After a combination of luck, desperation, providence, and what we can only hope is the kindness of strangers, Rick and his increasingly ragged group endured one of their greatest challenges last week, only to be confronted with a brand new face. It’s here that we picked up with this week’s episode, “The Distance.”
There are several interesting dynamics developing now, and the issue of trust is first and foremost as we learn more about Aaron and his supposed safe haven. Since stumbling onto Hershel’s farm so long ago, every single “safe place” that they’ve encountered has been fraught with betrayal, madness, and death. It’s no surprise that the clean cut, freshly clothed, earnest-faced Aaron’s efforts to sell them on a community are initially answered with a fist. There’s something inherently distrustful about Aaron’s foot-shifting, anxious tone… perhaps it’s because we’ve grown as suspicious as Rick and company. Perhaps it’s because it’s almost as if he’s trying too hard to get them onboard. Throughout the episode, there was a weird sense of desperation to him — more subtle than the overt, haggard, exhausted desperation of Rick’s group — that made it near-impossible to trust him. Where this will eventually take us, well, that should be interesting.
Things We Loved:
- Michonne asserting herself, continuing the evolution from side character to leader. Danai Gurira’s Michonne, after a series of false starts character-wise in Season Three (more the fault of the writer’s than anything else) has developed into a favorite character for reasons that now extend far beyond her deadly abilities with a sword. She’s become a complex, intelligent voice in the group, one who deftly works Rick to get him to see past his own occasional mulishness. “We need this, so we’re going. All of us. Somebody say something if they feel differently.”
- Once again, an episode that brilliantly demonstrates the almost organic nature of the group’s mechanics in times of crisis. The way they mobilize when seeking out Aaron’s partner was remarkable — each automatically knowing their role, orders given and followed. It’s worth repeating that for the most part, this is a small collection of (mostly) civilians who have, out of necessity, turned themselves into a virtual paramilitary unit capable of almost anything.
- Aaron. I thoroughly enjoyed this character, even as I was secretly telling Rick to put a bullet through his head for the first 45 minutes of the show. But he grew on me, despite my fear’s and suspicions, and Ross Marquand’s performance — jittery, anxious, but also rock-solid in his determination to both bring Rick on board as well as protect his group — was pretty great.
- Speaking of, let’s talk about what might have been the most pleasantly unexpected part of the show — Aaron and Eric’s relationship. Adding a gay character in such an offhanded, conventional fashion was perfectly executed. Better still, pitching two of them at once, and showing them in a mature, intelligent, loving, non-cliched relationship was very nicely done. Kudos to AMC’s determination to broaden the show’s diversity with each passing season. I’m still a little salty over Tyreese, but I’m getting over it. Well played, Walking Dead.
- The absolutely bananas nighttime battle. Beginning with Glenn mowing down walkers like he was driving through a field, then an impressively tense battle in the pitch darkness (which was particularly well-directed by using next to no artificial light, thereby giving it a much more realistic feel), and then splitting the group up for a few minutes? That entire sequence was absolutely harrowing.
- Abraham’s “Might as well paint it red and put a ladder on it” line was a shot of much-needed levity. Loved it, and I wish the show had more moments like it.
Things We Didn’t Love:
- Rick. I enjoyed probably 75% of his performance, and for much of the Lincoln did a good job of walking the line between paranoid, cautious, and crazy. But after a while I wish they’d let some of the other characters play more of a part, particularly Carol or Daryl, who seemed like they would have had a bigger stake in the conversation. It just seemed to go on and on and on.
- That’s about it, really. This was a pretty impressive episode, overall.
It remains to be seen how this will pan out, but for the first time in a while, I’m genuinely interested to see the story develop, instead of just sort of passively waiting. I’m eager to see what secrets Alexandria holds, to see more of Aaron and Eric and what lies behind those walls. He says all the right things, shows them all the right images, but Michonne’s rather chilling question about why he doesn’t have pictures of people? That sent a chill down my back. Overall, “The Distance” was a terrific introduction to what appears to be the next chapter in The Walking Dead.