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If you were expecting a barn-burner follow-up to last week’s emotional farewell to Tyreese, well — you got your barn, but not much else. Think of a season of television as a rock concert, with each episode representing one song of a set list. This is the moment about three quarters of the way through the show where the band unplugs and plays a ballad or two. Maybe you spark up a joint, or sit down to rest for a minute, or hit the bathroom. Just as every song can’t be a mosh-pit anthem, every episode can’t be total zombie mayhem. Even Slayer knows you have to pace yourself or you’ll burn out.
So now we pause for a moment to examine the emotional and physical cost of what the survivors have been through. (And to recognize how badly these people need a shower.) The opener is a close-up of Maggie’s tear-soaked eyes. She doesn’t so much as flinch when a walker approaches from behind. Knife to skull, slump to the ground, resume crying. This is life: killing zombies, crying, loss, eating the occasional worm. They’re 60 miles outside Washington, three weeks removed from the showdown in Atlanta, a day and a half without water and all running on empty.
No one’s unscarred at this point, but at the moment, it’s Sasha, Daryl, and Maggie who are suffering the most (including baby Judith, who somehow, despite a complete lack of nutrition, is still a little chubster — it’s a dark show, but a baby withering away from malnourishment may be one line these writers won’t cross). It’s understandable, since the deaths of Tyreese and Beth hit those three the hardest.
Each of the three depressives manage their pain differently. Sasha acts out, ignoring Michonne’s blunt advice to not act “stupid,” like her brother once did. Sapped of energy and faced with a posse of walkers, the gang decides, smartly, to simply shove the fleshbags down an embankment, rather than waste energy or ammo in killing them — until Sasha goes rogue. As the others rush to her aid, Rick nearly gets chomped. Later, Sasha rejects the Sarge’s attempt to comfort her. Friends? We’re not friends, pal. Of course, we know that’s the anger and sadness talking.
Daryl is in pain, too. Instead of throwing tantrums that could get everyone killed, however, our favorite bike-riding bowman buries his grief. He's the only survivor who gets a pass whenever he decides to wander off solo in the woods to scavenge and brood sexily, but oh so vulnerably. Only when he’s alone does he allow himself to have a good cry. (Sure, he doesn’t even flinch when he burns himself with a smoke, but he still feels stuff!)
Like Daryl, Maggie also manages to look hot while on the verge of a breakdown, which I imagine is a requirement for all potential cast members. In what seems to be an attempt to address the critics (see: the entire viewing audience) who wondered why Maggie seemed unconcerned with her missing sister’s fate, she offers a rather unsatisfying explanation as she opens up to Glenn: “I never thought [Beth] was alive. I just didn’t. After Daddy, I don’t know if I couldn’t. And after what Daryl said, I hoped she was out there alive. And then finding out she was and she wasn’t in the same day — seeing her like that, it felt like none of it was ever really there.” So she was in denial that her sister even existed? Otherwise, if she had hoped Beth was out there alive, why not, I dunno, go look for her?
It’s worth noting that Father Gabriel is also rather down, thanks in part to Maggie reminding him that he’s a coward who let his congregation get eaten alive. But Gabe is so one-note that really, who cares at this point? He cries out to God for forgiveness, ditches his collar and takes a big ol’ bite of dog meat. Maybe Gabe will toughen up a bit, finally. Eugene is more useful at this point. At least he was willing to run a “quality control” test on that water left behind by the mysterious “friend,” who also seems to possess loose-leaf paper and a Sharpie. (Speaking of water, refusing another person’s offer of a drink — as Daryl, Sasha, and earlier this season, the Sarge have done — is the ultimate act of passive-aggressive pissyness in the apocalypse.)
The tempo picks up when the thunderstorms roll in and the gang takes cover in a nearby barn. There, Rick says he was wrong about how tough life must be for Carl; he’s a kid, and kids grow with the world around them. It’s a fair point, even though he’s probably not going to get any No. 1 Dad coffee mugs with that kind of talk. Rick also tells a story about his grandpa who fought in the war. As if it weren’t clear enough throughout the episode — as we watch the survivors amble down the road, nearly lifeless, barely outpacing the zombies on their trail — Rick drives the point home: “This is how we survive. We tell ourselves … that we … are the walking dead.” Whoa! That’s like the Fonz saying, “Hey, Richie, these are happy days. Ayyyyy.”
What they’re all debating at this point, either verbally or internally, is whether they can keep on keepin’ on. But amid the misery and the gruesome discoveries around every corner — a walker in a trunk, bound and gagged; the zombie child in the barn — there are still signs of hope. Just as it looked like the barn was about to be overrun (if only Judith could have done more than just lay there — baby really does not pull her weight), in comes a tornado to sweep the groaning horde away. (Cool shot the next morning of trees and zombies scattered everywhere, including one walker impaled on a high branch.) Sasha and Maggie watch a sunset. The music box plays for a moment. The gals share a hard-earned laugh.
And then enters a hunky guy with an LL Bean vibe and what appears to be access to loads of drinking water, a working shower, and bath products. How does he know Rick’s name? Does he realize that saying “stranger danger” makes him more, not less, creepy? Is there any chance he’s not a cannibal or a rapist or a child molester or a sociopathic cult leader or a Scientologist or something even more twisted? And what is this news he brings? Gotta give it up to Sasha and Maggie — even when the music box springs back to life, they keep this new friend squarely in their sights.
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