I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Last night’s episode of THE WALKING DEAD, “Try”, was a perfect capsule of what makes the show’s world one of the most interesting settings around. Lawlessness outside the confines of the walls of Alexandria is rampant. Every man for himself. But within the civility of Alexandria? Rick and his group of survivors have to make a careful balance of appealing to the residents’ sense of right and wrong but also the harsh reality of the community and what it will draw from outsiders. They have a peaceful life, for the most part. They can confine themselves and go outside into the zombie-infested world knowing there is danger. Once they return, life can resume as normal. I’m more than positive that numerous denizens of Alexandria likely whisper between their tight-knit groups and cliques that the zombies aren’t even real. They’ve likely never seen one up close and would be nearly useless in fighting off the flesh-eating horde besides.
We’ve seen that the Alexandria residents aren’t interested in studying the walkers. They are instead hyper-reactive and treat them like some unbeatable force. When they are working in the abandoned mall construction site, instead of trying to help their fellow worker when she fell near an oncoming horde, they shrunk back. They don’t know how to fight them save for from a safe distance. If you get pinned down, you’re apparently hopeless to survive. It takes an outsider like Abraham to know that a life is valuable and that the horde of flesh eaters isn’t an unstoppable force. This makes you wonder how long these people have spent observing them.
But there is another, special twist that is possible as well. You could see the mindless walkers as a nuisance and get so warped that you start to treat them like something to play with. Rick and his band of survivors have learned a healthy respect for the walking dead that Nicholas and Aiden never took to heart. They tie up the zombies that killed their friends (you get the sense that they weren’t all that connected) and when one gets loose and is about to kill Aiden he is clearly rescued by Glenn. His response is that he had it under control and that this was their payback towards the flesh eaters.
In this world of Alexandria, even an outside survivor like Enid uses a genius-level life hack to distract a walker with a kitchen timer yet doesn’t key on the situation. Instead of taking advantage of the distraction, she simply runs away. Go kill the zombie and collect your useful mechanism. Surely she doesn’t have a lot of them just horded away in her tree-hollow of love.
But this episode mainly focused on Rick and his slow devolution into that shady character we thought we left behind in seasons past. Crazy Rick has returned in full force. Carol has made it painfully clear that Pete, the surgeon/husband/abuser to the pretty Jessie who gave Rick his first post-walker haircut and clearly got his attention, needs to be dispatched. He won’t get better. He won’t change. But it’s been clear that Rick has had it out for Pete for a while. A few episodes back he nearly pulled a gun on the couple as they walked past, arm in arm, likely with the intention of separating them so he could have her to himself.
When he confronts Deanna he is shocked to learn she knew about Pete abusing Jessie. Rick believes there is a single option, and that is killing Pete. Deanna is shocked and lets Rick know this. “Warning someone to stop or die – that is civilized nowadays,” which seems blunt but well-reasoned, in my mind. But she has two options in mind: simply letting it be or, in an extreme case, exiling him which she herself claims to be basically a death sentence. He sees both of these options as unreasonable—Rick has seen letting people go turn back to bite him far too many times by now—but doesn’t bring up the one option that police should see as a likely solution: jail. They clearly have enough materials in Alexandria and simply keeping him alive and/or away from Jessie seem like a viable solution that neither of them seems to care to explore. Additionally, can I point out that the value of a surgeon is high in our modern world with numerous antibiotics and sterilized equipment? You could also not tear an ACL or do any extreme things. Keep injuries down to rolled ankles and dislocated shoulders and suddenly Pete’s value is a bit diminished.
Look, Jessie is attractive and nice. She makes awesome owl metalwork, gives soothing haircuts, and seems like a great person. But I’m not sure she is worth throwing away civilization. Besides, I always thought Michonne and Rick had a thing brewing between them. But Jessie is also smart and independent. She even lays things out when Rick first approaches her. She isn’t single, and they have a nice thing going in Alexandria where even Rick and his family are safe. She confesses that she has helped Pete get better in the past. It’s during this exchange that Rick gives one of the best lines of the night. “There are things in his life that have happened–” to which Rick interrupts with: “I don’t care.” In this world, Rick is very black and white. To end the conversation, Jessie pulls out all the stops indicative of this idyllic community: she closes the garage door on him.
Of course, Rick isn’t quite done. Again and again, his intentions have been called into question. When he barges in to her home to let Jessie know that her son Sam was asking for a gun to protect him and his family, he confesses to Jessie that he can’t simply sit idly by—that the next step in Pete’s downward spiral (hey, had to get my NIN love in there) will likely end with her dead. Slowly he approaches her as she is visibly shaken.
“If you don’t fight, you die,” Rick tells her. “And I don’t want you to die. I can help you. I can keep you and your boys safe. I can. All you have to do is say yes.” Closer, they converge as he lightly touches her arm. Then she asks one of the most loaded questions you could come up with in a moment like this. She asks whether he would do this for anyone else or if she is a special case.
We all like to think we are unique. But when it comes to justice and what is right, it should be pretty cut and dry, especially for someone standing in as the town constable. To me, she is clearly asking if he loves her. If he says yes, it proves his ignobility in this specific moment and paints Rick as a dangerous person that is specifically interested in a married woman and not necessarily what is right or wrong overall. When he confesses that he wouldn’t do this for anyone else, that’s a moment where she should have backed away. Tearfully she says “Yes” and just in time, Pete pops up.
To me, both of these people are clearly out of their minds. Three is a crowd by the time Pete throws his own hat into the ring of crazy, and Rick and Pete decide to brawl it out. For a drunken surgeon that likely hasn’t had a lot of experience with hand to hand combat, Pete does more than hold his own. I was surprised by how evenly they matched up and loved how the entire sequence was filmed. When they start to roll around on the ground, there is sonic fuzz that blurs everything around them. It’s just the two of them.
By the time Rick finally gains the upper hand by putting Pete in a choke hold, the entire town has gathered around. Deanna yells to Rick to stop and that’s when Crazy Rick goes full Shane, pulling a loaded revolver out and waving it wildly about.
Courtesy of Uproxx:
“You still don’t get it. None of you do. We know what needs to be done and we do it. We’re the ones who live. You just sit and plan and hesitate. You pretend like you know when you don’t. You wish things weren’t what they are. You want to live? You want this place to stay standing? Your way of doing things are done. Things don’t get better because you want them to. Starting right now, we have to live in the real world. We have to control who lives here. Your way is going to destroy this place. It’s going to get people killed. If you don’t fight, you die.”
Everyone around Rick is shocked at his actions, even his own group who don’t come in to stand alongside him. The episode ends with Michonne sucker punching Rick into unconsciousness.
It’s this heightened emotional toll that has made THE WALKING DEAD so fascinating to watch. Rick is breaking down but in many ways he is right. Earlier in the episode he and Glenn had a talk that basically boiled down to acknowledging that the residents of Alexandria aren’t nearly as tough as they should be to have survived this long. By now we can all agree, even the viewers, that they aren’t all that prepared to make the harsh steps that reality outside the walls has forced Rick’s group to make over the last few seasons.
But where Rick and Glenn differ, and I think most of the group sides with Glenn here, is what they should do about it. Rick’s solution is that they take over, plain and simple. No negotiating anymore. But Glenn extols the virtues of communication and cooperation. Rick would have killed Nicholas in the last episode. Glenn kept him alive but wants to keep him in place as well. Rick has been making extreme choices lately and this is one in the long list of them. But saying all of this out loud, with blood streaming down his face after having a knock-down, drag-out fight in the middle of the town, isn’t the best context to give that speech.
Whatever happens next is just icing on this glorious cake that THE WALKING DEAD has created this season.
The season finale of THE WALKING DEAD airs Sunday, Mar. 29 at 9 p.m. on AMC.