There’s a classic horror movie motif at the heart of On the Inside, the sixth episode of the eleventh series of The Walking Dead. It's a conceit that works very effectively as the self-contained core of the story, around which the wider concerns of the series' arc are slotted in. It’s also a story about the joy, and the trauma, of separated people finding each other once again, a theme that has threaded through all of the episodes of this final series so far.
The focus here begins with the pairing of Virgil and Connie. Virgil, a grief-stricken and unpredictable survivor, first appeared in Season Ten. His meeting with Michonne and journey to Bloodsworth Island in What We Become eventually led to her discovery of evidence of Rick Grimes’ survival after the bridge explosion in Season Nine’s What Comes After. Virgil was last seen in A Certain Doom, when he discovers an exhausted Connie who’d escaped the collapse of the Whisperers' cave network in the events of Squeeze.
Although they’ve clearly been travelling together since then, they are something of an ill-matched pair. Virgil is anxious, risk-averse and considered; while Connie is impulsive, reckless, and headstrong. Connie’s deafness has meant that the two of them rely on an improvised and partial form of sign language and scribbled notes to communicate. Being chased through the woods by countless walkers, they seek refuge in an old wooden house, barring the doors to their pursuers. It’s a miserable, dark and unwelcoming space, but Virgil tries to calm a hyper-wired Connie by carrying out a sweep of the building. When Connie spots something alarming that was hidden from Virgil, their fight-or-flight responses go into overdrive.
In the Reapers’ compound, Daryl persists with the subterfuge that he’s a convert to Pope’s cause. The costs of doing so keep rising. With Pope determined to discover the whereabouts of the remnants of Maggie's crew, Daryl is made to participate in the torture of his compatriot Frost. When Frost’s resistance appears to crumble and he gives up information, a patrol is assembled to wipe them out. Daryl’s dilemmas worsen as he attempts to misdirect Pope’s team, and alert Maggie to the raid, without blowing his cover. What makes his job harder is that his every action is now under scrutiny by Pope’s increasingly suspicious enforcer Carver.
The pre-credit nighttime sequence of Virgil’s and Connie’s arrival at the house is brief but bursting with tension. What works so well is that there’s little sense of respite once they’re inside. It’s a grim and filthy space, complete with dust-covered hunting trophies and family portraits with scratched-out eyes. As the full scale of the jeopardy that Virgil and Connie face becomes clear, Kevin Deiboldt’s script includes satisfying nods to the 1991 comedy-horror The People Under the Stairs (although with none of the laughs), and to the home invasion tropes of 2002’s Panic Room - albeit in twisted post-apocalyptic form.
Director Greg Nicotero handles the rising apprehension and the moments of genuine shock to equally good effect. It’s plotted and executed with great care, but what lifts it still further is the completely committed performance by Lauren Ridloff as Connie. As her sleep-deprived character comes to doubt what she is seeing, she battles to control her terror and fight the assailants coming at her from all sides. At key moments, the soundtrack switches to Connie’s own perspective - so that her desperate plight unfolds in silence as well as in encroaching darkness. It’s an incredibly affecting technique, that (for hearing viewers) dramatises once again how acute the additional challenges that deaf survivors would face. Once Virgil and Connie are separated, their inability to communicate underpins a horrifying set-piece.
The mission by Pope’s assassination squad, led by the now-formidable Leah, offers more traditional (but no less entertaining) Walking Dead thrills. Daryl balances on a tightrope of deception, as he tries to retain Leah’s trust while protecting the lives of his Alexandrian allies now in hiding. As the episode ends, Daryl’s status in Pope’s ranks looks even more precarious. Elsewhere, there’s a joyous and longed-for reunion and the possibility that Aaron’s and Carol’s group will learn something about the fate of another much-missed ally: news that they would never have dared countenance before now. Neither of these latter developments relieves the sense of intensifying dread that the series is building so assuredly.
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Read our previous reviews of THE WALKING DEAD below: