Welcome back, Season 5! According to Greg Nicotero, it’s been “17 days” since the gang left Grady Memorial Hospital. For the rest of us, it was two very long months of waiting. I was quite amused to see that the show’s creators chose to completely skip over any time spent in the Carolinas. Man, I live here; if I could jump ahead 2.5 weeks of what feels like endless hours in the car when driving through NC, I would do it, too. But, I have to say, this was the first episode in quite a long time that upon original air, did not hold my attention. In fact, all 5 of us who watched the show together had conversations, made jokes and played on our cell phones, only occasionally uniting in moments of silence as we watched. It was like Mystery Science Theater 3000 up in here. As soon as the show ended and all guests dispersed (Better Call Saul having bumped us from being able to watch the Talking Dead and ponder further), I sat back down for viewing number two. I’m very glad that I did. While there was still a lot that I wasn’t pleased with about the episode, I did find a number of things that I had missed the first go round.
Before we go any further, are you all caught up on the show? Need a refresher? Click Here for a spoiler-filled recap of “What Happened and What’s Going On.” All set? Let’s do this!
The cold opening of the show was chock full of clues, if you were really paying attention. The viewer–if clinging to the emotions they felt over losing Beth–is led to believe that we are seeing the aftermath of her death and funeral. Images of places that the cast have been in the past flash before our eyes. Is this a way to say goodbye to Georgia as we begin the trek north? If so, then why aren’t we seeing glimpses of Hershel’s farm? Or the camp at the quarry? And, what’s with all of the seemingly random images we’ve never seen before? The cars? The photos of the twin boys? The sketch of the house? Things are beginning to look artsy and out of place and I’m not sure that I like it. Then, with no warning, we are visited by two smiling dead girls. Bam! Welcome to crazy town, right? Wrong. The opening of the episode was a combination of Tyreese’s final thoughts and the current moments of the rest of the gang eulogizing him. Notice when Rick is talking with Glenn and Eugene that Eugene’s wounds have healed? That means time has passed. In one of the flashes we see Noah on the ground sobbing, with a bloody forehead. When the episode actually gets going we witness Noah cut his head while navigating the barbed wire garden just outside of Shirewilt Estates in VA. Later on, when Tyreese begins acting like Haley Joel Osment, the screen does some of those shaky, light-flashing effects used to denote ghost activity on shows like Supernatural. And, the clock radio–stuck at 5:09, conveniently enough–is broadcasting world news that if you listen closely is actually an amalgam of Ty’s memories. This is eerily reminiscent of the days Rick spent “talking” to folks on the telephone at the prison. Props to Andrew Lincoln for being the voice on the radio, making things that much creepier.
Throughout the episode, we see the effects that the last 2 months (their time) has had on Rick, Glenn and Michonne. Glenn has finally become hard. We saw early signs of this when he took charge at the prison in Rick’s mental absence. After the fall of the prison, Glenn temporarily channeled Hershel’s sensibilities, but we all know what happens to the “moral compass” on this show. So, after the events surrounding Terminus, Glenn has admittedly decided to become a shoot-first kind of guy. We see him staring blankly at a CD. Is he pondering his warped reflection? Is he realizing, as my husband is fond of saying, that fixed media is dead? Does he snap the disc in half as a symbolic way to break from the past, the things we had ‘saved’ and held on to? Or is he realizing, now that Beth is gone, he’ll never hear music again? Who knows? Bottom line…this guy is conflicted.
Michonne is on the verge of breaking. She steels herself, rarely showing emotion, in order to survive. But, they’ve been through so much in so little time that she is spent. The girl is physically and emotionally ready for a break. She tries to convince the others that even though Noah’s home town isn’t what they’d expected, it could still be a safe haven for their group. In the past, she would have been one of the first ones to point out the logistical flaws surrounding that plan (and most likely what brought on its downfall). But, Michonne didn’t want to hear it. It wasn’t until she went and inspected the damaged outer wall for herself that she realized the vulnerabilities. The wall had been rammed by a vehicle in more than one place, until it finally penetrated the estates. Human remains lay scattered just outside the wall, mutilated with great intention and unlike anything they’d seen thus far. This was done by the living. Michonne knew then that Rick was right and they couldn’t stay. So she changed strategies and begged that they continue on to DC in the hopes of finding a place to rest there. Rick agreed, much to her surprise and relief. Side note: I loved that even in the midst of this desperate situation, Michonne still resorted to her “collector” self, stopping to nab what she called a “clean shirt” out of a shadow box. Given that they are now out of the deep south, it’s feasible that those pinstripes represented the NY Yankees. *fist pumps the air* Or, any one of the 9 teams who wear pinstripes. Regardless, to me it meant football season is finally over and baseball season is upon us. Which…can also signify that baseball bats are among us as well. *cue Glenn bending down to pick up the collector bat that was with the uniform shirt*
Enough with the baseball bats and Glenn foreshadowing already. We know Negan and his group of Saviors is on the horizon. You don’t have to beat us over the head with hints. (See what I did there?) Noah’s neighborhood was invaded by the living. Homes were ransacked. People were brutally slaughtered. Could this be the work of the Saviors? Did you notice the body of Noah’s mother? Her head was bashed in, most likely by a baseball bat. Her body had begun to mummify in the time since she died (Noah was gone for a year, we don’t know how long ago this happened to his home.) There were very few walkers within, or even outside of their community. This leaves me to believe that’s because most everyone was murdered. Those whose heads weren’t destroyed reanimated. But, those unlucky bastards who were dragged outside and essentially drawn and quartered, had their heads and torsos thrown into a vehicle where they later reanimated.
So, let’s talk about what was spray painted on the retaining wall of someone’s yard near the center of the community: Wolves Not Far. Initial reaction came from my daughter who cried out “Bad Wolf” in a glaring reference to Doctor Who–a show famous for being wibbly wobbly, timey wimey, just as this episode and entire season has been. Could Scott Gimple be a Time Lord fan? Was the message just a clear cut warning that there were actual wolves nearby? The place was surrounded by woods, so the idea of wild or feral dogs is not out of the question. Though, to my disdain, the series has gone out of its way to not include the animal kingdom. There would be packs of feral dogs all over the place; some eaten by the dead, many more alive and hunting the living. But, if these people were living in relative peace and safety (until their vicious demise) wouldn’t they already know about the looming wolves? The place looked so well kept and serene, with children’s drawings painted in the streets; not the type of place that required some jacked up graffiti warning, right? Now, the torsos that had been collected and stuffed in a car, all had the letter “W” carved into their heads. Could the message about wolves have been regarding those stumps of people? Could someone have branded them, intending on using them for something later, but then as we saw, wrecked the car in the woods? The Saviors are known to have a wall of impaled, chained, tied, mutilated walkers surrounding the factory that they call home. Maybe this is how they get them? Without limbs, they are of no grabbing-threat. However, leaving their biting ability intact would make them a bitch to deal with if encountered, say, stuck on pikes in a guarded entrance or hanging like a gauntlet of pinatas. Try getting that image out of your heads. You’re welcome. Either way, it definitely means something and since we are within miles of both the Alexandria Safe Zone, the Hilltop Community and the Kingdom, I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.
Okay, on to the things that I did not like about this episode. First off, it felt like there was a commercial every five minutes, didn’t it? The pace of the episode was slow. I have said since his introduction that Tyreese is the most underutilized character on television, second only to T-Dog. I didn’t weep watching the episode like many others did. I wasn’t shocked. In fact, I barely reacted at all. How could I when I was never given anything to cry for? I had little to no emotional investment in this character. That’s not Chad Coleman’s fault; he acted Tyreese beautifully and was involved in some of the most powerful episodes of the series. But, the writers neutered him. The Tyreese that we were given on the series was not the same Tyreese fans of the comic were expecting. Comics Tyreese was a take charge kind of guy–he was still a lousy shot and a big emotional teddy bear, but he was also Rick’s go-to guy. That is, until the Governor captured him, beat him, and beheaded him with Michonne’s sword outside the prison (sorry Hershel.) But, TV Tyreese wasn’t meant for this world. He would only kill if it was absolutely necessary. He only gave into his anger once or twice and then couldn’t forgive himself after for doing so.
It’s a shame that the writers chose to go this route with his character. Tyreese was never really given his dues. This episode felt rushed. I think back on how Beth’s story ended. Her final story arc was stretched out for an obscene amount of time to build suspense. Then, when they finally got her back and all was said and done, Beth made one completely useless and out of character move that caused not only her death, but Dawn’s as well. It made zero sense. I wasn’t a Beth fan, but even I knew that was a crap ending for her character. I feel even more so about Tyreese’s demise. The writers wrapped things up with him too quickly and game him a wasteful, meaningless death.
The only saving grace to the way in which his death was handled, was the way in which Tyreese guided us through it. If you can separate yourself from the series for a little while and watch the episode as sort of an independent film, you begin to appreciate the artistic merits of the piece. The amount of time that spanned between Noah leaving to get help and Noah returning with help is, in actuality, a lot shorter than it was to watch. We see Ty cowering under the desk like a wounded animal. When, most likely, Tyreese wearily stood up from where he originally fell, was attacked by another walker, and then fell into the wall again. The scenes in which he seems most coherent, is under the desk, or is standing to address his ‘visitors’, all take place in the spaces between a moment. What is truly only minutes can feel like an eternity for someone experiencing trauma. To us, the viewers, it seemed like Noah must have traveled at a snail’s pace. But, the moment the Governor pushes Tyreese down to the ground–to his original landing spot–time snaps back into reality. In his semi-lucid state, Ty imagines Mika and Lizzie extending his arm, when really it was Rick. Most all of it was in his head. Tyreese was stuck in a moment–5:09 to be exact.
I did truly enjoy that all of the levels of his psyche were on display for us to see, manifesting themselves in various people that he had lost. Martin and the Governor tearing Tyreese down, his guilt and regrets eating away at him. Bob, Beth and the girls helping him to realize it was all a big fat bunch of Que Sera Sera, and guiding Tyreese to forgive himself and let go. The important and trivial moments of his life, during the time line that we knew him, flash before our eyes: Woodbury, the prison, saving Judith, bringing Noah home, etc. The moment that Tyreese asks Bob to “turn it off”, referring to the never-ending broadcasts of negativity on the ‘radio’, it was a sign of him letting go.
I have referenced the Serenity Prayer numerous times in my recaps. This was another example; Tyreese needed serenity to accept the things he could not change, the courage to change the things he could, and the wisdom to know the difference. He lived in a way many others could not. He forgave Carol. Forgiveness is one of the most generous and selfless things a person can give. He could allow the negative thoughts being broadcast in his mind to tear him down, make him feel like he was responsible for all of the things that have gone wrong. But, he had to accept and forgive himself. He had to realize that he did what he could, when he could, with what he could. And, in this new world, that’s saying a lot.
It took re-watching the episode to truly appreciate the beauty in which the show’s creators portrayed a dying man’s final moments. And, yes, I finally cried. For that, I applaud everyone involved in making the episode. The more I reflect on it, the more I get a weird pit in my stomach and a sadness caught in my throat. That being said, I am still annoyed with the writers for choosing to do this seemingly out of left field, just to further aggravate the story lines of the remaining survivors. To give such a beautiful and meaningful ending to someone you barely bothered to give a beginning to, felt rather lopsided. And, while it was haunting that the last thing Tyreese saw was the sunlight through the trees, it is a crime that his last visions weren’t of Karen; the catalyst of all that we came to know and love about Tyreese.
You dropped the ball there, AMC. I guess you’re too eager to get back to ‘bat’, right?
Until next time…