I’ve been wrestling with my thoughts regarding Still, the most recent episode of The Walking Dead. One one hand, there was some great character development and a number of very well paced and acted scenes… on the other, this is an episode that focuses on my two least favorite characters. I can’t say that I was necessarily bored, I wasn’t quite as captivated as I have been in previous episodes this season. For me, this ranks as the worst of season 4.5 thus far.
Some of you may be shocked to learn that Daryl is one of my least favorite characters… and I always feel the need to explain… so, let me explain. I think he is a fine character overall, and one that I’m happy was included in The Walking Dead regardless of whether or not he is in the books. My issues with Daryl probably have more to do with Norman Reedus; the control he has over the course of his character, and my apologies for this… but the constant drone of fan-girls going on and on about his bad-boy charms drive me up the wall (send hate mail to email@example.com). Mind you… I would be annoyed if there was a female character that got that much attention, so it’s not just some sort of jealousy of envy (which I’ve already been accused of), but it is more about pretension and making yourself unbelievably cool to the point that you become a cartoon.
On the flip side of that is Beth, who has never been properly developed as a character and has suffered greatly for the lack of consistency she has shown. One moment she is suicidal, the next she doesn’t care if her boyfriend dies, then she is a caring and nurturing surrogate mom for Judith, and now she hasn’t even mentioned the baby and seemingly left her in the care of Lizzie and Mika. Then again, she did just watch her father get decapitated… Judith was probably not at the forefront of her thoughts.
Still seems to be an attempt to correct much of what I just griped about in terms of beefing up the development for both of these characters… and as time passes between having seen it and now, I am warming up to this episode.
So what worked for me, and what didn’t? Let’s begin with what worked…
If there is one thing The Walking Dead is extremely skilled with, it’s the relatively silent cold opens and being able to convey so much tension and fear with relatively little effort… and the cold open as Daryl and Beth hide in a car’s trunk as a herd wanders past, oblivious to the tasty bento box on wheels, was a master class in horror. Follow that with some survival skills being put into motion as the pair work together seamlessly, much as our group had been doing at the beginning of the third season. Along these same lines, the moments inside the country club… mass suicide and murder, a horrific and evocative portrait of class warfare and desperation, and unlike some of my lesser appreciated moments of this episode, it wasn’t spelled out for us… the moment was allowed to stand on it’s own without commentary or exposition.
What didn’t work for me was a bit of a reversal in terms of exposition and having people yell their feelings at one another, and for as clever as having this pair get drunk as a means for that exposition to happen, it felt forced… and I just didn’t buy some of the over emoting and the notion that moonshine would be a better drink for Beth than Peach Schnapps, unless Daryl was trying to make sure she didn’t crave another drink in her life. The more recent trend towards showing us as opposed to telling us has been a great direction for the show… and this episode felt like a step back. Yes, it was good to learn something more about Daryl’s past, but so much of what we learn had already been inferred, and again, felt forced… at least the moment when he gets angry and decides to piss in a corner or sink or whatever it was he was doing before magically shaking and getting his junk zipped up in record time. Then again, what we did learn does inform us of who he is and what motivates him, and there was quite a bit of wonderfully written detail in his description of his less than stellar home life.
What I’m really saying here is that I am conflicted… I’m just not sure how I feel about Still. Would I have thought this were a better episode if there was another story arc happening along side this… maybe cutting back to Tyreese and Carol? Or was it specifically done this way to allow us to emotionally invest ourselves more fully into the despair these two are feeling throughout the hour? I’m also conflicted about what the overall theme of this half season is… my first thoughts were that this is a study in futility, that no matter what you do or try, everything will eventually turn to shit, regardless of intention. Since that time I’ve heard more people think of these as examples of hope… perhaps that is what we are meant to take away from these vignettes… that where there is a sense of futility, we continue on by leaning on hope when we need it most. In Still, Beth and her desire to have a drink were certainly more hopeful that Daryl’s brooding and stew of regret… in Inmates, it was Bob who was the beacon of hope to a despondent Sasha.
Well, shit… I think I’ve completely reversed my thoughts on the episode. I’m now realizing that much of what I didn’t like did in fact work in terms of giving us the exact character development we needed for these two… and it allowed Daryl to specifically berate some of the traits that Beth has that has seemingly made her such a weak character (the singing, two boyfriends, the lack of survival skills). I still think some of the scenes between the two were a bit heavy handed and ham fisted, and I believe the pacing would have worked if we have another arc to follow… but I may have been a bit harsh in my original assessment.
Still had a number of genuinely terrifying moments, it had character development, and it was a well constructed contrast in two different views of the world in the apocalypse… I am not bothered by the lack of forward momentum of the plot, I rather enjoy it when a story takes the time to dig a bit deeper into motivation… but I’m still somewhat annoyed at the return to “let’s yell what we are feeling at one another” that reminds me too much of any Rick/Lori or Shane/human interactions from previous seasons.
Although my position has softened throughout the course of writing this review… I would still consider this the worst of the back half of season four, but we have another four episodes to go before the finale… hopefully it will remain at the bottom, and if this is the bottom, than it’s a great season indeed.
I’m confused and need a drink,
Cornelius J. Blahg