JSS Plot Summary:
With their best and brightest out to remove an extremely threatening herd, Alexandria is left with very little protection. A ruthless band of murderers called The Wolves seizes this opportunity to pillage the community and murder its inhabitants.
A distinguishing feature of “First Time Again” was that several principal characters were absent from any present day coverage. These people, like Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Carol (Melissa McBride), were left back at Alexandria to keep things together while everyone else was dealing with an impending nightmare. That was probably for the best though because Alexandria would have completely crumbled without them. The Wolves were a wakeup call for whoever remained that this hellish world around them will just come in eventually. Setting this episode right during the big walker-cattle drive was very smart as it allowed several B-characters to shine through as our top-tiered stars were busy elsewhere. That right there makes this another awesome episode from an already excellent sixth season. There was also tons of action, fan favorites getting even cooler, and the continued threat of ultimate death. The Walking Dead (and that poor guy on the fence) is on fire right now!
There’s really no better way to start talking about “JSS” than focusing on Carol, who basically is a full-blown assassin at this point. When The Wolves begin murdering innocent people left and right, Carol sheds her “Mother Hen” persona instantly and becomes a murderer in wolf’s clothing. She just kills people without issue who think she’s a loyal member of the invading force. Her rampant violence rubs Morgan (Lennie James) the wrong way, but as we’ve learned time and time again, killing is sometimes the only way to stay alive in this world. Yet to prove that Carol isn’t an actual Terminator, we watch her break down outside of her house. She’s grown accustomed to killing people and putting on a face, but as we saw in the beginning, there’s a part of her that seriously enjoyed the other motherly women in her community. None of them deserved to die, and it’s clear that loss still weighs very heavily on Carol. Melissa McBride is, as always, crushing it.
Morgan did his absolute best to operate on the other side of the spectrum. As we saw last week, he’s okay with the act of killing should it actually call for it. However, “JSS” proved that this isn’t something he does unnecessarily. If there’s a way out without death, Morgan would prefer that. This is why he actually let people go while Carol was freely killing them. It’s honestly an attempt to bring some civility back into a world of chaos. However, even though Morgan is right about it not being okay to kill everyone all the time (you can’t rebuild a stable society by killing those who oppose you), there are times where it has to happen. Those Wolves he let go will definitely return at some point. Hell, the guy Morgan even let go last time reappeared in an attempt to kill our stick wielding hero. Morgan’s probably going to continue this crusade in future episodes, and hopefully it will actually be used in proper settings.
As for everyone else, this episode was about proving who can honestly live in this world. Everyone that died during the attack are examples of people that just couldn’t. They needed to be trained better but there wasn’t enough time. Those that did live though showed that they have the mental fortitude to keep going. Like Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge), who killed a home invader with a pair of scissors through repeated stabbing. Spencer (Austin Nichols) showed that he too can keep it together, somewhat, but his end-episode conversation with Rosita (Christian Serratos) showed he still had room to grow. Olivia (Ann Mahoney) just got lucky though that no one found her in that closet, and Carl (Chandler Riggs) was an idiot for nearly falling for the “I’m wounded!” diversion.
A lot of attention was dedicated to Enid (Katelyn Nacon), which was a pretty interesting choice. “JSS” opened up with her losing her parents and us watching her survive in a world that wants her dead. It’s later that we learn JSS stands for “Just Survive Somehow”, a personal motto of hers. She clearly lives up to this too, eating a living turtle and killing when necessary. As painful as it was watching her go through this, it’s tough to really care because everyone on this show has gone through nightmares. Enid’s nothing special or different. She’s even the source of a stupid love triangle between her, Carl, and Ron (Austin Abrams), the latter who continued to be an annoying little shit. Now apparently Enid and Ron are gone or something, and I really don’t care.
On the comic-to-TV adaptation front, “JSS” contained some pretty notable changes. First and foremost we had the introduction of Denise Cloyd, played by none other than Emmy winner Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie). Denise plays a fairly important role throughout upcoming events and I’m ecstatic that there’s such a talented actress behind this performance. What’s especially interesting though is Denise was much more confident and was already a physician in the comics. Here she’s new at the job and fails to save her very first patient, which, actually, is where the next change comes. Her first patient was Holly, a character comic readers will remember living much longer. This version of Holly only lasts a single episode and will clearly now not do anything she originally did in print. It’s not like she can’t be replaced with someone else or just flat out omitted, though I’m curious as to why she’d get introduced only to die. Maybe it’s so the writers can just get the Holly character off their to-do list?
I absolutely loved how the assault was bookended too. It began right when Carol began an egg-timer, and it ended when the timer rang and Carl took out her meal. I don’t recall exactly how long the timer was set for, but 15 or 20 minutes sounds about right. This means that everything that transpired throughout the episode occurred during a very small window of time. The timer was a great way to accentuate how truly unprepared the people in this community are. In the time it takes to make a casserole, they could have been completely massacred. These people, those who survived at least, really need to be better prepared for things like this.
Lastly, I cannot understate how more intense this episode was without Rick, Daryl, Michonne, or any of the other heavy’s around. We spend so much time watching them dispatch threats that it’s easy to forget so many other people are capable of this. True, Carol really was the one to wrack up a huge body count, but Rosita, Carl, Morgan, Spencer, Maggie, and Aaron (Ross Marquand) had plenty to do as well. Aaron especially had a tough moment as he found his bag with the Alexandria pictures, hinting that those are what brought The Wolves there. I’m sure he’ll have a lot to say about that in future episodes.
Season 6 is two episodes deep and already we’ve got back-to-back excellent episodes. Last week was unrelenting intensity as our heroes attempted (and ultimately failed) to get thousands of walkers away from their community. “JSS” showed us what was going on at Alexandria during this exact time and it was some seriously compelling material. Less focused characters got their time to shine, new faces were brought into the fold, and the mystery of what set off that truck horn was resolved. Now that this is done though, I cannot wait to see what type of hell unfolds with that entire herd shuffling lose. It’s hard to believe that things will get even worse, but that’s exactly what’s coming.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.