After two episodes and two losses for the group, it was time for another one of those episodes of The Walking Dead where the action kind of stops (kind of), and our remaining heroes take stock of recent losses. Typically, when Dead slows things down, that’s when its warts tend to show, as the limited characterization can be quickly covered up in the non-stop battle for survival where a hungry walker can be hiding behind any door, tree, or car trunk. Actually, that’s not quite fair. Certainly, The Walking Dead has done some compelling character work before, but only when it actually has something interesting to say about those characters and their predicament. Last season’s “The Grove” comes to mind.
The problem, I feel, is when the characters aren’t sure where they’re going next, or the writers are buying time to get those characters into position for the next phase. Last week’s visit to Richmond, and Noah’s now destroyed home, felt like a good bridge between the half-seasons, and a good way to stall on the inevitable question of what comes next now that the group failed to save Beth and the prospect of curing the zombie plague was a fever dream long since passed. But now what? That was the question when the first half of season five wrapped up, and it was posed by the group last week. Where can the group go now to find the fleeting hope of sanctuary?
When someone mentioned last week, “Hey, why not check out Washington?” I thought that was a lark that ended when Tyreese got bit and died. I guess not. Back on the road with no food, no water, and their short supply of hope at an all-time low, the survivors wander on towards Washington. There’s an interesting analogy there as the human characters stagger down the road, staying barely 100 yards ahead of hungry walkers. Both groups are looking for dwindling resources, bouncing aimlessly from one point to the next, barely hanging on to what remains of the life that was. And in case you didn’t figure that out on your own, Rick explains the metaphor later on.
Rick’s “We are the walking dead” speech comes after about 45 minutes of unrelenting pessimism, which was understandable given the odds. He tells the group about his grandpa who, during World War II took a nihilistic approach to fighting by assuming that that the minute he entered into enemy territory that he was dead. If you wake up every morning by acting like it will end with your death, then you’re not surprised when it happens. I guess. There’s a pretty fine line between accepting the possibility that the worst can happen, and living like life is the worst thing that is happening. Daryl, surprisingly, is the voice of reason. “We’re not them,” he says.
I think that the point of the episode was to ask the question: how does one approach grief when death is waiting around every corner? With no relative safety, how can you stop and grieve about the death that just happened when someone else could die in the next moment? Many were confounded by Maggies’s lack of curiosity in regards the whereabouts of her half-sister Beth, and there’s an attempt to address that with Maggie telling Glenn that she didn’t give herself the luxury of assuming that Beth might have been alive. That’s fine, but it does make we wonder then why the loss is so raw, if Maggie’s just capable of turning off even an irrational sense of hope.