[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of AMC's The Walking Dead. Read at your own risk.]
"Just survive somehow."
Enid's handwritten parting words to Carl might seem rather obvious on a show like The Walking Dead, but as Sunday's action-packed episode once again reminded viewers, it's how you survive that makes all the difference.
One week after the show re-introduced the zombie threat by unleashing the largest horde of walkers the show has ever depicted, Sunday's episode returns its focus to the horror of humanity in the zombie apocalypse. The episode tells the story of those who stayed behind in Alexandria while Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Daryl (Norman Reedus) & Co. led the ill-fated zombie parade. And although the day starts off peaceful and easy — Maggie (Lauren Cohan) helped Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) plant some new vegetables; Carol (Melissa McBride) teaches the other Alexandrian women the value of "spring cleaning casseroles," and newly appointed doctor Denise (Merritt Wever) eases her first-day jitters by treating a dizzy Tara (Alanna Masterson) — everything went to hell in a hurry once members of the Wolves gang stormed the community in a surprise attack.
But even in the face of such a crisis, the show continued to explore the ideological debate between those hardened by the end of the world and Morgan (Lennie James), who still believes in the importance of preserving (human) life. Taking up the opposition to Morgan this week was Carol, who after playing scared housewife for weeks to fit in, immediately goes into full badass mode when the attack starts. She smartly steals one Wolves member's clothes and writes a "W" on her forehead in blood before quickly deducing that the attackers don't have guns. She believes that if she can get to the armory and distribute the weapons to her people, they might be able to fend off the assault.
Morgan, on the other hand, decides to use the threat of guns rather than the bullets themselves. While he's not afraid to deliver a beating with his staff, he ultimately encourages most of the Wolves he encounters to leave and never come back before "his people" shoot them. "You keep choosing this life, you will die," Morgan tells one group of attackers. But the Wolves' ominous reply reinforces the worldview Morgan seems unwilling to accept: "We didn't choose," one of them says.
Indeed, no one has a say in whether the apocalypse happens; the only choice is whether to live or die. As the episode's prologue showed, that's a choice that Enid (Katelyn Nacon) was forced to make after she watched walkers eat her parents. In that moment, she adopted the mantra she later shared with Carl, and she forced herself to remember it by scribbling "JSS" — the episode's title" — on dirty car windows or by assembling the letters from the bones of a turtle whose neck she snapped for food. But perhaps Enid's short story is precisely the thing Morgan is fighting against. After all, what good is living if you are completely numb to the world around you, as Enid seems to be at this moment?
Perhaps Rosita (Christian Serratos) has the best philosophy. After Deanna's son Spencer narrowly survives the Wolves driving a semi-truck into the watchtower — and for the record, it was the crash that caused the truck's horn to sound at the end of the previous episode and pull the zombie parade off course — he asks Rosita how she can keep living knowing how brutal the world now is. "This group. Abraham. This place," she says of her reasons to, as Matthew McConaughey would say, just keep livin'. "Make sure you got something worth dying for."
Therein lies the greatest distinction: Survival isn't the same thing as living. Enid lost her whole world when her parents died, and although she refuses to go to an early grave herself, she's sleepwalking through life as much as the brainless undead. Rosita and the rest of Rick's group fight back because they want to live. Just as Carol begs her neighbor to stop smoking in order to prolong her life, she's quietly begging Morgan to take a gun and fight - even if it means adding to the numbers of the dead on the other side.
And although Morgan doesn't take Carol's gun — he gives it to Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), which if history has taught us anything, is the worst decision anyone has ever made on this show — perhaps by the end of the episode, he has learned that his way doesn't always work. When he returns home to find a straggler of the Wolves lying in wait, Morgan out-ninjas him in an effort to spare him. But once the man dares him - "You can," he says, realizing Morgan does have the instinct to kill. "You should have." — Morgan seems to deliver a fatal blow. "I'm sorry," he says before clubbing him one final time in the head.
So, has Morgan been convinced? We may not find out for sure anytime soon. After all, Alexandria is still reeling and we know that there is a huge herd of walkers heading their way. Perhaps the Wolves helped Rick by taking out some of Alexandria's weak links, but it's going to take all hands on deck to fight the looming threat. But will Morgan be joining in the fight?
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c. What did you think of the episode?