Lately, it seems that The Walking Dead means to break our hearts, and then break them again for good measure. First there was the midseason finale, and the sight of that terrible bullet blasting through Beth’s lovely blond head. And then, after months spent licking our wounds and hoping for a brighter future, the show came roaring back… and stomped on our barely healed feelings again, leaving them as limp and deflated as a beanie hat, deprived of its owner, hanging sadly on a makeshift grave marker.
[Five-minute pause here for gross sobbing.]
This week, though, The Walking Dead settled on a new tactic: Rather than break its audience’s hearts by ripping beloved characters from it, the show is now introducing new ones! You know, the better to destroy our every last fraying nerve.
We open with Maggie, and man, she looks terrible. She’s blue-lipped, baggy-eyed, crying, and apparently oblivious to an approaching walker who’s grunting his way through the underbrush… oh, no, wait: She hears it. She’s just… so… tired. And while we have seen plenty of zombie stabbings, zombie stompings, and zombie shootings — and while we have even seen people ripping their undead adversaries’ heads in half, barehanded— this is the first time a character has ever had a lackadaisical slap fight with a zombie.
Maggie can only barely summon the energy to grab her knife and stab her attacker, but even she’s better off than Daryl, who is by himself, in the middle of the forest, eating an earthworm for lunch. (Side note: This is gross, but it is also so obviously not the first time Daryl has done this.) By now, it’s clear that the group has run into trouble on the road. What kind of trouble? That’s for the next shot: Sasha, carrying an empty water bottle, wandering down a dry creek bed full of dead, bloated, dirty frogs. A drought has struck. This is bad news, but it could be worse: Daryl could have eaten one of the frogs.
With no food or water in sight, the group resumes trudging down one of those rural mid-Atlantic highways lined on each side by tall pines.
“How much longer we got?” Maggie asks.
“Sixty miles,” says Sasha, but that’s not what Maggie means, if you know what she means.
NEXT: Daryl and Carol go into the woods and kiss.
It has been three weeks since Beth died in Atlanta, an event which everyone is dealing with in their own special way. For instance, Rick is dealing with it by growing a beard befitting a general in the Civil War. Daryl is dealing with it by not dealing with it, at all. And Maggie is dealing with it by snapping at Father Gabriel when he asks if she wants to talk, reminding him for good measure that he locked all his congregants out of his church and then listened to them get eaten alive. (This is basically the zombie apocalypse version of calling someone “a virgin who can’t drive.”) Daryl, uninterested in engaging with anyone, splits off from the group to look for water again, with Carol trailing after him. This is a very exciting moment for Carol/Daryl enthusiasts, until you realize that they can’t hook up now, because they’re dehydrated and need to conserve their fluids.
The two of them don’t find any water, but it’s a golden opportunity for Carol to talk about the thing that Daryl doesn’t want to talk about. “I know you. You have to let yourself feel it,” she says, referring to his grief and guilt over Beth. And then she gives him a motherly smooch on the forehead. (Side note: See? That page break teaser wasn’t a lie, technically.)
Meanwhile, the group’s flagging reserves means trouble when zombies appear, especially when they appear en masse, requiring a team killing effort that nobody has the energy to make. Michonne, especially, is hyper-aware of how vulnerable her fatigued friends are — and worried about Sasha, who’s going through the stages of grief, zombie apocalypse edition. (Stage 2: Vast overestimation of one’s ability to tackle ten zombies at once.)
Instead, the group lines up and awaits the undead herd — including a zombie who, to my immense delight, was very clearly sporting a pair of circa 2012 floral-printed jeans. (Insert your best joke about “the trend that wouldn’t die” here!) Being too tired to stab or shoot, they adopt the Bugs Bunny approach to mass murder instead: Standing perfectly still while your enemies come at you, then gracefully stepping aside and letting them run straight off a cliff. But Sasha breaks ranks, and starts stabbing zombies, which means that everybody else has to start stabbing zombies too. Michonne, who is clearly the group’s unofficial second-in-command at this point, is furious.
“I TOLD YOU TO STOP,” she says.
“SHUT UP MOM YOU DON’T KNOW MY LIFE,” says Sasha. (Okay, no, she doesn’t. But she’s thinking it; you can tell.)
We’re about halfway through this very slow, monotonous episode at this point, and one thing has become clear: That Michonne wasn’t kidding last week when she stressed that they need stop someplace and call it “home” — or they need to at least be on their way there, mindfully and purposefully. Without a destination, there is no journey; there’s just the road, and the endless drudgery of being on it with nowhere to go. It takes its toll, on both the individual survivors and on their sense of community with each other. As the slog wears on, the group starts to look more and more like zombies themselves.
NEXT: Only Daryl can have forest feels.
Halfway through the episode is also where we’re at when Daryl Dixon finally goes into the woods and confronts his feelings. He pauses in a quiet clearing with a view of a barn and lights up a cigarette, which he then promptly puts out on the back of his own hand. (Side note: Ouch.) (Other side note: Still less painful to watch than his hour-long struggle to climb up a hill back in Season 2.) He also drops the still-smoking cig into the brush at his feet, which seems awfully unwise considering the whole “it hasn’t rained in weeks” plot line. But no worries: The cigarette will no doubt be extinguished by his tears. Because yes, at long last, Daryl Dixon is finally crying for poor, sweet Beth Green.
And because Daryl Dixon’s tears are hard-won and made of magic, they herald the appearance of the sweet liquid sustenance that the survivors have been waiting for. First, they come upon a mysterious pile of waters in the road — which might be a trap, or it might not, who knows, because it also starts to rain. So long, Drought Plotline. It was a fun forty minutes.
With the rain coming down in torrents, the group takes shelter in the barn that Daryl thankfully did not burn down. It only has one undead resident — a corpse that looks like Zombie Benjamin Franklin — who Maggie promptly takes down. She also observes that the corpse had a gun.
“She could’ve shot herself,” Maggie says.
“Some people can’t give up,” says Carol.
Of course, some people also die unexpectedly of heart attacks and don’t have time to preemptively shoot themselves. No need to unfairly malign the zombie for being unrealistic, guys.
It’s incredible how the presence of a roof over their heads changes the group dynamic: Together in this building, even just temporarily, they seem more like family again. Rick gives a very Rick Grimes pep talk, connecting a story about his grandfather living through World War II to the group’s own predicament: Grandpa Grimes once got himself through a war by telling himself before each battle that he was already dead, and Rick Grimes and his band of bros will survive the same way, apparently.
“Whatever we find in D.C., it’s okay, because this is how we survive,” Rick says. “We tell ourselves that we are the walking dead.”
No, seriously, he actually says that. (Question: Is this the first time that a character on The Walking Dead has actually said, “the walking dead”? Is that weird?)
NEXT: Sunrise surprise!
Meanwhile, the actual walking dead — as in, the ones who are really dead, and really walking — have detected the smell of delicious edible people wafting from the barn. And while this group may or may not survive by telling themselves that they’re just dead men walking, none of them are ready to join the ranks of the zombie hordes just yet. Daryl runs to hold the door, joined by Maggie, then Sasha, then everyone else. And even on a show where battling zombies is de rigueur, this scene turns the drama up to eleven. The survivors struggle to hold the door! The storm rages outside! Lightning flashes, thunder crashes, and the rain coming in beneath the barn door is making the ground all squishy and slick! Only a heroic team effort can possibly keep the dead at bay!
And it does! …Sort of. When Maggie and Sasha wake up and wander outside at sunrise, they discover that the zombies have all been impaled by some very fortuitously fallen pine trees.
“Shoulda torn us apart,” says Sasha, referring to the zombies, or the storm, or maybe the combined effects of so much loss in so short a time, or maybe all three at once. Either way, the group remains intact, and the first light of a new day shines above the trees. It’s the perfect moment for the two women to stop, breathe, and prepare to soldier on after having lost the people dearest to them.
“You’re gonna make it. Both of us, we will. That’s the hard part,” says Maggie.
But will they? Will anyone? Because Maggie and Sasha aren’t alone in their sunlit field. There’s a man: suspiciously clean, even more suspiciously handsome, and most suspiciously possessed of knowledge he should not have.
“I’m a friend,” he says. I’d like to talk to the person in charge. Rick, right? I have good news!”
Is “I have good news” the new “Welcome to Terminus”? (Ten bucks, plus the expression on Maggie and Sasha’s faces, says yes.) But if New Guy turns out to be a rampaging people-eater, we won’t see him stick a fork in anybody until next week.