There’s a strange sense of stasis in these last few episodes of The Walking Dead, as if there are things happening, but the story isn’t necessarily moving. This has been a trend that has dragged down prior seasons, particularly Season Two with its interminable time on the farm and the same themes repeated over and over. Yet in this season, it’s working — there’s a reason for these little splintered groups. The obvious one, of course, is to allow for some much needed character development — the catch with focusing on more action-heavy episodes (or on the antagonists) is that the pace doesn’t always allow for the characters to grow and become more real. With this new setting, these new contrasting groups, we get to see just a little bit more of each of them.
This technique was particularly effective with the ongoing story of Sasha and Bob. The opening moments of Bob, alone in the woods, dazed and drunk on cough syrup, without pride or purpose, simply waiting for something to happen, be it death or destiny. Bob, it appears, just needs to be a part of something… and for better or worse, we soon see that he is, when we find him, Maggie, and Sasha, surrounded in that eerie mist, fighting like primitives with their rudimentary weapons and depleted ammunition. In an interesting little twist, Bob gets bitten, but luck saves him, because perhaps that’s Bob’s curse — being lucky.
Yet things are new and different, as is apparent from Bob’s relentless optimism. Larry Gilliard has been doing strong work, portraying a difficult and peculiar character, and it’s made for interesting watching. We’ve watched his lows and his highs, his heights and his falls, and it’s slowly evolved into a rather enjoyable — if sometimes deliberately quirky character. It also provides a critical contrast to Sasha’s onslaught of skepticism, her need to simply stop. Stop running, stop hiding, stop searching, because if she stops, then she doesn’t actually have to learn the truth, and not knowing the truth about Tyreese may be easier. It’s a difficult and nuanced concept that Sonequa Martin-Green demonstrated nicely, giving her character a complexity that she may have been lacking, mostly due to being overshadowed by Tyreese.
The episode fell victim to a weakness that was not dissimilar to last week’s — namely, a poorly scripted, manufactured event that on the surface makes little sense. After Sasha loses out against Maggie and Bob’s reasoning, however clouded by hopeful optimism it may be, they make the decision to stay together. It was a solid moment, as was Sasha and Bob’s frank and sad conversation in the dying firelight. And despite the harshness of Sasha’s words, Maggie’s decision to take off was just… irrational. It defied logic, and was clearly constructed so that we could build tension, and eventually have a moment where they all really begin to understand and accept and embrace each other. Yet that series of events was so overwritten, so clearly scripted and that it felt artificial. Yes, there is some charm in Bob’s happiness at not being alone, and his insight into Sasha is apt, if jarringly so. And while I enjoyed the contrast of hopeful vs hopeless — mirroring the same conflict between Daryl and Beth last week — it was handled awkwardly.
Speaking of Daryl and Beth, their adventures continue to be a study in even harsher contrasts. There’s a kind of sweetness in the interplay now, though, and it was nice to see Daryl lightening up for a minute, even if it was destined to crumble. Their time together was peppered with some genuine-feeling moments of tenderness — the moment at an unknown father’s grave, pig’s feet and a “white trash brunch”, Beth singing as he lays in the coffin. It was an odd, yet surprisingly effective series of moments that built on the foundation that was laid in the prior episode, and made Daryl’s eventual collapse at the end even more poignant and powerful.
The other thing that’s made Daryl and Beth’s journey so remarkable is the unusual selection of settings that they’ve been thrust into. Much like the horror show of clas warfare and chaos at the country club, there is something both reassuring as well as profoundly unsettling about a funeral home in a zombie apocalypse. It allowed for the continued demonstration of Beth’s belief in the innate goodness of people, and while it was at times a bit much — her “beautiful” speech was certainly a little contrived and the thank you note veered dangerously into being too damn precious — it served its puirpose, mainly to finally crack Daryl’s veneer a little bit, even if he can’t truly verbalize it (and I am very curious about what, if anything, is developing between them, and how it will impact the eventual reuniting with Carol). But of course, we can’t have too much happiness in one episode, and eventually hell breaks in. It’s a nightmare moment, with Daryl blocking the undead with the dead, buried in walkers, trapped, only to break free and find Beth has been taken, and that light, that hope, feels lost. What’s worse is that Daryl finds the most dangerous of allies, men we know are dark and dangerous and without conscience — men like Daryl’s past, men from another life, and who knows what that will mean for his.
“Alone” was a solid little transitional episode, solidifying the path of Bob, Sasha and Maggie, and creating whole new ones for Daryl and Beth. It seems like our group is still some time away from finding each other, and for the moment, I’m quite satisfied with that. It’s working well, this branching of different journeys, and while there have been some stumbles and some of the stories haven’t felt like they developed organically, the end results have mostly been satisfying.