There’s something big, right over the horizon. We can’t see it yet; we’re just starting to get a sense of it.
“Always Accountable” featured several scenes of walkers who were tantalizingly close to their prey but couldn’t reach them: one with its head trapped inside a melted motorcycle helmet, one stuck behind a locked glass door, one impaled on a dangling pole, held just out of reach.
Like them, we’re allowed to see the outlines of something we want in this episode —to know about Team Rick’s next big enemy—but are not given a chance to draw close to it. When the new enemy comes onscreen, their faces are hidden: inside cars, shooting, or filmed from the waist down. They refer to their leader, ominously, as “he.” It’s an intentional frustration, clearly meant, to quote Abraham, to make our asses itch.
There is also a lesson here, a lesson Abraham learns in this episode, when confronted with that walker dangling off a bridge. Better just to take a step back for a second than to let the frustration make you crazy.
(That’s probably a good lesson too for the fans and critics who are foaming at the mouth trying to figure out the fate of Glenn. So there was some kind of ambiguous statement on Talking Dead? Wait, eagle-eyed stalkers spotted Stephen Yeun on the set? Ooh time to get out our advanced voice recognition software and see that voice at the very end of the episode on the walkie-talkie was Glenn’s! Or, how about we just relax for a second and, you know, watch the TV show? They’re going to tell us what happened to Glenn eventually. The endless speculation is only driving you—and me, frankly—a bit mad.)
Abraham, igniting that same death-wish slow burn he’s been on ever since decking Eugene and possibly before, tries frantically, frustratedly, to grab that walker’s shoulder-slung RPG without getting bitten. He finally gives up, takes a seat, lights a cigar, and relaxes. And then watches as the walker just falls off the bridge of its own accord, leaving the weapon just hanging there, served right up for Abraham to grab.
It’s the right lesson at the right time for ol’ Sergeant Gingerstache. Because now we finally have a better sense of what has been going on with him. He explains it all while he and Sasha hole up and wait for Daryl to return from his own ill-fated adventure. Seems the idea of a more settled life appeals to him, but he’s been courting death for so long he’s sort of forgotten how to live.
Luckily Sasha, who not too long ago was doing pretty much the same thing, is there to talk some sense into him. Which he’s surprisingly receptive to. And he takes the opportunity to hit on Sasha, which she’s even more surprisingly receptive to. But, in one of the more endearing exchanges this show has ever seen, she warns him he’s got a lot of personal growth he’s got to do first. (Did everyone just forget about Rosita? Not that she’s particularly memorable or anything, but still…)
Meanwhile Daryl is having a rough go of it. The three scared and dirty kids he meets—only one of them is named in the episode, so let’s call them Muddy, Grimy and Greasy—capture Daryl because they assume he’s one of their pursuers, and figure they can trade him back to them in order to keep what they stole. Which is presumably the insulin they’re toting around, but less savory possibilities are also suggested.
Their assumption that Daryl’s the enemy, though, means that they actually tell him (and us) very little about this new big bad, because for about half of the episode they assume that he knows, and for the other half they’re busy doing a lot of hiding, dying and double-crossing.
We do learn that this new enemy, kind of like Terminus, started out with the best of intentions, but has now become a place where people basically trade anything they have for the right to live there and be safe. And since there is very little of value left in this world, there are only a few options for what this really means.
Greasy keeps saying they don’t want to kneel, suggesting that the leader of this new place demands some kind of fealty. It does all seem rather cult-like, particularly when the faceless stalkers refer to “him.” (Readers of the comic book will be guessing that these are the Survivors, and “he” is Negan.)
“He only wanted to take this so far,” we overhear them saying. “And he only wants ass that’s willing, you know?” Which, combined with Muddy’s repeated claim that they “earned what we took,” seems to suggest that “he” has demanded more than just material goods from his female subjects.
This is part of what makes Daryl turn sympathetic to his captors—he’s clearly a soft touch when it comes to young females in peril. Well, that and the fact that it’s a pretty shady move to steal insulin from a diabetic. Either way, it comes back to bite him. They steal his bike and crossbow, presumably Greasy and Muddy, now that Grimy’s dead, to trade to their erstwhile pursuers to be allowed back into the fold.
It’s hard to really blame them for doing whatever they think they have to in order to survive, even if it means double-crossing someone who helped them out of the goodness of his heart. We’ve seen our heroes wrestle with moral quandaries like this and choose survival over kindness. But still, when Muddy says “I’m sorry,” and Daryl grits back “You will be,” you have to smile a bit thinking about how he’ll exact his revenge.
The real problem here is that we’ve seen this conflict, or a version of it, so many times now that it doesn’t really have much to tell us anymore. This episode has some nice moments, but it mostly just feels like a placeholder. We know that Daryl, Abraham and Sasha were delayed on their way back to Alexandria, and this episode simply explains what they were up to. Mostly, nothing. Daryl lost his bike, his coat and his crossbow. Abraham got a new weapon, a new jacket, and a bit of a new perspective. And we got hints about a new enemy, but nothing real. Other than that, it was suspiciously like they were killing time.
The only unique thing about this episode is the weird burned-out section of the woods that Daryl’s storyline wanders through. It seems like just another piece of the wasteland of the world at first, but something is off. Greasy tells a story about how they blew up a fuel truck and flamed out all of the walkers there right at the beginning of the apocalypse. But how does that relate the place they’ve just come from, where they also say they’ve been “since the beginning”?
And if they blew up a fuel truck, then how does Daryl find a fuel truck hidden in the woods? Its license plate says PATTY002, a reference to the gas company it is from, Pattrick Fuel. But then, Greasy, Muddy and Grimy were also on their way back to Pattrick to try to find someone named Patty. Some things don’t add up.
And of course, the final mystery, once Daryl picks up Sasha and a newly military jacketed Abraham and they head back to Alexandria: Who is that calling for help on the walkie-talkie? What are they about to walk into back home?