'The Walking Dead' Recap: It's Time to Play Dead

'The Walking Dead' Recap: It's Time to Play Dead
(AMC)


For a show that creates a practically palpable electrical current in living rooms across America each week thanks to its intensity, blood and gore, and acts of depravity borne from human desperation, sometimes The Walking Dead's finest hours are those coated in silence and introspection. Tonight's episode, "Them," is a perfect example of the writers' and producers' brilliant use of subtlety to advance the story on a cerebral level for fans who thirst for meaning in the post-Apocalyptic world. Tonight was aimed at those who are as taken with the profound big picture as they are with the sight of a walker or evil human foe meeting a violent end in an epic display of special FX.

Unquenchable Thirst

Everyone's thirsty for a sign that they will individually be able to persevere this week, and as a group, the need for water to nourish their bodies is a dire one. Each member of the group is dehydrated, exhausted, and overwrought. Turns out the road to DC is lacking the moist red clay dotted with streams they took for granted back in Georgia. And the result is a serious hit on the group's overall psyche. In the unyielding sun, their woozy, staggering forms could easily be mistaken for walkers.

Once among the strongest warriors, Maggie's realization that the last member of her family is gone has turned her weak, forlorn, and almost submissive to the never-ending blood thirst of the walkers. Even Carl's thoughtful gift of a broken music box — the classic, all-American girly kind in which a ballerina as delicate as Beth once twirled — doesn't reach her. Nor does husband Glenn lovingly giving her a pep talk.

Daryl may be okay with sourcing live worms for much-needed protein, but the fact is if he doesn't properly acknowledge Beth's death soon, even his auto pilot ability to protect the group might dissolve, leaving Rick without a real second-in-command.

Noah, aware that he inadvertently caused the deaths of two beloved people, openly voices how he isn't sure he can go on.

Abraham soldiers on, going through the motions of interacting with the group, but he's only able to do so with the help of some booze. And even Rosita, his lover and closest ally, worries that too much booze might bring his uglier side out.

Father Gabriel's perpetually-pressed preacher suit has finally been wrecked by sweat, dirt, and upset. His last bit of humor is destroyed after an attempt to engage a listless Maggie in conversation. Worse yet, his faith in a higher power soon follows.

And Sasha, well, she's a loose cannon who is slowly showing signs that her own personal devastation may in fact hinder the group's overall safety.

But, for me, perhaps the most damning sign of the non-existent morale is that Baby Judith is clearly realllllly getting hungry, yet her Daddy is soothing his own fears by pretending she isn't.

Glenn and Carol are the only people who even seem to have any drive left in them during this drought, but it's just not enough to provide the kind of salvation needed to set everyone's heads straight and get them back in the game.

With no success in the search for a water source, the group is dejectedly sitting on the side of the road, mostly in silence. While ruminating on how things can't seem to get worse, a pack of feral dogs emerges from the woods. Because of course they do.

Sasha unflinchingly shoots them all, and while it's a blessing to have any meal that isn't a worm or swig of whiskey, the looks on their faces at having to resort to eating dogs says it all. It's a new low. This is survival at its darkest. Perhaps best illustrated by Father Gabriel tossing his now filthy priestly collar into the fire and watching it burn away.

Daryl breaks away from the group under the guise of once again seeking out that elusive water source. Only this time, he's finally ready for a breakthrough. After smoking a broken cigarette and putting it out on his own flesh — presumably as a test to see if he could feel anything — the tears finally come. He begins to come to terms with the loss of Beth and the uncertainty of what lies ahead in DC. And just like that, the ovulation cycles of millions of female viewers sync up!

When It Rains It Pours

After putting his game face back on and returning to the group, Daryl finds Rick clutching a very disturbing note next to a supply of bottled water that simply reads, "From a friend." With the exception of naive Eugene, every single person stares at the water gift as if Satan himself bottled it up, because there's no such things as secret friends in the new world order.

Before the new worry of yet another band of enemies and recollections of Terminus BBQs can even begin to rear their heads, the sky opens up. It rains and thunders as though somewhere up there, Beth herself decided to go bowling with the angels. Paranoia and the realization that They Are Not Alone, takes a backseat to smiles, grateful laughter, and the quenching of their massive thirst as each member of the group opens wide to drink directly from the deluge. Even Father Gabriel makes peace with his God, issuing a sort of whoopsy daisy, sorry I lost faith apology, aimed at the generous storm clouds above.

Given the storm's severity, it's apparent they will need shelter and Daryl leads them to a barn he discovered minutes earlier during his private crying jag. It's empty with the exception of one female walker in a horse stall whom Maggie wryly observes as having been in possession of a gun she could have used to end her misery. "Some people can't give up. Like us," Carol reminds her, and slowly but surely, the veil of doom and gloom starts to lift off Maggie.

The Walking Dead Are Not Who We Think They Are!

Despite the ominous note from a new enemy, Rick finally fully resumes the role of leader. Sure, since re-assuming the role after having briefly given it up when Lori died, he has tactically and logistically guided everyone to safety and seen them through the absolute worst up to this point (um, jugular vein chomping, anyone?) But for the first time since I can't even remember, our sheriff is back in full coach mode, offering calm words of wisdom and mentally building up his team so they they can become a strong unit again.

In perhaps the most meaningful dialogue of this season, and hell, maybe the entire run of the show, Rick likens their current experiences to what his grandfather endured in WWII. Every day while actively fighting in enemy territory, Grandpa Grimes would pretend he was symbolically already dead. And after a few years of pretending he was dead, he made it out alive. "And that's the trick of it I think. We do what we need to do and then we get to live. But no matter what we found in DC. I know we will be okay. Because THIS is how we survive. We tell ourselves that WE are the walking dead."

BOOM. MIC DROP.

Now we know for a fact that the show's title isn't based on the throngs of corpses stumbling around seeking their next meal, but on the survivors themselves. It only took us dozens of episodes to make sense of it!

While Daryl, who isn't fully 100% back to his Dixon self, is inclined to disagree with this approach, everyone else lets it sink in and it becomes clear it's exactly what they needed to hear to regroup.
The storm rages on. In what almost appears to be a dream sequence, Daryl sees a huge crowd of walkers attempting to bust through the barn's chained doors as lightening does what lightening does: be scary and take its energy out on the trees and walkers below. The entire group spends much of the night pushing back against the door and in doing so pushing back all their own issues, trauma and depression. Resilience returns.

Fact: Music Boxes Were Creepy Before the Apocalypse and Always Will Be Creepy

The next morning, a still physically exhausted but emotionally refreshed Maggie wakes up Sasha, whom everyone assumes is still unhinged, to go take in the sunrise. Maybe this will finally chill her the hell out. On their way out, Daryl hands Maggie the broken music box which he was able to fix because of COURSE the toughest, redneck archer we've ever seen knows just how to revive a dainty trinket. Giant, fallen trees litter the ground, imprisoning dozens of writhing walkers.

The ladies settle in to enjoy the glow of hope coming from the pink horizon and even enjoy a laugh when it becomes evident that the music box is actually still broken. Out of nowhere, a dude just a wee bit too freshly showered for my comfort with an overly friendly demeanor to match, approaches them. He is greeted by their guns.

He says his name is Aaron, that he understands (derrr, LOOK AT THE FIRE ARMS aimed at you) that Maggie and Sasha might be experiencing a little bit of "stranger danger" (YOU DON'T SAY) but have no fear he's good people and would really like to speak to their leader whom he identifies as Rick. Allegedly, he "has good news."

With that suspicious proclamation, the music box eerily begins to play and its gossamer ballerina twirls in the pastel sunrise.

Things — ok, the one giant thing — to make our minds twirl until next week:

WHO IS AARON AND WHAT DOES HE WANT? My feeling is he is an emissary of Morgan's but that still just doesn't sit right. What do you think? While there is maybe a .00000000000001% chance he isn't up to no good, I trust no one and part of me (ok, a lot of me) hopes Maggie and Sasha will shoot first and then ask questions. Smell ya later, spiffy looking Aaron!








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