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Now, it could be that I spent a chunk of the past weekend in a virus-induced fever dream myself, but I found “What Happened and What’s Going On” to be an absolutely magnificent episode. Sure, having a string of already dead characters return to usher a fan favorite to the other side might have been a tad indulgent, particularly on a series like The Walking Dead where death is final and cold, but for someone like Tyreese, it makes complete sense. And, frankly, he’s earned it.
The episode opened by telegraphing that something awful is about to happen to either Tyreese or Carol, due to the presence of dead Myka and Lizzie (since Tyreese and Carol agreed to lie to the group about the girls’ deaths, only those two could be witnessing their return from the dead). It quickly became clear after the opening that Carol would only be appearing via walkie-talkie, meaning Tyreese was the one we needed to keep an eye on. Also, he was given a beautiful speech to give to Noah, which, as we all well know, is tantamount to a death sentence on this show. But Tyreese’s fate becomes secondary within the confines of the episode. Sure, we would all love to have Tyreese for a few more weeks, but he was offered one of the most gorgeous send-offs on the series to date, making for a truly magical episode.
As is so often the case with The Walking Dead, part of the reason “What Happened and What’s Going On” worked so well was that it only dealt with a small subsection of the cast. This pinpoint focus let Tyreese and Noah shine in ways they haven’t in the past. Giving us nearly 35 minutes alone with Tyreese was a brilliant decision, since, even after several years of having him on the show, the only other time we’ve really been able to spend this length of time with him without many other distractions was during last season’s incredible “The Grove.” But here, in contrast to then, it’s all about Tyreese and his own fear and guilt. We know a lot about Tyreese. He’s been fairly well fleshed out, which is an improvement for the series. He’s the moral compass (a position that is quickly turning into an automatic death sentence), a gentle giant who tried to maintain his humanity at all costs, even in the face of complete evil. It’s a hard role to maintain- especially on a series that is becoming more and more about the horrors humans inflict on one another. But Tyreese remembered how to forgive, which was, perhaps, his most important trait.
The most complex aspect of the episode, and the one I suspect will divide the most people, is using the string of dead characters to represent the inner struggle of Tyreese as he contemplates moving on to whatever life may exist beyond the mortal coil. Personally, I enjoyed seeing the characters return and argue whether or not Tyreese should continue to fight and live on in the walker-infested world. I could have done without The Governor. Having Martin there to represent the devil on Tyreese’s shoulder was more than enough, particularly since Tyreese spent more time alone with Martin than The Governor. But seeing Lizzie and Myka tell Tyreese there was nothing to fear in letting go, while Bob argued that Tyreese should survive and guild the group all worked perfectly. For me, the trope worked and it worked well.
Visually, the episode was also stunning. Kudos to Greg Nicotero, who directed the episode, for creating the right combination of confusion and haziness with the cuts between the various static images and the main action. The episode held an almost Terrence Malik-esque look to it, both in its storyline and visuals. It was well grounded in reality, though, despite the many side trips into the great beyond. There was just enough action to hold the interest of those who watch the show for the walker kills, and forward momentum for the show on the whole, as the gang has finally moved beyond Georgia and into Virginia. Most importantly, it was a fitting send-off for the show’s one remaining truly good-hearted character. Tyreese may have been physically built for this world, but he was just too good to thrive in it. And while that might have led to his death, he made the group better people by simply being with them. I struggle to think about what might happen to them without his presence.
— During my fever-filled weekend, I managed to finally finish watching the fourth season of The Wire, which, for those who haven’t tackled the series yet, co-stars Chad L. Coleman (Tyreese) as a similarly good-hearted gentle giant. Coleman is truly a wonderful talent, and here’s to hoping we see more of him in a new project soon.
— I wasn’t particularly clear as to how long it’s been since Beth’s death. According to Talking Dead, it’s been 17 days. And they’ve already made it to Virginia, so one assumes they started out pretty soon after burying Beth.
— For comic fans, this episode held a number of hints as to what might be coming in future episodes. All of which point toward more pain and suffering for the gang before the season is over.
— One thing that didn’t really ring true for me: Michonne’s sudden desire to find a community and settle down. She’s always been so slow to trust others, I find it hard to believe she’s suddenly all about hunkering down. Could she be lobbying for the moral center role? Because if so, I would advise against that, Michonne. . .