Last week’s “The Grove,” a harrowing vignette if ever there was one, led us full circle. Having contemplated separating, having daydreamed of making simple lives in safe spaces, all of our characters were on their (not-so) merry way to Terminus, poor Lizzie and Mika excluded. This week, the writers had to pick us up, brush us off, and pat our metaphorical backsides so we’d keep on marching. So they took us back to the various other splinters – namely, to everybody’s favorite estranged lovers, Glenn and Maggie.
As they trudge along the tracks, Dr. Eugene Porter talks at Tara, who remains largely silent, her brow furrowed. “You cannot say for certain,” Eugene tells her, that the zombie plague “isn’t what killed off the dinosaurs.” The idea of undead dinosaurs is pretty rad, I’ve gotta admit. However, Tara is not and never was Porter’s kind of nerd. She also doesn’t swing that way. Once the sun sets, Ford and Tara stay up to watch over Eugene, their precious package, who snoozes next to Rosita and Glenn on the tracks. This scene calls back to the one in which Carol and Lizzie watched over Tyreese as he thrashed from a nightmare of Karen. Ford notes idly that Tara hasn’t slept at all yet. He’s curious why she’s here, and he thought at first she was in love with Glenn. “But I saw the way you were lookin’ down Rosita’s shirt when she was serving you dinner,” he continues mildly, to which she apologizes, equally softly. She ‘s running ragged paying her penance, and she asks Ford, a military man, “What do you do when the mission’s over?”
Meanwhile, Michonne and Carl play “who can balance on the track the longest” while Rick thinks pragmatically about water supplies. Despite himself it makes Rick grin to see Carl happy and laughing. They bet on candy bars, and in an attempt to startle Carl, Michonne loses her own balance. She hands him the last “Big Kat” bar, and Carl gives her a piece of his winnings. In this scene, civilization prevails. It’s such a rarity anymore in the series that it’s duly sweet. They’re cute together. Everybody’s forming their own little families.
The next morning, Glenn’s group encounters Maggie’s handmade walker-blood sign: GLENN GO TO TERMINUS. He takes off running, a smile appearing on his exhausted face; frankly, it’s more like a grimace. When Ford insists they take a break, a walker nearly tumbles down on them from a railroad tower. In the minor scuffle, Tara gets knocked about and hurts her knee. Ford wants to stop, but Glenn insists they can’t slow down. Rosita gives him what-for: “You’re an ass. She will do whatever you say because she thinks she owes you.”
Tara, who as far as she is concerned, does owe Glenn, limps after him with the rest in tow until they discover a train tunnel, from which the echo of groaning walkers emanates. On the outside of the concrete structure is scrawled another message from Maggie, Sasha, and Bob. This is as far as the pragmatic, protective Ford, Rosita, and Eugene can go. (And more power to them – this is horrendously remindful of that scene in The Stand in which Larry and Nadine have to navigate the Lincoln Tunnel, which is full of rotting plague victims.) In a moment of comic relief, Eugene tells Tara, “I have to say, you are seriously hot.” “Yeah,” she responds with a tight half smile at the ground, “I like girls.” “I’m well aware of that.” His stiffness, her amusement – it’s well played, and I’m guessing it’s a deliberate hat-tip to the nerd dudes who watch TWD religiously every Sunday. The ones who dig RPGs, sim racers, and making homemade batteries (have you noticed all the video game commercials that air during the show?). It’s a gentle, ironic curtsy to those guys who think Tara’s teh sex. Supernatural plays to its audience this way, too – it’s clever. (The discussions of TWD‘s female viewership vs. male viewership and the gender politics of gaming are for another day. Let’s just leave it be for now.)
After they part ways from the newer folks, Tara tells Glenn her story for the first time. She explains how when The Governor (“Brian”) told his disciples that they might have to kill some people, she jumped right on board – and she didn’t realize what he was until she watched him slice Hershel’s head off with a sword. Glenn has no idea what to say to this. Luckily before he has to respond, they encounter a cave-in complete with a bunch of walkers trapped under the rocks, flailing their smooshy arms, dripping sludge, and growling. The blood is still wet, so it had to have happened today, meaning maybe Maggie made it through. Glenn stabs a few through the head while Tara makes her way up the side. The tunnel on the other side is completely full of walkers, some of them with gaping holes through their middles.
Outside in a newly acquired vehicle, Ford, Rosita, and Eugene argue quietly over who’s navigating. Eventually Rosita agrees to drive while Eugene navigates, but it only takes her a few minutes to figure out he’s taking them in circles looking for Glenn and Tara. Soft hearts, these folks.
My notes here say, “Glenn is a fucking idiot, and insists they go THROUGH the walkers.” (What? I pull no punches when I’m typing frantically as things happen.) On her way down the other side of the cave-in, Tara gets her hurt leg stuck in a rock slide (obvs). Tara tells Glenn to GTFO, and just when we think she’s no more for this world (I had time enough to contemplate that I would miss her character, but not too much), suddenly there’s a car in the tunnel…and six people silhouetted in the headlights, screaming at Glenn and Tara to get down. In a hail of gunfire, the new crew takes out the walkers. It’s none other than Maggie, Sasha, Bob, Ford, Eugene, and Rosita.
Maggie and Glenn’s gleeful, sweet reunion made me teary despite myself. (Although Glenn’s been pissing me off recently, I think Steve Yeun is one of the better actors on the series.) Once the dust settles, Glenn introduces Tara to Maggie. He met her on the road, he says, and he couldn’t have made it without her: “She’s just that kind of person.” Tara can barely make eye contact, even after Maggie gives her a hug. Will he ever tell Maggie the truth? Is it necessary to let her know Tara’s part in Hershel’s death? I don’t think so.
After Eugene lets Maggie, Sasha, and Bob know why he’s on the way to Washington, everybody agrees that they’ll follow, but not before they see Terminus. They have to know. So, tomorrow they’ll go to the end of the line, and after that, to the nation’s Capital. In the tunnel as everyone beds down for the night, Maggie finds the creepy photo of herself sleeping and tells Glenn, “You don’t need a picture of me. You never will again.” At her insistence, Glenn burns the photo. This feels like a bad omen to me. How about you guys?
Throughout the episode, we bounce back and forth to Joe and his brutal gang, on the outside of which Daryl fights desperately to remain. In one of the series’ more gruesome zombie shots (thanks, Nicotero), a walker rubs its rotting face along the barbed wire surrounding their camp. As the guys wake up, scratching their balls and picking their noses, they discover Daryl rose early to hunt for himself. Just when our favorite tracker has zeroed in on a rabbit, Len comes up behind him and shoots the critter. Len “claimed” the rabbit, which apparently is how these dudes run their operation. (This is also the name of the episode in which we were introduced to them.) Considering himself a fair’s-fair kinda guy, Joe cuts the rabbit in half and gives the front end to Len and the back end to Daryl. A few minutes later, Joe sets in on Daryl as they walk side by side. “People don’t have to be friendly, don’t have to be nice, don’t have to be brothers in arms. Just gotta follow the rules,” he says. This all sounds minorly sane until you think about the kind of people these are, the kinds of “rules” they want to follow. It’s once again reminiscent of The Stand and the followers of the Walking Dude. Daryl, nervy and recognizing his brother in this bullshit, tells them there ain’t no “us.” Joe admonishes, “ain’t nothin’ sadder than an outdoor cat thinks he’s an indoor cat.” Though I understand what he’s saying – he recognizes Daryl as one of these tough, leather-jacket kinds of dudes, even if Daryl doesn’t see himself that way – this metaphor struck me as dumb.
Overnight, Len puts the front end of the dead rabbit in Daryl’s bag so as to get him “disciplined.” Joe saw Len commit this offense, so he sets his gang to beat the ever-loving crap out of him. “You understand the rules,” Joe tells Daryl. “He doesn’t.” Next morning Daryl finds blood splattered everywhere and Len’s body dumped outside the garage with an arrow through its eye. Daryl tries to put a blanket over him, then thinks better of it…why waste a good blanket on that guy? After he opened up to Beth (as much as I disliked that), he’s turning back to the dark.
Joe hands him a flask of shine and muses, “Seems to me like things are finally starting to fall together, at least for guys like us.” That’s spooky, but familiar: there are hordes of folks who would love the world to fall apart. Usually, they’re the ones who want to make the rules all over again, to rebuild the world in their own frightening image. When Daryl asks where they’re going, it doesn’t escape Joe that there’s now an “us” and that Daryl is implicitly agreeing to stick with them. They are, like everybody else, heading toward Terminus, but not for the same reasons. “Ain’t no sanctuary for all. Think they’re going to welcome guys like me with open arms?” Unfortunately, Joe and Co. are seeking some piece of “fecal matter” who strangled their friend and left him to get the rest of them, then took off. If you’ll remember, Tony tried to “claim” Joe’s bed after Joe was in it, and Joe choked him into unconsciousness as none other than Rick cowered beneath the mattress. Rick killed the guy in the bathroom, leaving him to resurrect and go after the rest of the gang. Upon waking, Tony was able to give a description to those who survived. Basically, this gang of creepy mofos is seeking Daryl’s friend and former leader, and they want revenge.
Here we are again, with one group pitted against another. I don’t honestly think Daryl will turn to the bad, but they’re setting us up for another battle. For the first time, Daryl “claims” something – a plant he rips out of the dirt by the tracks. He then steps over the Big Kat wrapper left behind by Carl and Michonne – they’re not far behind Rick, now. Michonne and Carl’s civilized “share and share alike” scene contrasts sharply with the “dog eat dog,” “claimed” world of Joe’s gang, and the showrunners reveal it in the way Daryl steps over the flapping wrapper.
In the final scene our biggest splinter, the group of eight (Maggie, Glenn, Ford, Rosita, Eugene, Tara, Sasha, Bob), finally arrives at Terminus. The soundtrack swells with a melodic indie song as they ogle a huge garden in the back parking lot. They lift the chains from the open (open?!) gate and file through it, guns held high. Sunflowers bob in the sun. “Lower your weapons,” a sign exhorts them. “You will be met. You have arrived at Terminus.” The station, all bright brick and shining glass, is sunny and calm. Is this place what it seems? Is there any way? A woman approaches them, her soft smile beaming. “I’m Mary. Welcome to Terminus.”
And so we arrive at the final destination. Next week is the season finale, and as always we’re set up for either the worst or the best. The writers have wound up all our little mechanical men, and they’re all marching toward the same destination. As usual in the post-apocalyptic world, some of these folks are in better emotional and mental shape than others. There remain only a few wild cards at this point: Where’s Beth? They won’t leave us hanging on her story; where’s the hearse? What will her return (in either sense of the word – alive or dead) bring for Daryl? What will it mean for Maggie? Finally, of course, what is Terminus? Can it be the solution they seek, or is it the end of the line for everyone?
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