“We are the walking dead.” — Rick Grimes”
The Walking Dead has been a show that has always recycled basic themes throughout. From the very beginning of the series the characters have always been confronted by some very basic notions of humanity and survival. At times, the writers have done some great work exploring these themes and there has been times when they’ve been very heavy-handed and miss the mark.
Tonight’s episode takes it’s time to explore how the deaths of Beth and Tyreese has begun to affect the group as a whole. The first half of the season began with such hope as everyone believed Eugene’s story that a cure was possible if they could get to Washington, D.C. As we’ve now learned that story turned out to be a lie. Yet, despite that punch to the gut the group still remained hopeful. They had just escaped Terminus. They were able to defeat Gareth’s Hunters in quick order.
Then the first half of the season ended with the death of one of the group’s symbols for hope. Beth’s death was roundly seen as pointless and a waste by fans and critics, but it also showed what this show has been all about right from the beginning. It’s a show that shows promises and hints that there’s hope for the future when it’s really just a mirage in the desert of this new post-apocalyptic world. Last week’s death of Tyreese further cemented this. His death on top of Beth’s just seem to have worn down Rick and company.
We seem them tired, dejected and looking like the very zombies they’ve been surviving against. Food and water has now become scarce. The very real problem of being “truly hungry” as Gareth pointed out to Rick has now hit the group. We see Daryl scrabbling in the forest soil for earthworms to eat. Even Abraham would rather drink the bottle of booze just to not feel the thirst and hunger. This is a group that’s nearing it’s breaking point. Even the most hardened survivor must have food and water. Gareth and the people at Terminus went through this crucible and came out insane on the other side. Tonight we saw just how close the group came to finding out for themselves if they had what it took to remain sane and humane as thirst and hunger ate away at them.
We also found the group grieving for those they have just lost. The episode concentrated on Daryl, Maggie and Sasha in exploring the grieving process in this new world. These three lost the most this season. Maggie lost her father in the previous season. She had thought Beth lost to her after the flight from the prison, but found out she was alive only to lose her again before being reunited. Daryl loses in Beth a close friend and someone he allowed to get emotionally close to him. Then there’s Sasha who didn’t just lose her lover Bob, but also her older brother Tyreese in a span of a week or so.
All three grieved (or didn’t) in their own way. Maggie seemed lost and just tired of the day-to-day survival. She’s begun to question whether going on was worth the energy (physically and emotionally). She sees this world and life as having taken everyone last one of her immediate family and it’s begun to weigh on her, if not, breaking her down. her own survivor’s guilt finally comes out as she talks to Glenn about how she had thought Beth was already dead after leaving the prison. How she didn’t allow herself to dwell on the prospect that her little sister was gone. She focused on finding Glenn. Viewers had wondered why Maggie never once worried if Beth was alive and tonight’s episode seemed like the writers giving a sort of explanation as to why.
Maggie has become one of the ultimate survivors in this new world. She has learned to compartmentalize what was done to what needs to be doing better than anyone. Beth being dead or alive after the prison was an unknown. Moving forward to finding the rest of the group was a goal that kept her moving forward. This forward motion became even more prominent when she realized Glenn was still alive. It’s this survivor’s mentality which has also made her unable to grieve properly for the loss of her father and sister. As we neared the end of the episode we finally see a glimmer of Maggie accepting and grieving over who she has lost and looking to move on forward towards an unknown future.
Sasha hasn’t reached that point of grieving. She has lost two very close men in her life and both to the very inevitability of the walking dead around them. This world has hardened her too fast where reckless behavior and anger fuels her instead of guilt. She plans to take it out on the very things that took Bob and Tyreese from her, but she doesn’t see how her need for revenge puts the group at risk. While the episode seems to end with her pushing herself back from the brink of the abyss she was heading in there’s still a danger that her inability to grieve properly could make her not just a danger to herself but to the very people who has accepted her as family.
Now, the very notion that Daryl should even grieve openly goes against the very badassness that fans have heaped upon the character. Seeing Daryl cry was tantamount to losing whatever hope there was in the world. The fandom which has grown around this character wants him to remain a badass who eats nails and shoots lightning from his ass, but at the same time swoons at the notion of him showing a gentler side. The younger Dixon doesn’t allow himself to grieve or feel Beth’s death because he thinks he can’t afford to allow himself to lower his emotional guard down once again. He sees how getting too attached to anyone means heartache in the future. It happened when his older brother died, when Sophie was found dead instead of alive and now with Beth.
We see Daryl finally breakdown, but only in private when he knows no one is looking. Even then it’s not a full release but just enough to alleviate the emotional pressure within him. The very need to distance himself from those who remain has begun as he twice declined Carol’s (the one he feels closest to) offer to accompany him on a scouting mission. It has been great to see Daryl the character become an integral part of the group. To see him accept the fact that he need not be alone in surviving this new world. But as the show likes to do it throws a major obstacle in his path that makes him question whether he would be better off emotionally if he returned to being a lone wolf. No attachments to anyone means to need to grieve when he loses them.
The Walking Dead doesn’t truly allow it’s characters to grieve, but tonight’s episode does a great job in showing how they all find ways to handle loss in the family. It showed that the grief and loss is there, but the need to continue surviving has taken precedent over everything else. It makes for an unhealthy group of people, but unlike the Terminus, Claimers and the Governor, they try to find little ways and moments to grieve. Even if for just a moment they try to find some solace in what they’ve accomplished and how they’ve survived this long. They see how others have slipped back beyond the pale of what’s acceptable behavior in trying to stay alive one more day. The group is still not there, but this season has shown that they’re close to breaking and unless they find another hopeful goal to focus on they would end up resembling the very walking dead that they’ve been avoiding and fighting against.
- Tonight’s episode, “Them”, was directed by Julius Ramsay and written by series writer Heather Bellson.
- It’s always surprising to notice how customized the rifles that Rick and his group carries. One of the most custom rifles being the AR-15 carried by Sasha which looks to be a Seekins Precision custom AR-15 with a built-in suppressor. I will hazard a guess and say that this particular AR is of the 300 Blackout variety which when paired with the suppressor does cut down on the sound though not in the level shown during tonight’s episode.
- Sasha’s comment to Noah about “Don’t think, Just eat” was a nice bookend to Rick mentioning to the group how they are the walking dead.
- We see the zombies finally look like the very natural disaster they’re an analogue for when they attack the barn and sound as if they’re a tornado (which seems like was the case in the end as a sort of tornado his the area and did away with the small herd of zombies).
- A new character makes an appearance in tonight’s episode, Aaron (played by Ross Marquand), who should be familiar to readers of the comic. His appearance might have started the countdown that will lead to a shocking death from Rick’s group.
- Talking Dead guests tonight are the series’ own Maggie Greene (Lauren Cohan) and Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) plus Robin Lord Taylor (The Walking Dead, Gotham)