The Walking Dead Review: “Self Help” (Season 5, Episode 5)


Leaving Beth and the rape cop hospital behind for the time being, this week’s episode of The Walking Dead catches us up on the single-minded mission of Sgt. Abraham Ford, a man on a mission to save the world. Abraham’s persistent drive to save the world as we used to know it seems to cause conflict with everyone he comes in contact with, and why wouldn’t it? In his charge is the man with the know-how to slay every single last zombie and make the Earth a planet of the living once more. That drive is perhaps the reason why Abraham can’t see that there are some holes in Eugene Porter’s story, and why even to the ears of a non-scientist, Eugene seems not entirely knowledgeable for a guy employed by the Human Genome Project. The question as to Eugene’s veracity comes to a head this week in “Self Help.”

Through flashbacks, we get Abraham’s backstory. Some point, in the early days of the calamite, Abraham was in a grocery store almost literally fighting other survivors for the last can of tuna fish. There was a family with him, a woman named Ellen and two kids named A.J. and Becca. Were they Abraham’s family? It’s not explicitly said, but I would say it’s more than likely that A.J. stands for “Abraham Junior” if that settles the matter. Ellen and the kids are frightened by Abraham’s brutality, and run away one night into the waiting maw of some walkers. When Abraham finds their eaten remains, he decides to take his own life too. Until… He hears the cries for help from Eugene. All of the sudden he has a mission, and a reason to live.

It’s a mission that’s enjoyed limited success and keeps running into obstacles. The road to D.C. for Abraham, Rosita and Eugene, along with new travelling companions Glen, Maggie and Tara, hits another snag as the bus breaks down, flips over and burns. The gang escapes and manages to avoid getting eaten by some walkers, but despite being only 15 miles from the church, Abraham insists on pushing on. After taking refuge in a nearby library for the night, they find a working fire engine, but in trying to move it they release a horde of hungry walkers. The engine only gets them a few more miles, but it breaks down for good, leaving the sextet stranded once more. Down the road from the north, meanwhile, marches what looks like thousands of walkers. There’s no way around them, and no way to plough through them safely, but Abraham insists on going forward.

Here, we pause to talk about Michael Cudlitz, who’s a fine actor, but in this episode was saddled with so much military sloganeering and rhyming couplets that it was practically a parody of a Hollywood soldier caricature. Kudos to Cudlitz for selling it though, and giving Abraham a refreshing burst of energy and gusto even if his emphatic belief that stopping or taking a detour is akin to retreat seems reckless, even in the wake of an army of zombies heading his way. In context of the revelation of Abraham’s backstory it’s more understandable, getting Eugene to Washington is the only thing he’s living for. For many of the other survivors, staying alive to see another day is enough. Look at Rick for example, who persevered even though he thought that his baby daughter had been eaten by walkers. But as military man, Abraham needs more than mere survival.