One more episode, y’all. One more. What are we going to do this time next Tuesday? I don’t even know.
The cold open on “Us” was mundane and chatty, a welcome change of tone from last week’s “The Grove”. Proud mullet sporting Eugene (business in the front, party in the back, ladies) is talking Tara’s ear off with an endless stream of chatter. Chatter, I was amused to note, which took on an all-too-familiar tone of nerdy minutia (dinosaurs, video games, homemade batteries? That’s pretty much standard breakfast conversation around here). This is the man who holds the answer to infection?
Later than night, Abraham (who, as a total aside, I find myself gleefully liking, which is a total shocker to me, since his rapey opening line to Tara should have marked him unclean), is idly speculating on the nature of Tara’s loyalty to Glenn. A few moments of observation shoots down his initial “girl in love with the guy in love with the other girl” theory, and he keeps pressing, trying to get Tara to explain. Instead, Tara keeps her thoughts and her consuming, crippling guilt, to herself.
You can’t help but have your heart break a little for Tara at this point. She is the last of the innocents, in a way. Remember how she spent the entire beginning of the outbreak in the apartment with her sister, her niece, and her dying father? Remember how that place was a little oasis of safety in the middle of a seriously messed up world? Remember how the goodness of the women and girl even managed to soften a heart of horror like the Governor?
(another aside, as a confirmed beard lover, I would like to point out that the Governor’s moral conversion lasted only as long as his beard did. Bearded Governor = nice guy. Clean shaven Governor = hell fire bastard)
The next thing Tara knows, she’s evicted from her haven, thrown into the middle of a revenge fantasy of a psychopath, and loses sister, niece, and girlfriend all within a brief span of time. It’s not that Tara has suffered more than anyone else in the world, but her initiation into this hell has been more recent. Emotionally, she’s 18 months behind everyone else. So while her imagined debt to Glenn over Hershel’s death is noble, it is the decision of inexperience.
The next morning, while the group continues up the tracks, Maggie’s first bloody valentine is spotted. Glenn, sweet, impossibly sweet Glenn, takes off down the tracks. The rest of the group follows, but eventually Abraham calls for a stop by a railway tower. Glenn objects, his desperation to find Maggie at a fever pitch. During their conversation, a walker appears in the tower, and falls to its true death at the group’s feet. In the commotion, Tara is pushed, falls, and hurts her knee. Glenn tells Abraham that he will surrender his riot gear to Eugene in exchange for the group continuing until sundown. Abraham is reluctant to accept, and Rosita, who has somehow finally found clothes (another aside- if you were living in a zombiepocolypse, wouldn’t you wear as many layers as possible?) sees the extent of Tara’s injury, and rightfully calls out Glenn for his selfishness towards Tara.
At some point (I can’t remember where exactly), we are given a glimpse of Rick, Carl, and Michonne, who we haven’t seen in about a million years. Carl and Michonne are playing a game, while Rick looks on, an actual smile crossing his face. The game is so dumb, and the scene so lighthearted, that for a moment you can’t fully process what you’re seeing. Is Michonne being silly? Is Carl behaving like a normal 12 year old, and not a psychotic zombieslayer? And is that Rick, actually enjoying a moment of levity? The beast of the thing is, with The Walking Dead, you know that happiness is a zero-sum game. For every ounce of joy one character has, it will mean another character will undergo sorrow in the exact same measure.
The next scene opens with Eugene, be-mulleted and sporting the riot gear, continuing down the track with the rest of the group. They stop at a pitch black railway tunnel, where Maggie’s left another love note to Glenn. A love note that’s still wet, so recently it was written. Realizing that they’re so close to catching up, Glenn refuses to go around the tunnel, and insists on going forward, despite the moans of the undead echoing out of the darkness.
Abraham sighs and offers two cans of food to Glenn and Tara as a lovely parting gift, Eugene declares his weird nerdy love to Tara, Tara reminds him that she plays for the other team, and Rosita hugs the duo goodbye.
Then off into the super happy tunnel of “What Could Go Wrong?”.
Meanwhile, on another Road to Terminus, we see Daryl and the Band of Lawful Evil Brothers. Well, actually we see the Band of Lawful Evil brothers, but no Daryl. As the group is woken by the soothing sounds of a zombie dragging its face across barbed wire, they speculate that Daryl’s absence means he’s snuck off during the night. Good, we think think. He’s off to find Beth and reunite with the rest of the group and be the badass with the heart of gold that we all knew he was.
Lol, nope. Instead, he’s out hunting breakfast, suffers a kill steal by some greasy super bad guy (just how bad is he? he waxes wistful over child rape), and is prevented from killing said super bad guy by The Leader. Leader tells Daryl how things work with the group- they’re evil, but they’re lawful evil, which is to say, there are rules that are abided by. If you want something, you say, “claimed”, then it’s yours. You don’t steal. You don’t lie. Follow those three simple rules, and all’s good. Break a rule, and you get the snot beat out of you. Simple, brutal, and enough of a legal system to allow the half dozen thugs to exist more or less peacefully.
Except you can see the whole thing rankling Daryl. He’s almost glowing with the twin irritations of confusion and loathing. He hates those guys; he hates who they are and what they represent. Shoot, even if they were holding building supplies and busily reconstructing the burned out ‘shine shack while singing a round of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, they could not be a more obvious embodiment of the life Daryl thought he’d left behind.
But here’s the part where we are shown with absolute certainty that the writers of The Walking Dead hate us, the viewers- we see the Daryl is not strong enough to be a good person on his own. We see with heartbreaking clarity that Daryl is, at his heart, a follower. He’s not an alpha male. He’s not intrinsically good. He’s a follower who shape shifts into whatever the moral alignment of the strongest person in the group is.
Ugh. It’s so depressing that I’m just going to throw the whole chronology thing out the window right now, and hurry up and detail the rest of Daryl’s involvement in this episode so I can get past it.
Daryl skulks around for a little while longer, refusing to play the group’s reindeer games and “claim” anything. This results in him having to sleep on the floor of a mechanic’s, which doesn’t matter because no one sleeps much that night- super bad guy accuses Daryl of stealing, super bad guy is found to be lying about it, and The Leader allows the rest of the group to beat the snot out of super bad guy. In the morning, as they’re bugging out, Daryl discovers the broken, beaten corpse of super bad guy with a single arrow through its skull, dumped unceremoniously in the weeds. Daryl picks up a bloody sheet and begins to cover the corpse, to show a modicum of respect for the dead, but changes his mind and leaves the uncovered body behind him.
Ugh. It’s so depressing. Remember the moon eyes Daryl was making at Beth just two short episodes ago? Remember how he was all ready to play house with her forever? The pigs’ feet feasts? The midnight piano recitals? The impassioned defense of care for the dead? How it’s important because it reminds the living that the dead were once people, too? Yeah. All that’s gone from Daryl’s memory.
Is it horrible of me to say that this plot development- blind follower Daryl- is more upsetting on some level than Lizzy’s fate last week? If Tara’s story is heartbreaking because it’s all so new to her, Daryl’s is just miserable because he knows better. He’s been shown a better path, and he’s just too weak to follow it.
When The Leader offered Daryl a pull of the “white lightening” in his flask, and Daryl accepted, noting, “I haven’t been lit at dawn since before everything fell apart”, I was done. It’s not that I think Daryl would choose the Band of Lawful Evil Brothers over Rick, should they all meet up at Terminus, because I don’t. I think Daryl would happily join back up with Rick & Co., but that’s not the point. The point is that despite all the gifts he’s been given, Daryl is too weak a character to choose good on his own. Shoot, even mean-as-a-snake Merle chose good at the end.
Anyway, Glenn and Tara are still traipsing their way through the tunnel, and Glenn attempts to console Tara, realizing just how deep her misery and guilt runs. They come across a recent cave-in, which has trapped several zombies. As the pair walk past, Glenn carefully checks each walker before killing it, to make sure none of them are Bob, Sasha, or, unthinkably, Maggie. Further progress down the tunnel is impeded by a swarm of zombies (none of which are Maggie), and though Tara pleads with Glenn to turn back and go around, her words fall on deaf ears. Ultimately, they concoct a slapdash diversion, drawing the walkers to a flashlight, while Glenn and Tara attempt to sneak around the side of the rubble pile. While she’s descending, the rubble pile slips, trapping Tara’s leg under debris.
Meanwhile, Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene, sensibly outside the tunnel, find a working minivan, kill the undead inhabitant (Abraham’s million-mile stare as he scrubbed away the dusty plea to “Let Momma Be” was particularly poignant), and fight over who get to navigate. Eugene wins. Abraham sleeps. Rosita sighs heavily. Eugene, duplicitous, sneaky Eugene, directs Rosita to the opposite end of the railway tunnel to wait for Glenn and Tara. His justification, which is a pretty darn good one, is “I have to live with myself”, and turning his back on people who clearly need help doesn’t seem to be something Eugene can live with.
Conversation is cut short, however, as Rosita spots something beyond the camera frame. Something so alarming that she, Eugene, and Abraham stare at it with shocked faces as the scene cuts to black.
We return to Glenn and Tara. Still stuck in the rockslide, Tara tries to get Glenn to leave her. Self-sacrifice motivated by guilt aside, Glenn shows his true colors and doesn’t leave her. I can’t tell you how happy this made me, since Daryl’s defection to the spineless camp had seriously demoralized me. Even though the zombies have noticed the pair, and are quickly closing in, Glenn doesn’t leave his friend. Like Eugene, Glenn realizes he has to live with himself, too.
Loyalty and Doing the Right Thing pay off, as the tunnel is suddenly lit up with the flash and bang of bullets. Six backlit figures appear, mowing down zombies like it ain’t no thang. When the smoke settles, who should appear but Maggie and her group, who were the AMAZING THING Rosita spotted in the previous scene.
Maggie and Glenn are reunited, viewers unabashedly tear up, and love and happiness reign supreme. Glenn even tries to talk up Tara to Maggie, extolling her virtues in advance payment for the unhappy future moment when Maggie realizes Tara’s got some of Hershel’s blood on her hands. Eugene convinces Abraham to check out Terminus, people settle down for a hard earned sleep, and Maggie burns that creepy “Is she sleeping or is she dead” picture Glenn had been carrying around of her.
It would all be great except for three things:
1. zero-sum game, remember? Rick, Carl and Michonne’s happiness and Glenn and Maggie’s reunion must come at the cost of someone else. Who will suffer? Daryl, obviously. But what about Beth? She’s still out there, remember? So are Carol, Tyreese and Judith.
2. Daryl, finally deciding to throw himself into the “us” of the Lawful Evil, makes his first “claim” there on the Tracks to Terminus. He’s playing their game, following their rules, and swept up in the group’s crusade to head to Terminus to get even with Rick.
3. When Maggie, Glenn, and the rest of the group finally get to Terminus, it could not any creepier if they actually had clowns cavorting through the empty grounds. We’re not fooled by your sunflowers and cheerful paint job, Terminus. WE SAW THAT BBQ PIT, AND WE KNOW WHAT’S COOKING.
So there we are. One more episode left, and then a long, empty hiatus. What did you all think of this week?