Sunday, March 9, 2014

WALKING DEAD: "Alone" -- Coupling Up

It's impressive how the show gave such importance to intimacy, given that this episode of The Walking Dead is entitled, "Alone."

As a matter of fact, it's downright mind-blowing the care they put into structuring the intricate levels of this show, interlacing clues throughout each episode, many of which only become significant several shows down the road. 

I mean, given all the grotesque zombies and unexpected scares, the series could've simply relied on the tropes of the genre and made a standard horror show. 

Thankfully, those involved in making the show appear devoted to reaching far beyond the expected to make important statements about the human condition... all while embracing their zombie/horror genre.

I suppose that's why The Walking Dead appeals to so many, including me. (I am far from a devotee of the zombie/horror genre, although I once had a friend who taught me to appreciate vintage Italian horror...but that's another story.)

In "Alone," the series continued building on this season's subtle theme of "living, not just surviving."


This concept has been woven in to every episode, with "Alone" focusing on the idea that one needs others to live.

When Maggie (Lauren Cohan) directly expresses this thought to Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), on the surface it sounds like she's just reiterating the survival technique of "there's safety in numbers." And she is.

But on a deeper level, Maggie is expressing a familial need for others. She could ask and expect Sasha and Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) to help in her search for Glenn (Steven Yeun) because their time in the prison has made them family.

They all need each other. Not only to help fend off the relentless zombie plague, but for emotional support and companionship.  

In essence, they need others around so that they can retain their humanity. 

Let's not forget the madness that took over Clara (Kerry Condon) when she was left to survive alone with only her zombie husband's head in a bag in this season's premiere episode "30 Days without an Accident."

While Maggie verbally expresses this lesson, it's Sasha who we saw learning it. Sasha was so fixated on her own survival, she put finding a safe haven above her loved ones, sacrificing any hope of finding her brother Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) and a possible romance with Bob in the process.

Standing alone in that relatively safe, but empty warehouse, we see Sasha realize that survival is meaningless if you've got no one to survive with.

This is a lesson we know Bob has learned, due to that cleverly placed flashback that opened the episode. Witnessing Bob on his lonely trek of pointless, perfunctory survival (before he met up with our prison family), we know instinctively why he smiles throughout the episode -- no matter how bad circumstances get.

It's because surviving with others is reason enough to live. And with this realization, Bob recognizes that this means the needs of those others (in this case Maggie's quest for Glenn) become your needs, too.

And how poignant, that kiss between Bob and Sasha. He uses it almost as a litmus test to see if Sasha is a person worth being with. 

After all, one might assume that when a guy's faced with the decision between chasing after another man's loyal wife or staying with an attractive single woman, the choice would be clear. But Bob can sense in that single kiss that Sasha is no longer interested in living, just surviving. 

And he's had enough of just surviving.


Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Beth (Emily Kinney) experienced a variation of this lesson as well, in what could be considered the epilogue to their solo episode, "Still."

In "Still" Beth showed Daryl that people had value, including himself and that neither of them needed be defined by the people they were before this moment. 

In "Alone," Daryl and Beth grow even closer, sharing several intimate moments, such as the piggyback ride, the coffin serenade, the matrimonial carrying of Beth into the kitchen, and that aching moment when Daryl confessed just how he felt about Beth in one look alone.

Naturally, all hell had to break loose before we could learn just what kind of intimacy Daryl was feeling for Beth. And of course, the melee had to end with Beth's kidnapping (by what we can only assume is some survivor nut in a "men in black" sedan) and ├╝ber-tracker Daryl losing her trail at a crossroads.

That crossroads. 

What perfect setting for Daryl, a man at his own internal crossroads.

Beth has just led Daryl to the path of embracing the better man he has become since "the turn." Only to have her stolen away before the lesson can truly take root within him.

The pair had just symbolically burned his reckless, directionless past (a time when he blindly followed the lead of his criminal brother), only to be overtaken by a treacherous gang of marauders perhaps even more joyously violent than Daryl's dead brother. (A fact we know to be true due to Rick's brief encounter with this very same gang in "Claimed.")

To survive, it seems Daryl will have to rely on those old, familiar immoral traits he learned at his brother's side. Traits he so recently promised Beth that he'd never fall back into using.

We're left questioning whether Daryl will be sucked back into mere survival by the corruption of this villainous gang, or if he's learned the value of living and will escape the gang in time to rescue Beth (if she indeed needs rescuing -- I mean, we can't be sure if those who took her were kidnappers or rescuers...)

It seems significant that the crossroads setting Daryl came to wasn't a 4-way stop, but a fork in the road.

At his back, we see the path he's traveled (a concept both literal and figurative), and before him two new paths traveling in opposite directions.

Daryl must now choose whether he'll relapse back into his old, follower ways, or if he'll continue to be the hero we've grown to love.

Even more significant, I think, was the visual clue of the train tracks that sliced through that crossroads. 

If we're lucky, it's foreshadowing that Daryl, the hero, will soon find his way home to the rest of the group in Terminus.

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