Every week for the fifth season of AMC's post-apocalyptic drama The Walking Dead, David Sims and Lenika Cruz will discuss the latest threat—human, zombie, or otherwise—to the show's increasingly hardened band of survivors.
Sims: So, after five seasons, The Walking Dead has proven there's something worse than zombie attacks: suburbia! Am I right? The group has suffered much in its travails through the post-apocalyptic, undead wasteland, but Sasha's ordeal at the Alexandria dinner soiree felt particularly brutal. "Forget" did a great job confronting the simultaneous appeal and the danger of the safe zone, with Rick, Daryl, Carol, and Sasha each encountering various pitfalls of the fantasy life they're trying to settle into, but the core question of the episode was the exchange between Sasha and Deanna near its conclusion. "This isn't real," Sasha insisted. Deanna sympathized, but didn't agree. Was she right?
Sasha's very clearly battling post-traumatic stress disorder, which is understandable considering her boyfriend got eaten by cannibals and her brother died in a zombie attack on the way to Alexandria. Everyone's been through hell, of course, but Sasha could barely stand to be around anybody—the very sight of someone eating was enough to push her over the edge. That's probably what Deanna meant when she dismissed Sasha's protest about the safe zone's false comfort. Sure, to someone who endured what Sasha endured, Alexandria might feel too good to be true, but maybe her perspective is too skewed or overly sensitive. They've survived behind the gates this long, so why not take it at face value?
But the dinner-party scene, where Sasha snapped at a friendly neighbor asking about her favorite dish (so she could cook it for her!), was remarkably well done and tapped into the unshakable spookiness about this place. Sasha's house was filled with pictures of its lost citizens, and another dead resident left behind cop uniforms that Rick and Michonne uneasily donned to fill their new roles as constables. The Alexandrians have remained weirdly nonchalant about protecting their territory, figuring that placing a gun in an empty guard tower will be enough to scare off bandits (kind of like leaving the lights on when you go out for the night). It all suggests that outside of the walkers, Alexandria has never had to deal with the true villains of the apocalypse, that being evil humans. The "butcher or cattle" mentality of Terminus was forged by the horrifying bandits who took it over once upon a time; serene Alexandria has never had to contend with that.
Of course, it's Rick and company who might end up posing that threat to the safe zone, but just a couple of episodes into this arc, some of the heroes have begun shying away from their dark outlook. Daryl was quite taken with Aaron and Eric, who invited him over for dinner; Rick developed a crush on the lady watching his daughter, although he knows she's married; even Sasha appeared to waver by the end of the episode, so forceful was Deanna in her belief in their safety. Only the flinty Carol remained unchanged, delivering a threatening monologue to a kid who caught her stealing weapons, in order to keep him from tattling. Carol has been the scariest member of the group for a while now, but it was nice to be reminded that her mother hen act is just that: an act.
Cruz: "Forget" offered another glimpse of how tense and uncomfortable it can be to build a community from scratch, the biggest lesson being how to balance individual concerns with the overall good of the group. Of course, this was something that Rick and company struggled with for several seasons, but now they have to do it all over again in a place not run by an eye-patched tyrant or by creepy people-eaters. The big reversal that came to my mind was, what if this time, it's not the new community that's the problem, but the survivors themselves? What if Rick and the gang manage to bungle a perfectly good situation on their own, thus proving themselves to be more like the people they previously ran away from?
There were infinite shades of gray at work in "Forget," where the interpersonal fractures that emerged in last week's episode only deepened. Carol let her crazy, at-all-costs persona shine through when she threatened the little boy, and Sasha further fenced herself off from regular life. Just when it seemed like Daryl was content to skin possums and cast grumpy side-eye for all of eternity, he and Aaron grew closer, thanks to a hunting trip, a refurbished motorcycle, and a job offer. "You can tell the difference between a good person and a bad person," Aaron told Daryl simply, after asking him if he wanted to become a recruiter for Alexandria. It's an interesting choice: turning a Daryl, an interloper and outsider, into an ambassador for a community he barely knows. But this looks like the start of a shift in Daryl's mostly stagnant character arc. At the start of the episode, he plotted with Carol and Rick to steal some guns from the lockup for their own protection, but by the end he was the only one of the trio who refused to take a weapon.
Michonne also appeared to be moving further into the fold—watching her hang up her sword over the mantle, like some kind of relic or decoration, was surreal. Slightly more toward the middle of the adjustment spectrum was Rick, whose ambivalence about the entire situation shone through perfectly in that last scene. His inner savage flared up visibly at the sight of Jessie and her husband (evidenced by Rick's hand going to the gun at his hip), but he forced himself to stay in check. The final shot of him with his hand and head rested against the wall, walker mere millimeters away on the other side, summed up his (and everyone else's) struggle to tame their more animalistic impulses for the sake of, in Deanna's words, "civilization."
David, do you get the same sense I do that somehow Michonne and Daryl will find themselves at odds with Rick and Carol as everyone finds their groove in Alexandria?
Sims: I do, and I like that concept: tension brewing at the top rather than the bottom, with no one unambiguously in the right or wrong. Daryl turning out to like the place feels like the least subtle twist, but Michonne's inner workings remain much more nebulous. I, too, loved the sight of her hanging up the sword (and in that cop uniform with the tie, which she really pulled off), and I feel she'll probably end up tipping the balance in this latest struggle. Rick is making a concerted effort to fit in—you noted that wonderful final shot of him against the border wall, and he really hesitated before taking a pistol from Carol.
After two episodes in Alexandria, Deanna remains the real mystery here. She's so upfront and gregarious, eager to integrate, but still a curiously private woman. Her backstory still doesn't make a ton of sense to me—yes, she's a former congresswoman, so she's good at talking to people, but will viewers get any sense of what the world was like in D.C. as everything started to crumble? Every new character on this show comes with some complicated past, and I struggle to believe that Alexandria came together as easily as it did. But maybe that's the Rick Grimes in me, refusing to accept that something can be safe and helpful, with no big catch. Maybe there is no big twist around the corner.
Nah. This is still The Walking Dead, which means conflict has to arise from somewhere. Whether the group starts to rend internally, or some attack from the outside knits them together, there'll definitely be something to propel things in the final three episodes. Related: There are only three episodes left this season. Sob.
Cruz: And yet a lot can happen in three episodes, especially considering The Walking Dead's newfound respect for pacing. I'm a little worried about the show's sense of character focus, though: Earlier this season, I felt like the writers did a commendable job of making each character feel in some way integral, or at least not obvious zombie-bait for the next round of blood-letting (R.I.P. T-Dog). But since arriving in Alexandria, I've already kind of forgotten to care about Eugene, Rosita, Tara, and Abraham (the last of whom was rescued from obscurity by some brief screen-time with Michonne). Perhaps now that viewers have a strong grasp on the show's most essential characters, the story will be able to shift elsewhere, like to Maggie, Glen, and Carl. Which is to say: I'm not interested in seeing Rick get into some petty, Neanderthal, me-want-woman fight with Jessie's husband. That weird drunken cheek kiss at the party was plenty uncomfortable, and the last thing the show needs is a new Lori-and-Shane-type love triangle.
Like you, I'm hoping to learn a bit more about Deanna, who appears to be genuine, but who still bothers me a little. No matter how much of a genuine straight-shooter she seems to be, I keep waiting to find her nibbling on a giant, grilled femur or with a collection of zombie heads in aquariums.
It's like Aaron said to Rick back when he was tied up in that barn: Does it really matter what story I tell you if you're just going to assume I'm lying? The issue here is how do people, with the smoldering remains of "civilization" all around them, re-establish a common ground for building trust? After going through so much betrayal, how do you even begin to let down your guard around strangers? And how do you decide when to let those strangers become acquaintances, and then, maybe friends?
And let's not forget that, somewhere out there is Morgan, who was on his way to D.C. the last time the show ran into him. I have a sneaking feeling he'll become a catalyst for some of the action coming at the tail-end of the season, and I've got my fingers crossed for a distressing, white-knuckle finale along the lines of last season's "A." I don't quite have a vision for how The Walking Dead could possibly top Terminus, but unless the finale is a wreck of CDC-explosion proportions, it's likely season five will be remembered as the show's finest bit of storytelling thus far.