The Walking Dead: “Us” (Season 4: Episode 15) Recap/Analysis | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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The Walking Dead: “Us” (Season 4: Episode 15) Recap/Analysis

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Mar 29, 2014 Web Exclusive
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[Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen the latest episode of The Walking Dead, "Us," then read no further.]

Coming off one of The Walking Dead's most emotionally exhausting episodes—the one we have to assume was making AMC executives "nervous" because of the (perhaps unprecedented) depiction a child's execution—the fifteenth episode of season four needed only to provide a glimmer of hope to lighten the mood before the series finale. Hope versus despair—that theme has been explored throughout the entire season, and "Us" is arguably the first episode to provide much evidence that there can still be happy endings in the zombie apocalypse. But, since the show's success has been built on the backs of the dead bodies of over half of the characters to appear on the show to this point, we know by now not to trust hopeful moments. More often than not, they're only setting us up for something even more devastating.

Opening with the previously stoic Eugene proving his nerd cred by bragging up his expertise on dinosaurs, homemade batteries, and video games, we're presented with one of the series' most puzzling characters. Is he a socially awkward scientist with the key to solving the zombie flu or is he a bumbling goof who bluffed his way into convincing people that he's so worthy of protection that they should make protecting him their sole mission? Whatever the answer, Abraham is unwavering in his conviction that Eugene holds the key to saving "the whole damn world," so much so that he won't even sleep at night for fear of losing him. His hope, in this case, is resting completely on Eugene's mulleted head.

As if responding to critics who have suggested that The Walking Dead becomes boring when it appears that the characters have no clear objective, leaving them stranded on a farm or hiding in a prison for long stretches, the writers have made sure that nearly every character has a clear motivation pushing them forward. Abraham and Rosita are trying to get Eugene to Washington, D.C. to save humanity. Tara is trying to get Glenn to Maggie, apparently in an attempt to assuage her guilt over joining the Governor in his prison attack. Most everyone else is trying to get to sanctuary in Terminus. Watching over a sleeping Eugene, Abraham provides a telling moment, however, while prodding Tara to admit while she can't sleep. After agreeing that they are both driven by their (for now) complementary missions, Tara appears to have a troubling moment of insight. "What do you do when your mission is over?" she asks, receiving no answer from Abraham. In that moment, one gets the sense that, sooner or later, both of them are going to have to answer that question.

For Tara, that reality comes in this episode. After narrowly avoiding death in a pitch dark walker-filled train tunnel, Glenn is finally reunited with Maggie, thereby providing the episode's most singularly cathartic moment and ending Tara's mission. Introducing Tara to Maggie as someone who only helped him out of the goodness of her heart, Glenn is happy to gloss over the fact that Tara helped cost Maggie's dad his head. Everyone else—Bob, Sasha, Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene—conclude that heading to Terminus to stock up on supplies before continuing on to D.C. makes the most sense, so back on the road they go. Their mission is still clear.

As the only character not on the road to Terminus, Daryl's mission is a bit of a mystery. Having been accepted by the roughnecks that confronted him in the "Still" episode, he no longer appears to be making any serious effort to search for Beth. Curiously, despite being given an opportunity to leave the gang, he is staying with them, even after nearly stabbing the ever-obnoxious Len over a disputed rabbit before being stopped by group leader, Joe. Here, Daryl is introduced to the rules of outlaw banditry, and they're simple enough. You want something, you call dibs on it by saying "claimed." And you don't lie—that only leads to more headaches. These rules, Joe explains, keep the men from "going Darwin" on each other, and since infractions are met with vicious beatings, everyone is willing to oblige. "When men like us follow rules and cooperate just a little bit, then the world is ours," Joe says. Even so, Daryl says he has no interest in playing by those rules.

And yet, as uncomfortable as he is with the men, Daryl doesn't leave them. When confronted by Joe, he says he's only waiting for right place to leave The Claimers (the name given by executive producer Greg Nicotero in an interview), reiterating that he's not one of them. Even so, he stays with them. Ever persistent, Joe is adamant in including Daryl in the "us" of the group, comparing him to an outdoor cat that thinks he's an indoor cat. When the group moves into an abandoned garage for the night, everyone claims a sleeping spot except for Daryl, the only one who refuses to play their claim game. But after having Joe mete out a harsh punishment when Len plants a presumably stolen rabbit carcass in Daryl's bag in hopes of catching him in a rule infraction, Daryl seems to waver. Spotting Len's bloodied corpse the next morning, Daryl readies a blanket to drape over his body but stops and walks away. After spotting a sign for Terminus on the train tracks, Daryl asks Joe, "Is that where we're heading?"—the first time he has willingly included himself in the group. Seeing a strawberry on the side of the train tracks, Daryl is quick to claim it, following the rules he had rejected only a day earlier. It appears that the house cat has realized he's an outside cat, after all.

Though he hasn't yet had his loyalty tested, this is a truly unexpected twist in the Daryl Dixon storyline. Of all of the characters on the show, he has been given the most rich character development, and this episode is perhaps the most revealing in terms of who he is at his core. In season one, it seemed odd that this man—the only character who could survive just as well alone as he could in the group—would stick around people he seemed to openly loathe. Why was he so motivated to find Sophia? Why did he transform so quickly when Rick put a little faith in him to carry out small missions? Now we see that the most likely explanation is that no matter how socially awkward and emotionally damaged he is, he's simply afraid to be alone. As we've seen in his interactions with Carol and Beth, he's threatened when anyone gets close enough to him to potentially hurt him, but deep down he craves acceptance and belonging more than anything else. As much as we might romanticize him as a fearless alpha dog, he's really a pack animal.

No doubt, we're about to see Daryl confronted with the greatest test to his character yet. As The Claimers begin following the railroad tracks toward Terminus, Joe admits that they're actually in pursuit of Rick, who they blame for killing their friend and leaving him to come after them in zombified form. Of course, none of them—aside from the man who saw Rick under the bed—know that it's Rick that they're tracking, and it seems very likely that Daryl is going to be forced to choose between his new friends and his old ones in the season finale. Obviously, we expect Daryl to ultimately defend Rick when that moment arrives, but consider this: when coming upon the Terminus sign, Joe immediately expresses doubt that there could be any true sanctuary being run by such people. Other than Sasha, no one else from the former prison group has expressed any real skepticism over this seemingly too-good-to-be-true offer of food and shelter. If believing in the inherent goodness of humanity is an important marker of a person's worldview, it would seem that Daryl is closer in outlook to Joe than Rick. We're about to find out if that's true.

As for Rick, Carl, and Michonne, we see them for about three minutes—their first appearance in four episodes. There's really not much to say about their brief arrival, either. In fact, their fleeting moments seem to exist only to illustrate that Carl and Michonne are, in fact, growing increasingly close, and that Rick seems to be happy for the first time in a long time. Additionally, Carl and Michonne's train track balancing competition for a candy bar will have implications later in the episode when its discarded wrapper provides evidence that The Claimers are closing in on Rick. Given the potential for mayhem inherent in this matchup, the collision between the two should provide the most exciting moments in the season finale.

By the end of the episode, everyone is finally moving towards Terminus, and we get our first look at the place as Abraham, Rosita, Eugene, Glenn, Maggie, Tara, Bob, and Sasha walk right up to the fences and find them strangely unguarded. In fact, the group waltzes right in, moving through two unlocked gates and past a series of flowerbeds, vegetable gardens, and clothes washing stations. It looks downright idyllic, or at least as much as a converted train station can be. Eventually, they come upon a woman nonchalantly cooking on an outside grill, completely unconcerned that a group of eight people just strolled into her home with machine guns. She seems like a nice enough lady. "Welcome to Terminus," she says with a smile, after offering the promise of food and shelter. Finally, our battered and beleaguered favorites have gotten their break. But in the world of The Walking Dead nothing is ever that easy. Terminus is bound to be the end of the line in more than one sense for these characters.

What this means for the future:

With Tara no longer working to get Glenn back to Maggie, what is her role on the show now? Will her guilt over participating in The Governor's prison attack be soothed enough for her to move on to other concerns? Outside of Glenn, she has no real connections to anyone, placing her in a very unique position among characters.

Eugene admits that they had lost eight members of their group to that point, implying that he, Rosita, and Abraham are the only survivors of their group. Rosita seems eager to argue that their former group members' deaths weren't their fault and Abraham makes it clear that he doesn't want to talk about it at all, so it certainly makes one wonder how much their motivations could be influenced by those losses. It seems likely that this very brief reference will turn up again in a future episode.

As the central characters in the plot, Rick and Carl's absence from the majority of the episodes in the second half of season four is truly remarkable. Can you think of another show in TV history where the ostensible main characters weren't featured in so much of a season? From a writing perspective, that's a truly daring move—one that bodes well for the show's future. If they're willing to go this far outside of the box to tell their stories, it opens up truly unprecedented possibilities for the TV medium. In 20 years, we may look back on this innovative way of telling the stories of an ensemble cast as the show's greatest legacy.

Most importantly, how long will it be until we see the real Terminus? What kind of survivor community could hope to persist if they let just anyone march in and claim food and shelter? It all seems suspiciously like a trap that's being laid in hopes of ensnaring people for some nefarious purpose. Will we find out for certain in the season finale? (On the other hand, wouldn't it be a brilliant twist if Terminus is actually a community of decent, altruistic people who only want to help their fellow survivors? Of all of the surprises in the show's history, that would be the most shocking.)

What you might have missed:

Back in the "Claimed" episode, Len breaks the group's rules by choking unconscious the man he spotted in a bed he wanted. Before having him beaten to death, Joe indicates that Len was a habitual rule breaker. Now we know why.

Back together, Glenn and Maggie have an emotional reunion, leaving Maggie to burn Glenn's cherished Polaroid of her in a symbolic gesture of her certainty that they'll never be apart again. It could mean nothing, but it felt a lot like tempting fate, something that is dangerous right before a season finale when it's almost certain that a major character will die. Maggie, you have no one to blame but yourself.

When Mary greeted the group with the words "welcome to Terminus" it eerily echoed The Governor's season three greeting to Michonne and Andrea of "welcome to Woodbury." Perhaps more telling is her promise of "making a plate" for the new arrivals, something that made the ears of comic book readers perk up immediately. Let's just say if the storyline follows the major plotlines of the comics at all, it probably would be wise to avoid the food in Terminus.

Questions:

With only the season finale left, we're about to see a lot of storylines converge in the same episode. With so many left to explore, there simply might not be time to give them all suitable screen time. As a result, this season finale might leave an uncharacteristically large amount of dangling loose ends. Chances are the Terminus storyline won't be fully explored until next season, for instance. There was too much buildup for it to rise and fall in one episode.

The last time we saw Beth, she was in a car that was speeding away from Daryl and a pack of walkers. Will she turn up in the season finale? Was she kidnapped by someone from Terminus? Or was she rescued by someone, perhaps Gabriel, the priest from the comics? Will we even find out this season?

Will we finally meet Gareth? Not much is known of him—he doesn't appear in the comics—but indications are that he is going to be a major character in the show. He was supposed to appear in season four, so it seems likely we'll meet him in the season finale.

Will Carol, Tyreese, and Judith make it to Terminus? Will their paths cross with other survivors before arriving in there? What would happen if Carol were to stumble upon Daryl now that he's a member of a group of unsavory characters? Having previously been seen as a reformed man, Daryl might see his old, newer, and newest selves collide in an uncomfortable way.

Speaking of, when will Daryl and The Claimers run into Rick? From the brief promo footage released of the finale, it appears that a truly disturbing parallel from the comics is going to be played out in the episode, a moment that series creator Robert Kirkman has referred to as "savage" in its intensity. Readers of the comics have long doubted whether this scene could ever appear on TV, but the emerging evidence indicates that it will. If that's proves to be the case, it could very well join Lizzie's execution among the most unsettling moments in the show's history.

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




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