*** THERE BE SPOILERS … AND ROAMERS/WALKERS/ROTTERS AND LOVE SWEET LOVE AHEAD ***
Heaven, I’m in heaven
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek
(as sung by Frank Sinatra)
It may appear a little odd, just a trifle, to reference the lyrics of an impossibly romantic song by the king of cool Frank Sinatra at the start of a review of an episode that featured a fearsomely good right punch, walker guts clogging up a car and more outright suspicion and mistrust that a rabid gathering of conspiracy theorists.
But dancing, admittedly of the troupe variety and not the 1950s romantic comedy kind, was referenced in “Distance”, an episode that underlined how hard it is to see the welcoming forest for the trees of past experience and how that might come back to bite you on the ass way before a walker can sink its dental hygiene-challenged chops in you.
Rick (Andrew Lincoln), for his part, was doing his best disillusioned lumberjack routine, refusing to accept that Aaron (Ross Marquand), one of the two lead scouts for the Alexandria Safe Zone; ASZ from hereon (along with his boyfriend Eric, played by Jordan Woods-Robinson, with whom he enjoyed some genuinely tender moments, intimate banter and a scene-stealing, heartwarming kiss), and The Walking Dead‘s first openly gay character, might actually be on the level.
To be fair, if someone came to your ragtag bunch of exhausted, existentially stretched to breaking point group of survivors, your “family” as Rick touchingly referred to them at one point, and said “Hi there, ho there, hey there, I have water, and impossibly tall, strong steel fences and all the food and peace and quiet you could want … and by the way we’re super swell people who never eat anyone or try to impose their psychotic will on them” – for the record Aaron, careful of speech and the odd side joke, wasn’t quite this hard sell but only just – you could be forgiven for thinking it a little bit too good to be true.
SASHA: “He has a camp nearby. He wants us to audition for membership.”
AARON: “I wish there was another kind of word. Audition makes it sound like we’re some kind of dance troupe. That’s only on Friday nights.” [crickets chirp, no one laughs, the joke officially tanks bigtime)
Or in Rick’s case, not believe a freaking word of it, punch the guy out when he tries to show you photographic proof that the ASZ is a paradise here on apocalyptic earth, tie him up and treat him like a Klu Klux Klansman come selling white sheets and racial intolerance.
I mean, Rick and the gang have been through a lot and have every right to be enormously, ridiculously, Sequoia Tree-toweringly suspicious of anyone, Greek or otherwise, who come nearing gifts (including the water they came across on the road in last week’s “Them”).
And Aaron did come bearing gifts and the post-apocalyptic version of a Powerpoint presentation, with well-polished lines that you can only presume have won over other hardened and weary hearts in the past.
But as proof that even after the world has ended some people still hate slick, well-put together presentations with a joke or two – alas Aaron seemed to have left his Powerpoint preso at home in the laptop although he remembered to dress well and keep his sense of humour, at least at the start – Rick reacted none too well to Aaron’s attempts to get him and the other 14 survivors to “audition” (Sasha’s words, not mine) for this safe-and-snug Hallmark-approved community.
Again, while you can well understand why Rick would feel this way, he frankly came across as kind of jerk.
An angry, overly-suspicious, everyone-is-a-homicidal a**hole I won’t play nice with them I won’t douchebag jerk.
Yes Aaron didn’t exactly help his cause by admitting he and Eric had been shadowing the group for days, that they had listening devices to hear their conversations and likely had a (non-bloody) stalker wall full of photos of Rick’s group back in their high-walled Shangri-La.
But you can hardly blame the ASZ people, who if the comics are any guide, have a pretty sweet thing going on, one that wouldn’t be enhanced by bringing in a group of Governor-esque psychos or people who lick their lips every time you expose a bit of flesh, for wanting to make sure their new community members are going to be more apt to plant potatoes and sit on the porch than shoot them all while they sleep.
But even with all that in mind, it felt like writer Seth Hoffman, who otherwise framed a particularly good taut episode, and director Larysa Kondracki, might have gone a little too hard on the whole angry, ain’t-gonna-like-ya-or-trust-ya and you can’t make me Rick.
No doubt he was yanked character-wise to the extremes so that Michonne (Danai Gurira), who had urging Rick for some time to find a home, a real home, could come across as the sweet, honey-coated voice of reason – not really honey-coated; can you imagine how hard it would be to get walker body parts off you after a skirmish? – and essentially make the decisions that Rick could not.
And make the decisions she did.
To send Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) – who managed to find some time, in-between killing walkers and rifling through Aaron’s food-stocked Winnebago, to sort out their recent relationship “hiccups” – and herself to check out if Aaron’s story about their being two cars parked a ways off was true.
GLENN: “He said he was watching us right? It means he saw us yesterday. After everything we’ve done, why would he want us to join his group?
MICHONNE: “People like us saved a priest. Saved a girl who rolled up to the prison with the Governor. Saved a crazy lady with a sword. He saw that.”
To take everyone to the community after everything Aaron had said largely checked out and to not look a hey-we’re-actually-safe-really-safe-from-walkers gift horse in the mouth and say “Hell no!”, which seemed to be the only reaction Rick, who Michonne had to talk around more than once to sound reason and non-puchable behaviour, was capable of evincing throughout “Distance”.
Rather than undercut his authority or breed resentment between them, what Michonne and Rick’s interchanges accomplished, and where Seth Hoffman excelled, was advancing the lovely sense of intimacy that is growing between the two.
There is talk that Rick and Michonne may become an item – the fact that they and Carl and Judith all ended up in the one car travelling to ASZ’s steel-trimmed Happy Valley might have been a hint that is in the offing – but even if that doesn’t happen, the fact that Michonne can speak her mind and Rick will actually listen can only be good for the group’s overall welfare.
So yes Michonne, along with Maggie and a few of the others (Daryl just mumbled snarkily pretty much the whole time), finally argued that they owed it to themselves to at least check out the ASZ.
But even here, after everyone had piled into cars, and head off down the road to what might be their new, walker-free, anxiety-absent home – if you plan on being a post-apocalyptic real estate salesperson, I’d would advise you lead with this in your sales spiel – Rick, who never met a faux-Trojan horse he didn’t like, almost royally fouled things up for everyone.
Ignoring Aaron’s advice to go down Route 16, which he said they had cleared out – quite how you’d stop new walkers ambling across it wasn’t clear but they seemed to have managed it – Rick opted to go down Route 23 north which was fairly seething with more rotters than you can shake a katana at.
He, Michonne, Glenn and still hand-tied Aaron somehow escaped with their lives – not before spectacularly lighting up a walker’s head like a candle-lit pumpkin head on the 4th of July which was awesome indeed – but it underscored that Rick’s mistrust, while stemming from some rather ugly past experiences, was now more of a liability than asset, something Michonne happily made clear to him in no uncertain terms.
MICHONNE: “We need this. So we’re going – all of us.”
Back on Route 16, at which point Aaron restrained himself from saying “I told you so!” over and over in multiple languages and in ever more accusatory tones – his introduction was a masterstroke by Seth Hoffman, who quickly and elegantly, aided by Marquand’s just-so nuanced performance, helped us to understand how committed, compassionate, reasonable, empathetic, intelligent and deeply in love with his partner he is – they found the others, who has saved Eric from becoming walker chow (Aaron was, as you’d expect, deeply thankful) and rolled up the gates of the ASZ, ready to see if paradise or hell lay waiting behind the silent, very tall walls.
It sets things up nicely for next week’s episode “Remember” in which it appears old habits die hard …