Imagine if tonight's episode of "The Walking Dead" had ended just a few seconds earlier. Imagine if, instead of Dwight pulling the trigger on Daryl while Rosita and Glenn sit bound in front of them, the episode simply cut to black once we heard him cock his gun. To me, that would have been a much stronger conclusion.
But instead, we get another instance of the writers trying to pull a fast one on the audience. While "East" doesn't reach "Thank You" levels of trolling, that splatter of blood on the lens comes from the same storytelling tactic as the walkers disemboweling Nicholas' corpse on top of Glenn: using cheap camera trickery to make something appear more violent than it actually is.
At least Dwight tells Daryl "You'll be alright," immediately after firing, thus preempting another is-he-or-isn't-he-dead debate. But if that's the case, then why so much blood? Dwight probably shoots Daryl in the arm or thigh or somewhere else that's potentially non-lethal, and yet Michael E. Satrazemis frames the shot so it looks like Norman Reedus' carotid artery just exploded in the viewer's face. What's the point of this, beyond shocking the audience with a jolt of sensationalism, a jolt of sensationalism that will no doubt prove to mean almost nothing next week when Daryl survives?
I hope I'm wrong. I hope Greg Nicotero and co. have the guts to open next week's season finale with Daryl's corpse having bled out like a stuck pig -- not because I want the character to die, but because I want to see the writers commit to something that results in an actual consequence rather than a "gotcha!" moment.
Elsewhere, "East" has some intriguing storylines and action sequences. Carol's moral dilemma over killing wasn't depicted gradually or naturally enough in the past couple weeks for me to believe it, but it's still tense to see her weigh the options when being attacked by a group of Saviors on the road. Melissa McBride is such a strong actress that her internal crisis has a "Crying Freeman" element of conflict about it. We see how painful it is for her to take down her enemies, even though she's completely adept at doing so. And who knows what happened to the final guy, as both he and Carol are gone by the time Rick and Morgan reach the two burned-out cars.
That journey results in a decidedly non-violent climax to a rivalry that's been boiling up for the entire season. When the two of them stumble across a walker-infested barn and a mysterious man who runs away (read more about him here), Morgan finally decides to come clean with Rick. He tells him about his captivity of the Wolf, how his decision not to kill him resulted in Denise getting saved (despite her dying last week), how everything eventually comes back around for the better. I'll admit, I expected Rick to snap and come to blows with his friend. That's the fight everyone's been waiting for. But instead, they have a civilized, if passionate, discussion about the validity of Rick's tactics and Morgan's worldview. Eventually, Morgan tells the town leader to go home and tend to his family and the rest of the community. He'll find Carol on his own. And to our collective surprise, Rick actually listens.
It's a far more tense sequence than the Daryl/Dwight exchange at the episode's end, a testament that you don't have to deliver heightened, most likely inconsequential violence to wake up the crowd. Sometimes you can do it through clarity and refusing to pull the wool over their eyes. Even better, Rick's reaction to Morgan's confession is surprising without trying to be shocking. Hopefully, the writers will keep this in mind next week. With only one episode left in this season and lots to resolve -- Carol's fate, Daryl's fate, a possible miscarriage from Maggie (at least I think that's what she was experiencing tonight), and of course, the introduction of Negan -- there's no time left this year for "The Walking Dead" to be coy.