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'The Walking Dead' recap: Alexandria left vulnerable at critical time

The Alexandria Safe-Zone becomes decidedly unsafe when two experienced fighters strike out on their own and search parties scramble to retrieve them on “East,” the Season 6 penultimate episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

Neo-pacifist Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) sneaks out before dawn, leaving a goodbye letter explaining that she “can’t love anyone” because she “can’t kill for anyone.”

A few hours later, Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) speeds away on his motorcycle to avenge the murder of Dr. Denise Cloyd (Merritt Wever). She was accidentally slain when Dwight (Austin Amelio), who deserted from then rejoined the Saviors, fired a crossbow at Daryl but missed.

The sudden departures of Carol and Daryl occur when Alexandria needs its small army at full strength in anticipation of a bloody showdown with the Saviors. These barbaric extortionists prey on the Hilltop Colony and other survivor outposts.

Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his team struck the first blow in Episode 612 by slaughtering a contingent of Saviors inside their compound. This was part of a “kill-for-food” pact in which hungry Alexandrians receive half of Hilltop’s provisions in exchange for wiping out the predators.

Many Saviors were away from the compound, however, including their sadistic leader, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

“No one else leaves,” Rick orders his troops. “Everyone else stays ready for a fight!” Then Rick drives off with Morgan Jones (Lennie James) to find Carol.

“Tire tracks point east. We go east,” Rick says, adding they must do everything possible to locate Carol, even if it’s a longshot. After all, he emphasizes, Carol is family.

As for Carol, her travel plans are halted when Saviors in a pickup truck shoot out her car tires. Pretending she’s a wanderer named Nancy, Carol refuses to lead the men back to Alexandria.

And if forced to defend herself, she has a machine gun hidden in her coat sleeve.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” pleads Carol, dreading the thought of killing anyone else. “You can turn back. You can go home. Nobody has to get hurt!”

The Saviors aren’t known for peaceful coexistence, of course. So Carol protects herself and Alexandria by shooting most of the men and impaling another on a spike. The only Savior still standing pursues Carol across a field.

After Rick and Morgan discover the carnage, they follow a trail of blood toward a farmhouse. That’s when Morgan admits he secretly kept a Wolf (Benedict Samuel) imprisoned inside Alexandria’s walls, hoping to change his evil ways.

The Wolf validated Morgan’s trust by saving Denise during a “walker” invasion.

“And then Denise was there to save Carl (Chandler Riggs)” when he was shot in the eye, Morgan points out. “It’s all a circle. Everything gets a return.”

Knowing Rick should rally the troops back at Alexandria, Morgan volunteers to hunt for Carol on his own. But if he doesn’t return, Morgan warns, “don’t come looking.”

The other search party — consisting of Michonne (Danai Gurira), Rosita Espinosa (Christian Serratos) and Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) — spots Daryl near where Denise died.

“She’s gone,” Glenn tells Daryl, urging him to postpone vengeance. “We need you. And everyone back there needs us right now. It’s gonna go wrong out here!”

Glenn’s words prove prophetic, for he and Michonne are soon captured, bound and gagged by Dwight and his men. When Daryl and Rosita attempt a rescue, they’re surrounded.

“Hi, Daryl,” Dwight casually says. Then, as Daryl spins around, Dwight fires a single shot.

“You’ll be all right,” Dwight predicts.

Really? And what about the other Alexandrians? Because the season finale is up next. And the body count will likely soar.

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