After last week’s triumphant final sequence, this week sticks us back in the mud. Nope, none of our folks can catch a break. It’s how they deal with it that keeps us watching (most of the time – I actually watched the finale of True Detective as it aired on Sunday instead. I have thoughts, if you’re interested). In this episode of The Walking Dead, the emphasis is on the original existential crisis: we are all, each and every one of us, alone. This person’s struggle, that one’s loss, is distinct. But by sticking together, perhaps we can lessen our burdens.
The episode begins with a (slightly confusing) flashback. We met Bob Stookey at the beginning of season 4, but he was already in the mix at the prison; they’d encountered him between seasons 3 and 4, when the prison community was at its safest point. We never got to see why Daryl was so suspicious of Bob, or why Bob risked his and everyone else’s life (and killed Zach in the process) for a bottle of booze. In this glance back a few months, Bob looks every bit the walker himself. He slouches along empty roads, his icy eyes straight ahead, a machete perched on his shoulder. He hides in railroad ditches, gazing dispassionately at the walkers’ futile attempts to eat his face. When Daryl and Glenn find him and ask him Rick’s three questions (How many walkers you killed? How many people you killed? Why?), he’s positively thrilled; in the back of Glenn’s pickup he starts to adopt the faithful, sanguine smile he wears now.
After the credits, we switch back to the present, in which Bob is no longer alone: he, Sasha, and Maggie stand back to back in a foggy woods, surrounded by a herd of walkers. The three of them work together to protect each other, and Bob gets bitten, but says cheerfully, “he got me right on the bandage!” The three of them are happier and more alive than we’ve seen them in a long time. After a walker tackles her to the ground, Maggie discovers her compass is busted. Bob, optimistic as ever, says they don’t need it, because they can watch the sun. He’s so cheery; it’s a little weird.
Meanwhile, Daryl is teaching Beth how to track. “I’m gettin’ good at this. Pretty soon I won’t need you at all,” she says, all obnoxious sass. In her confidence, she fails to look down while she stalks her prey and steps directly into a trap. Though it doesn’t hurt her badly, it takes her down just when she needs to be up. Daryl saves the day. “Won’t need you anymore,” my ass. Daryl piggybacks her to the next destination, but they pause to put flowers on a grave marked “Beloved Father.”
Past the cemetary, they encounter a lovingly, spotlessly clean funeral parlor. Daryl cautions that whoever’s been tending to it is probably still around. “Looks like somebody ran out of dolls to dress up,” he remarks, referring to the walkers in suits and ties, hands clasped over their chests, lying in satin coffins. Beth thinks it’s beautiful; the person responsible “didn’t let it change them in the end.” No, honey, this isn’t beautiful. It’s creepy.
In the kitchen, they find peanut butter, jelly, and pig’s feet. There’s not a speck of dust on them, which means somebody’s been keeping this stash fresh. Where is this person? Beth plays the piano by candlelight, singing a lonely song. Daryl watches silently and finally clears his throat, letting her know he’s there. Then he settles into the coffin (“comfiest bed I’ve had in years”) and asks her to keep playing. Beth is surrounded by light, her angelic smile and big blue eyes enchanting…and I’m not happy about it.
Out on the railroad, Maggie, Bob, and Sasha discover a sign for Terminus (Sanctuary for All, Community for All, Those Who Arrive Survive). Sasha doesn’t want to follow it. “It sounds too good to be true,” she says, and I couldn’t agree more. When Bob asks her why she really doesn’t want to follow the gentle curves of the railroad tracks toward Terminus, she tells him she’s tired of looking for Glenn, who’s almost certainly dead. Having overheard this conversation, in the morning Maggie parts from them, leaving behind a note in the dirt. “Don’t risk your lives for me. Good luck.” In Bob’s world, nobody should ever be alone, so he insists they go after her. Maggie takes down, cuts open, and reaches inside a walker’s guts so she can scrawl a message to Glenn on a transformer. Bob and Sasha remain hot on Maggie’s heels, he staid and comfortable with their mission, she desirous of rest, of settling down somewhere “safe.”
In the funeral home, Daryl hears a noise on the perimeter and discovers an old, scruffy white dog missing an eye. It runs. Daryl suggests maybe they can settle here; maybe the people who’ve been stashing food will come back and welcome them. “So you do think there are still good people around,” Beth teases him. “What changed your mind?” He looks at her meaningfully. (In my notes here, I wrote “STOP STOP STOP. NO. Bad match.”) Of course, the moment Daryl gets to contemplate settling down, the moment he might begin to feel something again, the real world crashes back in. Thinking a noise outside is the same white cur, Daryl tries to let the animal in and discovers instead a herd of walkers at the door. This is the way the apocalypse works. You barely have time to think about your shit before you have to start killing again. It’s no wonder people go insane. Daryl tells Beth to run, diverts the walkers, and races to meet her outside. He finds her pack on the ground and a hearse speeding away. Beth is kidnapped.
Bob explains to Sasha that he was scared from being alone, and “bad things happened because I was scared.” (That’s an understatement.) This is the only reference we’ve had to his apparent alcoholism earlier in the season. He was alone, and it wrecked him. He tries to convince Sasha to come with him, to find Maggie. He tells her he’s going to try something, then kisses her gently. It’s been awhile since we saw anyone kiss on the show, and as it’s the second romantic scene in this fast-paced episode, it feels kind of odd.
The kiss isn’t enough to sway her; she decides to break off and make a home for herself in an abandoned building along the tracks. Sasha’s new digs are empty, dusty. It suddenly hits her that she’s alone and she may be alone forever. She accidentally knocks a pane out of the window and awakens Maggie, who’d been sleeping next to some inanimate walkers on the ground nearby. The two of them fight the ensuing group of undead, which includes Maggie slicing off a walker’s head with a towing sign (she’s in full-on badass mode this episode). Maggie reveals that she knows now she can’t do it by herself. “I’m not giving up, but I need your help,” she says, her face open and smiling through tears. Sasha admits she’s terrified that if they find Terminus, Tyreese won’t be there. Everyone’s loss, everyone’s fear, they’re all distinct. But everyone needs someone to watch her back. Not too far down the tracks, they catch up with Bob again.
Daryl sprints after the hearse that took Beth, obviously losing it quickly on foot. Dripping sweat, he gives up and collapses in the middle of a crossroads. In his despair, he doesn’t notice that he’s suddenly surrounded by a gang of scary guys with guns. After he breaks the ringleader’s nose with his bow, they all lower their weapons. This is none other than that group of goons from whom Rick, Michonne, and Carl narrowly escaped a few episodes ago. The ones who fought each other into unconsciousness (I think – I’m pretty sure I saw the man who collapsed in front of Rick as he crouched beneath the bed was still breathing) over sleeping spaces. So it looks like maybe Daryl isn’t alone after all. Joe, the gray-haired leader, asks, “Why hurt yourself if you can hurt other people?” These clearly aren’t the good guys. However, Joe’s teasing attitude, his overblown confidence, his sidekick and playful respect for Daryl’s defensive violence, evoke Merle. And we all know how Daryl responded to Merle.
Pacing this episode was hurried and rapid, bouncing quickly from group to group. It’s a welcome respite from the recent weeks, which focused on one splinter’s predicament for 45 minutes. In the final scene, the camera slowly zooms into the Terminus sign, where Glenn’s hand points to the center. One assumes he’s still with Tara, Esposito, Ford, and Porter. All of the shards from the explosive destruction of the prison are headed the same way now. Oxford defines “terminus” in two ways: “1. A final point in space or time; an end or extremity, 2. chiefly British: The end of a railroad or other transportation route, or a station at such a point; a terminal.” Perhaps this play on words is why I’m skeptical of this place. It represents the end, the extremity. They’re all searching for an end to their misery, but I’m not sure this place is going to be what they want.
Also, railroad ties are really awful for one’s ankles; if I were these folks I’d be in the grass by the tracks. Further, what happened to Bob the alcoholic? Where did he go, and how was he so quickly replaced by this confident, hopeful gent who works to keep his friends together? What do you think Terminus holds? And how do you feel about the possibility of Beth being gone forever? Finally, what will Daryl do next? Only three more to go before the end of the season.