If this premiere set the tone for the rest of the season, then count me all in. Aside from setting up a new journey and possible new foe for our gang, this episode was a beautiful meditation on the ephemeral space between life and death. It emphasized that the struggle for survival in the post-walker world is ever present, and the distance between holding on and letting go is minute.
IMHO, the death of a main character on Walking Dead has never been handled with such respect and reverence. Tyreese’s death marked a bastion of hope. Yes he died, but he fought valiantly to hold on to his humanity despite the seemingly insurmountable and evil obstacles of the new world. And in the end it was quite possibly one of the most poetic things I’ve ever seen on TV.
The episode opens on a vague seizure of imagery interspersed with dialogue. We get flashes of a funeral, Maggie and Noah crying, a slow panning shot of the train tracks, and stills of Woodbury and the prison. We’re lulled into a false sense of familiarity when BAM! A bloody Lizzie and Mika pop up, telling us, “It’s better now.” What?! What’s with the sudden Shining vibe?! Come play with us…forever…and ever….
During the creepy dead kid montage, Rick agrees to take the group to Noah’s community, right outside Richmond, VA. OMG, are we finally going to get out of Georgia? Yep.
Our gang travels to Virginia pretty quickly because the next time we see them a small scouting crew comprised of Glenn, Tyreese, Rick, Michonne and Noah is approaching the gates of the community. Noah says it’s not far, five more miles to go. Rick radios Carol who makes a point of mentioning that they’ve made it a total of five hundred miles. Cue. The. Music.
“Aaaannnnd we would walk five hundred miles, and we would walk five hundred morrrre just to be the gang who’d walk a thousand miles to live for one day more! Lah da dat dah! Lah da dat dahhh!!!”
Five hundred miles is, like, really far guys! Gold stars all around! As the scouting crew travels the final five miles, Tyreese and Noah chat about their fathers. Tyreese shares a little nugget that his dad told him that it was their “duty as citizens to keep up with the news.” Noah doesn’t seem too psyched to accept Tyreese as his new father figure, but he politely nods along with the patter anyway.
As the crew approaches the community, Rick says they’ll stay off the road and go on foot. Noah must have taken his stupid pills that morning, because he looks at Rick with actual confusion and says, “We don’t need to.” Rick gives him the ole side-eye and says, “Just in case.”
They park in the woods near a wrecked truck and station wagon, and peep through the trees at a sign for ‘Shireworth Estates’. Um, I’m totally calling this place the Shire now. Where’s Bilbo? Apparently not guarding the gates, because Glenn notes that there are no spotters at the entrance. (Lesson One: Always have spotters. Even Bilbo will do.)
They hike up to the gate, passing an old grandfather clock (OMG SOMEONE KILLED COGSWORTH! NOOOOO!) and Noah runs up to bang on the front gate. Glenn shimmies up the wall to get a better look, then looks down at Noah and gently shakes his head ‘no’.
Noah catapults himself over the fence and then starts to break into a gimpy run. A burned out shell of a barn can be seen in the background, bodies are strewn all over the ground, and a lone walker ambles down the main street. In the background, a graffiti tag declaring ‘WOLVES NOT FAR’ can be seen emblazoned on a brick wall.
At a crossroads, Noah collapses on the ground, sobbing. Tyreese and Rick both try to console him, but he’s curled up in a little ball like “lalala I can’t heaaar you!” Rick goes into survival mode, saying they should do a sweep and then GTFO. Tyreese offers to stay with Noah. Tyreese is clearly most comfortable with babysitting.
|IMHO A totally reasonable alternate episode title.|
Photo Credit: wikipedia
Rick radios back to Carol. ‘We made it. It’s gone.”
Glenn, Rick and Michonne poke around a garage. Rick and Glenn confess some humanity fails– Rick admits to wanting to kill Dawn even though he knows she didn’t mean to kill Beth. Glenn admits that he wouldn’t stop to open the container at Terminus anymore, he’s lost hope, and yeah, he would’ve killed Dawn too if Daryl hadn’t done it.
Rick is silent and seems to accept this information, but Michonne’s eyes widen. “We need to stop. We can be out here too long.” She knows. She’s seen what time on the road did to her, and how long it took to restore her humanity once she stopped. Rick knows she knows, and gets a look of consideration and confusion on his face.
Meanwhile Tyreese takes the opportunity to give another fatherly speech to Noah. He tells the tale of the time he stepped into the walker parade and fought his way out. It was a good thing he did too, because he was around to save Judith later. Noah starts to get to his feet, and Tyreese is all proud and stuff. For like one millisecond, because Noah breaks into his gimpy run, leaving Tyreese in the dust. Why can’t anyone catch this kid? Maybe he was jazzercycling with Dawn back in Slabtown.
Tyreese catches up with Noah on the lawn of his house. They make their way in, and encounter a mutilated female figure on the floor of the living room. Presumably this is Noah’s mom. Noah silently walks over to her, and kneels dutifully at her head, covering her with a blanket. He starts to speak to her, and Tyreese walks down the hall to give him a little privacy.
A walker rattles around behind a door at the end of the hallway, but Tyreese does nothing about it. He walks into a bedroom, and the small, prone body of one of Noah’s twin brothers lies on the bed. Tyreese wanders further into the room and is captivated by pictures of Noah’s twin brothers hanging on the wall. As he’s casually browsing the dead twin gallery, the other twin wanders in and takes a gigantic chomp out of Tyreese’s arm.
Tyreese shouts in pain and falls to the ground. Noah runs in, and acts on instinct, plucking a model airplane from the sky and piercing the walker in the eyeball before he even has time to realize that it was his brother. Noah is horrified, but recovers quickly and runs to go get help. Tyreese lies in a pool of blood, holding his mangled arm, sorrow on his face.
The flashing sequence from the start of the episode begins again, but a super horrifying radio broadcast now accompanies the images. Perspective shifts to a framed picture of a house on the floor, and then pans up to reveal Martin.
|No, not that Martin.|
Photo Credit: here
It’s Termite Martin. He’s chowin’ on his gum while he questions Tyreese’s decisions and derides his penchant for mercy. Martin says that maybe Bob would still be alive if Tyreese had killed him back at Terminus. Bob appears and reminds Tyreese that he got bit at the food bank, so his death wasn’t anyone’s fault.
The Governor pops up, and the room starts to become a Who’s Who of Walking Dead ghosts. The Governor starts yelling at Tyreese and suddenly morphs into a walker. Tyreese battles the walker but is at a disadvantage when he fumbles his trusty hammer. Gnashing, rotting teeth are inches away from his face when he makes the decision to shove his bitten arm into the walker’s mouth as a shield. He screams and uses a giant geode to Tyreese Smash the walker’s skull in. Smash complete, he returns to cower under the desk, sobbing to himself.
This sequence featuring Tyreese in a mentally and physical fight for his life against his demons is a drastic departure from anything else we’ve seen on the show, and it was strikingly emotional. Grappling with these issues alongside such a sympathetic but strong character lends perspective to the WD world, and what it takes to survive. It also raises the age-old question of the meaning of life in a very significant way on the show for the first time.
While we ponder the meaning of life, Michonne, Rick and Glenn are still heavy on gab, light on grab. Michonne wants to stop, and she brings the guys out to the broken perimeter of the Shire, trying to prove that it can be rebuilt. But, no, because limb graveyard. Michonne is unshakeable. Her brain wheels spin, and she suddenly declares that Washington is where they need to go. She believes that Eugene was on to something. “What if there are people there? What if it’s somewhere we can be safe?” Rick agrees with her, and her face immediately softens. They’re totally the mom and dad of the group.
Noah starts to yell for help from afar. Damnit, Noah, you had ONE JOB! The group sprints over to save him from a small group of walkers. Michonne swings into a boss-level walker with a metal bar in its neck. Denied! Michonne wrestles with the walker, and Rick comes to her aid, wrenching out the bar and slamming it into the walker’s head. Tag team, back again. Mom and Dad doin’ it up right.
Back at the house, Tyreese is in some sort of fevered limbo between life and death. Static on the radio morphs into Beth singing a song. Hi Beth! You have such a sweet, pretty voice. Her song is played over the montage of flashes – the prison, baby Judith, the twin boys, and the train tracks. Beth, Lizzie and Mika smile at him, telling him it’s ok. That he doesn’t have to be a part of it anymore. Urging him to let go.
Martin begs to differ with the girls, saying, “You didn’t want to be a part of it, but being part of it is being now.” To punctuate this point, the Governor strides in and starts to lecture Tyreese, getting his ire up. He chides him for forgiving Carol, and admonishes, “THIS IS ALL THERE IS. THIS IS IT.”
Tyreese struggles to his feet to deliver a tirade against the Governor. He confronts the demons of this new world, which are not so coincidentally the demons of his own lingering doubt. He stands for the good in the world because he believes it’s not a losing battle. He’s fighting to live because it’s not over, and he wants to do his part. As his father was before him, he’s a good civil servant. He says, “I kept listening to the news so I could do what I could to help. I’M NOT GIVING UP. People like me, they can live.” It’s a heartrending and hopeful monologue, and Chad Coleman nails every single word of it.
Tyreese falls to the floor, bleeding out. Lizzie and Mika gently take his blood-soaked hand, and BAM! We’re abruptly jerked out of Tyreese’s fever dream into reality. Rick yanks on Tyreese’s arm while Glenn holds him down. Rick screams, “HOLD HIM! ONE HIT, CLEAN, GO!” Michonne raises her katana and swings into Tyreese’s arm. Clean sweep.
Commercial Break. Breathe In. Breathe Out. Contemplate morality and humanity and the afterlife. Maybe grab a snack. Hug a loved one. Replenish tissues.
Back to the show. Noah helps hold Tyreese while the rest of the crew takes on the walkers at the gate. We see the melee from Tyreese’s POV, in soundless slow motion. Rick takes out a walker, swirls of brain suspended in the air. Glenn and Rick pick Tyreese up.
Flashbacks of violence and destruction from Tyreese’s POV- Martin telling Tyreese, “it’s definitely going to be you and the kid.” A vision of Carol in the field with Lizzie, a vision of Sasha murdering Martin, a vision of Rick pummeling him from above.
The crew helps Tyreese through the woods as Beth’s song starts back up in the background. Rick screams in Tyreese’s face to “HOLD ON!” as Beth’s melodic voice juxtaposes their flight through the forest.
The group loads him into the van, and Rick radios to Carol. He starts up the van and Rick revs the engine, slamming into a wrecked pickup truck. Dozens of torsos spill out onto the van, ‘W’s carved into the heads. Um, what? Time for that later, our focus is Tyreese here.
The radio broadcast continues about "an endless war" as Tyreese stares out the window. He whispers, “turn it off.” As the radio flips off, the passengers in the van change. Beth is in the drivers seat, smiling back at him. Bob, Lizzie and Mika smile as well, welcoming him into the afterlife. Beth assures him, “It’s better now.”
Tyreese fades away. We see the world from his perspective as the sun shines bright, and then cuts to black.
The episode comes full circle as we return to the grave digging. It’s Tyreese’s funeral, not Beth’s. Gabriel is useful for once in his life as he presides over the ritual, reminding us that life is eternal.
Each person adds a scoop of dirt to the grave. Sasha, still in Bob’s jacket, takes the shovel with a wobbly hand and dumps her contribution on top. Rick finishes up and the camera lingers on a shot of Tyreese’s headstone, his trademark skullcap perched on top.
- I’ve heard this episode described several times as a homage to the films of Terrence Malik. I have a fleeting familiarity with Malik, having goggled in stoned wonderment at The Tree of Life when it was released a few years ago, but this episode has convinced me that I need more of his films in my life.
- Yes fans, that was Andrew Lincoln’s voice on the radio broadcast. For curious minds, you can get the full transcript of the horrifying but totally relevant broadcast here.
- And since I think we all need a bit of comic relief, I leave you with a hilariously cleansing photo recap of the episode. Enjoy!