Now we’re getting somewhere — literally. After a leisurely paced episode last week, this edition wastes no time throwing Rick and the gang right into some potentially game-changing action. Maggie and Sasha have returned with their handsome, disturbingly well groomed friend Aaron, who makes one whopper of a recruitment pitch for his secret camp. (Photos! Applesauce! Crazy-thick walls! A robust real-estate market! All this and more can be yours, friends.) Everything that unfolds from there comes back to one essential question: After all of the hollow promises of safety in the past, how can the gang trust anyone?
Aaron’s ‘hood sounds like the real deal, and he says all the right things, save for a joke that bombs, hard. Mid-speech, however, Rick delivers his rebuttal, in the form of a right cross that knocks Aaron out cold. (One of the many wonders of Hollywood: the one-punch knockout that never fails to render the victim unconscious.) Rick’s had his fill of false prophets. So at every step, he prepares for the worst and offers no trust. Even when Aaron offers up his applesauce, Rick anticipates some nefarious trap. The scene has a few moments of unintended comedy, with Rick awkwardly trying to make acorn mush for Judith with the butt of his pistol, and later spoon-feeding Aaron like a baby as he grimaces. (Note that Aaron’s mom thought eating certain foods would make him more “manly.”) The guy worked for a do-gooding NGO and left you a buttload of water, Rick. How can he be trouble?
Thanks to his still-working watch, Rick gives the search party an hour to find Aaron’s cars — if they’re not back in 60, he promises, Aaron’s meeting the business end of Rick’s machete. For all his toughness, it’s Michonne who emerges as the rational thinker, an unquestioned leader, and an emotional foil that somehow penetrates Rick’s hard heart. She also throws him a ton of shade in this episode. Just when it looks like the Ricktatorship is back, she speaks up. We’re looking for the cars. We’re going to find this camp.
That doesn’t mean Michonne has completely let her guard down. In the car ride en route to Aaron’s camp, she takes a look through his photos (something you’d think they would have done a while ago). Aaron’s excuse for why there are no people in the photos sounds fishy, so Michonne hits him with Rick’s “Who Have You Killed?” quiz — walkers, humans, why? Things get weirder as Rick rifles through the deepest glove box in the history of automobiles. A license plate collection! A parabolic microphone for spying! I was expecting him to pull a puppy, a 12-inch sub, and a shovel out of that thing too.
In the ensuing zombie drama that follows, we’re treated to two fun scenes: an overhead shot of their car mowing down walkers, and the Creative Kill of the Night, as Rick blasts one in the eyeball with a flare that lights up its skull like a jack-o-lantern. (Brief aside: Aaron has a nickname for the undead we haven’t heard yet: “roamers.” Why doesn’t everyone call them “zombies”? That’s what they are. It seems safe to assume that George Romero films existed in this world. And you know that when the outbreak began, cable TV news and Twitter must have called them something. Speaking of social media, if there’s one upside to this new world, it’s that YOLO is now obsolete. Chances are good you won’t live just once.)
All along, we’re wondering about Aaron’s friend, who seems to be lying in wait behind a tractor at one point. Turns out his pal Eric is also his lover! Eric wasn’t set for an ambush; he was just stuck with his ankle crushed under a tire. Sigh. Oh, Eric! Whatever will we do with you? Though Rick seems to have eavesdropped on their touching reunion, he still isn’t ready to trust these guys. But the group is on Aaron’s side; he even gets a laugh with a line about his sudden aversion to driving.
The next morning, the group heads to Alexandria, and on the way, there’s a glimpse of the White House and the Washington Monument. It appears that D.C. is in much better shape than Atlanta. (Wonder if any politicians are hiding out at Aaron’s place. Figure they’d be more at home with the Terminus crew.) Earlier, during one of their many heart-to-hearts in this episode, Rick tells Michonne he’d go to the camp, but he can’t promise he’ll walk through those gates. He’s still skeptical enough to stash a pistol in a blender on the outside, just in case it all goes to shit and he needs firepower. At Woodbury, at Terminus, there was an eerie silence behind the walls. What could convince him to enter this time?
We find the answer as his car approaches the Alexandria gates, and Rick hears the faint cacophony of children playing. Michonne asks if he’s ready and takes his hand. (Yes! Is this tender moment a hint of what’s to come? I’m totally in favor of a Rick and Michonne hookup. Maybe they find a cute house, settle down, open a café together.) “Yeah,” Rick says, but in what could be the most shocking moment of the night, he first needs to grab Judith, who’s rolling around in the backseat on a blanket. (Jesus, man, get the kid a car seat! Forget the walkers — you hit one pothole in that jalopy and she’s a goner.)
Rick holds his baby, smiles. The sun glistens. “Should we go?” he asks, kissing her and stepping forward toward the unknown. I wonder if Rick recalls the “audition” process that Aaron mentions. Membership isn’t guaranteed here. Who decides? Is it Pete the surgeon? And those steel walls Aaron bragged about — maybe they’re not so impenetrable. Or maybe, just maybe, the real danger lies not on the outside … but within! Dun dun DUUUUUNNNN!