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Sunday, March 9, 2014

The WALKING DEAD "Still" Best Show on TV

Article first written for Seat42F.



If you were glued to The Oscars last night, you missed a really great hour of television over on AMC. The latest installment of THE WALKING DEAD, entitled “Still,” follows only Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Beth (Emily Kinney) as they set off in search of her first drink and come to terms with how they each feel about one another and themselves. But we live in the magical era of DVRs and easy internet access, so the mistake of skipping the hour is not irreversible. Go watch it now, then come back to this page when you’re finished.

As “Still” opens, Daryl and Beth are much how we left them. Well, they’re on the run and have to hide in a trunk in an exciting action sequence, but then things get back to ‘normal.’ Daryl is being beyond stoic and silent, while Beth is growing more and more frustrated that they aren’t finding their loved ones. The tension is displayed in different ways. Beth throws a fit, declaring she suddenly needs an alcoholic beverage, though she’s never had one, and stomps off on her own to get it. Daryl’s stress is more subtle, missing a squirrel with his bow and arrow, puzzling for someone with pinpoint accuracy.

Before I break down these emotions, I would like to theorize that perhaps Daryl’s skills are not getting rusty. The arrow he shoots is broken, so maybe it is weakened through too much use, and if so, this could be a real problem for Daryl going forward as his signature weapon begins to fail. Or maybe it breaks because he misses, in which case, his deteriorating mental state is also dangerous.

Whatever one thinks about Daryl, he is a protector, and so he follows Beth to a country club. Breaking in, they discover a gruesome scene: the staff rose up against the members in a bloody class warm, leaving walkers and disrespected corpses behind. It’s through this that the two venture, never really in too much peril, until they discover a wine bottle, which Beth uses to defend herself, and some dirty peach schnapps, which Daryl smashes in frustration.

The separation between the two groups that died in the building is paralleled in the tension between Beth and Daryl. He thinks of her as a spoiled, rich girl who doesn’t appreciate the opportunities and advantages she had, and should not have survived the apocalypse. She thinks of him as redneck trash that would have ended up in jail had society not collapsed. They don’t exactly say this out loud, but some homemade moonshine drank in a cabin much like the one Daryl grew up in and a version of the game of “never have I ever” bring to the surface some of these misconceptions.

For the record, these two have been through too much in THE WALKING DEAD not to value one another. They may still have some stereotypical notions, but those mostly pertain to who they were before the bad stuff happened. Daryl may still wonder why Beth survived, but she’s clearly grateful for his company. Which is probably why, with some shouting and tears on both sides, they are able to work things out, Beth giving Daryl a comforting hug from behind.

We learn quite a bit about Daryl in “Still.” He was directionless, as suspected, always following his brother, Merle, around and letting Merle make the decisions. Though Daryl avoided prison and probably wasn’t much of a criminal, his choices did lead to perilous situations and could have resulted in early death. He had a hard life, without loving parents, never having taken a vacation, and mostly spending his days drinking and hunting. These things honed him into who he is, which serves the group well now, but he has to overcome some pessimistic attitudes and low feelings of self-worth to get there. He still has anger issued, which he takes out a little on Beth, but he would never really hurt her, and she seems to know this.

Beth has changed, too. She didn’t start out as someone who could handle a walker on her own, but she’s developed beyond her sheltered roots. She still isn’t the strongest in the cast, and as she admits, will probably die sooner rather than later. But she’s lived longer than most would give her credit for, and that betrays a spirit and determination most in her previous circumstances would not have.

“Still” is a cathartic, revealing look at these two characters, who often don’t get a lot of focus or background. As I’ve mentioned in similar episodes before, some viewers will complain about the slowness and lack of other cast members, but I think THE WALKING DEAD is best when it’s a rich character study, as it is here. Both performers shine in the parts they’re given, and the writing is fantastic. Some may be disappointed that the episode doesn’t get them on the path of meeting up with everyone else, but that doesn’t gel with the themes of the hour, and the finale of Beth and Daryl giving their middle fingers to the burning house, saying “f--- you” to their pasts, is perfect. There’s no reason to change it.

One continuity note in this episode bothered me. Beth chooses a white sweater in the pro shop, which is, of course, quickly ruined. Sorry, Beth, that might be your color, but it was a pretty stupid move. After she drops the sweater, though, we see the yellow polo shirt she wears underneath it is badly splattered, too, also destroyed. Yet, in the next scene, the blood has been gotten out and the yellow shirt just looks worn roughly, aged a bit. Really? Does that make any sense? But that’s one minor gripe in an otherwise terrific hour.

We’re halfway through this eight-episode run, and things are no better than when we started. When will loved ones find each other and the group reform? Find out as THE WALKING DEAD airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

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