This article contains spoilers -- and spoiler-ish theories -- about the most recent episode of The Walking Dead, "Twice As Far."
Please take a moment to let the shock subside. Last night’s Walking Dead featured what was easily the most surprising final minutes in its six-season history, and very possibly the most surprising scene on television since Robb Stark's Red Wedding demise on Game of Thrones. What does it mean for the future of the show? Let’s take a closer look at the madness:
Denise Cloyd is dead. Makes sense, given the Walking Dead’s tendency to kill off the most simply likeable characters. Denise enjoyed a loving relationship with Tara, a hero with us since the Governor days, and was one of only a handful of well-developed queer characters on the series. She’s endured some hardships -- most recently a kidnapping by a stray Wolf in the season premiere -- and shown considerable courage and resolve. We’ve watched her grow as a person, and Sunday night, before tragedy befell her, we saw her take another step toward heroism by conquering her fears. So of course she had to die.
And the gut-wrenching twist...
Denise died in a most spectacular and unsettling fashion: an arrow through the back of her skull and out the right eye. More specifically, an arrow that once belonged to Daryl. Last season, his crossbow, like his motorcycle, was pilfered from a Savior he mistakenly spared. Right in the middle of a moving monologue, about taking chances in life and making the most of what you’ve got, the arrow shot into frame. Denise was arguably the most expendable character in the scene, though actress Merritt Wever's performance, spitting out those last few words horribly before crumpling to the ground, had the impact of someone central suffering the same fate.
Let's remember: the Saviors are still out there
Some time has clearly passed since Rick killed the man presumed to be Negan at the end of last week’s episode. The group believes the threat is neutralized. We didn't hear word on whether Jesus confirmed the identity of the head honcho after all, but Rick and the others returned home without much concern about retaliation. Well, here it is. Another band of the Saviors, armed to the teeth, descended upon our heroes -- meaning there are probably a whole lot more left than anybody suspected. And they’re a lot closer to Alexandria than they’ve ever been, too, which may prove cause for concern. When the few who got away come back it’s going to be ugly.
Are Daryl's days numbered?
There’s been a lot of speculation this season about the arrival of Negan and the name of his first victim. In the comics it was Glenn who felt the wrath of the Big Bad's baseball bat. But it’s increasingly looking like it might be Daryl, the fan favorite, who takes it instead. This episode strengthens the case. Daryl spared an innocent-seeming Savior long ago when he obviously shouldn’t have. That Savior returned last night and killed Denise, and he’s been let free once again -- though this time with a rather personal injury. He'll want vengeance. That makes another coup for Daryl in the Savior-Alexandria war: not only did the man make mince of a half-dozen Saviors on bikes at the beginning of the season, he doubled down with an assault rifle last night and guaranteed he’ll be a target to come.
A betting man would have put money on Abraham being The Walking Dead's latest victim. He made an early bid for for Sasha’s affections, which is never a good sign of longevity. He abandoned his friend Eugene in a time of need, earning a few karma points. And the climax of the episode, the confrontation on the road with the Savior bandits, happens verbatim in the comics. Only it’s Abraham who ends up losing his life. It’s a clever turn for the showrunners to take such a notorious scene and enact it with different results. The surprise forces us to wonder about the more infamous scene to come: if Abraham can be spared the fate written for him on the page, can Glenn survive the finale?
We're about to see an all-out war
After this run-in with the Saviors, Rick and the others vowed to never be caught by surprise again. If their enemies are still out there, still vengeful, and if a simple supply run can spell doom for one of our heroes, something has to be done. The war began with Denise's death. Carol, Rick, Daryl, and probably any other well-trained member of the Alexandria safe zone piled into a caravan and hit the road, presumably in pursuit of the real Negan and the Savior army's remaining, inestimable soldiers. Given the faction's seemingly inexhaustible resources, there’s no telling how deep they run. I’m starting to suspect the next battles won’t work out quite so favorably as they have so far. Let’s just hope that Rick doesn’t underestimate the challenge ahead.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
Calum Marsh is a freelance writer with a love of the undead and an eye toward the future. Follow him for more prognostication: @calummarsh.