“People die now, Deanna. They do. There’s times like this, when you can decide who and when – or it can be decided for you.”
After last week’s high drama, this week’s ep of The Walking Dead was a slower paced affair. But while it may not have been packed with action, the tension has never been higher between our gang and the sheltered residents of Alexandria. It hung palpably in the air, just waiting for the inevitable explosion; and when the balloon finally went up, it was no surprise that it was Rick who was the spark that lit the fuse.
The show has been uncharacteristically hopeful since the group arrived at the haven of Alexandria, but that didn’t last long. Can it be only a couple of weeks ago that Rick was walking with a spring in his step while a jaunty Bee Gees tune played on the soundtrack? But then, The Walking Dead does not, as a rule, trade in hope and optimism, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that we’ve got back to the pessimism, nihilism and distrust we’re all so accustomed to.
As was rather heavily signposted when the gang first arrived at Alexandria, this time it’s them who are the dangerous, untrustworthy interlopers threatening the stability of the community. With Nicholas’s predictable lies about the deaths of Aiden and Noah, not to mention Deanna’s recent conversation with Gabriel and realisation that the newcomers are steadily coming to occupy all the community’s vital positions, it was understandable that from the leader on down, the Alexandrians are starting to view the new arrivals with growing distrust.
And as we know, it goes both ways; though Rick’s distrust of the Alexandrians springs from his perspective of them being too weak and sheltered to survive in this hostile world. The most important scene of the ep laid bare the basic argument, as Rick and Deanna argued by the deceased Alexandrians’ gravesides over how best to deal with the domestic abuse being perpetrated by Pete. Deanna flatly refused to consider execution, favouring exile as a last resort; Rick contended that such a path would be too dangerous, with the disgruntled Pete liable to lead human threats back to the walls.
Both had a point; and interestingly, if you cast your mind back to season two, it’s almost precisely the debate that was had at Hershel’s farm about how to deal with the captured raider. The difference being that now, Rick is making all the same arguments that Shane did then. All that time ago, I wrote that while I sympathised with Rick and Dale’s laudable efforts to preserve civilisation rather than surviving at any cost, Shane’s ruthless pragmatism was the most logical response to the situation. Four seasons and some horrible events later, and the Rick we know now would probably agree. That makes you think – after all, Shane was played as the ‘bad guy’, and now Rick is just like him.
Angela Kang’s script cleverly split most of the characters into pairings or groupings that included our ‘heroes’ alongside Alexandrians, clearly pointing out the differences – and the similarities. Rick has often referred to his group as his ‘family’; now community leader Deanna has lost her son, and it looks like it’s their fault. Her cold refusal of Carol’s sympathy casserole, and her burning of the accompanying note, set her stall from before the credits even rolled. Rick’s group have, in her eyes, been responsible for a death in her family – not just the extended one of the community as a whole, but her actual family. And she’s reacting in her own way just as Rick would, the difference being that her rejection is definitely not going to result in anyone’s death.
Carl and Enid, meanwhile, found much in common without any actual conflict, as they bonded on a clandestine trip beyond the wall. I’ve been consistently impressed with Chandler Riggs’ performance as Carl, but it’s fair to say he’s had very little to do this season. This little plot thread seems to be addressing that, using him as a character with depth rather than a fun size Walker-slaughtering machine. Despite her admission that he scares her, it looks like he might have found a soul mate in the equally traumatised Enid, with Riggs and Katelyn Nacon having some real chemistry together.
It’s good that the show is addressing Carl’s growing up in a way the comic doesn’t have to, since the actor is visibly shooting through puberty at a rate of knots. His and Enid’s budding romance not only reflects how kids feel on their first experience of love; but also demonstrates how it would be for kids to grow up in this rotting world. “It’s their world,” Enid whispered as they hid from a group of shambling, moaning Walkers, “we just live in it.” Still, while it made for a lovely visual, I have to say the choice of hiding in that hollow tree seemed rather foolhardy.
All the way through, it was clear the shit was going to hit the fan at some point. The arguing was constant, with Glenn confronting the duplicitous Nicholas, who we now know is the one who found Rick’s hidden gun. Even the regulars were arguing, as Michonne and Rosita (who sadly still doesn’t seem to have an actual personality) trudged wearily off into the woods after the kill-happy Sasha, whose PTSD has increased by a factor of 50% with the recent death of Noah heaped on top of Tyreese and Bob. Sonequa Martin-Green has been superb at conveying the level of trauma Sasha’s experiencing, and her increasing instability hits home precisely because she makes the character likeable.
But Sasha’s instability was as nothing compared to Rick’s. It was a terrifically intense performance from Andrew Lincoln this week, the actor giving his character the impression of being wound so tight he would eventually have to break. His unusually taciturn dialogue was delivered with the sense that this was a man just barely holding himself back, starting from almost the beginning when he tersely told the drunken Pete to “just walk away” as he fingered the trigger of his gun.
It was inevitable, after the earlier argument concerning Pete, that this would be the trigger for a Big Confrontation, and so it proved. To be fair to Rick, he did give Pete every chance to back away, though his interest in the case seems more than just that of a cop trying to prevent violence. Asked by the tearful Jessie whether he would do this for anyone, Rick replied, “no”. His interest in Jessie has been clear from the start, and while his attempts to help her are laudable, they’re not at all altruistic.
I have to say though that Pete as a character is not especially convincing. We only ever see him as a drunken, violent psychopath, when the most disturbing aspect of many serial abusers is that, at other times, they can be perfectly reasonable, even nice, people. It’s no fault of actor Corey Brill, rather it’s the shorthand need to use the character as a plot motivator rather than a person. To only show the monstrous side, however, makes him seem to lack depth.
The fight between Rick and the drunken, violent Pete was convincingly brutal, with Pete’s uncontained anger making him a match for Rick’s ruthlessness. It was a shocking moment when Jessie tried to intervene, only to be met by an almost casually brutal punch from Pete; yet if we were thinking Rick had the moral high ground as a result, that was dispelled a moment later when he did exactly the same thing to Carl.
This is not the Rick we’re used to. Having plumbed the depths of humanity in the name of survival, it’s clear that he, even more so than Sasha and Carol, just can’t put that genie back in the bottle. I may think he has a point in his newly Shane-like approach to survival, but that didn’t exactly come across when he was kneeling bloodied on the road, brandishing a gun at everyone around him and shrieking like a madman about how they were all going to die. For some time now, it’s been clear that his assumed burden of keeping his group safe has taken a heavy toll on his sense of morality, with even Carl frequently having to hold him back. It may have been a shock moment when Michonne shut him up by clocking him with a gun butt; but really, it shouldn’t have been any kind of surprise.
Gore of the week
Actually a fairly un-gory week, by this show’s usual standards; to be fair, there was so much going on with the characters, there wasn’t all that much room for Walker action. We got a lot of splattery head shots though, as Sasha repeatedly took her fury out on the shambling dead:
But that’s not really anything unusual for The Walking Dead – to be memorable, the gore needs to be more than a quick shot to the head. For that, we had to look to Daryl and Aaron, off on a recruiting mission and seemingly the only representatives of the two squabbling groups who can actually get on with each other.
For some weeks now, the show’s been dropping increasingly unsubtle hints that the marauders responsible for destroying Noah’s equally secure community are on their way to Alexandria, with their peculiar peccadilloes of dismembering but not destroying the Walkers, and carving a W into their foreheads. This week we saw plenty more W’s, and when Daryl and Aaron investigated a distant campfire it was clear that it was these ‘Wolves’ they were on the trail of. The giveaway was the pile of severed limbs in a clearing:
But we know from the corpses at Noah’s community that this bunch like to kill living people too. And this weeks’ undoubted gore winner was the young girl they’d tied to a tree so that the Walkers could feast on her guts:
And she too had a W on her forehead, just visible before Daryl rammed a knife through it. It looks like trouble is well and truly on the way.
With a (double length) season finale up next week, the stakes are high. It looks like Rick may well have cooked his group’s goose when it comes to staying in Alexandria; and while some of that is based on lies, after recent events it would be perfectly understandable if Deanna chucked them back out beyond the walls. Still, while Rick may be safely locked away, I can’t see Carol taking to that approach without a fight. There’s also the slight problem of an obviously impending confrontation between the level-headed Glenn and loose cannon Nicholas, who now, lest we forget, has a gun.
And then there’s the mysterious ‘Wolves’, whose motives are yet unknown but who are clearly terrifyingly violent. My guess would be that next week, after an initial conflict, the Alexandrians are going to find themselves ill-equipped to deal with a full-on attack by the violent living, and they’ll unwillingly concede that they need Rick’s group’s skills in order to survive. But that’s not going to settle the question of survival versus civilisation. Despite all the tension, this ep was clearly the calm before the storm; let’s see what the season finale will bring.