
Back in the operating room, Holly is bleeding internally. She could be fixed by a surgeon, but Denise doesn’t have that kind of experience. Though Denise is afraid, Tara insists that she try to help her. Eugene bucks up and tells her that she doesn’t want to be a coward. Truer words were never spoken.
For whatever reason, Ron is out on his own and is almost killed by one of the Wolves, who is shot in the leg by Carl. The man pleads to not be killed, but just as he prepares to attack again, Carl shoots and kills him. He tells Ron to head inside where he can be protected. Rather than do the smart thing that makes sense, Ron runs off.
Jessie and Sam continue to wait. Despite noises, Jessie heads out and tells Sam to lock the door behind him. She’s tackled from behind and appears to be knocked out, but grabs a pair of scissors and stabs the intruder. Over and over again.
And then Ron enters at this very moment because we need him to be horrified. Whatever.
Carol takes Morgan as an assumed prisoner and manages to fool some of the Wolves. He stops when he spots Gabriel being attacked, but Carol continues on and makes quick work until she runs out of bullets.
Carol reaches the armory and takes down one of the Wolves, but another escapes. She opens the nearby cupboard and finds…Olivia, who doesn’t know how to shoot a gun, but will soon learn when Carol tells her to take aim and fire if another member enters.
Gabriel and Morgan tie up their captive, who prepares to tell them something about not belonging to the area before he’s quickly killed by Carol. In no time at all. She hands the two guns, but Morgan hands his to Gabriel, who is no better with guns than Morgan.
While Aaron and Rosita take down some more of the Wolves, Morgan later finds himself surrounded by five of the Wolves. He tells them to leave, warning them that the people have guns. Despite not having a gun, Morgan holds them off with his staff. The Wolves could be under aim right now through a sniper’s scope. If they keep choosing this life, they will die. But, one of the Wolves protests, they didn’t choose.
As the Wolves retreat, Morgan closes the gates.
The massacre over, Carol stands over a body and swipes her pack of cigarettes. Why not? I mean, not like she’s gonna be using them anymore. Plus, Daryl smokes, so at least they’ll have something in common? As Carol attempts to remove the W off of her forehead, she notices an A on the staircase. Ass? Anarchy? I dunno.
Aaron, meanwhile, checks and knifes all bodies he can find just to make sure the Wolves are indeed dead, but then he starts going through a very familiar backpack. Inside, he finds an envelope with photos of Alexandria- the same photos that he showed to Rick’s group. Whoops.
Denise, giving it her damn best, tries to revive Holly, fails as Holly flat lines. Tara tries to console her, but right now, Denise wants to be left alone. Well, all Tara was going to tell her was to get her brain. That is important.
Spencer talks with Rosita about the massacre. This happens all the time outside the gates, so how do you live with that? She responds that the group gives you something worth dying for. Maggie tells Deanna that they’re still here, but no, Deanna disagrees…not all of them.
Carl goes looking for Enid and instead finds a note that reads ‘just survive somehow.’ And there’s where we get our episode titled acronym.
Morgan walks the streets of Alexandria and takes out a random walker. Spotting an open door, he heads in and encounters a Wolf…the same Wolf that he first encountered out on his own. Morgan manages to get the upper hand and overpowers him. Apologizing for what he’s about to do, Morgan brings down his staff.
The episode comes to a close as Morgan and Carol walk down the ruined Alexandria streets. As the two cross paths, they exchange no words before continuing on their way.
Rick said something very profound at the end of the previous season. He asked the people of Alexandria how many of them he had to kill in order to save their lives. Time and time again, we’ve seen some of the people in the community live sheltered lives. They’re too comfortable in their ways and trying to get back to some kind of normalcy. But the world is no longer and never will be the way it was before, so you have to know how to protect yourself.
This is a point that has taken much more time than necessary to sink in for residents of the Alexandria Safe Zone because they haven’t roughed it the way Rick and his group has. Same with Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita. They’ve done their time in the outside world and done whatever it takes to survive.
But these people haven’t and while you don’t want your friends and loved ones to die in order to shake you out of complacency, sometimes that’s necessary when you’re afraid to fight back. And we’re not even talking about walkers in this episode.
These are actual human beings that managed to weaken Alexandria’s defenses, kill many members of the community, and pose an actual threat. When Rick and others in his group tell the people of Alexandria that they need to be ready for any and every kind of assault, this is what they were talking about.
This was already a good episode that was, for the most part, well-paced in both action and slower moments, but what made it work is just how sudden the attack started. I mean, it literally came out of nowhere, beginning with Shelly being attacked, and continued to escalate with the Wolves attacking from all sides.
And these attackers were ruthless. The people of Alexandria as a whole weren’t prepared for this type of onslaught, but our main characters have and would be able to neutralize this threat. It wouldn’t be a complete cakewalk, but they would fare better than the massacre we saw play out this week.
Deanna and the residents have already had one wake-up call when walkers made their way inside the gates, but now we have people entering the community with no other purpose than to cause chaos. If anything, this just validates Rick’s philosophy of kill or be killed because eventually, whether walkers or other humans, or even cigarettes, I suppose, something out there is aiming to kill you.
So we have two warring ideologies: Rick’s philosophy, or Morgan’s more pacifist approach. He won’t kill if he doesn’t have to, but like Rick, he knows that this new world is harsh. Killing is an absolute last resort for him.
Even if it means letting potential attackers return instead of stopping a threat when he has a chance, Morgan won’t allow himself to easily cross that line that people like Rick and Carol have no problem crossing because to them, safety comes through killing first, maybe ask questions later.
Hell, Morgan and Gabriel even managed to tie up one of the Wolves’ members who was quickly killed by Carol without a thought. In hindsight, I do think it would have been helpful to keep at least one of the Wolves alive for information.
But, at the same time, Aaron learning that one of the Wolves had photos of the Safe Zone raises the question of whether these people were considered for Alexandria, but rejected. I’ve thought for some time that the Wolves were the show’s replacement for the Scavengers since they also attacked Alexandria, but that’s still speculation at the moment. But, as a friend pointed out, it makes more sense that this is Aaron’s bag and one of the Wolves found it…meaning that this attack is pretty much his fault.
This episode had a lot of action, yes, but the problem with seeing so many people killed is that we know nothing about them. We know that the main characters aren’t going to be killed at this point, so the show tries to justify the carnage by killing off a bunch of no-name characters and we have no attachment to them. The attacks and murders are brutal, but I can’t bring myself to care because I don’t know who these people are.
When we do get into the thick of battle, we’re mostly with the same characters. We see Morgan in battle, Carol sheds her Suzie Homemaker skin and shows the people of Alexandria just how much of a badass she is, and Maggie sticks with Deanna and Spencer, but we don’t see them in battle often. Hell, Aaron and Rosita get involved as well, but we don’t see them for very long in the firefight.
Side-note, I’m fine with Deanna not trying to be a hero and forcing herself into a situation where she could be killed. She knew that she would be a liability, so rather than use this as a chance to prove herself, since this was a level of carnage no one in Alexandria expected, she decided to keep her distance. Hopefully she becomes more proactive later.
This isn’t a big issue, but if this episode showcased the newcomers revealing to the citizens of Alexandria how prepared they are for warfare, let us see that on screen. The closest we got was Carl saving Ross or Carol showing Olivia how to shoot, but show us more of that.
A word on Carol: thank goodness she finally let loose. Carol ranks up there alongside folks like Rick, Daryl, and Michonne as far as being able to handle herself no trouble and this episode again showed us how capable of a fighter she is. She’s quick, strategic, smart enough to disguise herself as a Wolf in order to slip past them unnoticed, and keeps moving to stay one step ahead of people trying to kill her.
But, as we saw in “The Grove,” Carol may be an expert marksman and show no hesitation to kill, she still does have emotions and isn’t as cold as Rick. I mean, her threat and continued coldness to Sam say otherwise, but she still lowers her defenses when she weeps over Shelly. That’s good and it’s important that we see that because it allowed for a very human moment in the midst of so much chaos.
What didn’t feel as necessary was watching Denise, Tara, and Eugene deal with Holly…another character who we’ve heard of, but never met. It seemed to break the pacing when we already had slower moments with people like Morgan. I think we could have easily just been told that Holly died in battle, but at the same time, I appreciate that Denise was forced into a situation where she had to try and save someone’s life, even when she was reluctant.
Plus, turning a happy ending on its side, Denise failed to save Holly. Though Denise gave it her all, the lack of experienced proved costly. But, again, I think this could have just been relegated to a mention, especially since we know next to nothing about Holly as a character.
While I’m over the Anderson family reeling about Pete’s death, I did enjoy the sequences with Jessie and Sam in hiding. They had just the right amount of tension balanced out by action when, at last, Jessie managed to kill one of the Wolves. And she got to let loose all of that rage she’s been holding onto, so there’s that.
As for Enid’s backstory, it was a nice, well-paced way to start the episode and explain how at least one of the other members of the community first arrived in Alexandria. And given how she managed to rough it, we can see that she’s more than capable of handling herself. And if she’s actually gone, that puts a pin in the potential love triangle with her, Carl, and Ron. This show has been smart about not going in that direction, so far.
Her message of JSS tied into the episode’s overall message of finding some way to survive in the constant face of danger. It’s a harsh world out there, but with quick thinking, you can make it to the next day. Yes, even if that involves eating a turtle.
I do like the timing of this episode. From what I can glimpse, the events of “JSS” take place alongside the present events of “First Time Again,” which is a nice way to tie them together and make this feel like one big episode. The question remains how Morgan managed to reach Alexandria first when he wasn’t too far from Rick and the others.
“JSS” was a very good episode. It showed what life on the outside is really like for the people of Alexandria, who have remained sheltered for so long. It had a slow build to an unexpected and action packed attack on the Safe Zone. Carol got to show how much of a fighter she is, which is always welcome, Morgan fought to maintain his sense of self while still protecting the area, and the episode left things up in the air since I’m guessing this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the Wolves. As for Enid’s disappearance…I’m not ate up about it, and at least she left a note.
Now what’s left is for Rick to return so he can say ‘I told you so.’