"Walking Dead" grumble thread: Nearly everyone in the group is dead and Carol's the leader now

No, I’m kidding of course. But I fantasized about writing that headline and figured we’d all rather live the fantasy today than relive the reality of last night’s letdown. Can you believe it — Carol, the new leader of the Grimes gang? That closing scene where she shot Rick in the neck and then wore his face as a trophy was off the chain.

The best thing I can say about what actually happened is that it was unexpected. Normally with the season finale you expect a shootout, the death of at least one major character, and a concluding chapter to the latest story arc. All signs pointed to war breaking out inside Alexandria between Rick and Deanna, with Rick triumphant but at great cost to the group. Would Michonne, who whacked Rick on the head in last week’s episode, end up as an enemy and be killed off? Would Glenn? Would — gasp — Daryl? Nope, nope, nope. There was no war: Deanna realized that Rick’s way was the right way after Pete slashed her husband’s throat. (Now that Jessie’s own husband has been dispatched, we can proceed next season to the important business of Rick Grimes getting laid.) There was no closing chapter to Alexandria: Not only is the group staying put but the scenes involving the “Wolves” were obviously designed to set up next season’s conflict, making this feel less like a finale and more like an interstitial episode. And no major characters died: Glenn took a bullet to his upper left chest, which would have pierced the heart of a lesser character but barely slowed him down in kicking the sh*t out of Nicholas. If there was any doubt that he’s now ascended into the top tier of the show’s heroes, leaving him basically indestructible, that’s gone now. For a few minutes, after Glenn was shot and then attacked by zombies before the camera cut away, I thought they were setting us up for a big reveal at the end. Imagine if, thanks to Father Gabriel leaving the gate open, the big campfire meeting was suddenly interrupted by … Zombie Glenn. But no, he’s fine. In hindsight, obviously they weren’t going to boot him from the show at the hands of a character as lousy and trivial as Nicholas. If he goes down, it’ll be while heroically trying to save Maggie or whatever.

But let’s not be greedy. This season bounced along with more action, more plot turns, and better pacing than any so far. They killed off Tyreese and Noah within the last month so it’s not like they’re not meeting their “thin the core-cast herd” quota. The surprisingly/disappointingly nonviolent end to each of last night’s storylines (Rick and Deanna making peace, Glenn sparing Nicholas, Sasha praying with Gabriel and Maggie) at least served a broader point about Alexandria’s survivors learning to live with each other. And the show brought back Morgan, whom everyone likes even though I’m not sure why. We met him in the show’s first episode, watched him forge a bond with Rick, then spent five years without ever seeing him again apart from that one episode where he’d gone loopy, and now he’s back and everyone’s psyched. Why is that? There’s an emotional payoff to the viewer, I guess, in having one’s investment in the show rewarded by reintroducing an old character. And the new Jedi-esque Morgan looks to be an interesting foil to Rick: He’s acquired the skills (somehow) to neutralize seemingly any enemy but he appears to feel no bloodlust. Even the two Wolves he knocked out were left safe in the back of his car instead of outside for passing zombies to munch on. There’s a zen quality to him that’s not going to mesh with Rick in Mad Max mode. One of them will change the other. Next season will tell us. My money’s on Rick, if only because things tend not to go well for black men on this show.

If you missed it last night, you’ll find the teaser trailer for the “Walking Dead” spin-off season below. Coming this summer: Even more grumbles! Exit question: Are the writers getting bored with Daryl? It occurred to me last night in thinking about the episode that he’s done basically nothing the last half of the season. The last major plotline I remember him being involved in was when he tried to break Beth out of that hospital. Ever since they’ve gotten to Alexandria, he’s spent his time wandering the town looking surly and heading out on not-terribly-interesting recruitment missions with Aaron. Even last night’s big action set piece, where the two of them were trapped in the car, ended with Daryl being rescued by Morgan instead of kicking ass and taking names. I feel like, in seasons past, the Glenn/Nicholas storyline would have been a Daryl/Nicholas storyline instead; Daryl, after all, is — or was — more likely to lead scavenger missions outside the walls than Glenn because he is, or was, a more formidable zombie-killer. Now, suddenly, it’s Glenn who’s the group’s lead scout while Daryl is left to wander around the woods with Aaron. Weird that the show would diminish arguably its most popular character that way.

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