The recent string of post-prison episodes of The Walking Dead should have me excited for the prospects of the show’s future; but after “Still”, another strong standalone episode, I’m almost lamenting the end of season four, when it appears most characters will head to Terminus and reunite. It’s not that heading to Terminus is an illogical move for the show – with such a huge ensemble cast, it only makes sense the show constructs its longer narratives out of established locations, where more characters can interact and the social dissonance of a post-apocalyptic world can be shown to full effect. But these are not the strengths of The Walking Dead: when AMC’s blockbuster is at its best, it’s detailing the smaller adventures in between, as recent hours like “After” and last night’s “Still” have done so well.
Of the post-prison episodes, “Still” may actually be the most impressive, giving new depth to long-established characters with the silliest story line imaginable: after spending a night hiding from a large zombie horde (we presume), Beth and Daryl decide it’s time to get drunk. But it’s a story line that allows the writers to remove the facades both characters wear as protective devices: Daryl’s toughness is stripped away when he thinks about Hershel’s death, and both become furious when faced with their respective childhoods. It’s not just an opportunity for the two characters to bond – and not sexually, either… Huzzah! – it’s a chance for Daryl and Beth to grow as people, burning the bad memories and regrets of the past in the home they shutter themselves into for the night, giving the middle finger to the weaknesses preventing them from moving forward with their lives, and considering doing something besides barely surviving day-to-day travel.
As expected, there are moments where the attempts to give shades of gray to these fairly two-dimensional characters reach too far: Suddenly Wasted Daryl going off about his violent redneck upbringing is about as cliche as Beth’s “my Dad was a drunk preacher” stories, as is the episode reinforcing the Implied Powers of Masculinity by requiring Daryl to save Beth (or at least remind her he can save her whenever he wants, if he so chooses) from most dire situations she ends up through the episode (there are more than one; again, she’s always in danger while the camera always comforts us, letting us know he’s in control).
But when the episode moves beyond those simplistic ideas, it finds some interesting beats to hit between the two characters, like Daryl’s admission of the guilt he feels about Hershel’s death, or Beth’s self-revelation about her own survival (noting how Daryl appears to be built for “this world” in ways she’ll never be). As a central metaphor for the trappings of the past, the house provides a terrific dramatic setting for these moments, pushing Beth and Daryl to (drunkenly) look in the mirror and face horrors from both their childhoods (traumas that have largely defined them as adults in The Walking Dead), and the monsters groaning and standing outside the front door of said home.
Ultimately, “Still” is about stagnation: how staying in one place might seem safe, but ultimately only allows the horrors of the past to catch up with us, and play tricks with our mind. As humans, we’re driven by our desire to move forward – standing in one place and hiding does nothing for nobody, especially when there’s homemade moonshine involved (by the way: Daryl was a little too keen on knowing where that moonshine was… are we near his old stomping grounds?) – the only way to survive is to keep moving forward, a lesson I hope The Walking Dead continues to take to heart through the rest of the fourth season and beyond.
– “Welcome to the dogtrot”… what the what?
– Beth doesn’t want to be stuck in a “suck ass camp”, a hilariously fitting turn of phrase for her character.
– hey, Daryl’s arrows are starting to break… not a good sign for the ol’ cowboy.
– the Venus de Milo zombie (placed on top of milk-white mannequin legs) was a nice visual touch, a reminder that The Walking Dead still knows how to be creepy.
– The Walking Dead will never cease to enjoy scenes depicting murder/suicides: in this episode, we get a country club massacre/killing/group suicide.
[Photo via Gene Page/AMC]