What happened and what’s going on is that this is the most beautiful hour of television you are likely to ever see. It’s about the hesitation of living and the hesitation of letting go. In one harrowing hour, we watch Tyreese struggle with whether or not to lay down his burden. By now, you all know the choice he makes, and if you don’t, I suggest you avoid this article and the entire internet until you watch the mid-season premiere.
The first few minutes are a disjointed montage of scenes and lens flare effects. We see someone digging a grave, we see the sky, Maggie and Noah crying, Judith crying, the group at a funeral, people running, pictures of Noah’s brothers before the outbreak, the prison guard tower. We also see images of a car accident and a zombie trapped in one of the vehicles, as well as small painting of a cottage. The final two shots of the opening are the most disturbing: Meeka, smiling, turns to the camera and says “It’s better now,” while a smiling Lizzie sits behind her. The last shot is the small painting with blood pouring onto it.
As our brains try to make sense of these images, we tell ourselves that it’s Beth’s grave and Beth’s funeral. When we pair the pictures of a young Noah with him telling Rick that Beth was going to take him to Richmond, we assume this is going to be Noah’s episode, a sublime look at the previous losses of our newest survivor.
To honor Beth’s memory, Rick convinces the group to take Noah to Richmond. No one, except perhaps Noah, believe that the town is secure, but for Beth’s memory, Rick will take that chance.
Only Tyreese, Rick, Michonne, Glenn and Noah made the trip to scope out the town. Considering no one knew what awaited them, arriving in limited numbers was not the best idea.
But, the limited numbers give us nice character moments. Tyreese, who’s stepped into the role of wiseman, takes Noah under his wing. He tells Noah that the trade, and consequently Beth’s death, went “the way it had to, the way it was always going to.” We can second guess ourselves for eternity, but that will only drive us mad. We may not like the way that life turns out, but we need to accept the things we cannot change.
Tyreese shares some wisdom from his father: It’s everyone’s duty, as citizens of the world, to be aware of current events. We need to face what happened and what’s going on in the world. Ignoring suffering does not make that suffering stop. You have to face it and then you have to do something about it. Tyreese’s father never played music in the car, instead, he made his children listen to the news so that they could pay the high cost of living – which is the knowledge that life is just as tragic and terrifying as it is beautiful and sweet.
Images from the opening sequence click into place when the group arrives at their destination. They stage their car to look like part of a wreck and a zombie is trapped inside one of the adjacent cars.
Once inside the walls of Richmond, Noah falls to the ground sobbing when he realizes the town is deserted, save a few zombies. Tyreese is the one to counsel him, saying that this isn’t the end and that he must choose to live. By choosing life, he could save the lives of others, the way that Tyreese saved Judith. Noah doesn’t take this wisdom, however. Instead, he runs to his home, hoping to find some semblance of comfort and possibly life. There is no comfort and no life. Only rotting flesh.
It’s only Tyreese and Noah in the house, as Glenn, Michonne and Rick are doing a quick sweep of the town for supplies. Again, the small number of people on this trip was not the wisest choice and it cost Tyreese his life.
Tyreese searches the house and ends up in the room of one of Noah’s brothers and more things from the episode’s opening begin to make sense. The pictures of Noah’s brothers are taped to the wall of the room. As he is looking at the photos, one of the boys, now a zombie, comes up behind Tyreese and bites him in the arm. Noah walks in right away and stabs his brother in the head. He then runs out find Rick, leaving Tyreese alone.
And now we understand – all of those images in the opening scenes are the last things Tyreese sees before he dies.
His mind immediately begins the battle of whether to die or to live. It’s only his arm that’s been bitten. He has a chance, but he’s hesitating on whether or not to take that chance. If he takes it, he will continue to pay the high cost of living. He hesitates on death, too. Death means not doing your duty, it means leaving those you love behind.
To work through this choice, Tyreese begins to hallucinate. He hears news broadcasts coming over a radio in the room, a reminder of his father’s message that, as a citizen of the world, Tyreese shouldn’t hesitate to fight. This is intercut with more images from the opening.
His hallucinations deepen when Martin, from Terminus, recounts all of the tragedy that befell the group because Tyreese was unable to kill him. Tyreese’s compassion caused a domino effect that resulted in the deaths of both Bob and Beth.
Cue ghost-Bob who says “Man, that’s bullshit. I got bit at the food bank.”
Self-loathing is a strong foe and Bob’s words only cause a more extreme guilt-ridden vision – The Governor.
Interestingly, the most soothing hallucination comes from Meeka and Lizzie who tell him “It’s better now, Tyreese.” Later in the episode, they are backed up by Beth, who sings the lyrics from Jimmy Cliff’s song Struggling Man.
Struggling man has got to move
Struggling man, no time to lose
I’m a struggling man
And I’ve got to move on
His brain is beginning to make peace with his fate and his hesitation is nearing its end. It’s okay for him to lay down his burden. It’s okay for him to hang up his hat.
Michonne, too, is tired of running. She, Rick and Glenn do not yet know that Tyreese is dying, but she does know she’s had enough death. She wants a homebase. Her emotional and mental resources are spent.
She wants to rebuild and make this town their home. She tells Rick,
“Instead of just being out here. Instead of just being out here. Instead of just making it. Because right now, this is what just making it looks like.” She says that last line in a field of body parts and then continues, “Don’t you want one more day with a chance?”
Rick agrees. They all deserve at least one more day.
Tyreese will never get that day. He continues to hallucinate, this time coming to terms with his life choices. He squares off with the Governor,
“I didn’t know you when I said I would do what I had to. But I know who I am. You didn’t show me shit. You, you dead. Everything that you were is dead and it’s not over. I didn’t turn away. I kept listening to the news so that I could do what I could to help. I’m not giving up.”
But his guilt pushes him down, as he once again doubts the value of his compassion in this world. But his doubts don’t matter, his friends arrive and cut off his infected arm, attempting to give him another chance. Blood pools on the tiny painting of the cottage.
The group fends off zombies as they race to get back to the car. Beth’s voice sings in the background. Tyreese’s hallucinations continue on the road. He has lost too much blood and is in too much pain. All he wants is peace. All he wants is for it to be better now.
He stops hesitating and he makes the choice to let go.
Reality hits everyone now – it hits the characters and it hits us, the viewers. We’ve watched this episode without breathing. We’ve watched it hoping that it really was Beth’s grave in the opening, but now we know it wasn’t Beth’s grave at all.
The most moving moment in this episode is a small one. It happens after Sasha shovels dirt onto her brother’s grave. She hesitates for one second before she puts down the shovel, before she lays down her burden. She does want to let go. That hesitation says everything that we all feel. We are all exhausted. We are all tired of loss and none of us want to let our loved ones go.
But we have to let go. As Tyreese says, “It’s not over.” Things will go on. The survivors will go on to Washington D.C., a move that, according to Andrew Lincoln, will change the show forever.
Leave a comment to share your speculations on what D.C. will bring and tell us how you feel about the loss of Tyreese.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 on AMC.