AMC’s The Walking Dead, as a rule, isn’t the sort of series that provides a lot of belly laughs. There might be some chuckles during some of its weirdness or the occasional put-down, but mostly it wants to convey the danger and dread that permeates the world of the show. I assume that was also the case with tonight’s episode, “On the Inside,” but it failed spectacularly. Emphasis on the spectacular.
I know I’ve discussed this before (we’re on season 11, I’ve discussed everything before) but other than random arseholes and the Saviors, the human foes of The Walking Dead tend to be ridiculous in some form or another. It started with the Governor (David Morrissey), who kept severed zombies heads in an aquarium in his living room and his zombified daughter in the closet. Most recently, it’s the Reapers, who are playing the zombie apocalypse like it’s a first-person shooter. The Whisperers, ‘nuff said. And yet, I believe tonight’s new foe tops them all in terms of ludicrousness.
“On the Inside” mainly wanted to be a traditional slasher flick, which is a genuinely interesting choice for a show that is primarily a horror drama. It begins with the long-awaited return of Connie (Lauren Ridloff, who was busy making Marvel’s Eternals), still with Virgil (Kevin Carroll), running from zombies and perhaps other creatures into a spooky house for shelter. The tropes start mounting immediately, as Connie finds hilariously old paintings and photos — as if they’re from a mansion — with the eyes all stabbed out. Connie is understandably freaked out, and even more so when she sees a bloodshot eye staring at her from a hole.
She runs to Virgil and signs they have to leave, but he points out that she hasn’t slept in days and she’s still pretty traumatized for getting stuck in a collapsed cave with a bunch of zombies. He suggests she might be seeing things, but she’s so upset they check the house again and find nothing… until a door slams, separating the two, and the killer — or should I say killers — begin their attack. Connie is chased through the house, into a basement whose floor is covered with human bones. Some very bad people are clearly living here.
I assume that Ridloff, who is deaf in real life, was cool with the episode and felt the disability was treated sensitively in the script. But it’s so effective at heightening the tension it almost feels a little exploitative. Whenever Connie is on her own, the episode goes silent to mirror her, and knowing she wouldn’t be able to sense someone sneaking up behind her had me on the proverbial edge of my seat.
When she sees someone sneaking up behind Virgil and can’t say anything, it’s nerve-wracking. And when Connie, who’s trapped behind a wall and can only tap out to reveal her presence but not her identity, and a panicked Virgil starts stabbing the wall with his knife, I mean, forget about it. Still, sticking them in a “the killer is in the house” scenario is inherently goofy for The Walking Dead because there are unnumberable killers outside the house, too, but the show mines it for some genuine scares. The problem is the killer, or, rather, the killers.
I call them the Pack because — and I’m literally laughing as I write this — in the 13 years since the apocalypse began, they have become completely feral. They walk on all fours. They speak almost solely in growls and barks. They are wearing nothing but primitive underwear. Through their grunting, they were somehow able to communicate with each other to herd Connie and Virgil into the Death House.
I thought it was funny when the people of Terminus turned into cannibals about five minutes after the zombie apocalypse started back in season four, but the Pack takes the cake. I want you to close your eyes and think about how, if the dead walked the Earth, at what point you would find it a sensible decision to scramble on all fours instead of walking upright. Would it be at some point within the first 12 years? Because that’s where we’re at in the TWD timeline. Then you might as well ask yourself when you’d move to a loincloth-exclusive wardrobe, and also forget how to speak with a half-dozen people who at some point had to have a conversation about which room to put all their bones in.
Even Connie looks less terrified once the Pack reveals itself. They’re dumb as rocks, they don’t have weapons, they run on all fours so they’re slow, and if they bite you (and they will!) you’re not going to turn into a zombie. The Pack is the least threatening group of bad guys in the Walking Dead universe. Want to know how Connie defeats these nincompoops?
She smears some zombie guts on herself and opens the goddamn house door to let zombies in, and the zombies eat them. When Connie and Virgil escape, however, a few more Pack members begin to surround them — only to be immediately brained by Kelly’s slingshot. The two sisters have reunited, and it’s a testament to the acting chops of Ridloff and Angel Theory that the scene is as moving as it is given there are basically people wearing diapers at their feet.
Meanwhile, in the less fun storyline, Daryl (Norman Reedus) is having a hard time with the Reapers. They force him to torture the other Alexandrian they caught, just to double-check they aren’t still secretly in cahoots, which Daryl regretfully does (but does a lot). When the guy finally tells them about the house in Meridian where everyone was supposed to meet up — the actual house, to my surprise, since I very much assumed he was going to lie — Pope (Richie Coster) sends a squad including Leah (Lynn Collins) and Daryl to check it out.
He’s able to warn Maggie (Lauren Cohan) that danger is imminent by shaking a power wire outside the house, so she, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), and the other guy can hide in the basement. Some shenanigans ensue: Daryl tries to keep suggesting they search elsewhere and gets called out for it, then he has to scoot a rug over the trap door the leads to the basement; and Carver (Alex Meraz) the Reaper keeps being distrustful of and an arsehole to Daryl, and it turns out it’s because he’s mad Daryl broke Leah’s heart. Daryl manages to talk loudly and very randomly about the Reapers’ numbers and defences, for Maggie’s benefit. Then she and the others escape. It’s all fine.
What isn’t fine is that when the Squad returns, a beaming Pope awaits them, announcing that while they were gone, he continued torturing the prisoner until he “got everything [he] needed out of him.” Then he whispers something to Carver, who chuckles and looks back at Daryl evilly. If I were Daryl, I would have started running in the other direction immediately. Daryl does not do this. But that trouble is for next week, and today, we must honour the memory of the Pack, taken from us too quickly.
Goodbye to Rex, Buddy, Lady, Lucky, Hooch, Mutt Damon, Mary Puppins, Droolz, Pope Bonipoochie the Third, and the Arfster. I take solace knowing you’re playing fetch in heaven, just with human skulls instead of sticks.
- If you’re wondering why there was a hole behind the medicine cabinet mirror for razor blades, some old houses had them back when razor blades weren’t disposable. If they were put in the trash, they could mess up a garbageman or curious kid pretty badly, so they were just popped right into the slot… where they stayed forever. There was one in an apartment I rented once. The more you know!
- Virgil has become a pretty good dude. After being a mess to Michonne back in season 10, he gives Connie his knife to ensure she can get away. He says Michonne gave him a chance (by sparing him) which he’s certain needs to be passed to Connie. I’m happy he was rescued.
- If someone can explain to me why the Pack wasn’t eaten by zombies within the first three days of their decision to stop walking like people, I’d love to hear it.