Any channel-flippers who stumble into this week’s Tales of the Walking Dead might think they’ve landed on a particularly gloomy Animal Planet documentary. Now is the time of “nature’s great reclamation effort,” drones an unseen narrator, over footage of animals and trees. The world, you see, is being rapidly reshaped by the arrival of an apex predator: Homo mortuus. They don’t sleep, they’re lethal alone or in packs, and they’ve rapidly ascended to the top of the food chain.
This faux-documentary opening is Tales of the Walking Dead’s clever way of making us see the walking dead with fresh eyes — the way a particularly clinical research scientist might process the horrors of the zombie apocalypse. Our narrator is Dr. Everett (Anthony Edwards), who has decided to spend the rest of his life observing the habits and patterns of zombies, which he sees as “the beauty of nature in its purest form.”
Dr. Everett’s observations have turned up some intriguing complexities. One specimen, he notes, is routinely the first to reach out to noise. He’s convinced that his favorite zombie, Specimen 21, has even shown signs of communal generosity, killing wild dogs and leaving them for his fellow zombies to eat.
None of that matters to Amy (Poppy Liu), the second half of the episode’s title pairing, who ends up squaring off against Specimen 21, whose alleged compassion doesn’t seem to extend to humans. She’s relieved when Dr. Everett pops in and drags her off to safety. It’s only later that she realizes he wasn’t trying to save her from Specimen 21 at all; he was trying to save Specimen 21 from her.
In concept, “Amy / Dr. Everett” recalls the series opener “Joe / Evie,” pairing a curmudgeonly loner with an idealistic woman who challenges his myopic worldview. But where the former episode tilted toward hope, “Amy / Dr. Everett” tilts toward despair. Back at Dr. Everett’s research station, Amy reveals the reason she’s been running around in the woods: Her group hopes to build and maintain a permanent settlement in a nearby area called the “dead sector.” But Everett has already given up on the idea of any human connection. In his eyes, it’s the zombies’ world now, and we’re just living in it.
Everett’s misanthropy, which he justifies by acting like it’s just scientific detachment, is challenged by his growing connection to Amy. He saves her from poison berries she has ingested, they bond over a shared love of poetry, and she even comes to appreciate aspects of his zombie research. She’s also astute enough to realize that — whatever he claims — his interest in the zombie horde is also laced with plenty of sentiment. Everett eventually admits that Specimen 21 is also his former friend and mentor Dr. Moseley, who he reconnected with just when he had given up hope. The man may be dead, but Everett’s “research” is a chance to spend a little more time with him.
In this way, Everett is much closer than he might like to admit to Amy’s worldview, which argues that human connection and memories are all we have. It’s this philosophy that leads the unlikely duo to track down Specimen 21 — who, unfortunately, has shambled his way over to the little camp being settled by Amy’s friends.
It’s a conflict that literalizes the tension between Everett and Amy’s philosophies: Is this world for the living or the dead? Amy chooses the living, fighting desperately to save her friends. Everett refuses to intervene — at least when humans are the ones in danger — leaving Amy to recognize the truly dark implications of Everett’s worldview.
In the end, she tries to help him one more time, when Specimen 21 stumbles into a river and starts to drift away. They try to save the zombie, even as Amy notes that Everett’s attachment to this zombie is a hypocritical betrayal of everything he says about letting nature run its course. But, they fail to rescue Specimen 21, leaving Everett heartbroken on the riverbank.
It’s here that he drops his last bombshell: His research has turned up some useful information after all. The settlement occupied by Amy’s group happens to be squarely in the migration path for a large zombie horde. Her friends are doomed, but she doesn’t have to go back, he insists — she could stay on as his research assistant, continuing his work after he’s gone just as he continues the work of Dr. Moseley.
She turns him down, of course. Amy isn’t willing to accept the world as it is; she wants to build a better one. “I would rather die than end up like you,” she tells him as she stalks back to the settlement.
And that’s exactly what happens. As the episode ends, Everett visits the settlement and finds everyone dead and reanimated as zombies, including Amy — more research subjects, and just when he needed them. But if there’s a glimmer of hope in this very dark ending, it’s that Amy’s hopeful worldview isn’t wrong just because she didn’t live long enough to build her better world. As she said, memories and human connection are all we have — and thanks to her, Everett now has plenty of both, as well as a new Specimen 21 to watch over.
• Here’s the full text of “Nature is what we see,” the Emily Dickinson poem Everett recites at the end of the episode.
• And while she never actually says the poem’s title or author, I’m guessing Amy was referring to “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, which you can read here.
• Dr. Moseley, Everett’s deceased friend and mentor, may be named in honor of the late actor Michael J. Moseley, who played one of Michonne’s pet zombies on The Walking Dead.
• Two more entries in the Walking Dead franchise’s ever-expanding list of things you can call a zombie that isn’t “zombie”: Homo mortuus, as coined by Dr. Everett, and “chompers,” as coined by Amy’s group.
• Dr. Everett’s homemade cure for fending off the toxic effects of unripe nightshade berries: charcoal water, spiraea, ginger, turmeric, and frankincense oil. Sounds delicious.
• According to the Walking Dead Wiki, Dr. Everett’s first name is Chauncey. I can see why he prefers Dr. Everett.