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The Walking Dead S6.02 - "JSS" review

After that strong (if over-long) first episode, The Walking Dead impresses again with a seriously taut and exciting instalment that delivers on the looming threat of the Wolves, while also finding time for some potent character beats.

It looks great too, with fantastic direction from Jennifer Lynch. The flashback, which economically delves into Enid's background, is brilliantly harsh. With a single cut between scenes we see (or rather don't see) her lose her parents. Another couple of cuts later and she's gnawing on a tortoise, the visual link between her and one of the walkers strikingly clear. Later on, Lynch delivers one of this show's most genuinely shocking moments when, out of nowhere, a man wanders up in the background of a shot and starts hacking one of the hapless Safe-Zoners to death.

That sudden shift from serenity to violence is expertly handled. This is a far more visceral attack than those made by the Governor's army. And it doesn't take long for it to sink in that this is why there was a horn blaring at the end of “First Time Again” - and that Alexandria is all but unguarded.

Or so you might think... Carol is still about. And while she may spend most of her time baking these days and competing with her enforced circle of friends, she is still harder than everyone else in that town put together. It's no surprise, then, that she leaps to action, disguising herself as one of the Wolves and going on a rampage that would disturb the Terminator.

"You don't have to kill"

And so to the crux of the episode. The invasion brings one of the show's big themes back into focus: when is violence justified? And is it ever OK to kill?

Last week saw Morgan and Michonne troubled by Rick sort-of-mercy killing Carter. This week Morgan is confronted by Carol's predilection – and talent – for murder. Again, it's a slightly fudged point. Yes, Carol walking up and shooting a bound and incapacitated man is disturbing. He's no threat at that point (and they may have been able to get useful information out of him), but earlier, when she takes down a tough and armed opponent and Morgan tells her off... Nah. That's just annoying.

Yes, Morgan has somehow managed to survive without (too much) blood on his hands, but he's the exception, thanks to his nifty combat skills. Carol and the Safe-Zoners killing the Wolves is act of self-defence and his anger feels forced and self-righteous – as well as quite silly, tactically. If the Wolves weren't super pissed off before, they certainly will be now...

There were other flaws. Does anyone care about Ron's mopeyness? And why don't the Wolves have guns? At first I thought it was a statement on their part, but the episode makes a big deal of one of the surviving marauders taking a pistol. With the amount of hardware kicking about in America – especially in this nutso, hyper-violent zombie-filled reality – it's slightly implausible that they don't appear to have any.

The scene where Enid comes to see Carl is also really odd. It happens just as the Wolves invade and start hacking people up, yet she seems so utterly unbothered it immediately saps the tension. Yes, we're meant to believe that she's been broken by her experiences, but come on – there are people with axes chopping heads outside the door! It just comes off as a badly timed scene that would have worked better before the attack had started.

But these are tiny gripes. This is an episode which fully delivered on the threat that's been building for the last year or so, while also even finding the time to start rehabilitating bloody Gabriel.

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Enid's cryptic acronym was finally revealed to mean Just Survive Somehow. Fine, but we're not quite sure how wandering about on her own in the woods is going to help her do that.

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The Walking Dead got off to a strong start in the UK, ratings-wise. Last week's episode, “First Time Again” pulled in 877k viewers – the highest overnights audience ever recorded on FOX. In the States it pulled in 14.6 million viewers – highly impressive, though slightly down on the second-half of season five.

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Smoke 'em if you've got 'em

Fans of The X-Files no doubt cheered at the sight of a packet of Morleys cigarettes. This fictional brand is the same one enjoyed by that show's chain smoking villain.

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Best line

“Come by around three. We'll start with the machette” Carl offers some cheerfully bleak help to Gabriel.

WriterSeth Hoffman
DirectorJennifer Lynch
The one wherewhile Rick is away the Wolves come out to play...

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Available platformsTV