The Walking Dead
Don’t let the oddly literal and unsexy title of this episode fool you — the kickoff to the back eight of season five is a stunner. You want action? There’s plenty. Existential apocalyptic angst? Check. Good, old-fashioned zombie gore? In spades. Ghost cameos? Yes, ghost cameos. And it all ends with a triple-Kleenex moment that reminds us why these survivors are still trying to push forward after all they’ve been through rather than simply wave a white flag and call it quits.
The opening scenes are moody and impressionistic, with only enough dialogue to set the table for what’s happening. We see Maggie weeping, then catch a brief glimpse of Father Gabriel presiding over a burial: “We know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God. A house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens.” Logic would suggest it’s Beth’s funeral we’re witnessing; last we saw of the group, they’d reunited as Daryl carried Beth’s body out of the hospital. But what of these flash vignettes? Photos of two young black children — brothers, it seems. (A young Noah, perhaps?) Abandoned cars. Skeletal remains. A framed painting of a small cottage, splattered with blood. Trees passing by. Soon it becomes clear that these are all pieces of a puzzle that’s assembled slowly over the course of the hour, and the picture it reveals is a grim one.
Noah tells Rick that he and Beth had a plan to head back to Noah’s house just outside of Richmond, Virginia, where his family had fortified themselves. So it’s back on the road again for them, along with Michonne, Glenn, and Tyreese behind the wheel. I’m still puzzled by the existence of working walkie-talkies at this point in mankind’s collapse, but Rick uses one to keep in touch with Carol back at base camp (wherever that is, exactly).
Here’s where those puzzle pieces begin to fall into place. Noah’s father is dead, he says, but he hopes his mother and twin brothers — the boys in those photographs — are still safe. As they pull off the roadside near Noah’s old neighborhood, the Shirewilt Estates, there’s those abandoned cars and that skeleton. Tyreese also tells a story about his father, who probably listened to NPR and read the newspaper at the kitchen table every morning. Follow the news, take note of what’s going on around you, he’d tell little Tyreese and Sasha. “Paying the high cost of living,” he called it — facing life head-on.
Whatever safety Shirewilt once offered is now gone; it’s been replaced by bodies and burned-out homes. Noah collapses in tears and Tyreese tries to comfort him with a “choose to live” speech. “This isn’t the end,” he tells him. It’s typical Tyreese — playing the role of protector, the good guy. He’s arguably the purest “hero” still left among them. It’s also cruelly ironic, given what’s to come.
The group agrees to stick around and scavenge — a decision that seems sound at the time, but as we know, there’s no such thing as an easy errand for this crew. Noah can’t help but return to his house and see for himself if there’s any trace left of his family. Turns out it’s the house we saw in the opener, with clothes scattered on the lawn and crimson splashed across the open front doorway. Noah’s mother is face-down on the carpet, a large chunk of her skull no longer there. Tyreese finds one of Noah’s brothers on his bed, partially eaten. Above him on the wall, those photos of the boys that we saw earlier. It’s such an unsettling tableau — the corpse of a child in his bedroom, still decorated with toys and snapshots — that Tyreese doesn’t hear the undead twin brother behind him. (I will never not wonder how these groaning, slow-moving flesh-bags still manage to sneak up on people. Also curious: how that walker got out of his bedroom, since the door appeared closed.) The tussle ends with Noah finishing his little bro with a fighter jet to the face and Tyreese losing a chunk of his forearm to a zombie bite.
The episode kicks into another gear as Noah runs off to get help, leaving poor Ty alone to bleed out and hallucinate. There’s the asshole from Terminus whose life he spared, chewing gum and saying I told ya so. If Tyreese had killed him when he should have, maybe none of this would have happened. “Domino shit,“ he says. Nonsense, says one-legged Bob, insisting this was all meant to happen. The feverish cameos continue — the Governor barking about earning your keep; the bloody Lizzie and Mika; and Beth, who even in death is still haunting this world with her incessant singing. When the imaginary Guv morphs into a very real walker, Ty has little choice but to use his forearm as a zombie chew-toy. Of all the tight-quarters combat we’ve seen, this moment could be the most intense. The close-ups of the monster snapping its jaw in Tyreese’s face, nose to rotted nose, is a reminder that this show can still be horrifying.
Before Noah returns with reinforcements, Rick agrees with Michonne’s new plan — head to Washington, even though Eugene’s cure is fiction. Her rationale makes sense. Where the hell else would they go now? Three of the night’s most intense moments follow. What looks like an easy kill for Michonne turns into a struggle when her sword bounces off a piece of rebar stuck in her target’s neck. Moments later, the sisters holding Ty’s hand morph into Rick, who’s prepping his pal for samurai-sword surgery. “One hit, clean, go!” he yells, and Michonne cuts Ty’s arm in half, as he and most of the viewing audience passes out. Finally, as they scramble to escape, there’s a dazzling slow-motion fight scene at the Shirewilt gates, featuring some of the coolest special effects in the series to date. Michonne decapitates one zombie and gives another a nasty lid reduction as Rick pumps two bullets into a third walker as it closes in on Noah.
They make it to their truck, where they discover what happened to the tops of all those zombie bottoms they found outside the Shirewilt walls. (Why were they chopped in half? No idea, but the reason why seems less important than the symbolism — another sign of how desperate and dark these times have become.)
Tyreese is not looking good, figuratively or literally: He’s still seeing visions of the dead. Some of those puzzle-piece snapshots from the opener were actually a preview of Tyreese’s final thoughts — trees passing by, the watchtower at the prison, the train tracks to Terminus. Tyreese hears a news report in his mind, a reminder that life is hell. “Turn it off,” he says. His last words suggest he can’t bear to see this world for what it is anymore. He can’t be the hero in a place where the white hats either get dirty — like Rick and Glenn, who admit they both would have killed Dawn if Daryl didn’t first — or die. “People like me,” Tyreese told the Guv, “they can’t live.”
So, it turns out that wasn’t Beth’s burial we saw in the opener. Sasha stumbles in a daze — in just a couple days, she’s now lost her boyfriend and her brother — leaving Rick to finish the job of putting shovel to earth. The episode ends with a shot of Tyreese’s cap atop a makeshift cross. No music over the closing credits, only the sound of Rick digging, ringing out to a most haunting effect (the same sound that opened the episode as well). Now it’s on to D.C., in search of safe haven and a new babysitter for Judith, since we know that deadbeat dad of hers won’t be carrying her around. Almost as cruel as Tyreese’s death is the thought that the thug from Terminus was right all along. But through him, we understand why these survivors haven’t given up — to honor the hero’s spirit inside each of them, and to pay tribute to those they’ve lost. Rest in peace, big man.