This episode of The Walking Dead, the penultimate episode of the season, is penned by the team of Nichole Beattie and Seth Hoffman, the same writing team that brought fans the riveting “Claimed,” the episode where Daryl’s new companions were introduced during the terrifying home invasion sequence that almost spelled Rick’s doom. This week’s episode was directed by special effects guru Greg Nicotero, the seventh episode he directed in the series. Interestingly enough, “Us” was supposed to be directed by David Goyer, but a scheduling conflict (read: the entire DC Universe) forced him to back out. The episode is in good hands with Nicotero who knows his way around a horror script.
The show kicks off with Glenn, Tara, Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita following the tracks to Terminus. The opening does a great job instantly contrasting the mood from last week, as the show begins with, of all things, a laugh when Eugene quizzes Tara on what video games she liked to play. Eugene has been a delight so far, a welcome and humorous respite from the constant battering of tragedy and violence, plus that mullet just rocks. This little sequence served as a palette cleanser after last week’s unending attack of brutality. One thing fans should be pleased about is that Rosita has found herself some more clothes. Now, while it was a pleasant enough distraction as she is a beautiful woman, it seemed out of place and silly to have her prance around in booty shorts. She also found her place this episode as she takes on the voice of reason, speaking up on Tara’s behalf. This sort of character progression is appreciated.
Another happy moment occurs when Glenn finds the blood notes left by Maggie. After ripping hope away last week, the show establishes some good potential feelings early this week. Please, don’t take it away Walking Dead, I really can’t take much more.
The uncharacteristically breezy opening with Glenn and company is followed by another humorous moment as Carl and Michonne have a balancing act contest on the train tracks with a candy bar at stake. Michonne and Carl’s friendship has become the most unexpectedly welcome aspects of this season, and hey, what’s that on Rick’s face in response to their antics? It’s like his lips are doing this wield thing, is he snarling, is he in pain? Wait, no, it can’t be. Rick is actually smiling! Wow, alert the blogosphere! It’s like seeing Bigfoot. I guess the writers knew there would have to be some kind of relief after last week, because this is way lighter than usual. Then again, “Revelations” would be lighter than last week.
Things take a bit of a serious turn as we learn more about Daryl’s new found crew, a group I failed to recognize a few weeks ago when the home invaders Rick once faced down. My bad. Daryl’s new pack mates sure make one hell of a camp as a walker gets caught and shredded by their barbwire.
Uh-oh, Daryl seems to have an archrival bowman. Daryl and his new rival measure dicks as an alpha male situation seems to be going on. Joe intervenes, and like Solomon, he cuts the rabbit in half that Daryl and the Douche Arrow were fighting over. This new group starkly contrasts Daryl’s time with Rick since this new crew has no loyalty for each other. When they yell “Claim,” they get to keep what they find for themselves. In this group, there is only the self and martial justice for whoever fringes on the self. There is a bit of a Governor vibe about Joe, no?
Back to Glenn and company. Things get all Joseph Campbell as Glenn enters classic quest mode, complete with an entrance into a dark cave, in this case, a train tunnel with audible walker moans coming from inside.
Oh, this won’t be good.
Glenn is clearly on a hero’s quest, a noble hunt to find his lost love, but Abraham is on a quest of his own. It’s fascinating to watch these two quests converge as Abraham sees the nobility in Glenn’s mission but cannot abandon his own. Glenn and Tara bid farewell to their more heavily armed and sensible companions and enter the tunnel. Inside, Tara relates the details of her past and confesses her horror over what happened to Hershel, all good character stuff, but HOLY SHIT, MAYBE YOU SHOULD STOP TALKING IN THE ZOMBIE TUNNEL!
As Glenn and Tara descend deeper, there is some effective Hell symbolism going on as Glenn and Tara encounter a section of collapsed tunnels that have pinned a huge number of zombies. Walkers sprout like fungus from the walls and floor and holy crap, that’s creepy. Tara and Glenn get through the rubble and, oh great, a horde blocks the tunnel standing between Glenn and the path to his love. Glenn is thinking with his heart, not his head. Sadly, Tara looks like she may be the sacrifice for Glenn’s quest. Glenn is on a journey for the most noble of reasons, love, while Tara is on a quest for forgiveness. Tara has some great character depth added to her as she was just sort of baggage earlier in the season. That’s right Walking Dead, make me care, so you can rip another one away. Outside the tunnel, Eugene and his mullet remain loyal to Glenn and Tara and tricks Rosita to driving towards the other side of the tunnel, so they can serve as a getaway car for Glenn and Tara should they exit.
Back to Daryl, everyone’s favorite archer (or at least tied with Green Arrow, Hawkeye, Katniss, Legolas, and Princess Merida) and the new jerky archer have a confrontation over a rabbit carcass. Joe takes Daryl’s side and orders his own man beat. Joe is a fascinating new character who we know has evil intent after what happened in the house with Rick, but there is some conflicting shades of gray in Joe that will make him intriguing to watch as this season wraps up. This point is driven home as Daryl sees Joe’s corpse outside the garage they were crashing in.
Back in the tunnel, Glenn and Tara are trapped. Tara, who is pinned under a stone, is willing to die so Glenn can live to find Maggie. Glenn, ever altruistic, wants to stay by her side and then, the unexpected happens. After last week, I was expecting more tears, but not ones of joy. Luckily, Maggie, Sasha, and Joe arrive with Eugene, Rosita, and Abraham and open fire, saving Tara and Glenn. We all knew how the show works. Someone had to die, particularly someone like Tara, a woman riddled with guilt and apprehension, but this episode defied expectations by allowing Tara to live (for now). This week there is hope, this week there is salvation, as Maggie stages a Han Solo like rescue. Not only salvation for Glenn, but Tara as well. The united group decides to head to Terminus instead of Washington.
Terminus has been a specter that has hung over this whole season. Is it salvation, a place of safety, or is it another Woodbury? Whatever the case, Daryl and Joe’s crew heads to Terminus, a bad sign for a place that could bring promised, potential absolution. As happy as this episode was, things take a dark turn as it is revealed that Joe and company were tracking Rick, and as they head towards Terminus, one cannot help but believe that salvation is the last thing anyone will find.
The show ends with a glimpse of Terminus. A place covered in sunshine and daisies with a kind looking woman named Mary welcoming Glenn, Maggie, and the rest to the promised land.
Do we dare hope? Of course not, not with Joe on the way.
Zombie kill of the week: None of the kills were that noteworthy, but the cave zombies buried in rubble were but-cheek clenching.