It’s been three weeks since Beth’s death and fewer since Tyreese’s. No one in our group has had time to mourn. Grief takes time and on The Walking Dead, people only have time to survive. In one of the show’s quieter episodes, we see how grief, unattended, can eat you alive from the inside, turning you into a ghost (or more aptly, a zombie) of the person you once were.
Them isn’t an episode about struggle, it’s about giving up. This is the opposite of what we usually see on this show. Typically, these quiet episodes are about the fight back to who you are and the people that you love. This time, the show explores what it’s like without hope and faith, what it’s like when the only thing that you expect is more darkness.
This less heroic, and more realistic, take on grief should have made this Maggie, Daryl and Sasha-centric episode incredibly interesting, but it wasn’t. The writing and directing were so overdone it was embarrassing to watch at certain points.
When the episode starts, we discover that our group is low on water and food. This is a nice wrench to throw into the mix, 1. because it’s something we haven’t often seen them struggle with and 2. we haven’t seen how the depletion of both the physical and mental states of the group affects their interpersonal relationships.
The lack of supplies combined with their emotional states leave Maggie, Sasha and Daryl shattered with no interest in putting themselves back together. All three of them are done, so much so that Sasha is somewhat suicidal and Daryl has taken to self-harm.
Due to their low reserves, Rick advises that they avoid zombies when possible. They shouldn’t expend the energy if they don’t need to. Unable to process her grief, Sasha needs to let out her grief physically. In theory, killing a zombie, the thing that killed both her lover and her brother, would be cathartic for her, but her grief isn’t her own right now. Killing one or two zombies will rile up the others and cause havoc for the group. They are all so weak that even a few zombies could cause more death. Sasha knows this, but all she wants is to release some of her grief and it is almost as if she hopes that release comes in the form of her own zombie-death. She starts taking out zombies, forcing the rest of the team to fight.
Although Michonne is angry with her, I find it difficult to judge anyone in the zombie apocalypse for their actions. Sasha was wrong, very wrong, but it is absurd to think that grief is something we can keep in check, especially when we are starving, thirsty, dirty and nearly being eaten by monsters everyday.
Despite my many issues with this episode, the acting was stellar. In the hands of a lesser actor, Sasha’s actions could have been cartoonish, but Sonequa Martin-Green is great at conveying the simmering and restrained anger that her scenes needed.
Maggie’s grief is quiet. It is as if it’s silenced her. Perhaps more accurately, it is as if her grief has ripped her soul out from inside of her. At least, that’s the way Lauren Cohan played it last night. Having lost a sibling myself, I have to say that Maggie’s grief resonated the most with me. Whenever I saw her on screen, I thought “that’s the way my grief looks if it could walk around.” In last night’s episode, Maggie was an empty shell-shocked thing on two legs. She was the personification of loss.
We finally get an explanation for why Maggie rarely mentioned Beth this season. It was easier for her to assume that she had died after the prison; better to mourn both her and her father at the same time, rather than to hope and then have that hope ripped from her. Of course, that is exactly what happened in the end.
Father Gabriel attempts to console her, but religion only reminds her of her father. She shuts him down pretty quickly. She has no desire to be reminded of a god, whom she feels abandoned her family – if he even exists.
She does have moments of bittersweet emotion. Carl gives her a music box, it’s broken, but she accepts the gift and the kindness it with which it was meant. It’s Something Beth would’ve liked. Maggie clutches the box for most of the episode.
The first “over-the-top” hit for me this episode was when Eugene says “I truly do not think things could get any worse” and three seconds later a pack of wild dogs shows up. Maybe the writers thought this was funny? It made me groan.
Smartly, Sasha shoots the dogs and now the group has food for days. It does seem to me as if this scene was written to show just how low things have gotten for the group. “Look! Things are so bad, they’re eating pets! They are so desperate! Get it?! GET IT?!” Yes, show, we know. It’s the apocalypse. They’re hungry.
I’ve always assumed that these survivors had resorted to eating pets at different times. I’m sure the writers know most of us have assumed this, but I guess they really wanted to make sure we knew how hard things are for these people.
The bad writing continues when Daryl goes “off to look for water.” This is code for “going off to smoke cigarettes and cry all by myself.” Time and again we’ve seen Daryl avoid the tough guy trope, yet in this episode he dives in full-force. He’s suddenly too guarded to be around Carol. His grief should have been moving, but even the moment when he burnt his hand with a cigarette felt boring and forced.
When Daryl returns from his smoke-break, he discovers the group has found several bottles and jugs of water with a note that says “From a friend.” Everyone agrees that the water is a trap, but they aren’t sure what kind. Maybe it’s worth the risk to drink it if the water isn’t poisoned? They are so tempted to try it that Eugene offers to drink the water first to prove that it’s fine.
As everyone’s resolve is about to break, the sky opens up and it starts to rain. Well, isn’t that convenient! It’s as if they’ve been divinely saved from drinking the trap-water.
But, their salvation is quickly dashed when the rain turns into a deluge. They find shelter in a barn. Inside the barn is a zombie woman, who likely died clutching the Bible that is near her. Maggie notes that the woman had a gun with her and wonders why the woman didn’t kill herself before she became undead. Carol says that it’s because she wouldn’t give up, just like they won’t give up.
Rick echoes this sentiment a short time later. He says:
“We do what we need to do and then we get to live. But no matter what we find in D.C., we’ll be okay. This is how we survive. We tell ourselves that we are the walking dead.”
I know a lot of fans have been waiting for Rick to utter the lines “we are the walking dead.” I’ve been indifferent to it and I thought they fell flat. More than that, I thought his speech contributed to the over-the-top nature of the episode. I don’t need the show to tell me that the world these people live in has turned them into living zombies. The show is good enough that I get it without a character telling me that it is so.
For whatever reason, the writers aren’t done hitting us over the head.
As the storm rages outside, zombies attack the barn. The first to barricade the door are Daryl, Maggie and Sasha, because, look!, they really want to live, guys! Get it!?
Yes show, we get it.
To be certain that we realize how important this scene is, there’s a swelling soundtrack and plenty of dramatic lightning. We also get shots of all of our survivors gritting their teeth and digging their heels into the dirt to show how hard this struggle is and that they’re willing to give it their all.
Oh, and in case we don’t understand that they all love and support one another, we need to see a wide shot of them HOLDING HANDS as they brace the door.
This moment is so important that we don’t get to see what happens next. We cut straight from everyone fighting for their lives to everyone sleeping.
What we couldn’t hear over all of that dramatic background music was a tornado. That’s right, a tornado came through and killed all of the zombies but magically missed the barn.
You see guys? All you need is to have faith and someone will magically provide food (dogs), water (rain) and freedom from certain death (tornados that surround your house but don’t destroy it).
Now, Maggie and Sasha feel so connected to the group now that they go out to watch the sunrise.
I legit didn’t make that up. That’s actually what happens! After a mystical tornado saves them from death, Maggie and Sasha decide that the world is good and they go out to watch the sun come up.
Okay, show! Whatever you say.
While Maggie, Sasha and the jewelry box (Maggie brought it with her) are watching the sun come up, a man named Aaron, who apparently knows the location of a well stocked J.Crew store, asks specifically to speak to Rick. Guns drawn, the girls are confused and concerned about how this man knows Rick by name. The music box is concerned, as well, and suddenly starts to play.
Last night I hated the music box ending, but today I sort of like it. It’s my new favorite character on the show. I’d like it to absurdly chime in whenever there’s “stranger danger.” It can be Maggie’s version of Bilbo’s Sting and instead of glowing, it starts to play music. Zombies and cannibals beware!
I hope some of you felt differently about this episode than I did. I really wanted to like it, but I couldn’t get on board with all of the dramatics. So, if you did like it, please comment and convince me that I’m wrong, because I hate not liking episodes of this show.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 on AMC.