8.0

The Walking Dead: “Us”

(Episode 4.15)

TV Reviews The Walking Dead
Share Tweet Submit Pin
The Walking Dead: “Us”

Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters.

WalkingDeadSectionBreak.png

Josh,

Before we talk in earnest about what went down on the final leg of the journey to Terminus, I had to laugh at the tail end of the episode, because I think we just saw a great example of the pitfalls of the “on next week’s episode” teaser that runs through the end credits of most shows, including The Walking Dead.

Part 1, End of Show: Lovely indie music playing, everyone’s together, they arrive at Terminus, a nice domestic-looking woman washing clothes greets them with a smile and offers them rest and food. Weapons are pointed at the ground, and Terminus is the destination of which they’ve been dreaming since the prison battle.

Part 2, Moments Later, in Next Week’s Teaser: OH GOD TERMINUS IS SOME WEIRD PROPAGANDA FARM WHERE PEOPLE’S BRAINS ARE RE-PROGRAMMED IN DRIPPING, DANK CELLARS. IT’S THE NORTH KOREA OF THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE!

Way to spoil the happy mood, right? It would be like a time traveler from the future attending your wedding, and just as you and the bride say “I do,” he yells out, “you get divorced in three years!” At times like these, it’s easy to understand why Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner refuses to put anything of substance in the mandated teaser. With that show, you’re just watching a series of meaningless images stylized and set to music, but it’s highly successful at disguising what happens in the next episode.

Anyway, the episode. “Us” was pretty scattered, shifting between many points of view and groups for the first time in the second half of Season Four. The reason was simple enough—this was the episode where everyone got back together. Since there was no unifying theme or lasting lesson like in last week’s excellent “The Grove,” I feel like I’m okay giving some scattered thoughts to begin our exchange. Here they are, with no particular rhyme or reason.

1. Sergeant Abraham Ford is still the man, but have you noticed that whenever he says that Eugene knows the secret to how the zombie apocalypse started, and how to end it, everybody believes him and doesn’t ask for an explanation? Like, at the end, everyone in the group is all-in for going to Washington D.C. on a perilous journey of many miles, and not one person was like, “Oh, cool, you know how to stop this thing? Can you explain it for me real quick before I put my life on the line for you? Because, no offense, your mullet and constant references to gaming don’t inspire a ton of confidence in the ‘Eugene is a genius’ narrative.”

2. At one point, Eugene asks Tara what kind of gamer she was (hilarious way to formulate that question, by the way), and he lists three types. The first is RPGs, the third is “sim racing,” and the second one, to me, sounded like “smut.” Is there a “smut” genre of video games, Josh? And if so, why am I not a smut gamer?

3. Next time we see each other in person, I’m going to look at you meaningfully and say, “you an Internet writer person, Josh? I am. Loved ‘em since I was three years old. Vicious creatures. Anyway, I’ll tell you, and this is true: Ain’t nothing sadder than an outdoor Internet writer who thinks he’s an indoor Internet writer.”

4. Speaking of which, I like Joe more and more. I mean, I guess he’s evil, but he has a credo. Jeff Kober has always been awesome as the scuzzy local politician Jacob Hale on Sons of Anarchy, and he’s perfect here. I feel like he and Sgt. Abraham Ford are going to have to fight to the death at some point, and I’ll have mixed feelings.

5. “This is Tara. She watched the Governor kill your father and didn’t do anything.” —How I would have written the part where Glenn introduces Tara to Maggie.

6. Maybe I’m just not a son of the South like Eugene, but would it really have taken a day to walk around the outside of that tunnel? Can’t you just climb the hill and go around? Or are human beings cars now? Is that it, Josh? Did I miss the part where human beings now have the mobility and dexterity of cars?

Okay, I’ll stop there for now. I guess there should be some serious talk of how well this set us up for the season finale next week, so tell me your thoughts on that subject and all others.

—Shane

WalkingDeadSectionBreak.png

Shane,

Here’s how I imagine the conversation going…

Location Scout to Visual Effects Specialist: Check out this awesome train tunnel I found!
Visual Effects Specialist to Writers: We’ve got to have a zombie-fighting scene in this tunnel!
Writer #1: It’s pretty cool, guys, but I can’t imagine what scenario would lead our heroes into a dark train tunnel when there are no obvious natural barriers to keep them from just walking around it.
Writer #2: What if Glenn knows that Maggie has gone into the tunnel. Surely he’d follow her, right?
Everyone: That’s a great idea!
Apparently No One: But why on post-apocalyptic earth would Maggie have gone into that tunnel?

Conveniently, we didn’t see the scene where Maggie, Sasha and Bob Stookey (I love that we’ve all decided he gets a last name on every reference even though The Walking Dead isn’t filled with other Bobs) approached the tunnel and decided that as dark and spooky as the tunnel looked, they didn’t want to risk encountering poison ivy in the woods. Because these are my Georgia woods, Shane, and I’ll tell you that we’ve seen some miserable people in The Walking Dead, but zombies are nothing compared to a bad reaction to poison ivy.

And I’m glad you brought up the scenes from next week because that was really jarring. I was all set to reassure you, “See, Shane, despite its ominous name, Terminus is a place of flowers and harmony and sweet Southern ladies,” but now it looks like I have to add, “who want to eat you.”

As for Eugene, I think we all know what confidence a mullet inspires. Sure, you can claim that you’d want to hear more about the classified information that started the zombie apocalypse before following him to Washington, D.C. But you’ve only seen him on TV. If you saw that mullet in person, you’d be all like, “How can I help you save the world, Mr. Eugene, sir?”

I’m also wondering how the last few bullets from Maggie’s gun brought down the whole concrete ceiling. I’m guessing train tunnels are built better than that.

As scattered and full of holes as this episode was, though, to me it was redeemed by Jeff Kober’s Joe. When we first met him, Rick seemed right to be afraid—these were a bunch of thugs who would nearly kill each other over who gets the comfy bed. I’m sure I would have done exactly the same thing in his shoes. But now we’re seeing the Goldilocks story from the perspective of the three bears. Joe’s men are rough, but as you pointed out, they have a code. There are rules that survive the death of civilization, says Joe, and that’s why he didn’t just kill Daryl for his cool crossbow.

When rules are broken, there are consequences; we saw that in “Us” when one of Joe’s merry men tried to frame Daryl for stealing. And the consequences are harsh. To Joe, Rick is a rule-breaker. He killed one of Joe’s men unprovoked, and worse, left him to turn. The irony here is that Joe now sees himself as a sort of sheriff, looking for justice. And Rick is the cowardly murderer on the lam. Having Daryl slowly become one of “Us,” we get an intimate look at the flip side to the moral complexity of a world without clear rules. There’s a reckoning coming at the end of the line as everyone’s road leads to Terminus.

So, let’s get philosophical. Was Rick justified in killing the guy on the toilet? Is Joe justified in seeking retribution for his friend? Is Daryl, like Andrea before him, going to find himself with divided loyalties? And is Mary the real villain here—luring in unsuspecting travelers to add a little protein to her diet? What’s in that stew, Mary? What’s in that stew?!?

—Josh

WalkingDeadSectionBreak.png

Josh,

It would be a weird, interesting irony if Mary was actually eating people. Beating the zombies at their own game? Sort of? Or like, weird preparation for becoming a zombie? Someone needs to tell Mary that you don’t really need to prepare, and that zombie instinct just takes over. But maybe she’s an overachiever and wants to be the best possible zombie when she finally turns.

I almost totally agree about Jeff Kober, but I would urge a little caution about Joe and the Gang. Sure, they have a code among themselves, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t crazy rapacious marauders when it comes to outsiders. And I still think Rick was in the right when he killed the guy on the toilet to escape; the only really salient fact he knew about this group was that they would kill each other over a bed. With his son’s life at stake, it wouldn’t have been smart to reach out and be friendly.

Also, they’ll beat a guy to death for trying to frame someone else as a thief. Seems harsh. At one point, when Daryl asks Joe about the punishment for breaking the rules, he says that it “depends on the attitudes of the day.” I’m no expert, but it seems like the daily attitude among these guys is often “kill!” They don’t have that Sgt. Abraham Ford softness redeeming them, and while Joe isn’t psychotic like the Governor, he could be just as dangerous for a group full of women and children.

So Rick is justified, Joe is probably justified, and yes, Daryl will have to choose, at some point, to become an indoor or outdoor cat. What I’m curious about, though, is whether everybody’s going to have to join forces at Terminus to overcome this weirdo Mary. I mean, there can’t be that many people there, right? Otherwise they wouldn’t have an open gate policy. My guess is that with that initial meal, Mary poisons her victims. I think everyone who arrives is going to be drugged and chained up after the first plate, and those who come behind are going to have to rescue them.

Here’s a question for you: Next week is the season four finale. Are we going to see any resolution with this Terminus business, or will they leave us hanging? To be honest, I’m curious about it, but I don’t know if I want to spend a whole season dealing with Bloody Mary and her weirdo cult. I’d rather things get resolved in an hour, everyone gets sad that Terminus isn’t the answer to their problems, and then hear a rousing speech by Sgt. Ford that sets them all on a season five adventure to D.C. to save the world.

What are you thinking? Will we get no resolution, half resolution, or total resolution on this Terminus business? Also, are we due for a scene late in season five where the gang arrives in D.C., and Eugene breaks down crying because his whole story was a lie and he just wanted to feel important?

—Shane

WalkingDeadSectionBreak.png

Shane,

The TV writers have shown a willingness to go in completely different directions than the graphic novels, but the scenes from next week could be a complete misdirection about Terminus. The stage is set for threats to be coming from all sides next week, but all we know for sure is that Joe is looking to take revenge on Rick.

We also know that Joe is shaping up to be a wonderfully complex villain who’s the hero of his particular story. I wish we’d get a little more of life with Joe’s gang before the big encounter at the Terminus corral. Honestly, I don’t think there’s really any danger of Daryl’s loyalties getting divided. But Joe has certainly been looking out for him. Can Daryl play peacemaker?

The bigger questions still out there, though, are: Where the hell is Beth? And who was driving that car? We’ve got everyone else we know headed for Terminus, but that thread might not get revisited until next season. (You’d be so disappointed, I know.) We did get a sweet little reunion between Glenn and Maggie.

So it was a bit of a breather after last week’s excellent episode, but it worked as an intriguing set-up for the finale. Until then…

Please don’t fall under the spell of Joe (or die), Daryl Dixon.
—Josh

Follow Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson on Twitter.