While I continue to enjoy the quieter, more reflective episodes of recent weeks, I’ve never been able to buy into The Walking Dead‘s sense of hope, a feeling often expressed by characters when settled into a central location. And despite it missing that final key ingredient (the illusion of safety), “Alone” is a very optimistic episode of The Walking Dead, even in its most dramatic moments; but as the shadow of Terminus looms larger and larger over each and every character, I can’t help but feeling like I’m being set up again.
The clues couldn’t be more obvious: from the ominous poems, to the fairly consistent notion among characters that Terminus is a desirable destination, it’s already quite clear that Terminus is not the haven anyone believes it to be. Sure, characters like Sasha act as voices of skepticism, but those feeling can be attributed to circumstance of character (as we see in this episode, she’s one of the more pessimistic prison survivors), rather than legitimate concerns for the majority of people we see passing in front of the sign. And with Daryl, Beth, Bob, and the other characters of “Alone” showing signs of life in the aftermath of The Governor’s final stand, the path is set for The Walking Dead‘s normal plot progression: find a place, feel good, then it all hits the fan.
I’d like to give “Alone” the benefit of the doubt; but it’s hard to, especially when there’s already signs that things are heading in a bad direction. A prime example of this is Daryl; just as we see him connecting with another human being (the Daryl/Beth ‘shipping train ran at full steam tonight, folks) in a way beyond “we’re both good at killing zombies”, he runs into “Joe” (the leader of the gang Rick so sweatily escaped from a few weeks ago), who most likely spells bad news for our old friend. Daryl’s defined himself as a follower, a person who can get caught up in the actions and thought processes of the people he’s running with – and as we’ve heard already from under the bed of a stranger, that’s not a good sign at all (Beth also gets kidnapped, lest we forget that human connection both saves and destroys us in this world).
The same goes for Bob; as soon as Bob starts getting the slightest hint of a back story beyond what we learned upon his introduction to the show (noting that the only person he’s killed was a woman who asked him to do it), it feels like the clock is ticking on his life. “Alone” seems to know this, too, teasing us with an image of Bob getting bit, then attributing it to “just his bandage” getting ripped off by the teeth of the undead. Bob gets some story (and a brief flashback!), makes an emotional connection… now it’s just passing time until the other shoe drops – or at least it feels.
It feels like a show trying to have it both ways; where something like Breaking Bad or LOST wasn’t afraid to commit to one or the other (the former buying into the nihilistic nature of man, the latter a relentlessly optimistic show), The Walking Dead wants to have it both ways, using the show’s happiest moments as beacons for violent dramatic tension, rather than testaments to the show’s philosophies about societies and individuals in a world gone to hell. And it’s too bad; there’s so much to enjoy in “Alone”, be it Daryl’s lighthearted jokes about sleeping in a coffin or him and Beth sharing a meal in an abandoned home. However, it all feels like it should be taken with a grain of salt, positive emotions that will undoubtedly be ripped out of our hands with nothing but a whisper, not all unlike Beth’s kidnapping near the end of the episode. It makes it hard to invest in the developments of “Alone”, character or otherwise; the scales are so clearly tipped in the favor of ‘hope’ in this episode, it feels like set-up for more horrific, morality-crushing events to soon follow. Here’s hoping it isn’t, and I’ll reflect on “Alone” at the end of the season as a highlight of the series, a testament to the new storytelling style and narrative mentality of the show.
– Let’s just forget about Sasha and Bob kissing; it makes no sense, and comes out of the dumbest time-wasting debate since we sat around the farm, trying to fix a zombie-filled water pump. Bob doesn’t want to leave anyone alone, including himself; except wait, he’ll walk alone to try and find Maggie, leaving Sasha (who we might as well just call Sasha Fierce at this point, given her shallow, tough-as-nails characterization) alone herself without much of as second thought.
– was the zombie infestation planned by whoever kidnapped Beth, or was that just another convenient circumstance?
– the first shot we get of Bob, Sasha, and Maggie facing down a group of zombies bearing down on them in the midst of a thick fog, was terrifying. The less words The Walking Dead uses to set up its life or death situations (i.e. Rick’s escape from Joe and company), the better.
[Photo via Gene Page/AMC]