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Sometimes a slower episode of The Walking Dead works well. Case in point, last week’s swan song for Tyreese wasn’t a barn burner when it came to plot, but it worked incredibly well in terms of character. However, sometimes The Walking Dead gets a bit too caught up in itself and turns in a slow burn episode that highlights the slow over the burn. “Them” is one such miss.
“Them” comes from the right place. We did need to see the gang wrestle with the recent big deaths in their group. We needed to see Maggie acknowledge that she has now lost her entire family and see Sasha do the same. We needed to see Beth’s death resonate with Daryl. But we didn’t need an entire episode focused on the three characters ignoring their grief, becoming destructive in their own ways, and then finally accepting their lot in life and opting to fight on. That isn’t to say “Them” didn’t have some lovely moments, but by the end of the hour I felt as if the episode’s writer, Heather Bellson, had been hitting me over the head with the idea that each remaining character needs to find something within their soul to inspire their continual fight- which is the entire point of the series. We’ve known this from day one. We don’t need to be told it again and again.
But, there were scenes that worked to illustrate the theme of the episode without bludgeoning the audience in the process. The quiet moment in the woods between Carol and Daryl managed to accomplish what Bellson set out to do. We learned a bit more about Daryl’s grieving process through Carol’s gentle confrontation with the normally stoic man. We also, in turn, learned a bit more about Carol, who has opted to reject processing her own emotions in order to continue to survive in this world (which, in and of itself, would be a really interesting element of her character to explore down the road). The conversation between Michonne and Sasha also served a similar purpose, even though reckless Sasha rejected Michonne’s words and actions and almost got people (including herself) killed in the process. And Maggie’s rejection of Father Gabriel’s offer of a kind ear showed us where she stands following the loss of Beth.
But everything that comes after these quick peeks into the emotional turmoil that racks Maggie, Daryl, and Sasha is more of the same with less emotional impact. Watching them ignore everyone around them and retreat into themselves may be accurate to how each might handle their situation, but it doesn’t make for compelling television. But perhaps the most tedious and annoying moment of the episode came at the end, when our three grieving characters are the first to step up and hold back the attacking walker horde. Their actions, clearly meant to symbolize that the three have come to the end of their general depression and have decided to live, was so ridiculously contrived. Moreover, how the gang managed to hold off the walkers is never really explained- everyone is simply seen sleeping moments later and it appears a tornado (really bad wind storm? divine intervention?) managed to sweep away the walkers and save the barn. If it was in fact a tornado, that managed to magically miss the barn, the Grimes Gang truly is one of the luckiest groups of people in the world.
Outside of exploring the emotional state of Maggie, Sasha, and Daryl, the episode also addressed one of the major complaints about the show- how the gang manages to constantly find food, water, and working cars in a world with a finite number of options available. It was certainly interesting to see how Rick led in the face of serious supply issues. But there was zero doubt that the gang would eventually find food and water- after all, if they didn’t there would be no show. Still, watching Rick lead his people through the small hiccup was interesting. It’s been so long since we’ve had the entire group of survivors together in one place that seeing how relationships have formed was a welcome change. It appears that the group will be sticking together, at least for the foreseeable future, so I’m eager to explore the greater group dynamic- something the season has really lost track off.
“Them” had strong moments. But a strong episode of The Walking Dead balances character development with action and forward plot movement. This week we were given momentary flashes of character development, a strangely out of place action scene with no resolution, and a brief moment of forward plot movement in the episode’s final three minutes. It was a scattered episode that just didn’t work all the way through. Which is disappointing, as I would have liked a great episode highlighting Maggie and Sasha- two characters who have been pushed to the background of late when they should be front and center.
— I was particularly miffed with the piece of plot revision within the episode regarding Maggie’s thoughts on Beth when she was missing. Apparently Maggie thought Beth was dead the whole time. Which is fine. It’s just, maybe the writers could have had her express this thought at some point during the last season and a half? Because throwing that out now doesn’t negate how horribly the writers handled this element of the Beth storyline.
— How wonderful is the Carol-Daryl relationship? It’s really one of the jewels of the series. The chemistry between Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus is so strong. Even if nothing romantic comes of it, I’m perfectly happy watching the two interact on a purely platonic level. Could we get another Carol-Daryl solo episode some time soon?
— I’m sure the writers have been waiting awhile to bring out the “We are the walking dead.” speech. But I can’t help but think it was wasted on this episode.
— Nice to see that Abraham is still looking out for Eugene. Especially since it looked like everyone else in the gang was more than willing to let him be the water jug guinea pig.
— What’s the over-under on whether or not Aaron is part of another psycho gang? Personally, I’d love for him to be part of a really awesome group of nice people. It would be a lovely change. Although, he did know Rick’s name. Which is never good.