I was quite critical of last week’s episode of The Walking Dead, Still… but after seeing Alone, the thirteenth episode of the fourth season, much of what I was critical of (too much time with Beth and Daryl) paid off in a big way, and I stand corrected. I’m thinking that taken as a whole as opposed to taken as an individual chapter, Still was a spectacular lead in for what I believe may be one of my favorite episodes of the series to date, standing right alongside Days Gone By and Clear as amazing examples of a show delivering an incredible balance of character development, horrific action sequences, and genuine dramatic tension.
The cold opens this season have been remarkable, and getting a glimpse into Bob’s backstory and how Daryl and Glenn came to find him was a welcome surprise, and a much needed piece of information for what has been one of the least developed characters in the show. Although we see little of his life before meeting up with our heroes, we do get a better sense of how it was he survived on his own… he was creative, clever, and chugging whatever form of alcohol he could find… and who could blame him. Being alone in that scenario just feels bleak and miserable, and his quiet determination to simply stay alive, whether it was building a make shift prison cell for himself or keeping high and silent in the middle of a herd, makes it very clear as to why he wouldn’t give a shit whether a new group was good or evil… Bob understands something that many others in the show have yet to learn (but are quickly getting the notion), you can’t survive in this world on your own.
It was also a wonderful call back to Rick’s three questions posed at the beginning of the season, and great to know that it wasn’t just Rick’s questions, they were the questions that all who wished to join the group must be asked, and Bob’s answers were precisely what Daryl and Glenn wanted to hear. It was from this first meeting that we get all of the characters, or groups rather, that Alone focuses on.
Let’s focus on Bob, Sasha, and Maggie before going back to everyone’s favorite redneck hero and his warbling sidekick. We rejoin with the trio in what is one of the most movie like horror scenes we’ve seen to date, standing back to back in the fog, zombies moaning and growling all around them, and one by one taking them out. I cried out in terror as Bob was bitten into, thinking… well, he finally got some backstory, time to kill him off… but no, he was bitten on his bandage… and it’s just one more opportunity for him to get his shirt off and to make some more googly eyes at Sasha.
Come on… you’ve got to love Bob’s optimism and charming smile at this point. Considering that he didn’t lose anyone at the prison that he cared for, he has been the one lone wolf in the new group, it seems like this has snapped him out of his PSTD and he can see the silver linings of their situation more than the others who are currently scarred and traumatized. Plus, he is the one man surrounded by two hot ladies… bow-chika-wow-wow.
It seems to me that there are many who don’t want to see any romance in this series. I can understand the trepidation, not wanting this to become some sort of star crossed lovers drama as opposed to the zombie drama it is meant to be… but, I propose that we as people need love in our lives… and having that very human romantic connection with someone is a form of survival and is a needed and necessary component of life… and as critical to our well being as food, water, and air. If you have nothing to live for, why bother… and Bob has finally reached a point where he is able to make that move. For all the resistance Sasha has shown to being amenable to being wooed, by episodes’ end, she too has finally come around to seeing the futility and pointlessness of simply surviving as opposed to living.
Leading that charge of course is Maggie as she ditches her compatriots after hearing Sasha trying to persuade Bob to just stop running. Her love for Glenn has her on a one track mission, and she finally does the one thing that far too many in the show forget to do… leave a note. But even Maggie, who eventually tires to just moving forward, waits for the others to catch up to her… and again, realizing that although she could probably make it on her own, there would be no way for her to thrive without the others.
Now… how fucking awesome was that zombie battle with Sasha and her stick and Maggie doing some serious damage with her “No Parking” sign? Between her splitting a zombie’s head like a melon with the sign and digging into the belly of a zed in order to finger paint (it would have been hilarious if she literally cut off a finger and used that) her messages, Maggie Greene gets the badass of the week award… and yes, Daryl also got some incredible action in the funeral home, but from my perspective… Maggie looks ravishing even when covered in gore… and those boots and holster are simply hot. The Dixon’s can have their Vixens… I’ll take bloody Maggie any day of the week.
Speaking of Daryl… I found myself enjoying the moments between him and Beth absolutely compelling and infinitely watchable. A complete 180 from my position last week… and this is where I understand why we had spent so much time with these two. We needed to understand why she could effect him as much as she now has, and for him to reach that very point Bob, Sasha, and Maggie also reached. I know much has been made about him toughening her up, and her softening him… but I don’t so much see a softening of Daryl as I see an honesty about where he’s at. For one of the first times in recent memory, I found Daryl to be a real person and not some redneck superhero. When he asks the question about whether or not they could just hole up in the house and be comfortable for while, I felt a vulnerability in the character I hadn’t seen before, and I wanted nothing more than for these two to simply set up house and live their lives out in the quiet solitude of the cemetery. Again… talk about your horror movie tropes used to amazing effect… and in ways that never felt cliche of ham fisted (one of my largest complaints about last weeks episode).
We often get one, maybe two zombie scenes in any given episode… but Alone features a number of great scenes, including what may have been the most on the edge of my seat moments when the hoard of undead come charging into the funeral home, trapping Daryl into a literal corner as he fought back in harrowing fashion, only to be undone by the kidnapping of Beth by some unknown persons. Holy shit I didn’t expect any of that, and it took me a minute to realize that she has been kidnapped. I thought, wow, that sucks that she just left Daryl behind… before realizing that they didn’t have a car.
Before we get into what happens next, I want to reiterate why I enjoyed the scenes with Daryl so much more in this episode than at almost any time. In the walker attack, for what I believe may be the first time, Daryl looks frightened. For all of his bravado and cool guy emo hair, Mr. Dixon looked to be scared shitless, and it had such and incredibly humanizing effect that I couldn’t help but love every moment of that attack. By that point, seeing him crumpled at the crossroads, as the only character now not following the tracks to Terminus (save Beth I suppose… and at this point in the episode we still didn’t know where Glenn was), and being surrounded by the group of interlopers that broke into Rick’s temporary residence back in Claimed, I was truly concerned for what would happen next.
Will Daryl join up with this roving gang of miscreants? Judging by Joe’s comments regarding hurting others, I’m going to say they are bad guys… which considering what we heard and saw in Claimed, that is a given. For a moment I was wondering whether or not these events could have happened before they terrorized Rick, but I noticed that the fellow Rick killed was not in attendance, but the rather large gentleman that was choked out for a bed was there, thus ending any discussion as to whether or not he was dead. For all intents and purposes, Daryl certainly looks the part as someone who would mesh quite well with this group… but as anyone who has been paying attention should know, looks can be deceiving, and I look forward to how this will all play out once this and our group eventually cross paths again… because at this point, it seems that all roads lead to Terminus.
One brief thought regarding the Sons of Anarchy gang… there is a point in the comic (I won’t spoil anything) where someone is watching our heroes in order to assess whether or not they could be a good fit for another group. One of the factors that they look for is whether or not they are traveling with women and children, and if so, how are they being treated. Even if these guys didn’t look as obviously “bad” as they do… the fact that they are all men sends red flags up all over the place.
Who the fuck took Beth? Was the dog and hoard of zombies part of someone’s plan to capture her? Were they the people living in the house originally, or were they there the whole time? Is Terminus a trap? And, oh yeah… Glenn is finally on the tracks and on his way. So many questions…
Overall, I found myself liking two characters I’ve been lukewarm towards, Daryl and Bob, and found the tension and slower moments to be balanced and well considered. The overriding message of “you can’t survive alone” is resonating throughout each character’s arc, and not limiting itself to Rick’s internal struggles as leader, thus fleshing out each character as both individuals and members of a real community instead of a bunch of random people yelling at each other and acting irrationally for the sake of false drama. If the final three episodes of the season are anything like this and previous episodes, The Walking Dead is finally raising the bar for itself and is becoming the drama that many of us who love the story from the comics know it can be.
Pig’s feet… it’s what’s for brunch,
Cornelius J. Blahg