Well alright, then. That was the most brutal, bloody, and excruciating hour of The Walking Dead ever. And by the end, the actors had us practically weeping with joy. What a great episode; possibly the best episode of the series. It managed to hit that perfect sweet spot of gore, despair, violence and, against all odds, it stuck the landing on a moment of emotional triumph. What a perfect time for us to walk away from the show for good.
Oh, we won’t, we’re sure. We’ll be far too curious about how things shake out to not watch it. But it took them four years to deliver what we would consider the perfect combination of elements to produce an excellent episode of the show. That tends to reinforce our idea that the show, as it is, is almost impossible to get right and it can’t sustain good storytelling for long. The reason for that is the reason why we’re toying with walking away: the premise of the show has never appealed to us. Not the undead part, that’s always been fun (if hugely inconsistent), but the part that holds that people are the worst monster of all. Call us pollyannas if you must, but we have history on our side. Human beings are capable of horrible acts when their moral and societal filters are compromised; absolutely. It’s happened countless times over the course of human history. What didn’t happen was the complete, across-the-board abandonment of morality or the concept of security in the face of social collapse. Even in the darkest points in human history, humans kept on, upholding and reinforcing their moral codes until a form of social order or equilibrium was achieved, if only on a small scale. What humans have never done is collectively abandon all morality in a short period of time with everyone raping and eating each other within a year or two. It just doesn’t scan. In fact it sounds pretty silly. We’ve said it before but the premise at the heart of this show is “People suck,” and we can’t and never could get invested in a story with a philosophy that sounds like something an angry 15-year-old writes on their jeans.
The natural next statement after “People suck” is “And you should never trust any of them, because trust and hope are signs of weakness.” They’ve been hammering that point home since the first episode and they were still hammering it last night. The funny thing is, even though we find the philosophy behind the show eyeroll-worthy, we thought Tyreese came off looking like an utter moron for refusing to kill a guy who has made it perfectly clear he intends to kill both him and the baby he’s protecting. In the world they’ve created for these characters, Tyreese’s unwillingness to kill such a person just makes him look like another in a long line of naive or flat-out stupid characters.
We all agree that Tyreese was lying to Carol at the end, right? He said he killed the guy but that goes against everything he said in the previous 55 minutes. And since we never saw the body, you can bet Ol’ Babyneck-twister will be back at some point, proving once again (as if it hasn’t been proven many times over already) that the only smart thing to do in this world is kill everyone who isn’t you.
We should also note that we never saw the body of Gareth, the cannibal hipster dude. And since he got a little “…and that’s why we started eating people” coda at the end of the episode, we’re assuming that, like Babyneck-twister, he’ll be back to cause trouble. Incidentally, that coda really didn’t work for us, nor did Mary’s explanation for why they turned to cannibalism. Okay, you were raided and raped and people got killed. It makes perfect sense for you to come back from something like that by saying, “Never again will I trust people.” It makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE AT ALL to respond with, “Now I will start eating people.”
But these are the only complaints, and they tend to all circle around the fact that we don’t agree with the show’s basic, core philosophy. But as an hour of television, this episode simply couldn’t be beat. It was horrifying, sad, and fist-pumping awesome at the same time. Carol is an amazing character now. All the credit in the world must be given to Melissa McBride and a performance that, over the course of the series ran the gamut from weeping victim to steel-hard survivor and made it perfectly believable. Even better, as we saw with this episode, she’s a person still capable of love and hope in this world. She did what she did because her family was in danger and she was the only one who could do something about it. Considering she watched her previous family die in installments, that’s quite the character arc.
And who didn’t choke up when Daryl made that little yelp and ran straight into her arms? It was more emotional than Rick’s reunion with his own baby. But there’s a reason for that, and we really, really hope for the sake of the show that the writers have realized it. Carol and Daryl are easily the most popular characters on the show, with Michonne probably coming in at a close third place. It’s not a coincidence that these are the three characters who have shown growth and forward movement in their stories; who have overcome their own shit in order to survive. At this point, we feel like we’ve lived through a portion of their lives and have come to understand them and root for them. We don’t get that feeling from any other character. Rick is still a dick who tends to put his group in unnecessary danger because of his own issues. Tyreese is a wimp. Glen loves Maggie. Maggie loves Glen. Carl is an annoying little psychopath. That’s it for the rest of the team. That’s the extent of the characterization, for the most part.
Our point is, this episode didn’t just work because it was high-octane ultra-violence (although that part was fun too); it worked because we all felt a small amount of joy and awe watching Carol calmly Rambo the fuck out, knowing what we know about her history. In other words, you can string together as many explosions and eviscerations as you want, but the audience is only going to be engaged if they have some sort of relationship with the characters.
Yeah, we’ll probably keep watching, but unless we see the kind of work the writers did on Carol and Daryl applied to the rest of the group, we’ll probably skip out. It’s only fun when you care about the people in the story. There’s reason to be optimistic that the creators have finally figured this out.
[Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC]
Doctor Who: Mummy On The Orient Express Next Post:
Christina Hendricks at the 2014 Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic