This week’s episode of The Walking Dead,”Still,” was a hard one to enjoy. It’s not that it didn’t turn out to be a fine, character-building episode, one that was focused exclusively on Daryl and Beth. It was the sense of dread that permeated every frame of the episode that made it difficult to watch. Knowing that Emily Kinney and Norman Reedus would be on The Talking Dead afterwards, and remembering Reedus mention before the midseason an upcoming episode he described as being “very hard,” I had a sick sense that someone — most likely Beth — was going to die, and that all the character building in the episode would ultimately be for naught.
I’m assuming I’m not the only one that had that sense. The quietness and stillness in much of the episode lent itself to a spectacular Deep Blue See-style killing, and I spent the entire episode bracing for it. Even in the very end, while Beth and Daryl were watching the house go up in flames, I had the troubling sense that a walker was about to leap out and tear off a piece of Beth’s shoulder.
If I’d known from the outset that neither Beth nor Daryl were going to die in the episode, I think I could’ve sat back, relaxed, and appreciated a perfectly appropriate episode opposite the Oscars. Airing against the second highest-rated telecast of the year is not a great time for huge plot movements, and Angela Kang, who wrote the episode, didn’t offer anyway.
“Still” was a walking/talking episode, designed not to forward the plot, but to give us a peek inside the personalities of Beth and Daryl. In particular with regards to Daryl, it was a success. I feel like we know him far better than we ever had before. He’s no longer the caricature of a post-apocalyptic bad ass. He’s human (also, still a bad ass).
What was Daryl like before the walkers arrived? He was redneck white trash, Merle’s hanger-on. He lived in an sh*tty home. He grew up around tweakers. He was a professional roamer. As sad as it is to say, Daryl was built for the zombie apocalypse, and in it, Daryl gets to be the hero, the survivor that he never could’ve been in reality. And oh boy, seeing a guy like Daryl — tough, unflappable — break down in tears makes for gut-wrenching television, and the low-key nature of Daryl’s breakdown here was even more effective than Daryl’s bout of tears after Merle died.
I like Beth more than before, too. Until “Still,” she was Hershel’s daughter, Maggie’s little sister, and Judith’s caretaker. Now, she’s a person: She is young, and not particularly complicated, but she is human. She had a vision of the future — Hershel as a grandfather, Maggie and Glenn with kids and birthday parties — that was sweet and simple, and losing the possibility of any kind of that normalcy in her future has been hard enough on her to drive her to drink.
There were also some really nice details in the episode, too: The terror of hiding out in a car trunk overnight while walkers overrode the area, for instance. Or the way that Beth and Daryl scavenged for anything that might prove useful, even if it was simply a pair of hubcaps. I also appreciated the gruesome scene in the country club, yet another example of post-apocalyptic desperation, and the idea that — if you hanged yourself — you’d be doomed to an eternity as a walker hanging from a rope. That is terrifying.
The moonshine lark may have ultimately been a silly one on Beth’s part, but it brought out the best in her and the worst in Daryl, and in both respects, gave their characters dimension. No, “Still” was not a mind blowing episode, but it was a purposeful one, one that will make it that much more difficult to lose either Beth or Daryl, if and when that time comes.