I don’t think any two episodes of The Walking Dead have been as different as these. Them was a tone poem on the weight of grief; The Distance is another move-the-plot step out onto the old tightrope of risk and trust. I found both episodes satisfying, for completely different reasons.
The first scene of Them set the mood: a closeup of Maggie’s eyes as she cried, then the sag of her shoulders as a zombie wheezed up behind her. She just seemed so tired: standing, turning, knifing the thing in the head, and sitting back down. She’d have rather been anywhere but here.
Anywhere but here was the unspoken mantra of all the survivors in that hour, as they searched for water, walked, fought off walkers, searched some more, and ate a sad dinner.
After a few years pretending he was dead, he made it out alive. And that’s the trick of it, I think. We do what we need to do, and then we get to live. – Rick
In an episode without much dialogue at all, Rick’s remembrance of his grandfather — a soldier in WWII — becomes the focus. The survivors have just found shelter from the rain they’d all longed for hours before, and it’s in that cabin with the others where Rick has his epiphany. “We are the walking dead,” he says.
This is the thing about trauma, especially the kind of siege people go through in times of war or terror. Parts of your life become mechanical: Get up, get dressed, eat something, go. Day after day is like this, if you survive. But what if the siege ends? How do you learn to live again?
That’s the dilemma the survivors encounter at the end of Them, when the “friend” who’d left them water as an anonymous gift presents himself. Aaron is an impossibly clean new face: polite, neatly dressed, with a recent haircut. He’s been following the survivor group for some time, which immediately everyone nervous. And he has an unfortunate tendency to joke, even about matters as serious as offering shelter in his “community.”
I know ‘audition’ makes it sound like we’re some kind of a dance troupe. That’s only on Friday nights. – Aaron
But as The Distance shows us, everything the man says appears to be true. The two cars he promised were parked nearby are there; the only gun he’s carrying shoots flares; he even packed some homemade applesauce for Baby Asskicker, in a neat little eco-friendly jar. Sure, the survivor group freaks out when they find a listening device in his car; but what other choices are left?
Trusting strangers who offer shelter has never worked out for the survivors. The farm was a boring mirage; Woodbury, with its tyrannical Governor, was a disaster; and the hipster cannibals at Terminus were the actual worst. Whatever this place is, it can’t be worse than a slave hospital or a Nazi slaughterhouse, right?
The decision is unanimous. Aaron’s “community,” Alexandria, will be the survivors’ new home. It may be temporary, however: in “the distance” that gives the episode its title, there at last is Washington D.C. Let’s hope someone in that RV is a lobbyist!
Final episode thoughts:
- Aaron’s community begins with his partner, Eric — keeper of Aaron’s second flare gun, and apparently much more than that. Welcome, First Out Gay Couple in the Zombiepocalypse!
- Aaron’s flare gun is responsible for this week’s great zombie kill. After the relentless sadness of last week’s episode, I think we all needed the pure comic release of that flare-in-the-eye shot.
- How did Aaron acquire so many tools? Flare guns? A listening device? What else is this guy packing? Sewing machine? Apple peeler?
- Interesting name, ‘Alexandria.’ Any history buffs want to weigh in on this one? It seems a very … ambitious name for a zombie-proof housing development.
- The community of the survivors seemed stronger before Aaron arrived. The unforgettable unity of that scene at the cabin door, in Them — as one member of the group after another threw their weight against a stagger of zombies outside — won’t happen again for a while, I think.
- Michonne, take the wheel. When Rick’s inability to trust even the least threatening new face throws him into a kind of leadership paralysis, quiet Michonne finds her voice.
We need this. We’re going. All of us. – Michonne
- I’m happy with this development: to a point. Like everyone else, Michonne is weary, and willing to see promise in a place she hasn’t actually seen. This isn’t a world that rewards leaps of faith.
- Rick’s stashed his gun outside Alexandria. Just in case. Rick’s instincts aren’t always right, but doubt has always been a safer bet than hope on this show. Why a blender, though?