Spoilers for The Walking Dead are below.
So rarely do things end well for Walking Dead characters when people are searching for other characters. First Sophia, then Beth, and now Carol. (And probably others.) Carol’s untimely decision to skip town last week didn’t come out of nowhere, as she’s been weighed down for a little while now, but it still seemed a choice she should have known would lead to major trouble for everyone, herself included. But it’s what happened at the end of "East" – or, rather, what didn’t happen – that will keep us talking until next week’s season finale, with Daryl once again falling victim to his mini-nemesis Dwight, this time with a bullet somewhere in him.
Rick’s group was 3-0 against The Saviors going into the episode, but that record definitely changed by the time the blood splashed against the screen and the credits rolled. It’s unclear if Carol made it through her ordeal intact, but Michonne, Glenn and Rosita did, though the latter three were held captive in the end. Daryl didn’t have it too good, however, and he’ll be heading into “Last Day on Earth” wounded and presumably pissed off to high heaven. The third time definitely wasn’t the charm for Daryl, and his third encounter with Dwight ended way worse than the other two times, with injury added to the insults of having his motorcycle and crossbow stolen. It’s not easy money betting on whether his entry wound hurts more than his ego at this point.
But it’s not just that Dwight shot Daryl. It’s that he didn’t shoot Daryl to kill him, as evidenced by his final words, “You’ll be all right.” (Unless he was speaking to the other characters, but I'm refusing to believe that's the case here.) There’s no questioning why Dwight would want to incapacitate Daryl, seeing as how there are multiple motives for revenge there, but why would he keep him alive at all? From a narrative standpoint, it’s possibly because Dwight already killed one of the Alexandrians, and he’s been instructed to round up whatever remaining survivors there are to join Negan’s big game next week when the highly anticipated villain is finally introduced. They’re letting him live long enough to make him afraid that he’s going to die in a completely different way really soon. Not that Daryl would ever cop to being afraid, especially of Dwight. (“Man, I can’t!”)
I’m admittedly less interested in the narrative logic and more about what went into this decision behind the scenes. We all remember the Glenn debacle, and showrunner Scott Gimple and creator Robert Kirkman are acutely aware of what viewers thought of that particular curve in Glenn’s arc. Is it possible that those final seconds of the episode were in response to how they handled things in the first half of Season 6? Maybe they chose to avoid putting another major character through a potentially fatal cliffhanger by immediately telling audiences to keep their Twitter fingers on lock, that no one died tonight. (Which isn’t to say he’ll live through next week, but you know.) I wonder if this episode would have ended on a clean cliffhanger had Glenn and Nicholas not had their downer of an escapade, or if this would be how it went regardless.
In any case, there are still way too many rumors out there that next week’s finale will offer up a legitimate cliffhanger to hide who Negan’s villain actually is. That would completely go against all the good mojo that this week’s ending provided, but I’m so excited to see Jeffrey Dean Morgan that I’m almost ready to forgive anything. (But not really.)
The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC.