It only took five seasons, but someone finally said the words "The Walking Dead" during an episode of the series. Unfortunately for Rick, who had the dubious distinction of uttering that phrase during this week's installment, it's been painfully obvious for quite some time that the characters inhabiting the show's universe have been embodying that title more prominently than the zombies they're trying to avoid. (A point I made way back in my season premiere recap.)
Rick's moment of clarity (also known as a "duh" moment for anyone watching the show) came as the group found itself holed up in an abandoned barn in the middle of Nowheresville, Virginia, hiding from a mighty thunderstorm and an oncoming horde of walkers.
"We do what we need to do, and then we get to live," Rick tells the group of how to cope through the onslaught of tragedy, pretending that real life is just around the corner from this nightmare. "This is how we survive: We tell ourselves that we are the walking dead."
"We ain't them," Daryl interjects, one of the few full sentences he utters during the episode. He acts disgusted by Rick's implication – who knew Mr. Dixon had a hidden sunny side? – but we see from his behavior throughout the installment that he's just as guilty as the sheriff's deputy of suiting up in a protective armor of stoicism and grim acceptance of his and others' fate, only crumbling when alone. (In case you missed the message, Daryl stubs out a cigarette on his hand because HE IS NUMB TO THE PAIN. That all-caps hiccup was about as subtle as that tired, ham-fisted imagery.)
Maggie and Sasha are equally depressed this week, reeling from the losses of Beth and Tyreese, respectively. They have a moment together toward the end of the episode, as they emerge from the barn to find the zombies that tried to break in all impaled by fallen trees.
"This should have torn us apart," Sasha marvels of the devastation that very nearly took out the barn, and all their fellow survivors with it.
"It didn't," Maggie replies, using the patented Walking Dead Metaphor Generator to imply that their survival of the storm is akin to the survival they've been battling for since the zombie apocalypse was just a twinkle in Robert Kirkman's eye. They sit and watch the sunrise together, perhaps content for a moment that it's a new day, and they just might make it after all.
Of course, like Robert Frost before them, the pair quickly realize that nothing gold can stay, as a man who identifies himself as Aaron emerges from the woods, revealing that he knows who Rick is and promising he's harmless.
"I have good news," Aaron promises the wary women. They're not the only ones who are suspicious.
- Not a whole lot happened during this episode, which was meant to remind viewers just how hard it is to survive the apocalypse on a day-to-day basis. Sure, you have to fight maniacs like The Governor and Gareth, spend time building up your defenses in farmhouses and abandoned prisons, and occasionally make friends and enemies in creepy hospitals. But most days, you just need to find food, water, and shelter -- and that can be the most difficult task of all. Kudos to the writers for at least getting that point across strongly in this week's installment.
- Other than that, there wasn't a ton to unpack during the episode, titled "Them." Maybe that moniker is a callback to Rick and Daryl's "walking dead" conversation, where Daryl's trying to fight being like "them" (the zombies) while shuffling along just like them anyway. Or maybe it's painting Rick and co. as the "Them" in relation to Aaron's group, which apparently has been following/watching the survivors for at least a day or two, based on the mysterious water delivery. We're going to delve deeper into who he is next week, so we'll see if he's friend or foe. (I'm going to take a wild guess and answer "foe.")
- Abraham's solution to the zombie apocalypse? Get drunk. Can't say I disagree with his coping mechanism.
- Glenn's emo CD snapping from last week seems at least a little bit more understandable now that we see his interactions with Maggie in the wake of Beth's death. The husband and wife are barely speaking, though not for lack of effort on Glenn's part. Their pairing was once one of the bright spots of the show; here's hoping they can right this 'ship soon.
- Does anyone have any clue about the significance of the music box? I assume it has something to do with Maggie and Beth's childhood on the farm, but I can't pin down its importance. Maggie seemed devastated when it didn't work, but how it factors into her facilitating a grieving session with Sasha doesn't really compute. (The fact that it sprung to life only after Aaron appeared should further point viewers into distrusting the new addition, since as we saw from the happy chalk scrawls and smiling family photos in last week's midseason premiere, upbeat imagery can only spell doom for these characters.)
- As the group rushes to the barn door to shut out the zombies trying to break in, someone (Glenn?) hurriedly places/tosses Judith to the ground and races over to help. Way to still pretend like she's important to the show, despite her not factoring into any real plot lines (or really even aging appropriately) since her birth, everyone.
- One self-referential moment that I did appreciate, however, was the other characters' seeming disdain for Father Gabriel, who also hasn't had much to do. Maggie blowing him off when he tries to engage her in a conversation about losing Beth ("I know you're in pain," he says. "No s-t," she replies) was pretty excellent.
- Also excellent: Eugene declaring, in his glorious accent, "I truly do not know if things can get worse." Oh, Eugene. If only you knew what show you were on. (Ask Rick.)
Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC