The Walking Dead Review: 'Them'
After the one-two punch of the last two episodes, The Walking Dead took a break from killing off beloved main characters to allow the characters to grieve, at least as much as is possible in a zombie apocalypse. And although the dialogue once again made certain themes text that would have been much more powerful as subtext, on the whole "Them" was a visually astute, thematically relevant episode that (for better and worse) hammered home the ever-shrinking gap between our protagonists and the unthinking, unfeeling corpses they're desperately trying to keep at bay.
Comparing the protagonists to the titular zombies is well-trod ground for The Walking Dead, but in many ways this episode did it very well. The visuals were particularly potent; in the wide shot of the group, lumbering slowly, faces darkened and blank, colors nearly blending into their surroundings, they were nearly indistinguishable from the zombies walking behind them. Lacking sentience, zombies aren't inherently very interesting villains, except for the fact that they're slow. Energy becomes the distinguishing factor of humanity, speed becomes the way we tell them apart. And since the zombies can't overtake humans in normal circumstances, they literally depend on their prey losing what makes them distinguishable as humans. Watching the hungry, thirsty, overheated survivors shuffle on, barely faster than the unconscious monsters trying to eat them, was very powerful.
But for every beautifully thoughtful shot in which it was difficult to tell the alive from the dead, there was some painfully heavy-handed dialogue. The worst example- aside from maybe the on-the-nose "sunrise as a new beginning" metaphor- was the exchange between Carol and Maggie, in which Maggie comments that a zombie had the opportunity to shoot herself before she died, and Carol significantly says, "Some people just can't give up." This would have bordered on heavy-handed on its own, but then she goes on to say, "Like us," as though we're imbeciles and can't figure out that she was talking about the group.
The "we tell ourselves we're the walking dead" speech worked better than it should have, mostly because it allowed for a little bit of ambiguity. Rather than just telling the audience that they had literally become the walking dead, unable to feel anything, Rick's speech was a little more layered, essentially conveying that they were suppressing their humanity until they had the luxury to express it again. But still, most of the conversations are people explicitly telling the audience their thoughts and feelings, which just comes off as lazy writing.
Where the show continues to excel, however, is its worldbuilding. The scene in which Maggie finds a female walker tied up in a trunk was truly disturbing because it implied a backstory without hitting the audience over the head with it. Like last week's bisected corpses, the napalmed zombies, and the "rich bitch" signs, this scene leaves it to the viewer's imagination which, in spite of the writers' infamous sadism, is bound to be worse than anything they could come up with.
-To the show's credit, they've been much better about showing Rick and/or Carl acknowledging Judith's existence lately. That being said, when Daryl said she was hungry and Rick claimed she was "fine," I 100% trusted Daryl's fatherly instincts over Rick's.
-Maggie's explanation for her lack of reaction to Beth's disappearance was appreciated, but still too little, too late.
-They should have let Eugene drink the water. And Father Gabriel too, while they're at it. No one cares about Father Gabriel.
-Seriously, that claim that this season would be more hopeful seems to be a straight-up lie. At first I was a staunch defender of The Walking Dead's willingness to be utterly despairing in tone, but any show needs to change things up after five seasons.