There have been a number of different storylines over the course of these four seasons of The Walking Dead, but these past few episodes have been a wholly different way of digging into each character, and overall it’s made for some solid television. By scattering the group, we’re allowed a level of focus and in-depth character development that was heretofore unavailable. As an added bonus, the idea of mixing up the more unlikely groupings, those who previously didn’t have much contact, has allowed for a newfound freshness.
This hasn’t worked consistently — the episode with Rick and Carl was a fumble, and Maggie, Bob and Sasha’s story had a few hiccups as well. This week’s episode, “Still”, focused solely on Daryl and Beth — an unlikely duo if there ever was one — and while it took a bit of goofery to get them to where we could appreciate the journey, it was one of the more enjoyable episodes (even if it didn’t drive the overall story forward much).
And it started with sheer, raw terror. Daryl and Beth, silently frantic in the dark, locking themselves in a trunk of a car to survive, and for a day and a night, simply enduring. The idea of trapping yourself in a rusted metal box as the walkers pound and scrape and scratch for hours on end is one of the more intense scenarios that any of them have had to endure. This episode, as well as “Inmates” did an excellent job of showing just how desperate things have been for them — this time, after getting out, we found them scavenging, salvaging, searching for anything that could be useful, that could get them through the next few hours. It’s one of the first glimpses we’d be granted into Daryl, using everything for something, be it weapon or trap or tool.
It’s shortly thereafter that the episode stumbled, as Beth’s seemingly random search for booze is born out of neither logic nor need, and feels like little more than a child’s petulance. Similarly, Daryl’s silence and dead-eyed stares are in some ways understandable, but also started to feel excessive and contrived over time. Neither’s actions made much sense, but perhaps that was the point of it — each was sinking into despair, each lapsing into a sense of loss and confusion and futility. But Beth’s abrupt quest for liquor was bordering on silly at times (even when one made the link to Hershel, it still rang hollow), and though she may have even admitted as much, as a plot device it never quite worked.
Motivations aside, the remainder of the episode actually worked well, providing a headily emotional gamut of experiences. The country club that they come across was nothing short of a vision of despair, full of bodies and hanged walkers, the trappings of twisted and broken humanity in every room. And for every kindness, there was some form of gruesome terror to accompany it. For every clean item of clothing Beth finds, there’s a splatter of blood as Daryl seethes in rage and takes it out on the dead. For every trinket found, there’s a defiled body, and for every effort to cover it up to maintain some semblance of humanity, there’s another scene of slaughter. Much like the house that Michonne and Carl found, something terrible happened in that playground for the idle rich, and it’s just one more reason to give up hope.
And so, after weeping over a bottle of peach schnapps, and hurling darts in a fury, and eventually giving in, Daryl leads her to the moonshiner’s shack, and it’s there that the episode shone the brightest. Emily Kinney isn’t the strongest of actors, and to be fair, Beth isn’t the most intricately written character, but she did easily her best work here. Over time, the wide-eyed innocent shtick has grown a bit tiresome, but we could look past it simply because of the absolutely fantastic work done by Reedus as piece by piece, through increasing revelations, we see just what kind of world Daryl came from, and just what kind of man who was, what he became, and what he’s in danger of losing. In those moments — a silly game, a temper exploding, and Daryl finally caving in — everything is laid bare, and he is shown raw and ragged and guilty and filled with self-loathing. In the end, it became a contrast of hopeful versus hopeless. And that final moment, with them defiantly burning the house down… it may have seemed stupid, but hell, in an episode full of bad decisions, it strangely worked.
In “Still”, the road that the writers set them on at the beginning wasn’t the smoothest or most logical, but the payoff of those final emotional scenes was worthwhile. Tangentially, I’d like to thank the writers for avoiding what could have, in the hands of lazier scribes, descended into cliched sexual tension. They smartly and rightly played it straight and kept their relationship as simple comrades, survivors, and friends. The bumps of the awkwardly scripted motivations were overcome by a solid finish, and while we didn’t really make progress in the grander scheme, this was a stop worth taking.