* SPOILERS AHEAD … AS WELL AS MUCH GRIEVING, MANY PORKY PIES AND A SUBSTANTIAL LOSS OF SELF-CONTROL*
“The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and …”
Such a simple child’s ditty, one that celebrates the happy joys of heading somewhere special on a magical wonderful bus as a child where babies cry, horns toot and mum and dad tell you they love you.
All together now – “Awwwww”.
But in the endlessly dark world of The Walking Dead, where there is no such thing as an idyllically innocent anything anymore – Carl’s (Chandler Riggs) eventual heart-to-heart of sorts with Enid (Katelyn Nacon), snugly trapped in a hollow tree trunk, is loaded with reminders that even the possibility of first teenage love is coloured by harsh new adrenaline-pounding realities – buses aren’t so much for the riding in as the being thrown under.
Repeatedly, either by others, or if you’re Rick (Andrew Lincoln) or Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), by your own greatly-unhinged hands (this conjures up all manner of ghastly visual images, any and all of which would fit this dark episode).
The Alexandria Safe Zone (ASZ) may be many things but free from the body and soul-imperiling Machiavellian machinations of the flawed human soul? Not so much.
The main offender, bus-throwing-under-wise, was as you might expect, was spineless, simpering Nicholas (Michael Traynor), the man who you might recall from last week’s episode “Spend”, took each and every opportunity to demonstrate a thousand different, all unattractive, variations on rampant cowardice.
In quick order, he abandoned his best friend Aiden (Daniel Bonjour) to die after some ill-advised grenade-throwing left him pinned to a forklift, Tara (Alanna Masterson) out for the count from massive head injuries, and a herd of zombies closing in for some late afternoon chowing down on human flesh; scrambled out of a revolving door exposing Noah (Tyler James Williams) to a gruesome, bloody ripped limb-from-limb death; and tried to steal the van, sans Glenn (Steven Yeun), Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Tara.
It was a yellow stripe so big it could be seen from space, and underscored that while the ASZ may be a post-apocalyptic Shangri-La, a nirvana of high walls and endless boxes of pasta, its residents are woefully unprepared for facing, and dealing with as it needs to be dealt with, the cold, cruel new undead world that lies just outside their towering shopping mall cast off ramparts.
Shaken by the realisation that he doesn’t have what it takes to survive on the outside (not that he will admit that, of course) – Glenn makes it abundantly clear to Nicolas in “Try” that people like him are all dead by now; in other words the cowardly inept all became walkers or their meals long ago – Nicholas spun a web of lies to protect himself that would have left even grasping schemer Frank Underwood from House of Cards gasping at the audacity of it all.
Nicholas’s recounting of events to Aiden’s grieving mother Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) was all lies, damn lies and quite possibility even a few statistics, the manufactured self-serving fairytale nature of his untruths contrasted brilliantly with the truth by writer Angela Kang and director Michael Satrazemis thanks to a clever interspersing with Glenn’s barely-audible, emotionally-shaken accurate retelling of what went down in the warehouse to a naturally sympathetic Rick.
In pre-Father Gabriel ratting out the people who saved him, “Satan dressed as an angel of light”, Deanne loving her new community member days, it’s likely that Nicholas would have been exposed for the craven, cowardly liar he is.
But now? Well now, with Deanna suspicious and her previously sound judgement addled by grief, it’s an even way bet how this will all play out.
One thing you can be guaranteed is that it won’t be pretty or particularly edifying to what is left of the overall human spirit.
Of course Rick didn’t exactly help his group’s fragile cause by going all bats**t crazy at the end of the episode.
With a gun no less, which he waved about like it was a stick in search of a missing piñata (or his sanity, you know, whatevs).
Increasingly angry that Pete the drunken surgeon (Corey Brill) was beating up on the object of his would be adulterous passion Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) – his ardour for prosecuting the case, which had been fanned by Woman Most Likely to Kill For the Heck of It AGAIN and Scare More Small Children, Carol (Melissa McBride), was driven less by a hatred of domestic violence and more by runaway lust – Rick went all Rambo on Pete’s arse.
In Pete and Jessie’s house … and then not in Pete and Jessie’s house, an innocent window – good luck getting a repair callout on that one guys – bearing the brunt of their misplaced manly fury.
It was not either man’s finest moment, and while it, by many accounts, hewed close to the storyline of the comic books , it underlined a worrying trend in the ongoing narrative of The Walking Dead, which is a tendency to repeat the whole us vs. them dynamic to its repetitively bloody end.
Yes, guys, we get that it’s a zombie-eat-dog world, and things are GRIM, and humanity is not exactly displaying its finest moral wares right now but the obsession with hammering this home is resulting in storylines that look suspiciously like one another.
That’s because it is the same storyline.
Rick and the group come into contact with new people … new people do not have the virtue, godliness and cookie-making skills of Rick’s group … new people do BAD things while Rick and the gang simply do what they must to survive.
Granted, Rick has instilled a moral code of sorts in his “family”, one that has seen them take the high road more often than not (it’s just as infested with walkers through so that’s kind of useless) but their hands aren’t bloodless and yet they are increasingly banging on about their survivalist credentials in the same insufferably irritating way that vegans preach the virtue of eating very little of anything.
Yeah, yeah we get it guys – you’re badasses who have managed to stay alive on the outside when so many have become Buttons-like monster chow.
Would you like a gold star, a medal and a parade in your honour?
That aside though, the great failing here is that The Walking Dead is eschewing far more complex dramatic possibilities.
“Try” for instance could have played out with Rick staying perfectly sane – and for that matter Sasha who’s “I’M GRIEVING DAMMIT!” routine has been well and truly over-played; although trailing around behind her while she offed walkers in great numbers did give Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) something to do I guess – while he and Deanna went through a battle of wills of some kind.
Plenty of tension in that, and it would have made for some gripping viewing as Deanna tried to sort of fact from fiction, Father Gabriel’s fevered ramblings and Nicholas self-serving bleatings from the actual truth with Rick circling around her as she did so.
It would have been the sort of opposing viewpoints at twenty intellectual paces that so many other shows thrive on; but once again it looks like we’re heading down the everything-will-be-laid-to-waste so Rick and the gang can say “I f**king told you so! We’re always right” once again.
There’s nothing wrong with that as far as it goes but we’ve been there already with the Governor and Terminus, and I honestly thought the storytelling gods had decided to throw a different kind of narrative pixie dust on the blighted proceedings.
The signs were promising that the good burghers of the ASZ would be decent if flawed folks – sure they were needed some educating on the harsh realities of life in the new undead world, but that’s where Rick and the gang could have so easily simply gone ahead and, um , taught them – with some like Aaron (Ross Marquand), who spent some quality with Daryl this episode getting to the bottom of the sickos who are scrawling the letter “W” on peoples’ heads before executing them by walker, more than willing to learn.
But all the promise of clever, sophisticated storytelling arising from good if naive people meeting Rick’s hardened veterans seems to be have been cast aside willy-nilly by Scott Gimple and creator Scott Kirkman, who seem to be going down a road filled with walkers that we have already been down before.
Perhaps, next week’s unprecedented 90 minute finale, “Conquer” will surprise and delight and have me eating my words but the signs aren’t good at this point to be honest, what with Rick talking about killing “them” in next week’s trailer, and Deanna and Carol going full tilt on their own driven agendas in the two sneak peeks …