“Just because we’re good people doesn’t mean we won’t kill you.”
Watching the previous episode, I had cause to remark that, after all the shit our heroes have been through, it was about time they caught a break. In this week’s ep, it seemed that that break had turned up in spades. The only trouble was, with Rick and the gang so hardened from their experiences in the post-apocalypse wilderness, could they find it in themselves to trust their luck?
Thus far at least, it looks like this is a pretty straight adaptation of the corresponding storyline in the comics. Last week’s surprise interloper Aaron (Ross Marquand) had indeed brought “good news” – a secure community nearby on the outskirts of Washington DC, which they wanted our gang to join. But is he on the level? Rick’s scepticism was entirely justified, given the communities they’ve encountered since The End. Grady Memorial was a seething hotbed of political tension, Woodbury was far from the idyllic sanctuary it seemed, and Terminus… well, those guys just wanted to eat people.
So it was understandable that the seemingly well-intentioned Aaron was met with suspicion and downright hostility – from Rick at least. This ep had our heroes given cause to ruminate on what they’d become after all that time wandering in the Walker-infested wilderness. Trudging through rural Virginia in search of proof for Aaron’s story, Glenn vocalised what we’d surely all been thinking – “why would they want us, if they know everything we’ve done?”
Surprisingly it was Michonne who saw the positive side of things, recognising that they’d valued human life when they had no particular reason to – Gabriel, Tara, even herself. But then, the TV version of Michonne has been, from the beginning, a pretty shrewd judge of character. After all, she recognised long before the wilfully blind Andrea that the Governor was a raving nutjob.
She’s also been the one who’s most conspicuously, over recent weeks, been yearning for a place to settle down, instead of just ‘existing’ in their rootless wanderings through the rural South. It’s been notable, since the show’s mid-season return, that the guys were obviously on the verge of a full-on mental collapse. As Michonne herself put it a couple of weeks ago, “you can be out here too long”.
The promise – finally, thankfully – of something better was a light at the end of the tunnel of this show’s unrelenting bleakness. And, truly, it was about time the show went in a new direction. There’s only so much wandering through the woods encountering dodgy settlements and shambling Walkers the show can do without it becoming repetitive; some would say it passed that point a while back.
Unsurprisingly though, after the recurring musings on how far our ‘heroes’ have come from the civilised people they used to be, the overriding theme of Seth Hoffman’s script was whether they could come back from that. Of all of them, Rick seemed the most far gone, and the most unwilling to trust. His tribal protection instinct for his own – “my family”, as he significantly called them – has led him to some very dark places over the past few seasons. The question the script posited was, had he gone so far from the man he used to be that he simply couldn’t belong back in a civilised world?
There were terrific performances from all the cast in this ep (those who managed to get lines out of such a large ensemble), but really, the ep belonged to Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira, as the two opposing viewpoints on the matter. It was notable that, in a real way, they’d swapped places; the formerly reasonable Rick (now a man prepared to tear out enemies’ throats with his teeth) almost feral, while the previously cynical, taciturn Michonne hoped and trusted in something better.
It remains to be seen whether (as in the comics) the settlement of Alexandria will indeed be the safe haven Michonne has been yearning for in recent weeks. First though, Rick’s mistrust would lead the gang through dangerous, Walker-infested territory. While I’ve welcomed the inward-looking deconstruction of the characters in recent weeks, a return to straightforward bloody action was welcome at this point – and Larysa Kondracki’s excellent direction served up action and gore to rival previous crownholder Greg Nicotero.
Rick’s (understandable) mistrust having led him to take the route Aaron definitely did not recommend to the settlement, we got a middle act of fast-paced, furious jeopardy. Cars always help; here we got Rick, Michonne, Glenn and Aaron in an ancient Cadillac ploughing headlong into a massive herd of Walkers, with Glenn, sensibly, not even opting to slow down despite the blood and guts virtually obscuring every window of the car.
It was a cool sequence, followed by some very tense wandering in a nearby cornfield. Not for the first time, I found myself fearing for Glenn’s life when that Walker shambled unseen up to him. After all, this show has proven time and again that any major character can die at any time. Given the recent run of consecutive eps in which precisely that has happened, I was virtually certain it was going to happen again.
But it was in keeping with this ep’s newly optimistic tone that it didn’t. It was fitting that the visual acknowledgement of that was a close shot of Rick’s furrowed brow, finally relaxing from his perma-frown as he realised from the sound of children playing that Alexandria really was (probably) all Aaron had claimed.
As to Aaron himself – as I noted in my review of last week’s ep, his comic counterpart was the first gay man to be seen in the narrative. So it proved here, as he properly bonded with the group after they saved the life of his boyfriend Eric. It gave me cause to reflect how far the show has come in terms of diversity from the tokenism of T-Dog, the “one black guy” in the first couple of seasons who sometimes went for several eps with barely a line.
Now, we’ve got Sasha and Michonne, both women of colour, alongside Gabriel (and recently, but no more, Tyreese and Bob), not to mention a Latino woman in Rosita and a gay woman in Tara. Glenn, of course, has always been there as a welcome representation that Georgia also contains Koreans.
Aaron and Eric (the rather cute Jordan Woods-Robinson) could almost have come across as the final tickbox in the diversity checklist – but the coolest thing about them was that, even though they shared a passionate same-sex kiss when reunited, nobody even mentioned their sexual orientation. It just wasn’t an issue. True, the zombie apocalypse probably meant that our heroes had bigger things to worry about than judging the romantic predilections of others; nonetheless, for a genre so closely associated with right-wing survivalist psychos, its very unimportance spoke volumes. That’s the way to be inclusive.
Gore of the week
Absolutely oodles – I had to double check to make sure Greg Nicotero wasn’t directing this one. Not even a third of the way in and Abraham was ripping the arm from the socket of one of the increasingly fragile Walkers, while Rosita dealt with the requisite head-stabbing:
Later we got the Cadillac’s headlong plunge through a sea of Walkers; there wasn’t much actual detailed gore, but the steadily reddening windows, not to mention the exterior that looked like it had driven bodily through an abattoir, was a very nice touch. As was Michonne’s weary tugging of severed limbs from the choked up radiator.
Having abandoned the gore-choked car, Glenn did some wild shooting, then obliged us with the now-classic pulping of a Walker head against a nearby blunt object:
But my top gore moment of the week has to be Rick’s inspired firing of a flare gun directly into a Walker’s eye, illuminating its head prettily from the inside:
In keeping with recent weeks, this was a thoughtful, character-driven ep with a lot to say about the place where our ‘heroes’ have ended up. If you can cope with its relentless nihilism, this show’s musing on the fragility of civilisation has been one of its strongest, most enduring themes. Nonetheless, it was a relief to see the gang finally catch that long-overdue break – aside from actually, y’know, staying alive, they’ve been pretty damn unlucky for the last five seasons.
Now it looks like their luck has turned – and I sincerely hope this plot thread stays faithful to its comic origins. Yet another ‘community with a dark secret’ would just make me groan at this point. Still, while this could almost have been a ‘happy ending’ finale, we’ve got another five eps to go of this season – let’s hope this new direction is fruitful. Oh, and Rick – have a bloody shave. I know it’s the apocalypse, but even Abraham manages to keep his facial hair better tamed than you do.