“They’re weak, and I don’t want us to get weak too.” – Carl Grimes

It has been approximately twenty episodes since the gang of The Walking Dead were holed up in their last safest venture, the prison. There are some minor tones of familiarity through the episode to those early prison episodes. Jobs, for one, a necessity to keep a community strong. With the houses come a place to sleep that they can call their own. Though at the prison it was cells, the idea is there.

 

The similarities end there. The dynamic in Alexandria is completely different, because our survivors are joining a group of people who are not exposed to the outside world. The difference is immediate and almost unsettling. Rick stands outside two perfect houses. Aaron tells him that that’s where they’ll live. Just like that.

The survivors meet Deanna, Alexandria’s leader and a previous congresswoman. There was something immediately likeable about both the actress and the character, at least to me. It’s always nice to have new faces on the show, and especially nice when the characters are instantly interesting. Her son Aidan, on the other hand, is exactly what you’d expect: a douche.

As mentioned, everyone is assigned jobs. For some reason, Glenn, Tara, and a limping Noah are being assigned to going on runs outside of Alexandria. Wouldn’t Sergeant Abraham Ford be better suited for this, and in fact, better suited to take over smarmy Aidan’s job? Abraham was sadly shunned this week, but I’m interested to see what role he takes on. Meanwhile, Glenn continues to prove his worth by knocking Aidan out when they return to Alexandria.

 

Carol and Daryl have different ways of adjusting to Alexandria. While Daryl is reluctant, doesn’t shower the entire episode, and is generally dismissive about being there, Carol has taken on the role of ultra-sleuth. In a moment that might rival Carol’s badass takedown at Terminus, she sits in front of the camera as a wide-eyed widow, says she loves and misses her husband, and asks for a job for her “people-person” personality. Points to the writers for this clever gem.

And in what might be the most alternate-universe sounding plot from the episode, Carl has to choose between playing pool or playing video games. That’s not the entire thing, but really, that’s the whole basis of the episode. The people of Alexandria are not like the people from outside. Choosing between games is a trivial decision. Of course this is disorienting for Carl, who is used to the more survival-instinct-based decisions at this point.

Besides Aidan and Deanna, we’re also introduced to Jessie, a woman who lives on their street and has a husband and two boys. She cuts Rick’s hair and witnesses him break down after losing sight of Carl. It seems like they might be setting something up here, and the ominous conversation between Rick and her husband only fuels the suspicions.

 

The episode ends with Deanna asking Rick if he’ll be the constable. She asks Michonne as well, and though it feels kind of tacked on, I suspect that Aaron would have told Deanna that Michonne was the other side of the coin when they were debating coming to Alexandria. Unfortunately, this leaves Daryl in a tough spot – left out of their special group. Indeed, where in the pre-apocalypse world, Daryl’s job as a tracker allowed him a sort of wildness that thrived in the post-apocalyptic world, it doesn’t seem to fit in here in Alexandria. We’ll have to see if anything can make him feel at home.

Just to make sure we know that our group isn’t getting weak, Rick Grimes gets the best episode of the night. “If they don’t make it… Then we’ll just take this place.”

Final Thoughts:

  • Father Gabriel was almost completely MIA.
  • No jobs mentioned for Abraham, Eugene, Rosita, or Maggie, though Deanna specifically says that she’s working on Sasha’s job. I’m curious to see how this all plays out.
  • “I brought dinner.” – Daryl bringing the dead possum in was classic.
  • I really enjoyed the moment when Rick set his watch to the correct time. I can only assume he hadn’t gotten the right time on it for a long while.
  • There’s a great shot the first night in Alexandria, when the camera pans along to all our survivors (minus Father Gabriel, who maybe hopped in the shower right after Michonne.)
  • What are the thoughts on the missing gun?
  • What are the thoughts on the girl that runs away?
  • Rick tells Carl to “Get ready” when the walkers are approaching. I mean, I hope at this point that he’s got that lesson down.
  • RIP Rick’s beard.

Episode Grade: B+

“You still don’t get it. None of you do!” – Rick Grimes.

The Walking Dead has been a lot of things, but mostly, it has been a show about the evolution of Rick Grimes. It’s been a fascinating journey and Andrew Lincoln consistently delivers award-worthy performances. It’s unfortunate that it seems clear by now that he won’t be getting any such recognition for this role. While Rick’s journey from innocent police officer to brutal group leader doesn’t match, say, the transformation of Breaking Bad’s Walter White to Heisenberg, it still has many similarities. Walter gets taken down a dark path initially due to his unfortunate circumstance, but he clings to this darkness because it turns out that he has a deep passion for being a the top, pulling the strings, and winning. And while Rick’s journey to this darkness isn’t fueled by such a passion, it does also turn out that he is very qualified to survive, to succeed, and even to thrive in his new world.

I think about the Rick Grimes of Season One, naive and untested, who said such things as “We do not kill the living.” And I think now about Rick Grimes, who tells Deanna: “I kill him. We kill him.” It’s a drastic change, but when you think back on Rick’s journey, it makes sense. The loss of his wife, his periods of insanity, his interactions with people influential in both good and bad ways (The Governor and Hershel come to mind), and you can see how he must have changed.

 

This season, and particularly the latter half, have been very strong, and I think that this seems likely due to our characters’ new perspective on the world: asserted dominance. Long gone is the soft naivety. They have been careful, alert, and suspicious. And as shown in “Four Walls in a Roof,” earlier this season, some have become entirely brutal. When I think about Rick and Carol deciding that Pete needed to be killed, I’m brought back to that specific moment in the church. While Rick, Michonne, Abraham, and Sasha bludgeoned and stabbed the cannibals, we were also shown Glenn, Maggie, Tyreese, and Tara, watching in utter horror. And though it seems that they can accept that this needed to be done, it also seems that they wouldn’t be capable of doing it.

Knowing who these characters are, who they truly are, has taken some time, but I would stress how important it has become. Their time in Alexandria would not be nearly as fascinating if they were the naive characters we had begun with. With their journeys and their emotional arcs in mind, the risks and stakes of their circumstances are heightened. This allows us to cheer both for Rick on the street, fighting this man who beats his wife and son, and also for Michonne, when she knocks Rick unconscious.

I said last week that this season would have to culminate in some kind of showdown between Deanna and Rick, and more-so between the Alexandrians and our survivors. I’m glad that turned out to not be fully true. While I won’t try to predict what will happen next week, it’s refreshing to go into a finale with two of our more favored characters not too pleased with each other. Michonne may have agreed that Pete needed to go, but I think it seemed clear that she thought he went about it in a very inappropriate way. I’m excited to see how that plays out.

 

Besides the showdown between Rick and Pete, we were also treated to three subplots, one of which felt inconsequential, one of which felt like the writers wanted to wait for the finale to get to the point, and one which featured Sasha continuing her own personal streak of insanity. Let’s start with Sasha. I’ve said before that Sonequa Martin-Green has been delivering great performances. Unfortunately, her character as a whole has still suffered from a massive identity crisis. That is to say, I don’t know who Sasha is.

I was glad to see that the writers remembered character interactions, with Sasha angrily and perhaps guiltily telling Michonne and Rosita that she told Noah he would die. I’d personally forgotten about that little gem of hers, though I do now remember writing it down as I watched the episode. Although it’s still true, as she said, that if you don’t think you can make it you probably won’t, I don’t think it applied to Noah anymore. He’d taken on responsibility, he’d taken on a new outlook on life once they’d come to Alexandria. So while it was nice to hear her remember their conversation, it still rung hollow, because I just don’t know how she actually feels. Her behavior since Alexandria seems to have hints of post-traumatic stress disorder, especially her breakdown at the dinner party, but outside of that and her relationships to Tyreese and Bob, I never knew who she was. I’m finding it difficult to relate to her, and I think it’s for that reason.

However, I am still interested to see where this goes, which is in complete contrast to Carl’s plot this week. We’re treated to a small story between kids surviving the apocalypse, both trying to act much older than they are while actually showing that they are still just kids. I won’t delve into it because even writing about it is rather boring.

 

The storyline that seems to be waiting until next week to kick into high gear is the mystery being investigated outside the walls of Alexandria. Daryl and Aaron saw a fire in the night and inexplicably waited until morning to actually walk over, only to not find anyone at all. Unsurprising. What they did find, though, is that someone has been doing… weird things to the zombies. The W symbol returns more than once, perhaps most notably on a dead zombie tied to a tree. We aren’t treated to anything new, as we knew that these marked zombies were wandering around. However, it has gotten me excited about next week’s episode.

Final Thoughts:

  • It continues to be weird to see Rosita in normal clothes and without a hat.
  • Since we got Abraham, Glenn, Maggie, Tara, Eugene, and Father Gabriel last week, we don’t get them this week. Although this constant shift is necessary for a large cast, and I see this sort of thing often in Game of Thrones, it feels more obvious when all the characters are supposedly in the same place.
  • Following up from above, I am curious to know about Tara’s fate, and whether Maggie is going to rat out Father Gabriel.
  • Not only is rejecting the casserole Carol baked insulting, it is also such a huge waste in this new world. Come on Deanna!
  • I don’t know the deal with the red balloon, thoughts?
  • So Nicholas is the one that stole the gun. Of course, since it hasn’t come into play, it will in the finale, and it seems likelier and likelier that it will be used to kill one of our survivors.
  • Which leads us to: Who will die in the finale? Does the show dare kill off one of its core cast members? Those being: Rick, Carl, Daryl, Glenn, Maggie, Michonne, and Carol. I think we’re likely to lose one or more of: Tara, Eugene, Rosita, Abraham, Sasha, and Father Gabriel. Not a very hard prediction to make, I know, considering I essentially listed all the characters.
  • And finally: Will we be seeing Morgan? It only seems right, considering he ended the first episode of the season.

Episode Grade: B+

“I was thinking, how many of you do I have to kill to save your life? I’m not gonna do that. You are gonna change.” – Rick Grimes.

Through its five seasons, The Walking Dead has cemented itself as a massive hit, breaking records, garnering a huge fan-base, and generating a tremendous amount of intrigue in the zombie genre. And while the show shares its moments of gore, blood, action, and cinematic zombie set-pieces, it has constantly struggled to show its true nature – the morality of humankind when the law and order of our society goes out the window. It is no surprise that Morgan made his return in last night’s episode, and it is even less of a surprise that his return ended with his reunion with Rick. There were plenty of shockers in the finale (the lack of deaths included), but mostly, it was a welcomed breath of fresh air to end the season with this immediate conflict of morality between Rick and Morgan, both of whom have undergone massive transformations since the last time they saw each other.

The last time we were treated to an extended look at Morgan was in Season Three’s standout episode “Clear.” I commented previously on how this was a landmark episode for the show. Lennie James has done fantastic work as Morgan since his very first appearance in “Days Gone Bye,” yet his reappearance in “Clear” was mostly a shock because he’d gone through significant changes since his son’s death. In anticipating his return to the finale, I knew that he would be changed man once more, considering his teased appearances had shown him to be more rational and calculating, and in fact the Morgan we saw in the cold open represented a true return to form. Letting the two men live showed him to be a clear counterpart to what Rick has become, and his line to Daryl that “all life is precious” only cemented his stance. As I mentioned, The Walking Dead is a show about morality that disguises itself as a show about zombies, and I hope that this differed state of mind between Rick and Morgan and the conflict that will surely arise can lead to a great string of episodes next season.

 

Last week, I predicted there would be deaths in the finale. Not a tough prediction to make, this is The Walking Dead, after all. I was wrong. Besides Reg and Pete, no major or even minor character perished. I should have done my research, because in truth, only one major character has ever died in a season finale – Andrea. There have been plenty of midseason finale deaths – Hershel, Beth, The Governor – but previous finales have largely been filled with big set-pieces, not deaths. I should have known that none of the more minor characters (Tara, Rosita, and Eugene) had yet developed enough to warrant a death. As much as I wanted Father Gabriel to die a horrific death, I should have also known that The Walking Dead would likely enlist Seth Gilliam for longer than one season. I still would not have been surprised to see Sasha’s death, but with her seeming reconciliation to the group and perhaps a return to form, I can see the show making good use of her once more.

The biggest surprise of the episode was how little actually happened, despite the monumental amount of tension that ran throughout. Last week, I also wondered if the show would be bold enough to kill one of its major characters, namely one of Rick, Carl, Michonne, Glenn, Maggie, or Carol. And while it is quite evident that the first three aren’t going anywhere, Glenn’s trip through the woods certainly had me scared. Let’s forget for a second that he somehow managed to get away after the zombies piled on him. As identified last week, the Chekhov’s Gun that Rick had stowed away was taken by Nicholas, and I for one was of the clear thought that the show wouldn’t do this unless it would be used for serious harm. Instead, it was used to prove once more that this is a show that debates morality. I also spoke in my last review about how half of our group had become entirely brutal, while the other half seemed to be hanging on to that sliver of humanity. Glenn is one of them, and he showed it last night. So while we all hoped he would kill Nicholas, I think we all knew he would not be able to do it, just as he couldn’t leave him behind after the disastrous run two weeks ago. Rick and Glenn may have been on the same page two seasons ago, but Rick is a changed man now. I do wonder if Glenn will ever be going through this same transformation. Realistically, I hope he won’t. The reason for this is twofold – one, I think that Glenn shows stronger potential as a character when he has his moral compass, and two, I think he would only ever be able to get to that point if he lost Maggie, which is not something I would say that I’m looking forward to.

 

This leads me to the more, should I say, muddied aspect of the finale, that ended with Maggie, Sasha, and Father Gabriel holding hands and praying. As I mentioned, I did hope that Father Gabriel would die a horrific death. I still can’t see the use of his character, but I’m a big Seth Gilliam fan and I still have hopes that the show can somehow redeem him. His quick trip outside the walls of Alexandria proved that no, he isn’t quite ready to go yet, but it also proved that yes, he is a giant coward with hardly any concerns for those around him. His story ends up tying into Sasha’s, because they’re both lost and confused, but as I said last week, I’m still not on the Sasha train, so it’s difficult to be too invested in where she might end up. I remain curious to see where these characters go from here, mostly in hope that it’s in a vastly different direction.

I also mentioned last week that Daryl and Aaron’s excursion felt like it was stalling for the finale. I was both right and wrong about this. Yes, the big zombie action set piece came tonight, as it should, but it was still stalling, because the true purpose behind this has been set up for next season – the Wolves. I can’t say I’m particularly intrigued by these characters or their motivations, but a threat to Alexandria is a conflict that we will need, and it was a clever way to tie Morgan back into the story without seeming too coincidental (though it was very close, as it usually is.) It also provided a bit more insight into Daryl’s character, who declares that he still feels more right trapped in that car than within the walls of Alexandria, and into Aaron, who once again proves himself to be a great character by refusing to accept Daryl as a sacrifice.

 

This all lead to the confrontation between Deanna and the group of at Alexandria. She says “‘We’re going to talk about one of our constables. Rick Grimes.” And they do talk about him, to varying degrees. Mostly, we get positive first-hand accounts from our survivors, detailing how they wouldn’t have survived without him. Rick comes in, bloodied from his encounter with the zombies that entered Alexandria through Father Gabriel’s neglect. It seems like a repeat of the previous night – until Pete comes in, Michonne’s sword in hand. In what probably proves to be the most revealing moment of the night, Carol whispers “not yet” to Rick as he draws his gun. Why? Because Deanna would still be opposed to it. That is, until Pete slices Reg’s poor throat. It was a master move of manipulation on Carol’s part to show up to Pete’s temporary home, casserole in one hand, knife in the other, and threaten him point-blank. I would argue that without that little move, Pete would never have been so furious as to show up to that meeting with a sword in hand, and I think Carol knew something to this effect would happen. It ties in to the quote that I placed at the start of this review – she was willing to sacrifice one of Alexandria’s people to prove that Rick’s way of doing things would be the right way of doing things. What a transformation Carol has undergone, the most of any of our survivors, and Melissa McBride has thrived in the role.

I have loved this last half-season of The Walking Dead. Three years ago, when our group was spending way too much time on Hershel’s farm, I never would have thought this show could become what it is today. While there are always going to be some road-bumps for the show, namely the coincidences, contrivances, and on-the-nose dialogue, I have to applaud it for taking risks (such as the episode with Tyreese’s death), for exploring themes, and for consistently striving to be more than just a zombie show. I cannot wait to see where the show takes Rick and Morgan, how Deanna handles the loss of her husband, and which minor character takes more spotlight only to be tragically killed. I await next season in bated breath.

Final Thoughts:

  • Zombie kill of the week easily belongs to Daryl’s triple kill with the chain.
  • I don’t see why their meeting about Rick was held at night, besides for dramatic effect.
  • Tara wakes up and is alive! What a cliffhanger!
  • Someone pointed out that the guy in the red-hooded poncho was killed by the Wolves. Oh, symbolism.
  • “Simply put, there is a vast ocean of shit you people don’t know shit about. Rick knows every fine grain of said shit, and then some.” Abraham gets the best line of the night, though Carol’s “Oh sunshine, you don’t get both,” line came very close.
  • “Rick. Do it.”

Episode Grade: A-

“Even though you were wrong, you’re still right.” – Carol Peletier

An unusually-structured episode of The Walking Dead proves that the show can still provide thrills while offering glimpses of hope.

After a string of episodes featuring other characters, our centerpiece in “The Distance” is Rick Grimes, hero and leader, as he tries to make the difficult decision of whether or not to trust Aaron. This stranger entered the fray last week with open hands, telling Maggie and Sasha that he has good news, albeit somewhat ominously.

Is it a trap? The question comes up again and again throughout the episode. From the opening scene punch to the untrusted applesauce to the flare rising in the night sky, we’re asking ourselves: Can this stranger be trusted? Is he lying? Is Rick right, despite everyone wanting to trust Aaron?

Although these questions run high through the episode, I felt safe knowing that this could not simply be another trap. It would be too familiar after Woodbury and Terminus. However, there must be something going on. This is The Walking Dead, after all. When Michonne asks why there isn’t a picture of Aaron’s people, I immediately felt that sense of dread that I imagine the writers hoped to inspire. It wasn’t that you thought this might be a trap, but rather that something would definitely be off when they arrive at Alexandria.

No, it was not  trap. Or so it still doesn’t seem to be. However, it does seem it was a sort of test for Rick and Michonne, to see what sides of the coin they might land on. Where Michonne used to be well-guarded and uneasy, she is now more optimistic and trustworthy. Rick has instead taken her place, and it is evident that Michonne sees herself in him. She reminds him that they let her into their group. It seems that she sees a bit of herself in Aaron, too.

There were two things that stuck out to me in this episode. Firstly, the zombie action that sat right in the middle of the episode was a rather perfect sequence. Plowing through the hoard, guts and blood everywhere, struggles in the forest, all accompanied by the regularly-excellent soundtrack. A Walking Dead zombie set-piece that I will not be soon forgetting, compared to say, the laughable firetruck incident earlier in the season. Particular high grades go to the overhead shot of the car mowing down the zombies.

The second thing that stuck out to me was that this episode was finally offering some glimpses of hope. I don’t think we’ve truly felt this since the group felt comfortable playing house in the prison. Sure, Terminus seemed like a safe haven for them, but I think we were all well aware that it was not going to end well. Instead, Alexandria offers the sounds of children and laughter. It also has a much less ominous name, which definitely plays into our perception of what it may be.

Next week, we get to find out what troubles lay ahead for our travelers. Nothing can be perfect on The Walking Dead, and we can be certain that two things will come back in play: the lack of people in the pictures Aaron provided, and the Chekhov’s gun that Rick placed in a blender. As Aaron mentioned, people are the most valuable resource, so I guess the question is: How empty is Alexandria?

Final thoughts:

  • We’re also introduced to Eric, Aaron’s boyfriend or husband. Does it feel a bit shoehorned in? Yes in some ways, no in others. We’ll have to see how it plays out.
  • Abraham and Rosita seem to be getting back to better terms. There was a nice moment between them as they saw the Washington Monument in the distance.
  • “This barn smells like horseshit.” Daryl’s few words this episode are excellent.
  • Although the flare that Rick shot into the walker’s head felt like a bit of a showoff moment, I thought it was cool enough to be warranted.
  • As much as I never liked Dale, I did like the throwback when Glenn knew where the battery was in the RV.
  • The closeup of Rick’s eyes as he hears the children is perfect and the look Michonne gives him is even better. Danai Gurira is a treasure.
  • Rick and Daryl’s secret whistle made me giddy.

Episode Grade: B+