This week’s episode of The Walking Dead tellingly begins with a close-up of Maggie Greene’s tear-stained face. Undoubtedly broken by the death of her sister Beth and last week’s slaughter of Tyreese, she finds little enthusiasm for stabbing the walker approaching behind her. Yet, she forces herself through the motions.
It’s understandable. Times are tough in the zombie apocalypse. So tough, in fact, that Daryl has resorted to eating earthworms given their lack of food. It’s protein, I suppose, but it hardly justifies living in a world where you literally fight to survive.
I can’t even begin to figure out how they’re feeding Judith, the infant ray of hope in their lives.
Walking down the highway looking for food and shelter, the survivors make feeble attempts at small talk, but it doesn’t go well – particularly the exchange between Maggie and Gabriel where she concedes a loss of faith and he offers to discuss her recent traumas. Given his history of locking his parishioners out of his church, Gabriel’s offer is met with an icy rebuff by Maggie.
Daryl and Carol splinter off from the group to hunt for food, given them a moment of privacy to discuss Beth’s death. This moment is a tender one, a quiet passage of grief as Carol is the only one who could bring out Daryl’s emotional core.
Cut to the remainder of the group who seem to have a questionable plan to toss an approaching zombie hoard off a bridge (most likely due to their fatigued state). Shaken and traumatized by her brother’s death (Tyreese), Sasha veers from the plan, choosing to attack the zombies at a time when they’re not exactly at their strongest. Her attacks are sloppy, and she nearly slices Abraham’s arm off. Rick, too, is almost bitten by a zombie until Daryl miraculously saves him. Again, it’s unclear what their original plan was, but a clear rift has emerged between Sasha and Michonne. Sasha’s stank eye is severe. This will come up again.
After finding a series of abandoned cars, Maggie finds yet another reason why the world probably isn’t worth saving – someone had kidnapped an elderly woman and left her to die in the trunk of her car. Now, she is a bound-and-gagged zombie. As she and Glenn decide to put her out of her misery (is she really miserable?), I wondered just how many more of these sloppy encounters will pass before another favorite bites the dust.
While the group commiserates over their condition, a pack of wild dogs jumps out of the woods (how they didn’t hear them in the brush) only to be quickly picked off by Sasha’s rifle. Clearly, someone needs to take such high-powered toys away from her. Again, this will come up again.
The scene ends with a gruesome reminder of how far they’ve sunk: the camera pulls out wide to reveal a bloody collar as the survivors feast on their carcasses. No one is exactly happy about this, but protein is protein.
Glenn’s position as group cheerleader (he tries to rouse Maggie and Daryl out of their despondent states) bears an ominous tone in this show. The Walking Dead hates hope, and he’s full of it. We’ll see where this goes…
Daryl sneaks off to the side and, after stubbing out his cigarette on his hand (METAPHOR: he can’t feel anything), begins to sob beneath the shade of a tree. It’s not unintentional that a barn sits in the distance, hammering home (a bit too obviously) that he’s finally crying about Beth’s passing. The moment could have been as quiet and beautiful as his exchange with Carol, but the direction here is a little heavy-handed, which, honestly, is a bit of a surprise for this show. They tend to handle the intimate moments with a delicate touch.
Back at the group, “A Friend” leaves them a collection of bottled water. Suspicious, no one but Eugene will attempt to drink it, but his former guardian, Abraham, slaps it out of his hand. When the threatening dark clouds finally let loose their fury, the group flees to the barn discovered by Daryl. The barn bears little resemblance to Herschel’s barn as it only contains one zombie, a woman who used it as a panic room.
The shelter is a welcome respite for their misery. It offers the opportunity to show that these survivors are special people – they don’t give up in the face of insurmountable odds. This scene gives Rick a monologue opportunity in which he espouses something I’ve long considered about the show: the survivors are, in fact, the “walking dead” of the show’s title. Again, it’s one of those things I’d wished the writers had never specifically stated. It was abundantly clear in the execution of the series. I don’t know why they’re getting so heavy-handed all of a sudden. It’s a strange shift after last week’s well-crafted episode.
After an unfair fake-out (however suspenseful and OMFG-worthy it was), Maggie wakens to a peacefully gurgling Judith protected in her father’s arms. She wakes Sasha and they step outside of the barn, the world (and zombies) having been torn apart by the massive storm. Was the previous scene a dream or a reality? Who knows? The most important thing is that they made it through the night, and they lived to see another sunrise. Daryl has even apparently fixed the music box Carl gave Maggie, but after opening it, the box fails to play. Their moment of levity is quickly broken as another human surprises them – Aaron who, in the comic, serves as a recruiter for the famed Alexandria Safe-Zone. He introduces himself as “A Friend” and knows who Rick is. Just as he speaks, the music box starts playing again.
Clearly and as rumored, the more pensive nature of this episode is going to segue transition into the Alexandria Safe-Zone story line from the comic. It is truly the calm before the storm.