With this episode of The Walking Dead, the most defined character on the show got a full hour in order to define herself further. We learned almost nothing new and the time could very well have been better spent on building up one of the many barely-sketched characters in the cast. And yet it was probably one of our favorite episodes of all time. We admit to a little bit of impatience while watching it, wondering when they were going to progress the story further or reveal something worth revealing, but that’s not how TWD rolls in its fifth season.
In fact, it’s a tribute to the show’s confidence that it could do an episode like this; a character study that tells us nothing new but weaves together a consistent through-line for a character who didn’t always have one. There are several narrative plates spinning at the moment (although not so many that it’s a problem), and it takes some guts for a creator to tell their audience to put aside everything else so they can listen to two characters mainly just talk for an hour. Especially for a show like this, which has been plagued with scenes of characters sitting around talking when the audience craved narrative forward motion above everything else. But watching Darryl and Carol talk about the ways in which they’ve both changed (and the ways in which they haven’t) is a far cry from endless scenes of Lori folding laundry or Rick and Hershel discussing seeds. In other words, this hour long conversation worked because it was a conversation about something; rather than a petty argument over nonsense (which is how you could characterize a lot of the first 3 seasons)
Of course, it also worked because Daryl and Carol are eminently watchable together and because Melissa McBride has found the soul of this character and lets it shine from behind her eyes. Was it a necessary hour? Well, no. It would have been nice to get this kind of deep dive on someone like Michonne or Sasha, for instance. But how can we complain about the show giving its two most popular characters an entire hour of just being those characters for us? Call it fan service, but it worked.
It helps to be where we are in order to tell a story like this effectively. The group has been broken up into smaller groups with distinct goals and agendas, but there isn’t that feeling of everyone being scattered to the winds and utterly without hope. Everyone, no matter how far apart they are from the rest of the group, still feels the pull of that group like a family, and they all operate under the assumption that they will get back to their family again. It was why time was spent on so many character-based moments earlier in the season; to lay that groundwork. Unlike in the past, when this group separates, it’s with the understanding that it’s temporary and they’ll all come home again. Of course that sets us up for a huge tragedy down the line, but that’s okay. We’ve said all along that too many characters have died on this show without generating much of a reaction in the audience because no one knew who they were or cared much to find out. And we’re talking about main characters, like Shane, Andrea, and Dale. But we can pretty much guarantee that the very next death to occur among the main group of characters is going to be much harder to take for the audience. Didn’t you spend most of this episode worried that Carol was going to die? Didn’t it feel like you were getting a retrospective on her life? Are you now terrified that they’re going to kill off Carol? Good. Then the writers have done their jobs. Finally.
Two final observations of possible limited importance but they meant something to us:
We’re loving the tendency of the show to pop in and out of Atlanta to use it as a backdrop for action. We couldn’t take another full season of these guys stumbling around the Georgia backwoods full time. And we never really bought the lame attempts to justify why no one ever went back to the biggest supply house in the state whenever they needed to. “It’s dangerous because it’s full of walkers” was always the dumbest of reasons for staying away because – newsflash – they’re pretty much everywhere. When you spend all your time in the woods or in tiny isolated towns (of which there seem to be an endless supply in Georgia), the audience starts losing sight of the scale of this disaster. It’s nice to get into an urban setting, post-apocalypse, just to shake things up a bit.
The walkers are now interruptions to conversation and barriers to achieving goals, but they’re not, in and of themselves, a threat anymore. Or at least, they’re not the main threat. This is one of the most welcome of the show’s latter developments because it frees up the storytelling possibilities tremendously. People can move about, make connections, hunker down, make plans – whatever. The point is, there’s a feeling of movement now. Movement through a world populated by brainless, slow-moving cannibals with rotting bodies, sure. But movement nonetheless. We don’t know what’s going to happen next, and we’re afraid someone we care about is going to die, but we can’t see either of these feelings as anything but a huge triumph on the part of the show’s creators. They did it. They turned this show completely around in its 5th season. Showrunner Scott Gimple deserves all the credit in the world for that. An hour of Daryl and Carol just being Daryl and Carol – and it was one of the most entertaining hours of television all week.
But it must have frustrated the HELL out of the shippers.
[Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC]