Culture

“The Walking Dead” review: “Alone”

alone

Increasingly, I find myself confused by The Walking Dead. Not so much by the show itself, but by the decisions it makes. Last night’s episode, “Alone,” is a perfect example of this. I understood the themes, what they were trying to do with them, and what they were setting up for later episodes. But most of it rang hollow. With only three episodes left in the season, “Alone” felt almost obnoxiously like a placeholder. I don’t know if the show really is killing time before moving on to better things, or if the simplistic takeaways from this episode were meant to be more profound than they were.

The episode opens with a flashback of Bob, alone, wandering through the familiar Georgia wilderness until he’s found by Daryl and Glenn. This was probably the highlight of “Alone.” One moment that stood out to me in particular depicts Bob drinking cough syrup, lazily watching a zombie who’s snarling at him right outside a makeshift cave. It sort of felt like they dropped the alcoholism aspect out of Bob’s storyline until this episode, but perhaps that’s just because he hasn’t had any access to booze. Nevertheless, seeing him walking the apocalyptic terrain as a hopeless drunkard was a very human detail; even in a zombie-infested wasteland, reason stands that people will be people. When Daryl and Glenn do find Bob, they ask him the three important questions – how many walkers have you killed, how many people have you killed, and why – which was a nice callback to earlier in the season.

From there, “Alone” devotes half of its time to Bob, Sasha, and Maggie in the present day. Out on the train tracks, they too discover the road to Terminus. Maggie suggests they go in the morning, although Sasha isn’t crazy about the idea. When Bob and Sasha wake up the next day, Maggie has left to look for Glenn. Using walker blood (very romantic), they see she has written signs all around the surrounding area urging Glenn to head for Terminus if he can find the trail. Eventually, Sasha grows weary of looking, and suggests they abandon the search for Maggie and make camp at a nearby building. Bob tells her that after being on his own for so long (hence the beginning of the episode) he won’t go it without a group again. He and Sasha share a kiss, and they they go their separate ways (so, ironically, Bob has condemned himself to being on his own again, at least for a little while). Almost immediately afterwards, Sasha runs into Maggie, and the two are forced to fight off some walkers together. By this point, Maggie has decided that she needs Sasha and Bob, and to trust that if Glenn’s alive he will see her directions. Before the end of the episode, Sasha and Maggie find Bob, and the three of them continue towards Terminus together.

The other half of the episode stays on Daryl and Beth. The two of them find a funeral parlor with some food, and they decide to ride it out there for a while. Things seem pretty good until (you guessed it) a large group of walkers show up. It’s unclear exactly what happens next, but in the ensuing struggle, Beth gets into a car and takes off, or alternately, someone puts her in a car and takes off with her. Daryl wanders around trying to find her, until he runs into the same gang of rough men Rick encountered a few episodes ago. All alone (hey, that’s the title!), Daryl seems resigned to death, but their leader, a guy named Joe, is impressed that Daryl is wielding a crossbow. Daryl is ready to shoot Joe down, but Joe warns him the minute he lets his bow fly, the other men will fire upon him. In a completely unsavory manor, he smiles at Daryl and says, “Why hurt yourself when you can hurt other people?”

The episode ends with a shot of Glenn finding the Terminus sign on the tracks.

The clear message of “Alone” is that no one can make it by themselves. It makes sense that in a world this brutal, human connection would be more essential, and more difficult than ever. But they already ruminated on this the very last episode, as Daryl finally broke down in front of Beth, admitting that he missed his brother and the other people from the prison. So to have Bob and Sasha go back and forth on this idea all episode was a bit redundant. You could see the romantic tension building  between them from a mile away, but that basically worked for me. I just wanted to see the show explore an idea that was a little less familiar.

I was also confused as to why Sasha was so hesitant to go to Terminus. Supposedly it was because she was scared about whether they would arrive to find her brother Tyreese (who we haven’t seen in a few weeks) there or not. But would wandering around or making camp somewhere else be any better? I understand that hoping her brother might be alive was just too painful for her, but I would think that pain would be just as difficult to face in one place as it would the next.

Anyway, I was happy that Bob, Sasha, and Maggie did find their way back together at the end of the episode. For a second I thought that Bob was going to end up alone again as he searched for Maggie, and that would have been a touch too cruel.

After sharing a nice episode last week, Daryl and Beth felt stilted in “Alone.” They still played off each other well, and I’ll admit that it’s always sweet when Beth sings (although I’m getting a little less fond of Scott Gimple’s penchant for musical montages set to country/folk songs, of which there were two this week). However, the moment when Beth realizes that she’s convinced Daryl there are still “good people” in the world was not only predictable, but it was overly saccharine. In hindsight, it also seems predictable that their happiness wouldn’t last. I don’t know where that car came from, but it did occur to me this week that it’s strange how the various groups on this show seem to go in and out of having an easy time finding transportation. In the end, while I enjoyed seeing Daryl and Beth together, I’m more intrigued to see what happened to Beth (if she really did just leave on her own, that seems a bit overly reactionary, but it’s probably more likely she was, as Liam Neeson would say, taken) and how Daryl will get on with this new band of pirates.

“Alone” is mostly frustrating because it rehashes familiar territory, but it’s also one of those vexing Walking Dead episodes that tries too hard to be character-driven. As I’ve said before, when your characters just aren’t that strong, character-driven episodes aren’t anything but boring. I do like Sasha and Bob, and I hope to see more of them. Mostly though, I’m still just wishing they would stop the wandering around already and get to Terminus or somewhere else more interesting than the vast forest. I appreciate the attempted character development, but I need a little more plot from this show than what I’m getting now.