This review contains spoilers.
The group is at a weird point in their journey. There’s no food. There’s no water. There’s no gasoline. They’re short two friends (and relatives). Everyone seems to be at a point where they’re ready to die. As Rick says, “We are the walking dead,” and they definitely look it. Pushed to the point of exhaustion, the group is low on everything you need to survive, but especially the will to keep going. There’s a reason Michonne wanted to hang out in a zombie-infested gated community.
This episode comes at the perfect time in the season. After the startling death of Beth followed closely by the startling death of Tyreese, it’s not surprising that the show’s cast of characters are feeling a little morose. Hungry and tired and slowly dying? Not a lot of room for optimism there, and the show has turned as morose and moody as a pubescent boy who hasn’t seen a girl close to his own age since she was feeding rats to zombies at the prison fence.
It’s good stuff, really. Unlike the interminable talking of the second season, it seems like the writing staff has a handle on how to have characters process grief without just babbling on about it. In small groups and twos, the characters closest to Tyreese and Beth chew their way through their grief sandwiches in terse, quiet conversations. It works because nobody really belabours the point like they once did. They’re communicating in body language and sentence fragments at this point, sneaking off to grieve in silence or lashing out violently against the undead as they rear their rotting heads. Even some of the more on-the-nose stuff, like Rick’s “walking dead” line, ended up working because of how it was delivered, and the situation it was delivered in. Full credit to writer Heather Bellson for taking something that was clunky and laughable in the comic and making it work on screen better than it should have, and credit to Andrew Lincoln for being the steady, guiding hand the show needs from its main character.
Perhaps the best performance of the night goes to Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha. She’s processing the death of her brother in a very Tyreese sort of way: killing sprees. There’s a fun coldness in her eyes as she goes about slashing and stabbing, recklessly. It’s a good reminder of how Tyreese went kill-crazy with his hammer once upon a time when he was ready to die, except he didn’t have Michonne around to push him out of harm’s way until he could get a handle on himself. It’s a fun coda on a very clever zombie-disposal scene that I don’t think the show has done yet. The group split into threes on either side of the road near a bridge. As the zombies came shuffling over, they were tossed one by one down into the dry river beneath them, the slope presumably too high and steep for the survivors to climb out of.
That’s one of several great visuals from director Julius Ramsay. The episode uses a lot of slow, steady shots of the survivors stumbling along a road while zombies pursue, relentless, doggedly. When the group is trapped in the barn, saved only by the deus ex machina of a wind storm toppling a bunch of Carolina pines onto the walkers, the action is as claustrophobic as the road scenes were open. The group, working together, to dispose of zombies. The group, walking together, pursued by zombies. The group, banding together, to keep the zombies out while keeping themselves in. Despite the weariness, despite the sadness, despite the constant deprivation and loss, there’s something that keeps this group of walking dead working together, even if it’s simply the desire to survive.
Take the case of Eugene. When the group finds a pile of water bottles left from “A Friend,” no one wants to drink them out of fear. Perhaps out of desperation, perhaps out of the knowledge that he’s the least of the group’s members, he volunteers to drink it out of quality assurance. Abraham, without thinking, slaps the bottle away. Even the group member who has the most to atone for is too precious at this stage to sacrifice for no reason. Particularly when you know that Eugene won’t actively harm the group, unlike, say, the visiting Aaron (Ross Marquand) who pops up at the end of the episode looking entirely too clean and well-fed.
Is he trustworthy? Does it even matter at this point? Even if he’s a good person offering some sort of respite, we know it’s only temporary. If he’s a bad person, then there’s still nowhere safe for the group to rest, feed, and relax between zombie slaughtering and resupply missions without compromising their ethics. There’s no real rest; there’s just Maggie’s exasperated, eye-rolling expression when she has to bother with stabbing a zombie tangled in a copse of trees.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan thinks that a good snow storm might take care of some of the zombie problems, but I doubt the show is going to be willing to film during actual winter. Plus huddling around a fire isn’t quite as interesting as sweating to death in the abysmal Georgia heat. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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