A review of tonight's “The Walking Dead” coming up just as soon as we're a dance troupe on Friday nights…
“The Distance” was a huge improvement over the show's first two 2015 installments on pretty much every level. Things happened, characters had interesting interactions with one another, and the thematic battle between Rick and Michonne involving security vs. hope was a hell of a lot more compelling than watching characters spend two weeks wondering if they might not be better off dead. Even the obligatory zombie action set piece was more creative than the recent ones, with Glenn inadvertently turning a road of walkers into very large, bloody bugs on his windshield.
Yet the gates of Alexandria still have a lot of trouble signs around them, regardless of what the group finds inside.
First, let's deal with the good. After the last two weeks, an episode where the plot actually moved felt incredibly welcome. (Which isn't to say that the show can't do plot-light character pieces very well, as we've seen with “Clear,” “The Grove” and others; these were just two poor examples of that type, and having them come back to back right after a hiatus only magnified their flaws and the lack of story.) And the debate between Rick and Michonne (and, eventually, Glenn and other more optimistic members of the group) not only evoked so many of their past traumas, but echoed a lot of recent real-world arguments about sacrificing liberty for greater protection. Rick's way is probably the safest way – though his stubborn paranoia winds up endangering them when they wind up on a zombie-infested highway at night – but if their world is now just going to be this small group going from place to place, assuming everyone new they meet is as awful as the Governor(*) or Gareth, then what's the damn point of living?
(*) Rick and Michonne's discussion of Woodbury didn't exactly match what we saw back in the day. The community of Woodbury itself seemed perfectly innocuous, and had many of the same sounds of Days Gone Bye that we hear when our heroes arrive outside Alexandria. Michonne just never trusted the place because she never trusted the Governor, and he was ultimately what brought that community down.
So all that was very solid stuff, and Aaron and his boyfriend Eric were sketched in much more quickly and thoroughly than a lot of the show's other late additions. (It took Bob nearly a full season to feel like as much of a person as Eric seemed in only one scene.)
The problem is that Rick has an additional reason to be paranoid that he doesn't know about, but we do: he's the central character on a hugely popular zombie apocalypse drama that won't be ending anytime soon, and thus is incapable of experiencing the sort of happy ending Aaron is promising.
I understand that Alexandria is straight out of the comics, but after I stopped reading them. (And let me point you to the usual spoiler warning at the end of the piece; I want ZERO discussion of how this storyline went down in print.) So I have no idea if the place is as great as Aaron insists, if the residents are actually somehow worse than the Termites, or something in between.
But I know that something has to go wrong there. Rick can't find long-term peace any more than Gilligan and the castaways could get off the island, Dr. Kimble could find the one-armed man. I mean, there could be a version of “The Walking Dead” that's genuinely about the characters trying to rebuild society from a position of strength and safety; I just don't think AMC, Kirkman or the rest of the show's creative team has any interest in a relatively peaceful reinvention of the show, especially given the response to the season spent at Hershel's farm.
So this all has to go to pot sooner or later, and while there's dramatic value in seeing how that happens, and in seeing the characters shift back and forth between hope and fear, it does take some of the air out of the debate Rick and Michonne were having, because he's ultimately always going to be right. Aaron and Eric may be on the level, but sooner or later, they will be back in desperate, hungry, dirty, road trip mode. It's a pattern that the show really can't break, and the longer it goes on, the more that knowledge lessens a lot of the tension and emotional stakes of those periods where they encounter another group of survivors.
Still, this was a superior episode all around from the last two, and I'm curious to at least see the start of everyone's time in Alexandria, even if it's safe to assume the end will be a bad one.
Before we go to the comments, it's time once again to explain how this blog's No Spoiler rule applies to this show:
1. No talking about the previews for the next episode.
2. No talking about anything else you know about upcoming episodes from other sources – and, yes, that includes anything Gimple and Kirkman have said in interviews.
3. No talking about anything that's happened in the comic that hasn't happened in the TV show yet. (Or anything that's been revealed, like character backstory and motivation.) As with “Game of Thrones,” the goal is to treat “The Walking Dead” TV show as exactly that, and not as an excuse for endless comparisons with the comics. If you want to talk about the comics, feel free to start up a discussion thread on our message boards.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org