**Spoilers ahead! Stop reading now if you haven’t seen Them and you don’t want to know what happens. **
If you were hoping for a little ray of hope after losing Tyreese last week sorry, you’re out of luck. This episode was one of the darkest episodes in the show’s history. In nearly every other episode the members of the group were driven by a purpose, even if they were temporarily beaten down or without a home. They always were able to rally in order to accomplish a mission. Either to find a safe place to stay, or to find each other, or to rescue each other. But now there’s no clear mission and there’s no hope either. Maggie, Sasha, and Daryl are in very dark places emotionally. Maggie is reeling from losing Hershel and Beth. Sasha is lashing out about losing Bob and Tyreese and she is acting recklessly and putting the group at risk. The group has no food or water and they are barely alive, with no real clear mission to live for. It’s bleak.
Technically of course there is a mission – they are heading towards D.C. to see if there is any safety there or any answers. But the idea of safety seems like a pipe dream and they are very far away from anything they know. When their vehicle runs out of gas and there are no others around they start walking the last 60 miles to D.C. With no food and no water in the punishing Georgia sun they are fading fast. They are ambling along the road not that much different from the walkers trailing them. When a herd of walkers approaches they fan out in formation along a bridge to push the walkers over the edge, saving themselves the physical exertion of killing them. Until Sasha goes rogue and starts flailing at walkers with her knife, lashing out. Both Michonne and Abraham have to rescue her. She nearly cuts Michonne and later, when Abraham offers an olive branch and friendship she tells him they are not friends. Sasha is not dealing well with the loss of her brother.
The Music Box
Beth’s presence continues to be felt strongly by the group. As they are walking Carl catches up with Maggie and gives her a small pink music box he found in one of the houses when they were looking for food and water. The simple music box becomes a symbol of Beth’s gently courage, hope and innocence. Towards the end of the episode Daryl, who is also missing Beth, fixes the music box so that it plays music again and gives it back to Maggie. He tells Maggie when they are sitting together that he misses Beth too. He tells her that Hershel was strong, and so was Beth even though she didn’t know it. They have a beautiful silent shared moment remembering Hershel and Beth.
There were a lot of those significant moments and heartfelt exchanges in this episode. While last week’s episode was very focused on action and that weird trickery Greg Nicotero was doing to confuse everyone this one was straight up emotion and straight up survival both emotional and physical. The group at this point is utterly spent. At one point they are so hungry and have been for so long they eat four dogs that cross their path after Sasha kills them. Without some injection of hope or a clear mission they may not be able to all come through this marathon of loss and get to the other side.
Carol and Daryl
Caryl shippers were excited to see Carol and Daryl grow even closer. While off hunting together Carol tells him that she can’t allow herself to feel but that she knows him and he needs to feel again. She tells him that he needs to grieve for the losses of Hershel and Beth. She kissed him on the forehead and was very tender and sympathetic with him. It’s wonderful to see these two supporting each other and becoming even closer.
Daryl is hurting pretty badly over Beth’s death and Hershel’s too. While he is off on his own he finds a small barn and he sits down in a hidden spot to scout it out and see if it’s clear. He smokes a crumpled cigarette from his pocket and deliberately burns his hand with the cigarette, as if he wants to force himself to feel pain. Many abused kids inflict physical pain on themselves when their emotional pain is too much to bear and that definitely seemed to be what Daryl was doing. Finally he cried. For Beth, and Hershel, and all the losses. It was one of the most powerful moments in the episode.
When Daryl returns to the group he finds that the group is startled. Someone has placed several containers of water in the road with a note that says “From a Friend”. They are desperately thirsty but Rick reminds them they can’t take the chance of drinking the water in case it’s poisoned. Eugene grabs a bottle anyway declaring, “Quality assurance!” and would have drank the water despite the risk except that Abraham, perhaps showing some forgiveness, smacks the bottle out of Eugene’s hands to the ground. As they are standing in the road trying to figure out who left the water the skies open and it starts to rain. A storm bears down on them and it rains harder and harder. They are relieved to be washed clean in the rain and to finally have something to drink. They take shelter from the storm in the barn that Daryl found.
Rick Says It
In the barn they have a very frank talk. Rick knows that the group is very close to splintering apart. Sasha is distancing herself from everyone. Maggie is on the verge of a breakdown. Glenn is desperately trying to support Maggie and keep the group motivated. Maggie and Father Gabriel get into it when Father Gabriel tries to offer her comfort. She tells Father Gabriel that her daddy was a religious man, and she used to be, implying that she has no use for the Father and his religion anymore.
Rick, who usually keeps his emotions and private thoughts private, tells the story of his grandfather who was a WWII veteran. Rick mentions that he asked his grandfather if he ever killed anyone in the war, which everyone knows is a question you should never ask a combat veteran. His grandfather tells him that the only way he was able to get through combat was to tell himself every morning that he was dead, and to go out there and fight. That is the lead in that Rick uses to say the phrase that audiences have been waiting to hear him say for five seasons. He says that they must do the same thing, and then he says, “We are the walking dead.”
Daryl doesn’t agree with that though, and he says repeatedly that they are not dead which is something that he has told Carol before when she was in a state of depression. Could this mean future disagreements ahead for Rick and Daryl?
In a highly symbolic scene during the storm, after Daryl has told Rick they are not dead and walked away, Daryl notices the barn door is flapping open in the wind. He looks out and sees a herd of walkers descending upon the barn. He rushes to hold the door shut the best that he can. Maggie sees him in the light from the storm struggling to keep the walkers out. She joins him. One by the one the other members of the group all join together pushing back against the walkers outside, holding back the zombie horde and struggling together. Surviving together.
In the morning they find that the storm has ripped apart trees and felled branches which have pinned the walkers in place and killed other walkers. The sun is rising and there is some small sense of hope. Sasha and Maggie, who have been at odds, make peace. Daryl gives Maggie the music box which now works, and she plays the music and thinks of Beth. Just when things seem to be returning to some kind of normalcy a figure steps out towards Maggie and Sasha. He introduces himself as Aaron and says he is a friend.
Aaron and the Alexandria Safe-Zone
In the next episode the group will get more information from Aaron to see if they can trust him. But fans know that Aaron is a figure from the comics and he will play a major role in the group. He is the first openly gay male character in the comics and now in the series. He and his boyfriend are scouts for the Alexandria Safe-Zone so Rick and the other survivors may be closer than they think to safety. But only if they can trust Aaron.