No one’s ever going to accuse The Walking Dead of being a happy-go-lucky affirmation of dignity and quality of life, especially in the face of a world slowly dying. But even for this show, the developments in the midseason premiere were kind of a downer. In a broken world, full of undead humans wandering around looking for the few live ones to snack on, every day is a struggle, and death can come bounding around the corner at any minute and bite you. No one is safe, and even after losing one of the main characters on the show just a single episode ago, the Grim Reaper came again for one of the survivors, and it might have been the one that least deserved it.
From a meta standpoint, it was as if the show were compensating for the relatively senseless death of Beth in “Coda” with the much more substantive slow demise of Tyreese. Where as Beth’s sudden head wound at the end of “Coda” felt like the show forcing a major death because it was the midseason finale, the sad, drawn out death of Tyreese came as shock that I kept trying to think of a way out of. Perhaps it was a dream, perhaps all this talk about giving up got Tyreese thinking, or perhaps the gentle giant could have been saved. But in the end, it was all inevitable.
Stream of consciousness was a theme of the episode. Make-up maestro Greg Nicotero opened things with flashes of what’s going on now, what happened before, and what’s going to happen through the episode. Naturally, the things we see, at least in regards to the future, ended up taking on a different meaning once we see where everyone ends up before the somber conclusion. It’s a familiar directorial tactic, but it’s very, very effective. The loose, dreamy tone that Nicotero establishes keeps you on your toes, especially after Tyreese gets bitten and starts seeing… things.
Perhaps an untimely end for Tyreese was telegraphed from the beginning, driving in the car with Rick, Michonne, Noah and Glenn to Noah’s home in Richmond. Noah tells Tyreese that a trade was the right call no matter how things ended up at the hospital, and Tyreese explains how his father made him and Sasha listen to news radio in the car; it was their duty as “citizens of the world” as it was “paying the high cost of living.” Of course, the highest cost of living is one’s death, so in hindsight the writing was on the wall for poor Tyreese. Later, he comforts Noah in the face of tragedy saying, “You’re one of us now.” Yup, strike two. Tyresse, at this point, was definitely living on borrowed time.
According to Noah, his old subdivision was an island of normalcy in the zombie-apocalypse with walls and a guard tower, so naturally it wasn’t a paradise so much as a paradise lost. There were burnt houses where the fire had long since died, strewn corpses half eaten lying in the street, and several stray walkers bounding around, trapped inside the once secured walls. Fascinatingly, both Glenn and Rick are unsurprised and pretty easily accept that Richmond is another dead end, but Michonne is tired of the struggle and tries to convince the others that they could rebuild in Richmond and make a life. That’s fairly unlikely now.