Thursday, April 7, 2016

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 616: Last Day On Earth

Episode 616: Last Day On Earth


Negan's Henchman: You made it.  Welcome to where you're goin'.

Synopsis: Well, here we are. Maggie is ill, and the group must make a road trip to the Hilltop's doctor because of the silly plot contrivance that got Denise killed in Twice as Far.  Rick, Carl, Sasha, Eugene, Aaron, and Abraham move out in the RV, but find themselves thwarted at every turn by the Saviors, who seem to be everywhere.   Meanwhile, Morgan finds and treats Carol, who has seemingly lost the will to live.   She is shot by the Savior survivor from the truck ambush, but Morgan breaks his code of not killing and shoots her assailant.   They meet another group of friendly survivors, who offer to help Carol.  Rick and the RV team are backed into a corner and forced to proceed on foot carrying Maggie, but are captured by the Saviors.   Daryl, Michonne, Glenn, and Rosita are pulled from a truck and forced to join them.   Negan, the leader of the Saviors, appears, and after a long speech about how they all now work for him, uses his bat, Lucille,to kill one of the group. 

The episode opens with light streaming through holes in the wall of a dark room, coupled by the sounds of breathing and voices, presumably from someone being held captive.   Meanwhile, Morgan continues searching for Carol and finds a horse with a saddle -- perhaps the one the unknown man was looking for in the previous episode.  He mounts up and continues moving forward.  meanwhile, the Savior survivor from the road ambush continues tracking Carol as well.

A dirty, disheveled man flees through the woods, pursued by the Saviors.   They catch him and the leader of the group tells the new captive that his people at the library had to die because the broke Negan's rules and fought them.   They then beat the man on the ground.

Back at Alexandria, Maggie's condition is deteriorating.  Carl is urgently packing weapons into his bag, because he and Rick are planning to take Maggie to the Hilltop for medical care, because, you know Denise is now dead (Folks, that one contrivance has killed the back three episodes for me).  Enid begs to go to help Maggie, and confronts Carl about why he wants to go.  She accuses him of wanting to get into a firefight with the marauders.

"If you don't come back, how am I supposed to live with that?" she asks.  It's a curious question, given that Carl and Enid, at least on screen, have not been shown to be that close of late.  More on this later.  He locks her into a closet and then goes outside, where Rick is loading more bags into the RV.  Sasha, Eugene, and Abraham insist on accompanying him as security.  As Rick works on the RV, Aaron joins the party.

A long range scope on a short barrelled rifle - okey dokey.
Just before leaving, Rick and Gabriel review the security measures for Alexandria in the event of a Savior attack:  guard posts are manned and ready, and cars are positioned for a quick getaway.  Drivers have been pre-assigned to each one, so that if they are forced to abandon the settlement, the survivors can make a quick getaway.   A rally point has been designated, and Gabriel's first priority is ensuring the safety of Judith.  It's an impressive amount of planning, much better than the pathetic escape plan from the prison in Season 4, but it's a shame it had to come to this.  A little more recon on the Saviors might have allowed Rick to better understand the nature of the threat and developed a better strategy.

Morgan finds Carol lying across the stoop of a building behind a wrought iron fence.  The secures the horse, clears the inside of the building, which appears to be the library referred to by the Savior captive earlier in the episode, and treats a knife wound to her abdomen.  She tells him to go back and let her go .  He tells her that they will stay for the night, but then they will return to Alexandria.

The Saviors drag the beaten man on the road.  He asks why they are doing this, because everyone in his group at the library is now dead.  The leader tells him they are going to make an example of him for someone else.

The RV is on the road, with Maggie lying in the back.  Rick assures her the doctor will be able to help, and that "as long as it's all of us, we can do anything."

Pride goeth before the fall.  Rick still does not understand the nature of the threat and how dangerous the Saviors are to Alexandria.  They have numbers, weapons and organization.   He is committing the sin of assumption -- assuming that just because things have always been a certain way, they will stay that way. If he's not careful, he is going to get everyone at Alexandria killed.  Just then, Abraham runs into a Savior roadblock -- the one where the Saviors are holding the captive as an example.

Rick’s group steps out of the RV. Rick puts his hands up and offers to make a deal. “Give us all your stuff,” the leader commands.  He also explains that they will have to kill one of the group as an example, but then they can "move forward."  Rick refuses before getting back in the RV to turn around.

“What if it’s the last day on Earth for you?” the leader asks before Rick leaves. “Maybe you should be extra nice to those people in that RV. Because you never know.”  Rick tells him to do the same, and the man says there are plenty of ways for Rick to get to where he's going.

As the RV retreats, Eugene finds an alternate route that offers more visibility to spot potential ambushes.   The group moves out to follow the new road, but encounter and even larger gang at the next roadblock.  They back away as the Saviors fire warning shots.

Carol tells Morgan that she cares about the people at Alexandria and would kill to protect them, but she no longer wants to.

“If you don’t want to kill, or if you can’t, then you have to get away from them. You do not get both."  She tries to get him to leave, but he tells her she can come back from this.

Conga line!
The RV encounters yet another roadblock: this time, a line of walkers chained together across the road. The group gets out to investigate. Aaron notices that one of the walkers has two of Michonne’s dreadlocks stapled to it, and Sasha notices Daryl’s crossbow bolts embedded through another walker’s chest. Saviors fire at them from the woods. Rick cuts the chain, letting the walkers loose. They pile into the RV and drive forward.  Rick notes they were firing at their feet, which means they really wanted them to go through the roadblock.  The Saviors are funneling Rick into the direction they want the group to go, shaping the battlespace by playing a game of chess, and so far they are thinking about five moves ahead of Rick.  They hit another roadblock and are forced to turn back again.  Maggie is growing weaker and feverish, and Rick is becoming increasingly desperate to figure a way through the gauntlet.

In over his head, Rick is.
The RV then encounters a giant wall of logs blocking the road.  The Saviors drop the captive beaten man over an overpass from a chain and hang him in front of the group.  The logs erupt in flames and the voice of the man from the first roadblock tells them to hurry, because they have to get to where they are going.  This took a lot of work, planning, and execution, as well as manpower and heavy equipment to accomplish.   Again. more on this later.  

In the nearby town, Morgan goes outside to kill a walker hanging from an antenna assembly, killed like the man at the wood roadblock.  He kills it, but returns to find Carol has fled.  He grabs the horse and searches the town, but she has been shot by the wounded Savior that has been tracking her.   He says he plans to watch her die slowly, and she taunts him, attempting to goad him into killing her. Morgan intervenes and tells him to drop the gun, but is forced to shoot the man, breaking his code.

Carol is given short shrift.  And bullet wounds.
This is probably the most interesting moment of the episode in terms of real drama:  Carol is in the same mental condition as Morgan when he was captured and helped to recover from his trauma at the cabin in the woods, and Morgan was forced to kill again.   The implications of this aren't even briefly considered by the story, however, because the man who was searching for his horse earlier in the day appears with a friend and offers to help Carol.  If this wasn't a season finale, the whole episode could have focused on the aftermath of this scene, but we can't here, because NEGAN IS COMING!

The group in the RV is contemplating their next move, with their fuel running low and a mechanical issue beginning to degrade the camper's abilities.  Eugene points out that the Saviors are looking for the RV, and probably would not expect them to travel on foot.   He volunteers to continue driving around in the RV as a decoy while the rest of the group proceeds on foot through the forest carrying Maggie on a stretcher.  The plan fails, as the stretcher team is surrounded by dozens of Saviors, and Eugene is already there, captured, beaten, and on his knees.   They are surrounded by over a hundred of their enemy, and are forced to surrender.

Inside the dark room, the voices of Rick and the Saviors are heard, the door opens, and the room, which is the back of the van, is flooded with light.   D pulls Daryl, who has been shot, Michonne, Glenn, and Rosita from the back and forces them to their knees with the others.  

My name is Negan.  You killed my men.  Prepare to die.
Negan steps out of the RV with his trademark weapon Lucille.  He explains to Rick (he knows Rick by name; more on that later) that the Saviors  are in control and they now work for him.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan delivers a slick, smarmy performance that is mesmerizing, but I think the speech went  a little bit too long.   He explains that he doesn't want to kill anyone, but because Team Rick has killed so many of his men, "Not cool," he says, that he is going to kill one of them with Lucille to teach them a lesson.   Rick has totally lost his control at this point, and realizes just how much he has underestimated the Saviors.

Negan's uses Lucille to beat one of the group to death, but the victim's identity is not revealed.

Leaving aside the issue of the cliffhanger, this episode is hampered by the fact that the whole plot is propelled by the death of Denise and the illness of Maggie.  If Denise had not been killed off, she could have treated Maggie at Alexandria.   That Negan was going to be introduced was a given, but we could have found a much more believable way to get there.

Preparedness Discussion

There have been critics of how the Saviors could be so all knowing as well.  We know from previous episodes that the Saviors know the terrain, and have the location of Alexandria pinpointed.  They probably know by now that the Hilltop and Alexandria are working together by now as well.  All they have to do is set up an observation post (OP) on the road that leads to Hilltop and watch movement along the route, something well within their abilities.

The question becomes one of how did they know the Alexandrians were traveling to the Hilltop on that day, on such a very important mission.  The answer is pretty simple - there is a mole in Alexandria.   Someone is feeding the Saviors information.  It's the only way it makes sense.  My money is on Enid.   She is the one who gave Maggie the pickle jar and then took her guard shift at the wall.   Shortly thereafter Maggie became sick.   Enid could have easily dropped a not over the wall on guard duty letting the Saviors know that the Alexandrians would shortly need to leave for the Hilltop thanks to her poisoning Maggie.  Remember her abruptly cut off discussion with Carl in JSS?  At the time I thought she was working with the Wolves.  What if she was working with the Saviors?  She tries to get Carl to stay at the settlement, and when he won't, tries to go with him.  She seems to be strident to the point of desperation during the exchange, so perhaps she knew what was coming and wanted to keep Carl safe. 

The Saviors have a master strategy of ratcheting up pressure and and slowly cutting off avenues so that Rick and his team are forced into a ground of their choosing, thus shaping the battlespace.  What does this mean?  From Wikipedia:

Battlespace is a term used to signify a unified military strategy to integrate and combine armed forces for the military theatre of operations, including air, information, land, sea, and space to achieve military goals. It includes the environment, factors, and conditions that must be understood to successfully apply combat power, protect the force, or complete the mission.
In other words, by shaping the battlespace, Negan is using the terrain, his forces, and the weaknesses of the opposing forces to ensure a victory.

Why is Negan doing this?  He is fighting a strategic war.   Rick is fighting a running tactical battle.   The key as to why he was willing to invest so much to run Rick to ground lies in his speech.  He perceives Rick and his group as a danger for "killing more of my guys than I am comfortable with."  Not only has Alexandria evaded detection until now, but they have the knowledge and combat skills to pose a serious threat.   They have taken down one Savior encampment, killed many more of his men than probably any other foe, and are working with another settlement to thwart Negan's plans.

The Saviors have more numbers than any other single group in the area, but if Alexandria can convince other survival settlements to work together, it can at least partially negate that advantage.  Since the Saviors don't really produce anything, but rely on terror and intimidation to extort supplies from other colonies, once that happens, it's game over for Negan if he can't get what he needs from other people.

The Saviors' "Operation Alexandria" was not implemented to just to show Rick who was the boss.  It was carried out to put down the start of a rebellion against the Negan and his group.

Rick and his group are simply to good at surviving for Negan not to address in some way.  Rick's first instinct is to kill the Saviors who oppose his group.  What if, instead of going on a raid to kill the Saviors, he had proffered up something that would have allowed the Hilltop folks to get Craig back and satisfied the demands of the rogue group.  Since they know where the solar panel factory is, they could have had Eugene put together a solar array with batteries and and the controller to hand over to the Saviors in lieu of Gregory's head.  The Hilltop people could have handled it, thus keeping the Alexandria's existence secret and allowing the group to do a proper recon.

Then again, the Saviors may have killed Craig anyway.  Eventually, Rick and his people would have had to fight, but at least they could have done more to shape the battlespace in Alexandria's favor.

Preparedness Lessons from Episode 616:

  • Practice operational security, but work on finding like-minded individuals you can forge mutual assistance agreements with.
  • Take a long, hard look at who might be your potential adversaries in a survival situation, and devise methods for dealing with contingencies through hardening structures and other defensive measures.
  • Don't underestimate the challenges of a survival situation. Real life has a way of burning through fuel, supplies, ammunition, and equipment in a way that cannot be fully understood until you have experienced it.
  • Always try to have an alternative to fighting.  Generally, in a firefight, lots of people are going to die.  Some of them will be people you hold dear.
Next week:  The Walking Dead is done until October, but Fear the Walking Dead is kicking into high gear.  I am actually looking forward to the second season, as at least people doing stupid things in a survival situation would make more sense at the beginning of the downfall of civilization.

1 comment:

  1. People complain about the slow pace of FTWD, but I savor it. It's the setup that I like best in most any show/book/movie, because it always devolves into a soap opera. I'm ready to move on at that point. Going back to the beginning and seeing it start from a new perspective is better. Although, I'm glad we get both, in this case.