Sometimes, it’s truly puzzling trying to figure out what The Walking Dead is trying to say about the nature of people. Granted, it’s a zombie adventure hour, not a philosophical treatise, but TWD has always been a show that positioned itself as having a unique vantage point from which to view humanity. And that’s a smart and correct thing for a show like this to do, because most of the very best horror or post-apocalyptic stories were good in part because they had things to say about people and what they’re like when you strip away all the societal niceties. We’ve long held that the main problem with the show has always been that its view of humanity is too nihilistic and immature to be sustainable over the long haul. If you boiled TWD down to one message or point of view, it’s “People suck and we’re all fucked.” But to the show’s credit, that may be the most dominant perspective on display, but it’s not the only one.
Several times a season – and in this season in particular, it’s been a much more prevalent theme – we get episodes that remind us that, even in all the darkness and despair on display, to continue to live your life one more day or one more hour is such an act of defiant hope that it deserves to be celebrated as an example of the very best qualities of humanity.
And then they usually kill that person off shortly thereafter. If they’re lucky, they just get exposed to some sort of soul-crushing horror that sends them into a PTSD spiral that’ll last half a season or so. Then some selection from a Starbucks CD will play and everyone will look at each other meaningfully while they dig another grave.
Do we sound cynical? Maybe so, but we’re not half as cynical as this episode was.
Denise can talk about taking risks and living life unafraid all she wants, when she gets an arrow through her brain for trying to scavenge a long-expired can of Orange Crush, she doesn’t come across to us as anything but incredibly, willfully stupid. Will Tara console herself with the sun-boiled can of orange-flavored sugar water in place of the woman she was starting to fall in love with? Will the entire community of Alexandria, upon hearing that their only medically trained resident lost her life in pursuit of a can of pop, shrug and say “Well, she was just trying to live life to the fullest?”
Are we to take Denise’s death, put it alongside Carol’s unwillingness to build a life for herself, and come to the conclusion that the point of this story is to show how utterly pointless it all is? For the first time, our main characters are living in a place of community, fellowship, and relative safety but we’re supposed to buy these half-assed reasons for leaving or putting themselves in unreasonable danger? Eugene bites a guy’s dick off and that’s supposed to prove something about him?
And how many times are we going to watch our characters come up against the Saviors and kick their asses handily each time? Especially when we know the inevitable shocking turn is coming, bringing with it more death and despair?
We didn’t hate this episode as much as we’re making it sound. It was watchable enough. And there is something comforting and interesting about watching the Alexandria community get more and more civilized with each passing day, from the construction of jail cells to the bed-hopping that can only go on when people feel safe and secure enough to consider their options. It’s a given that it’s all going to go to shit very soon, but it’s nice enough to get a respite from all the darkness, even if poor Denise got an arrow through her eye. This episode, like several good ones this season, was a series of character pieces that allowed everyone some breathing space and allowed us to check in on some fairly under-utilized characters like Rosita and Eugene. It’s almost certainly not fair of us to try and hold it up to some consistently expressed philosophical standard, to be sure. But it’s impossible not to ask what the point was when Denise dies in the middle of declaring her own philosophy about living life to the fullest. It’s possible we’re over-analyzing something that was only meant to be darkly comical or lightly cynical, depending on how you look at it. But when you look at an A-team character like Carol deciding to wander out into the wilderness because she can’t take what she’s become, and add that to a story about two D-Teamers (at best) insisting on their right and ability to face the world, only to have one die and the other just barely survive with a lot of help, it all felt like a bit of a muddle to us.
We are probably going to regret saying this, but we’re looking forward to the violent shakeup to come. This episode didn’t offend us or anything, but it didn’t seem to have much of a point to it either.
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[Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC]
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