“Can you tell the difference between a good guy and a bad guy? Rick doesn’t seem to be much of an expert.”
It was another week of intriguing character development in the newly optimistic Walking Dead, as the regular gang cautiously began to bond with the inhabitants of Alexandria. After the implication in last week’s ep that our heroes could well be going down a dark path that would lead them to be the ‘bad guys’, Deanna Monroe’s shrewd social engineering had them questioning whether that would even be necessary – and subtly implied that there may well be a greater threat waiting outside those impressive walls.
With the whole large ensemble cast reunited, and introducing new characters and plot threads, Corey Reed’s script did a laudable job of trying to include as many as possible. Some got short shrift – Eugene and Tara were nowhere to be seen, while Rosita, Glenn and Noah got no more than a couple of lines each. In the case of Abraham, his contribution to the ep was slight but significant; an incisive but slightly drunken conversation with Michonne about the difficulties of readjusting to a ‘normal’ life within the community.
It was a difference thrown into sharp relief by the centrepiece of the ep, Deanna’s ‘welcome party’ for the newcomers. This was a well-handled set piece which had nothing to do with the apocalypse and everything to do with these characters blending in to their new surroundings. The most significant character journey in this sequence was that of Rick, who started out wary of Alexandria’s intentions, but little by little relaxed throughout. The key moment was when he reluctantly accepted a drink from Deanna’s husband Reg; after that, Andrew Lincoln’s performance showed a man visibly relaxing as he readjusted to the idea that life could once again be about more than immediate survival.
Indeed, by the end of the night he might have got a bit too acclimatised, to the extent of sharing a kiss with Jessie. Extra-marital attraction is a part of ‘then’ which might never have been an issue outside the walls; inside, it looks like the promise of character conflict to come. However, we also got a neat summary of the differences from Jessie herself, pointing out the upside – things might never be the same, but here was a group of good people who, in ‘normal’ circumstances might never have met.
After the ravages of survival in the wild over recent eps, some thought has clearly been put into building a picture of Alexandria as an oasis of post-apocalypse civilisation. It feels like a real community, with aspirations to build something; but just as important, it can take time over trivialities such as the endless gossip about Mrs Neidermeyer’s obsession with obtaining a pasta maker.
Despite some opinions on the matter, I’ve always thought the show’s grasp of what makes an interesting multi-dimensional character to be one of its strengths. However, there is perhaps a danger that inserting them into a settled community of other such characters could make the show drift more towards being a soap opera with occasional zombies.
I don’t think that’s an immediate worry though. Particularly not when some of the group seem to be having real problems readjusting to ‘normality’. Sasha is plainly still very much suffering from PTSD after losing her boyfriend and her brother in quick succession, and still keen to take out her fury on the Walkers. Aside from her meltdown at the party, there was her keenness to stand watch in the clock tower as much as possible, which Deanna viewed with justified suspicion. It was an interesting demonstration of their differing perspectives, and in this case Deanna is the one with her head screwed on straight. Sasha, by contrast, clearly has “been out there too long” in the show’s oft-repeated vernacular, and it’s going to take her a long time to unwind.
More worrying though was the behaviour of Carol. Alone of the triumvirate who were secretly stockpiling guns to use against the Alexandrians, she remained unconvinced of their good intentions; and unlike Sasha, she is still a formidable opponent. As implied last week, she’s putting on the front of the wholesome suburban mom to lull any suspicion; it makes her, and her nefarious actions, “invisible”.
Her caution is understandable, and plays directly into the role she assumed some time ago of the group’s most ruthless protector; in that sense, she very much is their fiercely protective mother figure. But it was truly shocking to see her very effective terrorising of little Sam, threatening to leave him tied to a tree for the Walkers to eat if he didn’t keep quiet about her night time visit to the armoury.
It’s because Melissa McBride has made Carol one of the show’s most likeable figures that it was such a shock to see her behaving this way to a child; at least when she shot Lizzie she was visibly in tears about it. Here though, she was all business, a woman on a mission, and woe betide anyone who got in her way. Even, as it turned out, Rick and Daryl, who were having second thoughts about their intended coup.
Daryl got his own plot strand, which was equally interesting to the social integration of the dinner party, when a hunting trip outside the wall paired him with Aaron and they got to bond over their shared status as outsiders. I said a couple of weeks ago that notably nobody had made any comment on Aaron’s sexuality; this week showed that, inside the secure walls of Alexandria, old prejudices still very much exist. I found myself nodding in recognition when Aaron referred to “well-meaning but hilariously offensive things from some otherwise really nice men and women”.
I don’t know whether it was intentional, but their scenes together seemed to be teasing over the oft-discussed subject of Daryl’s sexuality. But having them bond together over nothing more than their sexuality would have been crass, and thankfully the show didn’t go there. Daryl’s sexuality – or lack of it – remains as much a mystery as ever.
There was some overly portentous dialogue regarding the stray horse he and Aaron were trying to ensnare, which made the horse seem to be some kind of highly significant metaphor for the situation. Daryl, after all, would have been uncomfortable in such ‘middle class’ surroundings even before the apocalypse, and the writing made it clear that when talking about the horse – “longer they’re out there, the more they become what they really are” – he was really talking about himself. And the horse’s ultimate demise at the hands and teeth of a group of Walkers was equated with the weakness Carol is so worried about, as Daryl opined that it had let its guard down because they were trying to be friendly.
The whole sequence worked well because it built a relationship between these characters, one of whom we are still learning about, but still managed to include enough gore and Walker action to offset the talkier plotlines within Alexandria. We’ve seen Walkers eat a horse before of course, in the show’s very first episode; but generally they’re not shown to have much interest in non-human meat. This ep showed that not to be completely true, as aside from the horse, there was the gutted carcass of a sheep in that field. It did beg the question of whether the Walker virus is communicable with other species, though since we’ve yet to see any zombie dogs, for example, I think we’re safe to guess that it isn’t.
Gore of the week
As mentioned above, all the gore in this week’s ep occurred during Aaron and Daryl’s sojourn outside the walls. There wasn’t much, but what was there was still pretty impressive. There was the overly eager Walker which, in its keenness to get to lunch, obliviously tore off its own cheek trying to get past a tree:
And aside from the usual parade of squashed, pulped and impaled heads, there was the notable spectacle (even though the show’s done this before) of a crowd of Walkers who could literally eat a horse:
It was another fairly slow ep, which is clearly part of an overall plan to build intrigue for forthcoming plotlines. Carol is clearly heading for another cliff edge as she did when Going Too Far back at the prison. There’s still the problem of how well our survival-hardened gang can blend in to what seems like a civilised but naïve community composed mostly of Guardian reading liberals. And outside of all that, there was another hint, just briefly, that the outside might have more trouble to offer, as Rick, Daryl and Carol encountered another shambling Walker with a ‘W’ cut into its forehead, just like those at Noah’s gutted community:
If there is to be non-Walker related trouble outside the walls, I have to question Reg’s architectural skills. As Rick pointed out, anyone could just climb up the wall’s bracing supports. Why are they on the outside anyway? Surely that makes it a very effective barrier for anyone trying to get out, but less so for those trying to get in? It’s constructed backwards!
For now though, it’s looking cheerier after the last couple of years of unrelenting bleakness, and never was that better represented than by the choice of music to end the ep. Where the show has, in the past, tended to end with a montage scored by something gloomy like Tom Waits, this week ended with Rick literally having a spring in his step as the Bee Gees’ jaunty Spicks and Specks played on the soundtrack. Though however jaunty that song may sound, its lyrics are decidedly dark – a perfect metaphor for this show at the moment.