The Walking Dead: "Still" (Season 4: Episode 12) Recap/Analysis | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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The Walking Dead: “Still” (Season 4: Episode 12) Recap/Analysis

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Mar 05, 2014 Web Exclusive
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[Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen the latest episode of The Walking Dead, "Still," then read no further.]

Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Walter White, Frank Underwoodfor whatever reason, modern audiences like their protagonists conflicted, duplicitous and deeply flawed. Despite the moral ambiguity inherent in having to live in a world where you have to kill other humans as a necessity, The Walking Dead is remarkable for just how traditional the show is in portraying its central struggle as being essentially between the good Rick Grimes fighting against the bad, in both zombie and human form. In fact, most of the members of Team Grimes have remained more or less unambiguously good characters, not entirely without nuance but hardly unpredictable. In the history of the show, there has only been one real antihero, and over the past two seasons even he has become arguably the most reliable of the white hat characters. But as "Still" proves, Daryl Dixon is most interesting when he's showing his scars.

It's not hard to understand why Daryl has become the show's breakout character, causing people to threaten to boycott the showor worse, riotif his character is killed off. In four seasons, he has experienced the most compelling character growth, going from the acid-tongued redneck who kept everyone at arm's length to the hyper-competent, deeply loyal solider who became Rick's right-hand man. He's not celebrated in spite of his flaws; he's loved because of them, or, because he overcame them, at least. As a result, he's a deeply sympathetic character, a wounded little boy who wants nothing more than a place to belong. But while the hero archetype fits him, he has become a somewhat less interesting character as a result, and for the first half of season four he wasn't terribly essential to many of the dominant plotlines, left to go on selfless supply runs to keep the group afloat. But as we saw in the "Inmates" episode, Daryl still holds the potential to allow the chip on his shoulder to throw off his balance.

Of all of the post-prison groups, the Beth/Daryl duo is arguably the most mismatched, pairing the cast's most untested survivor with its most perfectly equipped killing machine. Still, they're in equally poor spirits, both filthy, ragged, and entirely disconsolate. Quiet and brooding since the prison battle, Daryl is still deep in pessimist mode at the beginning of "Still," even missing (!) when he shoots an arrow at a squirrel. In fact, he doesn't even speak until the episode's eleventh minute, joylessly devouring a charred rattlesnake while ignoring a ragged and disenchanted Beth as she explains her plan to blunt her sorrows in her first attempt at defiant drunkenness. Though we saw a scene earlier in the season where Daryl and Beth seemed to bond over the loss of her boyfriend, that chemistry is long gone. Daryl just wants to sit and stare into the campfire. Beth wants to forget it all and get smashed.

Though he seems to regard Beth as a burdena helpless girl to chaperone through the zombie apocalypsehe's not going to allow her to go on a booze run alone. Eventually, after an unsuccessful excursion to a country club that ends with Daryl taking out some frustration on some formerly wealthy walkers, he leads Beth to a moonshine still in the woods. He might have little interest in interacting with her, but he still doesn't want her to experience that rite of passage in a memorable way. And is it ever.

While Beth gets drunk, Daryl is not exactly in a partying mood. Predictably, he isn't terribly interested in a round of the classic slumber party game, "I never," but he goes along with it. What do we learn? Well, Daryl hasn't ever left Georgia or gone on vacation, and he seems to have more than a little class resentment over his comparably impoverished upbringing. When Beth clumsily assumes that Daryl likely had done some time in prison, he's not amused. "Is that what you think of me?" he growls, offering a reminder of the fragile ego that he could barely hold together after he failed to save Sophia in season two. 

And just as Daryl verbally berated Carol when she attempted to soothe his pride after that unsuccessful mission, he unleashes a fury of invective on Beth. Mocking her for her sheltered childhood, her attempts to lift the spirits of the group by singing, her suicide attempthe is a wounded animal swinging wildly, half in anger and half in self-defense. This is Daryl at his most compelling, the fearless warrior tripping over his own insecurities. (Students of psychology will also notice that Daryl is a textbook example of someone who was raised by an abusive and undermining parent. Much credit goes to Norman Reedus for offering a sensitive portrayal that could be studied in both acting classes and psychology courses.) Cornered, he turns into an angry child, resentful that someone he trusts still doesn't understand him.

It gets worse. After hearing a walker crashing about in the yard, he pulls Beth by the arm and attempts to force her to use his crossbow to shoot it, manhandling her in the process. Here, he becomes the abusive parent, trying to toughen up his daughter by humiliating her, rubbing her face in the futility of her attempt to forget about their dire reality. And just like a belittling parent, he knows how to burrow right to the center of Beth's worst fears, reminding her that everyone she loves is gone and that she'll never see her sister again. He might be a sensitive soul, but when he fights, he fights dirty.

Beth fights back just as hard, though. As if justifying her right to surviveto Daryl, to herself, to the viewersshe shouts back at him. She might not be skilled in the art of survival like Michonne or Maggie, but she has managed to survive and deserves respect for that reason. She's not the helpless liability Daryl seems to think he's carrying. "You don't get to treat me like crap because you're afraid," she shouts. "I'm not afraid of nothing," he shouts back. No statement in the episode is more telling, both as a statement of fact and as a self-defense mechanism.

Slowly, it becomes clear that more than zombies, more than sociopaths, more than deathDaryl is afraid of getting close enough to someone to be hurt again. (Again, this is classic psychology case study stuff, perfectly portrayed.) When Beth accuses him of not caring about anyone in the group, he breaks. Now we see what is motivating Daryl's latest turn inward: he blames himself for not being vigilant enough to stop The Governor from tearing apart their prison home. Though he doesn't say it, one assumes that having gained a feeling of value and a sense of self through his membership in the group, he has lost his purpose for living now that they're gone. Turning away, he sobsthe second time on the stoic hunter has come to tearsand Beth embraces him.

All in all, it's one of the most precisely written and perfectly acted scenes in the show's history, one that manages to reveal much about both characters. Nearly as good is the following scene, where the half-drunken Beth opens up about her now crushed hopes of watching Glenn and Maggie start a family and seeing her father grow old, surrounded by people that love him. Similar to how Carl got Michonne to open up about her tragic past, Beth finally gets Daryl to talk about his prior life. Though circumstances dictated that he become a badass, he wasn't a prison guard or construction worker or MMA fighter before the world fell apart. Most suitably, Daryl was a nobody, just a directionless boy in his brother Merle's shadow, doing whatever he told to him to do. If he seems particularly well-adapted to this new world, it's because the old one was just about as hopeless for him. (In particular, his account of having one of Merle's friends put a gun to his head, then being laughed at when the same friend punches him in the stomach, is particularly telling.) When Beth tells him that he'll be "the last man standing" when the civilization endsechoing the perspective of most of the show's viewers, no doubthe doesn't seem comforted by the thought.

Having had their cathartic moment, Daryl wants to go inside and get some sleep, but Beth isn't ready to conclude her night of teenage recklessness: she wants to burn down the cabin. And while setting ablaze your shelter in the middle of the nightwhile you're half-drunk, nonethelesswould seem to be a bad idea, Daryl is ready to join her in creating a symbolic act to voice their frustration at losing everything they loved. Just as Daryl once sat on his motorcycle and watched Hershel's farm burn down, he and Beth stare into the flames, then flip off the burning building in one last gesture of impotent disgust.

For a show that spends too much time building momentum to look backwards, this episode was unusually self-referential in tying together plot points from the past two seasons. As a result, there were no major events that really moved the plot forward, no lingering cliffhangers to provide a bridge into the next set of plotlines. As such, "Still" is almost more like a short film, a standalone episode that will go down as one of the show's most literary moments. More than anything, viewers finally got their Daryl Dixon episode, though it probably wasn't the one they had in mind. This wasn't the heroic Daryl, the strong Daryl, or the noble Daryl. This was the human Daryl, the weak and insecure man behind the mystery. No, he's not quite a classic antihero-he's still a resoundingly decent person. But if audiences loved him before, they'll only love him more now.

What this means for the future:

As fans of the show know, character development can be the kiss of death, and Daryl and Beth just got a ton of it. In particular, Beth's talk of Daryl missing her after she's gone had an ominous ring to it, as if it's already a foregone conclusion that she is going to end up zombie food. At any rate, it's hard to imagine the Daryl/Beth dynamic not leading to either a deepening of their relationship or in devastation after one of them dies. Prediction: one of them won't be around for season five.

What you might have missed:

When Beth is in the golf course clubhouse she finds a spoon that says "Washington, D.C." on it. That's where Eugene was attempting to go to in last week's episode, and readers of the comics know that the storyline eventually ends up in that city. Additionally, in that same scene Daryl pulls a map from the wall and rolls it up. Could that be a map of Georgia that will eventually lead them to the Terminus camp?

Questions:

Why did Daryl gather up the jewelry and cash from the golf clubhouse? Sure, he torched the cabin by having Beth light up a stack of bills, but why would he need jewelry? Is that a symptom of a poor kid being unable to keep himself from grabbing riches he never could have had before the zombie apocalypse?

www.amctv.com/shows/the-walking-dead




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