The gates to the Alexandria Safe Zone open to our survivors at the beginning of this week’s The Walking Dead. They are so jittery and nerve-wracked that, when an opossum turns a trashcan over, Daryl instinctively impales it with an arrow.
“We brought dinner,” Daryl says to the gate keeper.
Once inside, the inhabitants ask for their weapons as a precursor to staying within the presumed safety of the walls. The request didn’t go over well because… Terminus. When a stray zombie stumbles near the gate, Rick commands Sasha to quickly deal with it, and she does. The general sense of ease and security they’re supposed to feel inside the walls – according to Aaron, of course – doesn’t really materialize just yet. This sets up the theme of the episode – the horror of trusting again when trust has so frequently betrayed them.
Inside the walls, Rick is introduced to Deanna, a seemingly mild-mannered former congresswoman with some sort of authority in the location. She videotapes her initial conversation with Rick as she reveals the origins of the Safe Zone. In case you’re wondering, the walls were pilfered from a nearby shopping mall construction. Rick advises her to constantly keep the walls shut to increase their odds of survival. The question of whether or not Rick and company remain inside the walls quickly comes up. Deanna reveals an inner ability to read people (in another life, she wanted to be a professional poker player), and she wants Rick and team to be a part of their community.
One interesting side note occurs during Deanna’s sales pitch. She casually mentions the time of day (“It’s 3:37PM”), causing Rick to adjust his own watch to the correct time. The scene ends with Rick mentioning, “I was a sheriff.” It’s a quick, throw-away moment, but it speaks volumes indicating that Rick could be entertaining a return to humanity – the possibility of regaining some sense of his former self. Another amusing sequence happens as Rick apparently decides to stay, and the survivors must surrender their near-arsenal of weapons. Carol steps up to the pile, and it takes her nearly 45 seconds to remove everything she has. That may not seem like a great deal of time, but it feels like an eternity when she’s doing it. She even gives the most amusingly sheepish grin while she’s doing it.
That’s my Carol…
Aaron provides Rick and Carl their own house. Yes, it’s an entire house, complete with furnishings. This isn’t theirs to raid or pilfer. It’s theirs to own, complete with running water, a shower, and (most critically for Rick) a mirror. It’s been five years since we’ve seen a well-shaved Rick Grimes, and it’s a bizarre effect once it happens. Good timing, too, because Deanna sends over Jessie, an attractive blonde who used to be a stylist, bearing gifts and supplies. Enter, the newly shorn Rick Grimes.
“Electricity. Showers. Haircuts,” Rick muses. ” I never thought I’d see those things again.”
Deanna continues her videotaped interviews with Daryl who doesn’t “cotton” to the idea, confessing that he’d rather be on the road but “the boy and the baby” deserve a roof over their head. In the very next scene, he skins the possum on his front porch. He’s just a rocking chair and a shotgun away from crazy. Carol, meanwhile, clearly feels uneasy about their circumstances and wonders whether it’s too good to be true that they’re giving away these mini-mansions. Everyone feels safer staying together in a single house, much to Deanna’s amazement, because they’re a tight-knit family. I’m still surprised that, even though they claim to be in a Safe Zone, no one bothers to lock their doors. This is The Walking Dead after all… I might flip a deadbolt or three.
The trappings of modern life start to creep in gradually (for example, Carl meets other kids and starts playing video games), albeit trappings accompanied by a moody soundtrack and ominous tones. Particularly ominous was the interaction between Rick and Jessie’s (his personal stylist) husband. This foreshadowing is juxtaposed with Carol’s fantastically awe-inspiring regression to a fraction of her former self. Under Deanna’s interview, she claims to be a “people person” and aspires to a position in the local Junior League. In the next scene, she approaches Daryl while dressed in mom slacks and a powder blue sweater (at which Daryl very obviously sneers). Suddenly, The Walking Dead starts feeling a lot more like Desperate Housewives. The immediate transformation is amusing in my opinion, and I’m anxious to see this Alexandria suburb overrun with zombies.
Finally, after a trip down Wisteria Lane, Rick and Carl journey outside the wall and encounter a small pack of zombies. Yet, here, there isn’t a strong sense of danger or threat. Instead, it really just feels more like exercise than anything else. Also outside the walls are Glenn, Noah, and Tara who join a few Alexandria residents – including one self-proclaimed “douchebag” – on a supply run. Their “pre-game ritual” is tormenting a zombie who killed a friend of theirs. Clearly, these residents lack respect for the zombies. Safety has made them soft, and this will clearly come back to (ahem) bite them in the future.
We close with Deanna tapping Rick and Michonne as “constables” in Alexandria, a post they both accept. Much as Carol returned to her powder blue sweater, Rick returns to his police garb – continuing the shift back to their pre-apocalypse selves.
And then, the show does something I really don’t like. They underscore with unnecessary dialogue the threat that Alexandria plays to its inhabitants. Carol specifically calls that out, and Rick says “Carl said that too.” Well, guess what? So did I about two paragraphs north of this sentence. Much like the “we are the walking dead” speech from a few weeks back, this unnecessary scene really spells out what was previously gentle subtext. I know in a show that relies heavily on zombie gore for entertainment that subtlety really doesn’t quite belong, but the audience should be able to figure out things like this for themselves.
It’s a pervasive flaw in an otherwise engaging and mature show.