This week’s installment of The Walking Dead, “Them” written by Heather Bellson, gave us – for the first time in a long time – our group together as a unit. But spirits were low, as our survivors battled hunger, thirst, grief, exhaustion, and a wicked storm, resulting in a contemplative hour that was all about the interiors of our characters.
The episode opens with our group searching for food and water, but without much luck. Maggie, Daryl, and Sasha are having an especially hard time, each dealing (or not dealing) with their own feelings of grief. As the survivors grow weaker, their hope starts to fade. Maggie even wonders aloud how much longer they all have. This is the point at which I have to ask, even though the cars (conveniently) ran out of gas, isn’t there a nearby town (oh, like the one they were just in with Tyreese) where they can forage for supplies, just like they always do? No? Not this time? Ok then, we’ll go with that – but only because this specific plot is making us, not because it’s consistent with the show’s history.
On the road, Father Gabriel offers to be a sounding board so Maggie can express her grief, but she astutely uses Hershel’s famous words (about everyone having a job) to remind Gabriel of his hypocrisy. Gabriel foolishly assumes he can provide council on the meaning of loss, yet he failed to do his job – looking after his own flock. Maggie makes a good point: What words of wisdom can a man who locked his congregation out of a church and left them to die possibly have to offer? That exact realization spreads across Gabriel’s face as Maggie bitterly turns away from him.
Daryl decides to look for water, and Carol tags along to keep an eye on him, knowing her friend all too well. After acknowledging that Beth saved both her and Daryl (though perhaps in different ways), Carol gives him Beth’s knife, and repeats his own words – said not so long ago – back to him, telling him “We’re not dead.” She advises Daryl (though she can’t let herself feel things) that he needs to let himself feel the grief. This was another example of the tender moments we’ve seen between the two throughout the season, and Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus have a gentle chemistry together that makes such moments believable.
When the group becomes too fatigued to handle the walkers that have been shambling after them from a distance, they hatch a plan to lure them over the road’s embankment. But Sasha, needing a place to put all her rage, takes on the walkers, and the group has to expend the little energy they have left to fight them off. Sasha’s go-to emotion has always been anger, but this time she put the whole group at risk with her inability to control herself. And Michonne, in so many words, lets her know it.
A lot of this episode belongs to Maggie, and the scene where she opens the trunk of a car and finds a kidnapped walker was both poignant and powerful. Even though the show depicts the heinous acts of humans on a regular basis, this one seemed more personal. When Maggie can’t take care of the walker because the situation just hits too close to home, Glenn steps in and takes care of it for her. After feeling quite hopeless and negative last week, Glenn was back to his positive self – even if he may have been stifling his own emotions in order to support Maggie. Later in the episode, when she reveals how much she wants to give up, Glenn reminds her how they have earned their survival, temporarily lifting Maggie out of her despair. If Tyreese was the moral center of the group, then Glenn has certainly been the motivational speaker. It was nice to see him utilize that strength again.
As the survivors sit listlessly on the ground, and Abraham chugs down some alcohol (the only beverage the crew found), some dogs come charging out of the woods. Without a moment’s hesitation, Sasha puts the dogs down, perhaps taking another opportunity to get out some of her aggression. Without any other choices, the group cooks up the dogs, staring blankly at one another as they finally fill their stomachs. Deeply shaken by recent events, Noah confides to Sasha that he doesn’t know if he will make it, while Father Gabriel, exhausted and out of faith, throws his clerical collar into the fire. We feel you, people. After so many of your members have died, we viewers are jaded too.
Daryl does find a moment to grieve, alone in the woods, sobbing and burning himself with a cigarette to shut out the emotional pain he’s feeling. Reedus sold the moment, but I have to admit that his dirty hair stuck in the corners of his eyes was quite distracting. Nobody would leave their hair – irritating their eyelashes with every blink – like that for this long. It’s a minor point, but come on, it has to be obstructing his ability to see, and in this world, you really need sharp vision.
Daryl emerges from the woods to find the others surrounding a plethora of water bottles, accompanied by a note left “from a friend.” Rick is adamant about not drinking, his deep suspicions about other humans quickly bubbling up to the surface. His decision was probably wise, and luckily at that moment, the sky opens up, bathing the group in rain.
When the storm gets a bit too threatening, the group seeks refuge in a nearby barn. With a shelter over their heads and gathered around the fire, the survivors turn contemplative. I really liked the existential conversation between Rick, Glenn and Michonne regarding whether or not the current situation was how the state of the world would indefinitely be. It was short, but the words were very realistic – the kind of conversation that would definitely come up if people found themselves in this horrific, unfathomable landscape. The show rarely takes a moment for their characters to experience the surreal realization of what they are living through. Even 18 months later, those thoughts would surely occur. It was truly an authentic scene.
Andrew Lincoln gets a chance to deliver a captivating monologue when Rick uncharacteristically opens up to the group and recounts a childhood story about how his grandpa survived the war. By telling himself he was already dead, his grandfather was able to get up every day and fight the good fight. A reflective Rick states, “That’s the trick of it, I think. We do what we need to do. And then we get to live. But no matter what we find in D.C., I know we’ll be ok. Because this is how we survive. We tell ourselves that we are the walking dead.” I don’t know if that line is in the comics, but it sounds like an iconic one. And it brings Daryl back from the brink. “We aint them,” he counters. So he hasn’t given up, after all.
In the middle of the night, as Daryl’s nervous energy is making him pace, he notices something outside. It’s here we get a cool, spooky shot of a herd of walkers – their grotesque faces lit up from the storm’s lightening – lumbering toward the chained-up barn doors. One by one, the entire group (except for Judith of course) runs over and throws themselves against the doors, fighting for their lives, snapped out of their complacency. The exciting musical score and the storm effects provided a great backdrop for this scene, one that finally rewarded us with a cohesive group determined to live. After the downer nature of the last two episodes, it felt good to see our survivors this way.
In the morning, Maggie and Daryl share a moment reminiscing about Beth’s tough nature, and Daryl fixes the music box (an obvious reminder of Beth) Carl gave her. When Maggie and Sasha go outside, they find the violent storm decimated the area, trapping the walkers that would do the group harm. Between that and the well-timed rain, the show seems to suggest that maybe some higher power is watching over the group – an idea that occurs to Gabriel when he apologizes to The Lord for his lack of faith. Maggie and Sasha share a sunrise, a quiet reminder of what is beautiful and good, and perhaps still hopeful, about the world. Just then “A friend” emerges from the woods, clean shaven, with the knowledge of Rick’s name, and apparently bringing good news (which is never a good thing in this show). The shot of Sasha and Maggie in the emerging sunlight, guns trained on the new guy, was awesome, and the wound-up music box suddenly playing its tune added a mystical element to the scene.
This episode was a welcome change from all the recent cannibalism, torture and death the show has dished out this season. Even though the group was low, I really enjoyed seeing every one of them together, something we don’t get very often. And despite showing Maggie, Sasha, and Daryl dealing with their grief, we didn’t have to dwell in it, and it was balanced by the more hopeful elements: We got Carl’s sweet gift to Maggie, Carol and Daryl’s tender exchange, Glenn’s unwavering support of Maggie, the rain, the shelter, and even the dogs, and the group’s raw determination to save themselves and work together. And all in one episode!
Of course, I know this show, and they give us just enough hope to hang ourselves with, because any good that comes their way never stays for long. But I’ll take whatever bits of hope they give me. One thing’s for sure: Watching the group surviving can prove just as interesting (and provide just as in-depth character exploration) as seeing them die.
Now we wait to learn what evil lurks in the heart of the stranger, because being human, he is surely up to no good. And let’s not forget, Morgan is still out there somewhere. Actually, that’s who I initially thought “a friend” was. I’m curious to see what happens next, but I want something new, not just a rehash of things we’ve seen in past seasons (AKA, humans are bad, group members die, etc…). For now, I’m happy just to have the gang together – and alive.