THE WALKING DEAD Recap: “Them”

     February 15, 2015

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Poor Maggie doesn’t even get a chance to grieve properly after her sister’s death, because when she tries, a Walker comes after her through the vine-filled forest. She deals with it quickly, treating it as more of a nuisance than an actual threat. (Meanwhile, Daryl’s either going fishing or … no, no he’s just going to eat that worm. Okay.) Sasha’s searching for water and finds a line of dead frogs along a sandy path, but not a drop to drink. Turns out that the rest of the survivors haven’t had any luck finding fresh water either, and they’re about to land on some hard, dry times.

Their stomachs aren’t the only things running dry as their vehicle runs out of gas in the middle of the road. They stick to the asphalt, outpacing a group of Walkers behind them rather than dealing with them in their weakened state. Daryl and Carol head off to the woods to search for water and something to eat, while Father Gabriel picks the wrong soul to try to save in Maggie Greene. She’s not in any mood for salvation.

Meanwhile, the Walkers are following the gang like a pack of scavengers awaiting an easy meal. Sasha wants to take out the growing horde along with Michonne, but the more experienced warrior convinces her that it’s not the time, no matter how angry she is right now. Sasha wants to take out her frustration at the loss of her brother by decapitating a few Walkers; Carol and Daryl grieve for Beth in an altogether different way, though it will take Daryl some time to accept it.

walking-dead-season-5-image-andrew-lincolnRick and the gang finally decide to take on the shambling horde. They make their stand at the edge of a steep-banked overpass and … well, they just shove the Walkers over the side (or in Michonne’s case, just step out of the way). But Sasha’s bloodlust screws up their passive-aggressive plan, and she almost stabs Michonne in her frenzy; Abraham gets nicked in the arm with her blade. (Will that come back to … bite him?) Rick almost gets a savage bite to his arm, but Daryl arrives just in time to throw the offending Walker aside, by his scalp no less.

After handling the horde, they come across a group of abandoned cars. While Daryl circles through woods, they check each vehicle for anything useful. Maggie finds something decidedly not useful: a young, blonde woman-turned-Walker tied up in the trunk of a car. (Sounds familiar!) She closes the lid, then thinks twice and goes back to put it out of its misery but the key jams. She almost shoots the lock open, but Glenn stops her, manages to open it and put the Walker to rest.

In the woods, Daryl finds a young deer with its back gnawed down to its spine, and a creepily smiling dead man covered in blood sitting against a tree in the shade. There’s some real depressing, desperate imagery in this episode, and it’s fantastic. It really drives home the point that this has become an increasingly dire situation. And just when the gang is wondering if things can get any worse, a pack of hungry dogs emerges from the woods. Things could get ugly really quick, but Sasha puts them down. Suddenly, Rick & Co. have fresh meat to eat; the bloody dog collar in the foreground is yet another reminder of just how topsy-turvy their world has become.

walking-dead-season-5-imageMaggie’s having a tough time in this episode and seems ready to throw in the towel. Luckily, Good Guy Glenn is there to get her to keep fighting (and keep drinking water). Daryl, however, is too tough to accept water from Glenn and once again goes off in search of a fresh source. Instead, he finds a shady spot to rest and enjoy a cigarette while keeping a barn in sight. He holds the lit cigarette against his hand, hoping to feel something. (If this isn’t the most emo episode of The Walking Dead so far, I don’t know what is.)

When Daryl returns, the gang has found a peace offering (presumably) “From a Friend,” bottles and jugs of fresh water. Though Eugene tries to taste it for the good of the group, Abraham smacks the bottle out of his hand. Lucky for them, a rainstorm breaks out, but rather than trying to fill up their bottles with the mana from heaven, they just lay around like idiots getting soaked. Finally, Rick and Abraham bring them to their senses and they start to collect water. Father Gabriel apologizes to the Lord for his transgressions just as the storm turns ugly. They head to the barn for shelter, clearing it of one old, crawling Walker in a side room.

While Maggie and Carl sleep through the storm, the rest of them gather around a small fire to share in some revelations. Rick tells a story his grandfather told him about serving in World War II, in which the old soldier told himself he was dead each morning in order to go about his duty; in the end he survived and rejoined the real world. Rick likens his grandfather’s wartime mentality to their current situation; do what you have to do to survive and once the hard part is over, get back to making the world a better place. Rick calls himself and his survivors “the Walking Dead,” and Daryl is not pleased with the comparison.

walking-dead-season-5-image-michael-cudlitzThings had been going relatively slow for this hour, which was all fine and dandy, except that it lulled us into a false sense of security. That seeming peace is shattered when a sizable horde of Walkers descends on the barn in the midst of the storm, and it takes the combined strength of all of our human heroes (minus baby Judith) to hold fast the doors. It’s an amazing scene filled with raw emotion, down and dirty effort, and a symbolic clash of the Walkers against the newly christened Walking Dead. We next see the gang peacefully at rest the next morning. But what happened to the Walkers? It’s not as if the horde would have just given up and wandered away…

Maggie and Sasha venture out to see that the storm’s wrath carved a path of destruction through the woods that impaled and decimated the horde of Walkers, but blissfully avoided destroying the barn. They share a sunrise and a mutual support in the face of an emotionally crippling loss. They even manage to share a laugh over a music box that Daryl supposedly fixed, but that breaks immediately. That levity is short-lived as a stranger appears at the edge of the field. The women draw their weapons as the stranger, who introduces himself as Aaron, says he’s a friend who wants to talk to Rick. Apparently he has good news, and for extra creepy effect, the music box starts playing once more.

I’m sure that Aaron’s arrival means something to fans of the comics, but for the sake of spoilers, we’ll save that discussion for another time. That being said, it was a nice stinger for the end of an episode that focused mainly on the survivors and how they deal with their personal grief. Is this hour all they get to come to terms with their losses? And with the arrival of this new potential threat, will there be more traumatic losses before season’s end?

walking-dead-season-5-image-steven-yeunAs far as traditional episodes of The Walking Dead go, this one was quite different, and therefore a bit more difficult to rate. While we did get a couple Walker-killing action sequences, our heroes were equally slow-moving owing to their state of dehydration and hunger. The pace itself was equally drawn out, allowing for some introspective moments and pauses for reflection. Some great scenes were carved out for Maggie and Sasha to be able to hold onto each other for support. However, over the course of this episode, “Them” splashed in some religious thematic elements (Father Gabriel burning his collar, Maggie putting religion behind her, Maggie happening upon the Holy Bible, and the furious power of the storm saving the survivors and destroying the Walkers), but ultimately left those questions unanswered. Perhaps we’ll return to those bigger elements in the future … after we sort Aaron out.

Rating: ★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television

(An explanation of our ratings system follows here.)

Miscellanea:

Sasha: “How much longer we got?” Maggie: “60 miles.” Sasha: “I wasn’t talkin’ about that.”

Daryl: “We’re not at our strongest. We’ll get em when it’s best, high ground or something like that.”

Maggie: “My daddy was religious; I used to be.”

walking-dead-season-5-imageMichonne (to Sasha): “I told you to stop.”

Eugene: “I truly do not know if things can get any worse.”

Father Gabriel tossing his priest’s collar in the fire was a bit dramatic, especially since he hasn’t really had much of an arc lately to lead him to that conclusion.

Eugene: “Quality assurance.”

Carol: “She had a gun.” Maggie: “She could have shot herself.” Carol: “Some people can’t give up. Like us.”

Rick: “I used to feel sorry for kids who have to grow up now, in this. But I think I got it wrong. Growing up’s getting used to the world. This is easier for them.” Michonne: “This isn’t the world. This isn’t it.” Glenn: “It might be.”

Rick: “This is how we survive. We tell ourselves that we are the Walking Dead.”

Maggie: “It’s okay to rest now.”

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