Editor’s Note: This review contains major Walking Dead spoilers…
Tonight’s midseason return of The Walking Dead season 5 began with a sort of visual collage poem of the many places the characters have been in the past four and a half seasons. We got glimpses of the prison, the house where Carol and Tyreese made a life-defining decision before rejoining the group at the beginning of season 5. Beth was buried, as Maggie mourned.
Those first few minutes were about letting the past go and moving forward. We see the group on the road, driving past a sign indicating that they’re getting closer to South Carolina, on the way to Virginia, where Noah promises there’s a safe haven. Finally, the group has said goodbye to Georgia.
And thus we begin the next phase of this show’s life.
THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
Too bad the characters are almost immediately met with the hopelessness of their predicament. Not even with a little tension built into the episode, we find out too soon that this safe haven has already fallen to the zombie threat. I was taken by surprise at first. The show seemed to have taken a sudden jump in time, the Alexandria Safe-Zone of the comics within the group’s sights. But the place was nothing more than a fakeout, another punch in the gut for a group that should be completely broken by now.
It’s the resilience of the group that’s at the forefont here. Right after the disappointing revelation in the first ten minutes, Michonne is already chopping off zombie heads, while Rick and Glenn agree that they never expected the safe zone to still be standing. Noah, the newcomer, takes it the worst, but Tyreese, who continues to fill the role left behind by the late, wise Hershel, consoles him. “Noah, this isn’t the end.” (This will quickly become the most ironic line in the entire episode, but we’ll get to that.)
But resilience walks a very interesting thin line in this universe. Rick and Glenn share their feelings about the last few days, all of the death and heartbreaks, having Beth within their grasp only to lose her, Eugene’s MacGuffin, and agree that they’re almost on the edge of things. It’s become obvious this season that good guys like Rick and Glenn are finally hitting the breaking point. That’s why it’s such a great moment that ex-loner Michonne warns them that they need to stop. “You can be out here for too long.”
It has to be noted how much Michonne has changed in the past three seasons. From never settling in any one place and fearing human connection to pushing Rick to stop living for the day and pick a destination. Michonne, who’s been on the road and without a family for so long, is finally at a place in postapocalyptic life where she wants to find a home and keep it.
It seems the fate of the wise man on The Walking Dead is violent death. Dale, Hershel, and now Tyreese, who is bitten while trying console Noah. For the rest of the episode, he is haunted by the dead: Bob, Martin from Terminus, Beth with a goddamn guitar, Lizzie and Mika, and even the Governor (!!!) haunt Tyreese in his final moments, as the episode comes full circle.
The black blood pouring on the painting of the house like the thickest ink that we see at the beginning of the episode — and which we’re led to believe is a painting of the house where Tyreese and Carol killed Lizzie — actually belongs to the second zombie that bites Tyreese. How crazy is it when Tyreese uses his already-bitten arm to stop the zombie from killing him? The zombie takes another good bite.
All of the visions at the beginning of the episode belong to Tyreese, who is slowly dying under a desk in an empty house, haunted by the choices he has made throughout his life. It’s interesting that, after all the deaths on this show, Tyreese is the one Scott Gimple and the other writers chose to give a “his whole life flashed before his eyes” death.
Tyreese accepts his fate quite graciously, as punishment for allowing Carol to kill Lizzie and the woman he loved. Governor accuses him of breaking his oath to him, saying that Tyreese didn’t earn his keep. It’s a moral debate that almost doesn’t fit the usually subtle tone of such predicaments on this show. The Walking Dead doesn’t normally put the moral choices out on the table for discussion. The characters are always too busy acting fast and reacting to ever sit down and consider the things they’ve done. But since Tyreese is dying, it seems to fit just as well as a hallucination.
Noah manages to reach the others in time to cut off his infected arm and escape the “safe” zone. But it’s not soon enough to save him. In an enlightening moment for the character, Tyreese rides off peacefully into the afterlife with Beth, Bob, Lizzie, and Mika.
We find out the grave the group was digging at the end of the episode wasn’t Beth’s at all, but Tyreese. The final shot is of another grave, Tyreese’s beanie hanging off a cross.
This was a powerful episode that began an entirely new era for the show, a highly stylized hour that proved that this show could be above the weekly torture porn. Even amidst all of the disappointments, hope is what keeps these characters going, and it’s about time we got a little hope in an episode of The Walking Dead. I’m looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel.
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John Saavedra is the unofficial zombie journo of Den of Geek. Follow him on Twitter!