The Walking Dead, S 5, Ep. 9: What Happened and What’s Going On

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Alert.

I have been wondering for the last two days, just what in the hell I was going to say about this episode. It’s complex. It’s arty. It’s visceral. It’s the episode that will end up getting discussed in a film class. Welcome to the biggest acid trip The Walking Dead has given us thus far. And, GODDAMN IT. You had to go and kill Tyreese, didn’t you? He was a good guy, maybe too good. I think even Chad Coleman, the actor who played Tyreese, described his character as the moral center of the group, which he should know is always the death knell for anyone on the show but GODDAMN IT. I generally liked Tyreese.

A note, if anyone is reading this blog for the first time. This particular blog assumes you regularly follow The Walking Dead and are familiar with past characters and plot lines. If this is your first time reading…stop, read everything else I’ve ever written about The Walking Dead, and come back here when you’re ready.

This episode is largely cerebral…in more ways than one, ha ha. Much of the last half of this episode involved the goings-on in Tyreese’s hallucinatory, fevered brain as he makes the journey to the Great Beyond, but on the grander scheme, his internal hallucinations reflect the more general question of what it takes to be considered a citizen of the world.

Visited by the recent dead–on the positive, welcoming side by Lizzy, Mika, Beth and Bob, and on the negative, shit-to-work-out-before-I-die side by The Governor and Martin, a Terminian who Tyreese almost killed once, but didn’t (and who died when Sasha savaged him in the neck with a knife)–Tyreese tries to come to an understanding of the worlds he once lived in, and lives in now. And they’re curiously similar. Reminding us–over and over again–that humans are perfectly capable of being monsters, Tyreese re-audio-hallucinates a BBC radio broadcast reporting on a war-torn nation that has suffered vast brutality; to me, it sounded like reports from the genocide in Rwanda. The radio reporter (voiced by Andrew Lincoln, speaking in his normal, British, non-Rick-Grimes-accent) talked about people being done in with machetes, or set on fire, all of which are things Tyreese has witnessed in the post-apocalyptic world. And the point is, if it wasn’t an actual BBC report…it could have been.

It's better now, they keep on promising.  Image from dailymail.co.uk

It’s better now, they keep on promising.
Image from dailymail.co.uk

What does it mean to belong to the world? Tyreese has a dying-dream conversation with Martin, who was ready to kill Baby Judith, and from whom Tyreese rescued her. Maybe if Tyreese has killed him at that point then he couldn’t have told Gareth where Rick Nation was, and maybe Bob would be alive, maybe it would all be different. Instead, Tyreese holds the image of that baby up as the pinnacle of good that he’d accomplished in the world. Judith is alive, and it is, entirely, all because of Tyreese. When The Governor showed up he started yelling about how Tyreese couldn’t “pay the bill”. He couldn’t be cold, couldn’t be ruthless. Couldn’t be the killer The Governor wanted him to be. Couldn’t kill Carol, who killed the woman Tyreese loved, a woman who was sick with a superflu and was about to infect and/or kill almost everyone around her. But the person who operates from the Governor’s perspective as their personal base is someone who belongs only to himself, only to the notion that the self is paramount and that the idea of a collective “Greater Good” is whatever a single individual decides is right and good, even if it’s morally reprehensible.

The gang's all here. Does the afterlife really have to involved folk singing? Image from yellmagazine.com

The gang’s all here. Does the afterlife really have to involve folk singing?
Image from yellmagazine.com

The Governor, if you remember Merle‘s and Andrea‘s deaths, proved that he was perfectly willing to let someone slowly die so they would turn into the undead. He bit Merle’s fingers off, he murdered Hershel in cold blood, to make a point. Rick is right on par with The Governor, having ripped Claimed Joe’s throat out with his teeth. Rick is the guy who strategically left another member of the “Claimed” group dead and ready to turn, so said dead guy would attack and distract his own gang members, and in this, most current episode, admitted to Glenn that he knew Dawn didn’t mean to kill Beth but didn’t care, he just wanted to shoot her anyway. Without Beth and now without Tyreese, Rick Nation has become an army of assassins, with little to keep them anchored to a humanity that is anything other than carnal.

Michonne, I think, is getting close to being the new voice of humanity, as she is about three steps away from losing her mind. They’ve been out on the road too long, she says, and they need a place to stay. To root. To come back together as a community with a common goal (other than, simply, survival). To build something, and grow plants, and hopefully figure out how to have a sheltered rest.

Tyreese is a great example of Rick’s warning to Carl earlier in the season to never let one’s guard down. For just a few moments, Tyreese was pulled out of the present, lost in a picture of Noah‘s younger twin brothers and what the previously “normal” world was like. Going for pizza. Sitting at a ball game. Hanging out at the playground. Contemplating the loss and promise of the lives of these two young boys, one of whom was dead in the bed next to him, with large chunks taken out of him. Then the other brother came in quietly from behind and took a bite out of Tyreese’s arm. Game over for our favorite moral compass.

Yup, that's about right.  Image from blog.indiewire.com

Yup, that’s about right.
Image from blogs.indiewire.com

And speaking of “carnal”, let’s talk about what happened at Shirewilt, the gated community where Noah used to live. Somebody came at this community, hard. They busted in through a cement wall like they were an army of evil Kool-Aid mascots. They burned and looted and bashed in heads, and it was probably just for the joy of killing. Rick took some time to point out the strategic flaws of Shirewilt as a homestand; I mean, it looked secured, with a big old wall and locking gates. But it wasn’t. If Rick understands the flaws in it as a stronghold you can assume that anyone else with a reasonably sound sense of defensive strategy would see the same flaws. So, the people who busted in to Shirewilt weren’t there to take it over, they just hearkened to the call of bloodlust. And then…they cut walkers in half, chopped off their arms, carved “W”s into their heads and loaded them into the back of a pickup? For…?

And you know they did the head carving while the person was still alive. Just for added evil. Image from moviepilot.com

And you know they did the head carving while the person was still alive. Just for added evil.
Image from moviepilot.com

I would imagine that would make one hell of a decoration around a fortress. Kind of like putting your enemies’ heads on spikes after you chop them off. Is this a way for some group to mark their turf? Since we got a nice, close look at the walker with the W in its head, you can rest assured we’ll see them again some time soon. And–seriously–it seems like any time you have someone willing to manipulate the bodies of the undead, it’s shorthand for “we are dealing with a crazy person”. Think of The Governor and his wall of heads. Michonne was close to crazy–was certainly dangerous–when we first met her with her undead entourage chained to her side, but then again, she’s come to realize that when she does that she’s in a dark, dark place.

Wolves not far, the graffiti said.

So...THAT's ominous.

So…THAT’s ominous. Image from moviepilot.com

Never let  your guard down, not even for a second. Duly noted.

Image credits:

Dead End

Lizzie and Mika

The Gang’s All Here

Head carving

Wolves Not Far

The Walking Dead S4 Ep 16: A

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Before I go one step further into any discussion about last night’s episode of The Walking Dead, I just want to address the elephant in the room. YES, OK? I haaaated the final line of the episode as much as everyone else. I thought it was a hackneyed, weak way to end a really complicated episode that pushed the viewer in a bunch of different ways. I’ve had a night to sleep on it so I don’t feel quite as much vitriol today for that line as I felt last night, and I’ll ‘splain why. Later. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, so now? We move on.

A narrative regarding self-identity runs through this episode and even through the entire season, as it’s become increasingly apparent that the zombies are horrifying and lethal, but people are the real monsters in this world. And they keep blurring the lines between “human” and “zombie” behavior. Sometimes the line is blurred subtly, like in this very episode, as Michonne said in a quiet moment sitting around the fire, “All we ever talk about is food.” Funny. If zombies could talk, I’m sure that would be their primary topic of conversation, too. “Brains! Brains? Mmmm, brains!” Nothing like having a similar agenda as the ravenous undead.

Pardon me; you don't happen to have any food hanging around, do you?

Pardon me; you don’t happen to have any non-brain-type food hanging around, do you?

The human/zombie/what-makes-a-monster narrative started in earnest once the group separated after the prison was destroyed. Lizzie identified with zombies more strongly than with living people. Beth was spirited away by unknown persons (though I’m pretty sure I was wrong in thinking she was taken by The Hunters…more on this in a bit). Joe and his marauders were willing to kick one of their own to death for lying. Michonne had her “I am literally among the ranks of the walking dead” moment as she created new zombie pets, wandering among a herd of walkers until she saw herself mirrored in a zombie and chose to live again. In the same episode, as Rick heals from the insane beatdown The Governor gave him, he let out a strangled gurgle in the dark that sounded weirdly like zombie hissing. I mean, it wasn’t, he lived, y’all can relax. But these episodes illustrate that the apocalyptic dark side isn’t that far away from our protagonists, ever.

With that in mind…season 4, episode 16 opened with an unknown character being taken down by a zombie herd. Too bad for him, but a great way to remind the audience that teeth are a viable weapon because….

Oh, yeahhhh, that's what these things are for...

Oh, yeahhhh, that’s what these things are for…

As Michonne and Rick sit around the fire talking about food, they are set upon by Joe and the marauders, thrilled that they’ve managed to track and catch their prey and take revenge for their fellow gang member, who Rick killed in the bathroom. Michonne and Rick are outmanned and outgunned and Carl, asleep in the car, is out-everything. Sized, gunned, muscled. During this time Daryl–who almost left the group, but instead hung around to see what would happen–realized his friends were the quarry in question, and because he is one noble SOB, makes a plea for his friends’ lives. They’re good people, he says.

The staging for this scene is brilliant.

The staging for this scene is brilliant.

Which, of course, isn’t possible in Joe’s interpretation of good people vs. bad people vs. monsters, because he has judged Rick for the killing of his friend and found him guilty. Anyone saying they’re “good” despite what they’ve done is lying, and you don’t lie to Joe. Done. Game over. Let the brutal beatdown begin.

For the record, Rick Grimes can take one hell of a beating.

And it is a brutal scene. Since Daryl stood up for his friends he’s getting beaten to death by Joe’s gang, who tells Rick that Michonne is next, and then Carl, and he’d have to watch it all. Meanwhile, one of Joe’s inbred, drooling-on-himself-while-evilly-laughing gang members throws Carl to the ground for a bit of a rape, and that? Is when Rick checks out. They have a perfunctory, “let the boy go” back-and-forth, but Joe & Co. refuse. Big mistake. Fight fight fight, scuffle missed gunshot punch, and then Joe’s got Rick, arms and all, wrapped in a bear hug. “What are you going to do now, Sport?”, Joe sneers.

Next question?

Betcha didn’t see that coming. Ha! Next question?

Rick, taking a page straight from the zombie playbook, rips out Joe’s throat with his teeth. Because teeth are viable weapons.

It further blurs the line between man and monster. Joe clearly never thought, with his “Ha ha, Sporto!” comment, that having his throat bitten out was an option. This helps explain Rick’s answer to Daryl the next day, when Daryl says that anyone would have done what Rick did.  “No, not anyone,” Rick replies. Because Joe was a terrible, merciless asshole and not even Joe would go there.  The only other person who has gone bitey on TWD, for the record, was The Governor, who bit Merle’s fingers off just before he shot him and left him to die.

Now what?

Oh, right, lest we forget. Just after biting Joe’s throat out, he makes his way to Evil Dan the drooling would-be rapist and guts him from navel to sternum, staring into his face the entire time.

"This one's mine," he says.

“This one’s mine,” Rick says, staring into his enemy’s eyes as he guts him and stabs him like fifty times. Because that’s not crazy.

So they make their way to Terminus and finally–finally!–someone in this former prison group (and by someone I mean Rick) thinks, hey, maybe our dreams of a peaceful sanctuary are too good to be true. We don’t know who these people are. Let me cache some weapons outside their fencing…just in case.

Earlier in the episode–this is important, pay attention–Rick teaches Carl how to build a slipknot trap to catch an animal. Build a trail the prey will follow, he says, and camouflage the rope. Then the animal will catch itself in the slipknot; it’s practically like the trap does the work for you!

...and then you catch 'em and snap their little necks and eat 'em, son. That's how it's done.

…and then you catch ’em and snap their little necks and eat ’em, son. That’s how it’s done.

So. Back to Terminus. Rick, Michonne, Carl, and Daryl creep over the fence all sneaky-like and skulk through the hallways until they find themselves at a big open room filled with scarf-wearing hipsters painting signs and broadcasting on a ham radio. And for some unknown reason, they walk in and introduce themselves. Do they check out the entire compound? No. Do they have even a modest poke at the premises? No. Instead they walk in and practically fall over themselves saying hi to Gareth, the de facto leader of Terminus.

Oh, look! He's got a bowl cut and an underbite. How can you not trust this guy?

Oh, look! He’s got a bowl cut and an underbite. How can you not trust this guy?

Gareth, of course, tells them everything they want to hear. You’re all very smart. We don’t have problems here, only solutions. Come on, let’s take you to the main entrance, get you situated.

It's kind of like a big trail they're leading you down, you know?

It’s kind of like a big trail for you to follow, you know?

Then Rick recognizes his friends’ stuff; he sees Maggie‘s poncho, Glenn‘s riot gear, Hershel‘s pocket watch (which he’d passed on to Glenn in a moment of fatherly acceptance).  Much shooting ensues, though it’s probably best to let the pictures tell the bulk of this part of the story.

They're not shooting at them. They're shooting around them.

They’re not shooting at them. They’re shooting around them.

The good people of Terminus, it seems, are not very good people at all, as they herd Rick, Michonne, Carl, and Daryl to a very specific area.

The only door open leads to "A".

The only door open leads to “A”.

These are clearly not the first people they’ve herded in this manner.

Look at how pitted the walls are. It ain't there first rodeo.

Look at how pitted the walls are. It ain’t their first rodeo.

And then they run them past a bone yard. I like that they’re looking in. See what’s in store for you here? Rut-ro!

The picture's not that clear. But yes, they look suspiciously like human skeletons.

The picture’s not that clear. But yes, they look suspiciously like human skeletons.

Through a fetishized memorial to…prior dinners?

At least that's what I assume this is.

At least that’s what I assume this is.

The good news is, I don’t see Beth’s name on that floor, which is why I don’t think she was taken by this group. The bad news is, we still don’t know what happened to Beth.

The one door that opens out of this room leads them into a back train yard, which dead-ends. This is where Gareth pulls the slipknot tight.

End of the line. For real.

End of the line. For real.

Gareth sends them into a railway car to await their fate, which adds a nice Holocaust-Nazi touch, as does the BS propaganda they’ve posted along the tracks. In retrospect, Terminus’s “Those who arrive, survive” slogan sounds uncomfortably like “Arbeit Macht Frei“, or “Work makes you free”, the phrase wrought into the iron gates of Auschwitz. It appears that Terminus is incredibly well organized and staffed by ruthless folks. Cannibals. Monsters? Of a sort, it seems, and absolutely monster-ish if the Nazi analogy holds. We’ll see how that goes.

Interestingly enough, Gareth apparently doesn’t actually realize he’s reuniting a group, or doesn’t care, or doesn’t have two different “A” group holding cells, because he puts the Rick crew in the A car, where surely he must know he’s also got the guy with the riot gear and the lady with the poncho. Because ahhh, reunion.

So, yeah. Hi.

So, yeah. Hi.

It kills me that Sasha looks so sheepish.

There they are. And here’s where Rick speaks the line that kills me. Once they briefly assess their situation, Rick says, “They’re gonna feel pretty stupid when they find out…(find out what?)…They’re screwing with the wrong people.” ~~~end scene~~~

OK. I know this is taken almost verbatim from an issue of the original comic. But here’s the thing: it SOUNDS like it’s taken from an issue of a comic book. All Rick needs is a cape and he’ll fly his people out of there, amirite? I hate it less a day later; I get that he needed to put forth a call to arms among his team. But I wanted a line that was more real-life sounding and less glib. They just herded him and his friends like rabbits into a death hutch. What’s he got to be so cocky about?

We still have no idea what happened to Beth. And we also don’t know the whereabouts of Tyreese, Carol, and baby Judith, though they were on the Terminus highway. This could be good, it could be bad. There’s a bag of weapons buried in the dirt. And it will be interesting to see if Eugene has the smarts he claims to have and can help them outwit the assuredly clever, manipulative, smooth, lying-to-your-face-like-it’s-his-job Gareth. Or is Eugene just dead weight? He can’t fight; he’s got to do something.

I guess we’ll see in October!

So, to play us out, I’m linking to Mark Knopfler‘s ridiculously appropriate song, “Cannibals”. Click here for the lyrics for those playing at home.

The Walking Dead, S4 Ep 15: Us

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And a note to readers: WordPress has changed the way we can format pictures and such, so no images open in a new window. If you want that to happen, you need to do so manually. Or, you can just use your browser’s back button. Moving on.

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way.

Maggie & Glenn: reunited!  They have found one another. Glenn saw Maggie’s signs to get to Terminus and threw all sense of caution to the wind, running pell-mell along the railroad tracks, refusing to stop for rest or safety, and climbing through a collapsed train tunnel (from which they could clearly hear zombie hisses).

--Do you hear hissing?   --No, I don't hear hissing. Let's go in! #soundslegit

–Do you hear zombie hissing?
–No, I don’t hear hissing. Let’s go in! #soundslegit

His emotionally fueled personal quest jeopardized the life of injured Tara, who steadfastly refused to leave Glenn’s side as she busily atoned for her “sin” of being deceived by The Governor. Things would have been so much worse for Glenn and Tara if the cavalry–in the shape of the joined forces of Eugene, Abe Ford, Rosita, Maggie, Bob, and Sasha–hadn’t shown up in backlit silhouette at exactly the right moment.

Taroo taroo toot toot taroo!

Taroo taroo toot toot taroo!

So, yay, lovebirds, glad you’ve found one another and can stop risking your friends’ lives in unthought-out and selfish pursuits. Once they were back together, Glenn burned the picture he had of Maggie because she promised him she’d never be apart from him again. Sweet. Ominous. Because who can keep that kind of promise in their crazy world?

No, I love YOU more. No, I love you. No, you. *tongue gargle*

No, I love YOU more. No, I love you. No, you. *tongue gargle*

I’m betting the answer is: not her. But we’ll see.

Eugene: OMG, really? This guy is the embodiment of the worst of the worst of gamers, and this episode opens with him talking to Tara about dinosaurs and what RPGs or video games or whatever, he liked to play the most. And that a zombie dinosaur game would be an awesome pre-order. Like, he’s still thinking about these things like they’re present for him. Like, in his head he’s running through gaming scenarios.  Abe and Rosita, why do you believe he’s got the answers to everything? (Actually, I suspect Rosita kind of thinks he’s full of shit, but she won’t leave Abe and so? She follows.) I’m kind of surprised Eugene is able to tie his shoes without knotting them together and tripping himself, nerd-style. The problem with Eugene is, he’s the dangerous sort of comic relief whose stuffed-shirt brainiac blustering will end up getting someone killed, in much the same way that Glenn’s reckless run into the train tunnel nearly got Tara (and himself) killed.

Fly, you fool!

Fly, you fool!

Rick, Carl & Michonne: walking the tracks! Heading for Terminus! They’re physically not in this episode much, other than to show that Carl and Michonne are pretty securely bonded and Rick is all glowy over the good-timey feelings he gets from both of them. Awwww, so sweet it gives me a toothache. It won’t last.

Oh, you goofballs.

Oh, you goofballs.

The grim, dark little crew Daryl has fallen in with (grimness evidenced by their willingness to kill Len, one of their own, over the fact that Len was a stupid douchebag) is trailing Rick for revenge over the killing and zombification of their friend in the bathroom (called it!).  Joe, the leader of the gang, apparently man-crushes on Daryl, as he’s awfully protective of him AND is psychologically working him really, really hard with a relentless stream of “guys like us” statements. As in, “Guys like us, we practice a reverse judgement of Solomon; we cut the bunny in half and wait for the participants to reveal their true natures.”

And then guys like us, we shoot the folks with a less desirable nature in the eye with an arrow. Because reasons.

Joe wasn't kidding when he said you shouldn't lie.

Joe wasn’t kidding when he said you shouldn’t lie to him.

One of the curious traits of this season’s TWD has been its willingness to be self-referential and go back and forth along its own timeline. The characters’ stories are linear unto themselves, but jump back and forth in reference to other characters’ storylines. They do this again with Daryl’s gang, as they “claim” what they want is theirs, be it a bunny, a place to sleep, or a house.  Remember, the episode where Rick first encounters the Joe gang is called “Claimed“. Unbeknownst to Rick, he broke the rules by being in a claimed house, though I suspect Joe won’t be as lenient toward Rick’s rule-breaking as he was toward Daryl’s. What with Daryl being his man-crush bowman, and all. I mean, who wouldn’t love that vest with the wings on the back?

You should have a little drink there, Daryl, and relax. That's right...

You should have a little drink there, Daryl, and relax. That’s right…

Look, Daryl Dixon maniacs, I’m not saying Daryl reciprocates the feelings. I’m just saying Daryl has a fan, and that his fan also loves murder. That’s all.

Bear this in mind for later in this blog: In the “Claimed” episode, Michonne and Carl go scavenging through the houses in the neighborhood, searching for food (not pudding) and medical supplies and…whatever. In one of the houses they come upon a hallway gallery filled with crappy, mom-has-free-time-so-she’s-painting-flowers-and-we-have-to-hang-them style paintings. In the same house, Michonne and Carl also find the pinkest room in the history of all pinkness, filled with the bodies of a family that all died together rather than try and survive the zombie apocalypse.

The pink? Gaah, you don't know the half of it. Plus desiccated corpses.

The pink? Gaah, you don’t know the half of it. Plus desiccated corpses.

Or so we think. Back to that in a minute.

So, Terminus.

Maggie, Glenn, Sasha, Bob, Tara, Abe Ford, Rosita, and the relentlessly annoying Eugene arrive, and it is positively Paradise-y. It’s quiet. (Too quiet?) It’s open. There are sunflowers blooming along the entranceway, and that gives way to tidy little raised garden beds filled with cabbages and cucumbers and whatever else kind of produce they’ve got going.

Now we know were all the flowers have gone.

Now we know where all the flowers have gone.

Farmer Rick should fit right in here, once he toddles his way down the tracks.  Ahhhh, serene, right? They turn the corner and…finally, someone! Standing in the middle of a grill pit.

A grill pit?

So...what'cha cooking?

Hi. That smells great! So…what’cha cooking?

A grill pit. And she’s all braided and serene and smiley, and introduces herself as “Mary”. My response was much like that scene in The Highlander, when The Kurgan (only one of the greatest movie villains ever, and I will love you for all time for this, Clancy Brown) is in the seedy hotel and the hooker shows up. “I’m Candy,” she says, and his reply?

“Of course you are.”

Because I trust her (and Terminus in general) as much as I would trust Kurgan not to cheat at Scrabble. Though I do get to enjoy the benefit of watching the story unfold from the luxury of my couch, and not from the desperate, “I want four walls and food and a hot shower and I want to not have to fear that zombies are going to break in on my life and force me to have to flee into the woods…again….” center of a zombie apocalypse. Perspective is everything.

So. Mary. Mother of God allusions aside (is that possible?)…what’s she grilling? Because I didn’t see any livestock.

I'd like a side of Beth, please.

Would you like a side of Beth? BEEF! Beef! I mean beef.

AND! Remember those paintings in the house, that I mentioned previously?  Some eagle-eyed writer-fan who’s got me wildly outnerded pointed out that those paintings all mirror things that have happened in the various storylines.  There’s a couple of bunnies, and we all remember what happened when Lizzie met up with a bunch of baby bunnies.  There’s a golden dog, that looks suspiciously like the mangy mutt that lured Daryl to the door and caused the split from him and Beth. There’s sunflowers, much like the ones that greeted them at Terminus. And there’s one painting that had been profoundly defaced.  Eyes and mouth X-ed out, splattered with…blood? Red paint?  Hard to tell. And the thing is…

terminus-painting-e1395646576969

Oh, Mary, please. Picture from comicbook.com

Yep. Looks like her. Looks a whole, irrefutable lot like her.

I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “I should save these episodes on the DVR, so I can refer back to them if I need to.”  And then I didn’t and now I’m furious with myself (next season: done and done) because…if memory serves correctly…this painting was covered with some kind of cloth and propped in front of the door that led to the pink room where Michonne found the bodies. So. Did someone else place the painting there? Force this family to kill themselves? Was it related to Mary? Or did they just hate kitschy folk art this much? Michonne got a good eyeful of this painting; will she recognize Mary if and/or when they get to Terminus? What really happened in that house?

That, I think, is the question that will carry us forward into next season.

But next week, for the final episode: Bloody mayhem is assured. Stay tuned!

We’ll let Guns ‘n’ Roses play us out of this week’s episode with some “Paradise City“. Because it feels right.

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