Dear readers: On the day that this episode ran, we lost a loyal and lovely reader to cancer, that pernicious bastard of a disease. She was one of the best of us, and she was always a big fan of this show. So rest in peace, Natalie. This one’s for you.
We are finally at the point where the group is starting to slowly come back together, each marked by the experiences that they’ve endured since the destruction of the prison. In some cases, they’ve found new allies, although I’m not sure that term applies when it comes to Daryl. Regardless, ‘Us’, the fifteenth episode of this season of The Walking Dead, dealt with that gradual reunion with a combination of hope and foreboding.
It wasn’t always the most exciting episode, unfortunately, and it often felt like it contained cast-off parts of longer episodes. Perhaps that’s the natural consequence of focusing so intently on a single group for the past few episodes — suddenly when we’re back to cutting back and forth, things seem more fractured and disjointed. Ultimately, despite the somewhat out-of-place quick scene with Rick and Carl and Michonne, this episode dealt with two main groups — Glenn, Tara, and their new, world-saving allies; and Daryl and his new band of merry sociopaths.
As for Glenn, Abraham, Eugene, Tara and Rosita (who is slowly shedding the image of her vapidly impractical costuming), that was where the episode was the most inconsistent. Eugene was easily the highlight of the episode, with his staggering nerdiness bringing some much, much-needed comic relief into the fray. But it’s Abraham who, despite his crudity and violent outward persona, has a surprising amount of insight, and quickly picks up on what dark forces are driving Tara and understands Glenn’s fervor, even if he can’t stay with them all the way. Steven Yeun continued to thrive as Glenn, from the hope in his eyes as he found the first of Maggie’s gruesome beacons, to the determination to not leave Tara behind. Between him and Michael Cuditz’s Abraham, there’s a solid amount of charisma going around. That said, even with those two working off of each other, the first half of the episode felt like a bit of a drag, replaying the same tapes that we’d seen before — Tara being dedicated and guilt-ridden, Abraham being determined to save the world, Eugene being weird and cryptic, without any real change being affected.
It wasn’t until the parting of ways at the tunnel that things finally began to evolve and we could sense the buildup to a new set of circumstances, as if it was finally time to get the larger ball rolling once again. And that tunnel was pure Walking Dead brilliance — the cave-in was a garish, horrible collage of stone and death, leading to a horde staggering in the darkness. Yes, Tara’s stumble was predictable and a little lazy, but it gave the opportunity for Glenn to finally show some loyalty himself, in the face of overwhelming odds. And that final moment, when all seemed lost in the dark, saved by not just by a barrage of bullets, but by the one he’s sought for so long — I admit, it worked, hitting the emotional notes just right, up to and including the burning of the photograph, which was as close to real romance as one can get in this hellish world.
And on the other side of the coin, we had Daryl and Joe and a crew of scumbags and psychos. From the moment Joe’s henchman starts trouble with Daryl, we know this is a group that has been playing by entirely different rules. For me, this was the more enjoyable group to observe this week, because they really were something of a fresh perspective. This isn’t the Governor, with his madness masked by order and discipline and law. This is a band of outlaws, of lowlifes and killers, bound together by a need to survive and nothing else. There’s little camaraderie, only a harsh, cynical, deliberate purpose, given to them by a man with just enough leadership skills to keep their own violent tendencies in check.
Yet Joe is a leader, and an intelligent one at that. Like Abraham but different, he displays a similar insight, an unexpected and uncommon wisdom given the band of goons he runs with. Daryl stays because he hasn’t a better option — and Joe knows it — but we also know that there’s a familiarity, a sense of knowing and belonging that Daryl feels. He knows he’s not like them (not anymore) but it’s also not too difficult for him to understand them. They are many things — drunks, killers, fighters, but they are also a new version of Merle, the embodiment of all the things Daryl thinks are within him, but that he’s overcome. Yes, there’s a savagery to them, but there’s also just enough honor and order to them to keep them alive, and Joe has cleverly created a system of rule that allows them to periodically break free and release their inner demons, even if it’s occasionally on each other.
It ended with a surprising sense of hopefulness — Sanctuary has been found. Quiet, peaceful, beautiful, it’s a home, or at least it seems that way. It’s a place where things grow, where a warm-faced woman welcomes them, and where they can finally rest. And that’s the most terrifying part of all, because we know there can be no rest. There can be no peace. Whatever Sanctuary is, we all know that this world does not suffer kindness and respite for very long, and those sorts of bucolic trappings often end in fire and bloodshed. Because we also know that those killers — Daryl in tow — are coming, and they will blow a hole in that quiet little world. Assuming, of course, that there already isn’t a darkness seething beneath its peaceful veneer, something that wouldn’t surprise me at all, for Joe is right — there is no sanctuary in this world. Yet those are grim thoughts best left for another week. For the moment, there is joy to be had. Perhaps we should let them revel in it, even if we know it will all come apart soon — as it always has, and as it always will.