If Alexandria burns to the ground next week, or if all of its inhabitants wind up dead in a shootout, it won’t change our reaction to the events of this episode. We couldn’t have been happier to see what we saw.
We think we sometimes give the wrong impression in our reviews of this show when we talk about the overwhelming nihilism at its heart and how uninteresting we tend to find it. It’s not that we think this story needs to lead toward happiness for any of the characters. It’s not that we need to believe that people are decent and can work together. It’s that we never bought the scenario of a plague wiping out the majority of the population leaving the survivors to do nothing but starve and kill each other in the mud. It always seemed to us that we should be seeing other scenarios besides the ones we repeatedly kept seeing, of horribly amoral people raping, killing and cannibalizing at will, left, right and center. In other words, for us, it wasn’t just that we disagreed with the glass-half-full philosophy behind the show, it’s that we had a difficult time reconciling the basic premise.
History is full of bad things happening and people reacting in a bad way, it’s true. But we never bought the idea of total societal collapse in a country stocked to the heavens with food and resources, the only barriers to which are slow moving creatures with no intelligence, little strength, and no natural offensive features like claws or fangs. People have always gone to wars both big and small, societal and personal, over resources and land. Well, we’re in a world now where there’s a surplus of both. The constant barrage of psychopaths never made much sense to us. We’d find it much more believable if this world was populated with tin-pot dictators ruling over tiny little kingdoms like, well… like the community we got introduced to last night. Rather than roaming the woods or living in prisons or setting traps so you can eat people, doesn’t it make much more sense that in this, one of the richest and most developed countries in the world, survivors would band together under local leaders and locate as many resources as possible for survival? Wouldn’t people come to that conclusion fairly quickly? And for totally selfish reasons?
Alexandria, to us, represents the show finally coming to terms with the world its created and a new willingness to explore it. We failed to mention this at the time, but several episodes back it was notable how, after spending the entire series in one state, the setting rapidly changed with little fanfare. We felt it probably should have been noted by the characters in some way that they suddenly found themselves in Virginia after years of being stuck in Georgia, but in retrospect, it tends to make sense to us. It’s not as if state borders have all that much meaning to the characters anymore. Besides, the state line wasn’t the important part of the scenario change. Last night was the first time we truly felt like the characters had entered a brand new world. That’s really exciting to us as viewers but it’s also admirable on the part of the show’s creators, that they can breathe this kind of life into the concept after all this time.
And believe us, we’re more than prepared for an eventual smoking ruin where Alexandria used to be. We make no predictions (and we’re treating the books as a separate but similar story), but if things go to shit, we’ll still be satisfied with the way this world was expanded. Even better, if things go to shit and it’s all Rick’s fault. Because one of the very best aspects of this episode was the stark differences drawn between Rick’s group and the residents of the community. Much was made about how “soft” everyone is behind those gates, but this episode, without overt commentary, also made it perfectly clear how deeply damaged Rick and most of his group are. To a person, they are all suffering from the most advanced case of post-traumatic stress in the history of mental disorders. The writing, directing and acting all combined masterfully to leave us wondering who’s more sinister, the community or Rick’s group? Have we reached a Walter White moment where we realize the hero of the story is actually a bad guy? Or is it even bad for Rick to be considering a coup? He’d no doubt argue that it was right and he was doing these people a favor, but he’d also sound EXACTLY like the Governor making that argument. It’s a fascinating place for the show to be right now and we’re not sure if we’ve ever been more interested and invested in what happens next.
A final note on the acting, which seemed to take a leap forward this episode on all fronts. Andrew Lincoln did his usual showy, dead-eyed Rick schtick, but Carl surprised us with the nuances on his face when suddenly coming into contact with more or less “normal” teenagers. Michonne, Glen and Darryl all got great moments to shine as well. And nothing can beat Carol’s happy homemaker schtick, which was a beautifully subtle moment that only paid off if you were paying close attention and knew the characters well.
Bottom line: whatever comes next, we’re totally on board. The story can go in a range of directions from here and for once, we find any of the choices to be interesting ways to go.
[Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC]
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