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By the end of this episode, I felt a lot like Sasha — all of the small talk and new faces made me want to scream. Dangerous as life is on the outside, it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than what’s happening within the walls of Alexandria, where even Daryl is starting to get comfortable. Rick also seems to be wavering between his inherent distrust of anything that appears too good to be true and his desire to build a normal life for his kids. If not for Carol’s nightmarish threat, and the tragically short life of Buttons the horse, it was a relatively slow hour.
Let’s begin with some intrigue, as Rick, Carol, and Daryl meet in secret to discuss a plan for when this all inevitably goes to shit. The trio decides to steal some guns and stash them in the house where Rick hid a pistol. (They assume the Alexandria folks found that firearm, but smart money is still on Enid.) At this point, all three agree their new hosts can’t be trusted, but by the episode’s end, only Carol seems firmly committed to the cause. Two questions here: Why cut out Michonne, who’s been Rick’s consigliere on most important decisions lately (and is also now the Cash to his Tango)? And what’s up with the W carved into that zombie’s forehead? It seemed reminiscent of the A stamps that Jessie’s son was handing out at the house party.
That party — Deanna’s attempt to welcome the newcomers — is a strange affair. Carol made cookies, there’s plenty of beer, and lots of chitchat about recipes and books clubs and all the mundane stuff that disappeared when people started reanimating and eating flesh. It’s even weird to see the gang showered and dressed up in their finest cocktail-casual attire — Rick in a white button-down, the Sarge in a long-sleeve polo, Rosita in a sensible tank top/sweater combo. (Speaking of fashion, Carol is so apocalypse on-trend with her floral sweater and slacks.) We finally meet Deanna’s husband and the architect of the wall, Redge. He’s slim and professorial and lays it on thick with compliments for Rick.
Jessie also does her best to make Rick feel at ease. She introduces Rick to her hubby, Pete — who is indeed the doctor Aaron referred to a while back. He’s also oddly friendly, considering his standoffish exchange with Rick from his porch. Pete snaps at Jessie when she offers to help him get drinks, suggesting two things — he’s not so nice, and he wants her to keep giving Rick the hard-sell pitch on life in Alexandria. Her youngest son gives Rick an A stamp on his hand, and Jessie says, “You’re officially one of us.” This place is feeling less like Woodbury II and more like a very well-fortified Scientology recruitment center. (Rick also gives Jessie a lingering kiss on the cheek, setting up a potential love triangle. Not good for town morale, and not a wise move for the new sheriff.)
Amid the awkward mixing and mingling, we see who’s trying to assimilate, and who’s not — namely Sasha, Noah, and Daryl. Sasha is suffering from some serious walker PTSD; a simple offer to fix her a meal leads to a total meltdown. She wants to work as a watchtower guard and asks for as many shifts as possible. Sasha’s like the solider who can’t adjust to life back home, so she signs up for tour after tour. Deanna’s plan is to team her up with her hunky son, Spencer, who tries to break the ice with a joke about Mrs. Neudermeyer’s obsession with finding a pasta machine. (The same line Eric uses on Daryl.) But neither his good looks nor his quip put her at ease.
Daryl never makes it to the party. Instead, he hangs with his new unlikely pal, Aaron. Everyone here at Alexandria seems to have a sales pitch, as if they’re working from scripts. Aaron plays off the outsider theme — me and Eric, we’re different, too. We get you. Even Daryl isn’t strong enough to resist Aaron’s three-pronged plan. First, try to rescue an adorable horse, adorably nicknamed Buttons, who’s been running wild; Daryl was moved by Aaron’s efforts. (Buttons’ demise — slowly dragged down by walkers, violently torn apart — was more moving than most human deaths. Rest in peace, Buttons. Hope you’re with Mr. Ed and Li’l Sebastian on that great ranch in the sky.) Then invite Daryl over for spaghetti, where you will accept his food slurping and use of his sleeve as a napkin. The coup de grace: Tell him you’ve asked Deanna to make him a recruiter, because aside from being a badass, Daryl knows good people from bad. Sold! “Well, I got nothing else to do,” the archer says. “Thanks.” That’s the Daryl equivalent of doing cartwheels and clicking his heels together.
As both Daryl and Rick begin to buy into the Alexandria lifestyle, it’s Carol who proves she’s got the biggest balls of them all. (Even Michonne is hanging up her sword.) The soccer-mom look is a ruse, her way of remaining “invisible,” like she felt in her old life. Now she uses that to her advantage, slipping away from the party and into the armory — where she finds Jessie’s son Sam, the cookie addict, has followed her. Maggie might have tried to reason with the kid. Maybe Michonne would have scared him a little, hoping he’ll keep his snack-hole shut. Not Carol. She goes nuclear, spinning an epic tale of what will happen if he rats on her — you’ll wake up outside the walls, tied to a tree, so very far away, but in those woods, no one will hear you scream, except for the monsters, who tear you apart and eat you up, while you can still feel it, and your Mommy and Daddy will never know what happened to you. Damn. Even I felt traumatized after hearing that. Perhaps Carol laid it on a bit too thick, especially if Jessie asks why her son is having these horrible nightmares all of the sudden. Depending on your viewpoint, Carol could be considered one of the “bad people” now — one person’s survival tactic is another’s sin.
By the end, Rick’s triumvirate is fractured. Carol is sticking with the plan, but Daryl isn’t sure they need the secret firearm stash anymore. That leaves Rick stuck in the middle. He takes a contraband gun, but when Rick sees Jessie, they exchange A-stamp shout-outs. It seems lines will be drawn between those who are ready to lay down arms and assimilate, and folks like Carol, who trust no one and will set you on fire and make your children cry. (A long-shot theory: What if Alexandria really is the Mayberry of the apocalypse, but it’s Carol and Rick and Sasha who destroy it with their take-no-prisoners tactics?) Like some poet once said, nothing safe can stay. Which is good, because utopia does not make for great television.
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