The Walking Dead S06E06 “Always Accountable” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on: FOX, Mondays, 9pm
Writer: Heather Bellson
Director: Jeffrey F January
Essential Plot Points:
- Team Zombie Wranglers are happily (well, happily-ish), leading the herd away. They go through an abandoned town and are ambushed by men with automatic weapons who chase them off. Daryl loses his pursuer in the woods while Abe and Sasha attack and kill the men following them, but lose their car in doing so.
- In the woods, Daryl conceals his bike but realises he’s being watched. He finds two women hiding by a nearby tree but doesn’t see their companion before he’s knocked out.
- Daryl wakes up to find his hands bound. He’s walked through the woods by the two women and the man who hit him, and discovers that the huge burnt area they’re walking through was caused by at least two of the trio, back when the apocalypse started. They get to a truck stop, which, to their horror, has been over run. Taking advantage of their distraction, Daryl grabs the duffel bag full of his gear and runs into the woods where he barely survives being attacked by a Walker. He also discovers a container of insulin in the bag and realises one of his captors is diabetic.
- Back in town, Abraham and Sasha evade their pursuers and hole up in an office, Sasha leaving marks for Daryl to find them as they do. Abraham finds the uniform of a former resident and realises he was a veteran. Abraham’s visibly troubled by this and outright horrified to find a “live” Walker in there but Sasha assures him it can’t get out of the room it’s trapped in. She also politely calls him on his growing bloodlust and all but asks if he’s trying to commit suicide by Walker. Abraham, enraged, refuses to admit it and stands watch.
- In the woods, Daryl returns to his former captors and disarms them but hands them the insulin. Suddenly a truck full of men arrive searching for them. Daryl, spotting a hole in the group’s search perimeter, leads his former captors to safety. Along the way, he tricks one of the men searching for them into being bitten and watches as he has his arm amputated.
- In town, Abraham goes for a walk and finds a Humvee with a box of Cuban cigars and a crate of rocket-propelled grenades in the back. Nearby, impaled in what’s honestly a fairly bizarre way, is a soldier-turned-Walker. And it’s carrying an RPG launcher. Abraham gives in to everything Sasha spotted in him and, instead of killing the Walker at range, crawls out onto ruined wire fencing at least two storeys off the ground and wrestles the Walker. Screaming with rage, he finally comes to his senses, steps away and lights one of the cigars.
- Abraham returns to the office and, in a very roundabout way, tells Sasha he wants to live and that he’s romantically interested in her. He also, sort of, apologises and the pair leave things at a good-natured impasse.
- In the woods, Daryl and his trio of survivors find what seems to be a greenhouse that’s been set alight. They’re horrified to discover two people inside, both known to the trio, who have been burnt but apparently killed beforehand. One of the trio, overcome with grief, goes to the corpses. They wake up and bite her.
- Later, Daryl and the two survivors are digging graves. Daryl asks them how many people they’ve killed and makes the call to take them to Alexandria. Taking them back to his bike, he lets slip how many people he has with him. The pair apologetically steal his bike and crossbow and drive off. As they go one says, “I’m sorry.” Daryl replies “You will be.”
- Daryl finds a fuel truck from the nearby depot and kills the Walker inside. He hotwires it, finds Sasha and Abraham and they head back to Alexandria. On the way, they pick up a voice on the walkie talkies saying one word: “Help”
There are three things going on in this episode. Two of them are great, one of them is interesting. None of them are Glenn. Again. Which is bad.
What’s good is the fact that we get closure on the fate of Team Zombie Wrangler and better still, a chance for three of the cast to flex their muscles a little.
Let’s start with everyone’s favourite tracker. Norman Reedus has been a lynch pin of this cast for years and this episode reminds you why. Daryl has, maybe, 400 words of dialogue in the whole thing but Reedus is working constantly. You can always see what Daryl’s thinking, always see the world the way he does. He’s not the semi-feral man he was a few seasons ago but he’s still an outsider and just how much of an outsider he is gets challenged this week. Scriptwriter Bellson cleverly has Daryl be quite at home in the woods and there’s only really one point where he’s in clear danger from a Walker. It’s a nice scene too and a testament to how tense the show is that you are genuinely worried for him.
But the real meat of Daryl’s plot, and the only real threat to his safety, is himself. This week he does exactly the right thing, asks people he trusts to join his community and loses two of his most prized possessions because of it. He makes no mistakes, does nothing cruel and still loses. It’ll be interesting to see how that changes him. It’ll also be interesting to see if we meet his captors again. That final, “We’re sorry.” ”You will be…” exchange could certainly be read as set-up.
Meanwhile, in town, Abraham and Sasha process their feelings in a remarkably grumpy, often very funny way. Martin-Green and Cudlitz are again two of the best people in this cast and they clearly relish a chance to show what they can do. Bellson’s script is a neat capstone to the “Abe is losing it” subplot too, with the big soldier being called on his antics and reacting by throwing a growly, monosyllabic tantrum and trying to kill himself in the stupidest way possible.
In the hands of a lesser writer, director and actor this would be painful to sit through. Here, though, it’s poignant, subtle and clever. Abraham being confronted with a Walker who used to be a soldier clearly makes him hugely uncomfortable, as does the confrontation with the RPG Walker on the overpass. Both remind Abraham of how far off mission he is. The suicide note from the Walker in the office is especially affecting and Cudlitz plays the seething emotions – and Abraham’s inability to process them – with his customary subtlety and intelligence. This is something The Walking Dead has excelled at this season; examining the effect a colossal wave of emotion has on men who are conditioned to bottle it up. We’ve seen it in Rick, Morgan, to a lesser extent Daryl and now Abraham. It’s a brave topic for a show like this to cover and so far it’s nailed it every single time. This episode is no exception.
Subtler but no less impressive, Sasha’s arc this episode establishes Martin-Green as one of the faces of the show. Sasha has been where Abraham is, knows exactly what he’s feeling and knows exactly what needs to be done to snap him out of it. Her resigned, gentle, compassion is the same sort of natural authority we’ve seen from Michonne and it marks Sasha out as something she wasn’t before; a leader. Here’s hoping the show realises that and gives her more to do. Based on Martin-Green’s subtle, smart work here it’s way past time.
So that’s the good news; three underappreciated characters get lots of stuff to do and one plot set up at the start of the season is well and truly done.
The bad news is that we’re not entirely sure why. The trio that Daryl find, and their pursuers, seem to have a lot of backstory we don’t get. That certainly seems to suggest we’ll be meeting them again soon. After all, they’re not exactly hundreds of miles from Alexandria and sooner or later the groups will meet. In the meantime though, this episode feels leaves a nagging feeling of being a lot of set-up without very much pay-off.
It’s not bad, don’t think we’re saying that. In fact, the show does some of its best work when it reminds us of all the other stories out there in its world. But, right now it feels like we’re edging closer to the unnecessary detours from the main plot that other reviewers have accused the show of for weeks. Here’s hoping next week changes that. Right after we find out who’s calling for help of course…
- Bellson’s script is a remarkably clever, subtle breakdown of survivor mentality, in three different flavours. Sasha’s lost almost everything and has found peace in still being alive. Abraham realises he’s off mission and drags himself back on and Daryl makes a good call for the right reasons and gets punished for it. The end result is an episode that shows us how morally complex this world is and how no one has the right answer all the time. Like last week, it’s a low-key affair but like last week it’s no less impressive for that.
- The cast. Because the principle cast is so large now, a cull is surely coming but I’m honestly not sure who you can afford to lose. Reedus does wounded, cautious compassion like few other people, Martin-Green has incredible natural authority and Cudlitz has just been handed some really fun new stuff to do with Abraham. Which probably means Abraham’s dead soon and that’d be a real shame. But regardless, brilliant acting all round this week.
- January’s direction works in two very distinct ways here. The enforced, locked in intimacy of Abrhama and Sasha is basically a one-act, one scene play. January gets out of the actors’ way and it works so much better for that. Meanwhile, the charred woods are a wonderful backdrop for a more expansive, but just as tense character study that benefits from added scope and, again, subtle direction.
- The trio of survivors who cause so much trouble are never named. That’s either a deliberate stylistic choice as we’ll meet them again later or slightly annoying.
- Likewise the group who ambush Team Zombie Wrangler. There’s some speculation they’re Wolves or Saviors but aren’t mad enough for the former or competent enough for the latter. Again, the episode goes to great lengths to anonymise them as much as possible. It’ll be interesting in future weeks to find out if that’s going to pay off.
- NO! Not Daryl’s bike and crossbow! This calls for redneck vengeance! Dixon SMASH!
- Glenn. For serious now, we need to know if he’s alive or dead.
- Comic crossover! Sort of. This week’s episode features a “Tribute Walker”. In this case one that looks a lot like Bernie Wrightson’s classic design for gooey DC superhero, Swamp Thing.
- “Just gonna give it a last little polish.” The trajectory of Abe and Sasha across this half season is perfectly summed up here. She’s just come out of a pit of depression and rage, he’s sprinting towards it screaming “DO YOU WANT SOME?!”
- “Best way to find a tracker is to stay put.” Sasha has been forged by the hrrific events surrounding Bob and Tyreese’s deaths into an endlessly calm, fiercely competent human being. She’s the designated adult this episode.
- “If I’ve not got my psyche situated straight it’s because the shit’s continually been hitting the fan. Without respite.” Michael Cudlitz can growl glorious lines of over-articulate macho dialogue like no one on Earth. Bellson’s script does great things for both Abraham and Sasha throughout, but this entire scene is a season highlight so far.
- “…But if you have a roof over your head, you have food, you have walls? You have choices. And without Walkers and bullets and shit hitting the fan, you’re accountable for them. I mean hell you’re always accountable, it’s just with all that other noise, you know people won’t notice.” Very gently, and relentlessly, Sasha is pointing out Abraham has either suffered a psychotic break or is suicidal, or both. The direction on this scene is just staggering, Sasha absolutely still and calm, Abraham a seething mass of moustachioed rage.
- “Stand watch or sleep.” “The former. Straight through the night. We’ll reassess in the morning.” “What do you mean?” “What the HELL we’re doing here?” Bellson’s script is incredible for these two. Abe’s chest pounding military machismo is perfectly communicated by those short, proud responses. He’s taking command! He’s in control! Of nothing. And Sasha leaves him to realise that.
- “We knock you over the head, tie you up and threaten to kill you. Why the hell did you come back?” “…Maybe I’m stupid too” Daryl Dixon. Possibly the nicest man left alive.
- “Where did you get that?” “It is the fruit of some off the charts stupidity. Some grade A buttsteak idiocy.” “Self-awareness is a beautiful thing.” “Yes it is.” I would honestly watch an entire half season of these two being Mametian at each other.
- “I know this group, and I know Rick. And whatever happened back there is being managed and kicked right up into its own ass one way or another I know that. We got beer. And air conditioning. And WALLS. The table is set for the rest of our lives and I hope those years to be long and fruitful. I see that time before me and I’ve been feeling the urge to make some plays. Before the great cosmic Pete comes to cut my throat unceremoniously and I gurgle my last breath. Things are gonna go on for a while before that. That hadn’t occurred to me before. Been kinda living check to check on that point. I like the way you call bullshit, Sasha. I believe I’d like to get to know you a whole lot better.” “That one of your plays? What makes you think I want that?” “A man can tell.” “Well… you got some stuff to take care of.” “Yeah. I do.” I make no apology for very nearly this entire scene being quoted here because it’s brilliant writing, directing and acting. Michael Cudlitz and Sonequa Martin-Green are on incredible form throughout this episode but this is the hub around which the whole thing revolves. Cudlitz plays Abe’s rage, refusal to accept it and eventual almost zen-like acceptance of his trauma with a bearish, over-articulate humour that’s just stupidly charming. So charming, in fact, that you almost forget Abraham and Rosita are at least a little involved, and that Abraham chatting up Sasha is well within sight of creepy as a result. But it’s Martin-Green that lands the entire sequence. Those last few lines tell you everything about how different these two are, while Martin-Green’s performance tells you that what Abraham’s suggesting is most definitely not off the table. It’s sweet and funny and sad and complicated and it’s going to cause so much trouble. But it’s a pleasure to watch.
- “Ain’t nobody safe anymore. Can’t promise people that anyhow.” “You can promise the people who wanna hear it.” That, right there, is the difference between Rick’s people and everyone else. Rick’s team know they aren’t safe and act accordingly. Everyone else can’t face that truth and twist themselves into awful, awful knots to try and survive inside that lie.
- “I’m from a place, where people are still like they were. Better or worse. More or less.” Daryl doesn’t exactly sell it but this is as sincere, and as touching, a compliment as he can give. He thinks they’re worthy, so he offers them a spot. And pays dearly for it.
- Shot of the week: Daryl and his captors, walking through a field of burnt, still aware Walkers and not paying them any attention. The world of the show in one excellent, horrific shot.
Review by Alasdair Stuart