It’s no surprise that this week’s installment would feature only certain members of Rick’s group, as all the episodes since the mid-season finale have focused on the small units that have remained intact since the prison fell.  This is the first one, however, to feature only two characters, and one of them has been just a supporting player up until now.  And though the episode worked on some levels, “Still” sometimes played out as the wrong execution of the right idea.

The episode opens as Beth and Daryl are still out in the woods, doing anything needed to maintain their survival.  We are treated to a tense scene almost immediately when the two take refuge for the night in the trunk of an abandoned car.  As walkers grunt and surround the vehicle, the claustrophobic tension is illustrated through shots of the fearful, weary eyes of both Beth and Daryl, until finally, at daybreak, the zombies move on and the duo is free, albeit temporarily.

Though Beth and Daryl are surviving, the monotony and desperation of the situation are starting to get to Beth, and she decides she needs a drink.  Daryl doesn’t respond at first, but later acquiesces after Beth explains that her dad never allowed her to have any alcohol and so she is going to find some – with or without Daryl.  Now, I know the writers are trying to tell us that Beth wants to do something “normal” so she can feel like she is alive, but getting a drink?  First, given her deceased dad’s struggle with alcohol in the past, would this be the thing she decided she wanted to risk her life to find?  And second, since she never had alcohol before (and she’s tiny), a small amount would probably significantly impair her judgment and reaction time, both of which are crucial when one is out in walker-infested woods.  But I get that her “quest” was a set up so she and Daryl could end up at the moonshine shack and Daryl could be confronted with his ghosts, so they get a pass, but just barely, because her need to get a drink at that very moment in time came across as self-indulgent and childish.

The biggest action during the episode came when Beth and Daryl find a country club – and I have to digress to ask –  If it was so easy to find shelter, then why spend the night in a car trunk surrounded by walkers when they could have cleared a couple of rooms out in the club and locked themselves in?  In any case, as the two make their way through the place we see that it was initially a survivor’s refuge, but then some kind of internal war broke out that left men dead in their suits and the remains of a wealthy woman with a hateful sign pinned to her chest.    

As they explore further, Beth finds an unopened bottle of wine, but alas, she has to use it to smash in the head of one of the walkers that is shambling around.  The two then encounter more walkers, but Daryl decides it’s time to release a bit of his pent up anger, and with the help of some nearby golf clubs, he proceeds to unleash hell on the zombies – splattering Beth’s freshly-donned polo and white cardigan with walker guts.  

Beth explains that although it might be stupid (well, if the shoe fits…) she needs to have her drink, and looks behind the bar for the elusive bottle of alcohol.  She finally finds one, but breaks down into tears before she tries to drink it.  Daryl, who is finally starting to show a few cracks in his tough guy veneer, decides “aint gonna have your first drink be no damn peach schnappes.”  And lo and behold – we get our reason for the pair to arrive at the moonshiner’s cabin, so that Daryl could confront the past that continues to haunt him.  (Again, if Daryl knew where the place was from when he found it with Michonne, why didn’t they seek shelter there? Ok show, I’ll stop now.)

As they arrive at the cabin, Beth is trying to find out what Daryl did for a living before the apocalypse, but Daryl shuts the conversation down.  Once they get inside, Daryl gives Beth her first alcoholic drink (moonshine) and begins to slowly open up, disclosing that he grew up in a place just like the shack they’re currently in.  The scene of Daryl flopping in the chair while sarcastically calling it “home, sweet home” with Beth by his side –  garbage and filth all around them – provided backstory for Daryl in an effective, vivid way without the need for any kind of more obvious flashback.   

Later, the two play a drinking game of “Never have I ever” and the tension between them gets increasingly thicker as Daryl reluctantly divulges all the things he’s never gotten to do.  Finally, Beth’s assumption that Daryl had been to jail in his lifetime pushes him over the edge, and he loses it.  This scene was gripping to watch unfold because even though we already knew Daryl and Merle grew up with an abusive father, we get more insight (through Daryl’s reactions) into just how bleak his past really was.  We also see a glimpse of his past self, raging and violent, as he pulls Beth outside to “teach” her how to shoot a crossbow, pushing her – literally and figuratively – to her limits. 

To Beth’s credit, she doesn’t cower beneath the weight of Daryl’s explosive anger.  Instead, she confronts him.  She knows he’s burying his feelings, and she refuses to let him do it any longer. The two stand head to head, hurling accusations at each other.  He thinks she’s naïve to hope the others are alive, she calls him out on his lack of hope.  He thinks she’s acted foolish and immature, she thinks he’s afraid to admit he feels anything.  Then, in the midst of the heated exchange, Daryl finally breaks down.  Norman Reedus sells Daryl’s despair and sadness, and Emily Kinney, though not often given emotionally weighty material, holds her own with him.   Beth tells Daryl that although she might be weaker than the other women in their group, she is still alive, so maybe she’s actually stronger than everyone thinks.  She proves it even further when, even after Daryl’s hostility toward her, Beth reaches out for him (again, literally and figuratively) and comforts him as he stands – broken and crying.  In that moment, overcome by guilt and sadness over the loss of those who became his true family, Daryl needs Beth.

The most powerful scene of the episode comes in the “still” of the evening, when the two are on the porch, their soft voices accompanied only by the sound of chirping crickets.  Beth tells Daryl of her shattered hopes for her family’s future, and Daryl reveals that before the apocalypse he was a nobody – what’s more, he often still feels that way.  Beth lets Daryl know he needs to put the past behind him, and then oddly foreshadows her own death when she tells Daryl he will miss her “someday” when she’s gone because he will be the last man standing.  As the episode closes, Beth and Daryl burn down the moonshiner’s cabin, walking away – once more literally and metaphorically – from their past selves, bonded together and free to be just who they want to be.   


Miscellaneous tidbits:

–   It’s interesting that Beth picked up (and pocketed) a commemorative Washington D.C. spoon (a connection to the upcoming storyline?), while Daryl grabbed and bagged the money and jewels.  

–   The show is giving us some great female characterization with Michonne, Maggie, Carol, and now Beth.  Their strength is evident without being over the top.    

–   Why are Daryl and Abraham so convinced that the others aren’t alive, and even stranger, that they won’t see them again?  They are all pretty close in proximity to one another (as “After” revealed), traveling on foot, and have proven themselves good fighters.  Why is it so preposterous to think they might run into each other?

–    If Rick and Carl found a town (and Michonne quickly found it as well) within walking distance of the prison, tell me again why Daryl and Beth have to seek refuge in a car trunk and live out in the woods killing snakes and squirrels?  I know, I’m harping on it, but it defies logic, even in The Walking Dead universe.

For me, this episode wasn’t as good as the previous three that dealt with the scattered group members, but it still had interesting moments.  I also appreciate what the writers were trying to do in bringing these two seemingly different characters together in order to come to self-revelatory places in their lives.  It’s just that it sometimes came off as heavy handed, especially the episode’s use of metaphor, because The Walking Dead knows how to do it more effectively and with more subtlety.  Also, some of the scenes didn’t seem to have the emotional weight the script appeared to want them to have.  But it was good to see Daryl come out of the episode with a little more self-worth, and his new friendship with Beth has an endearing quality to it.  Beth, though in some ways weaker than the rest, has proven herself to have a resiliency unknown to Daryl before, and Daryl, tough as nails, came to realize it was safe to show vulnerability in front of Beth.  Together, their weaknesses complement each other’s strengths, and they end up making a pretty good team. 

The second half of this season has shown us that although the group is fractured, the members are still trying to move forward while holding it together, not only for themselves, but for the ones they love.  And as they move forward, most still hold out hope they will see each other again.  Watching these characters almost let go of, then hold on tightly, to that hope, has been compelling.  I know the time is coming when the group will finally come together.  And when they do, my wish is that their stories will be just as absorbing, and that hope still guides them.   

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