Sunday, March 16, 2014

THE WALKING DEAD Stands "Alone" on TV

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No one wants to be “Alone” after a zombie apocalypse. Yet, this week’s episode of AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD takes two small groups and splits them up until all five characters are on their own, wandering the abandoned landscape, dangers at every turn. It’s a particularly bleak scenario, one most fans hope will be corrected by the season finale in three weeks.

“Alone” opens with Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) by himself, prior to being found by the prison crew. It’s a sad time for him, and by the time that Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) find him, he’s ready to join any group just to have company again. It’s with this mindset that Bob goes into the episode, happy that, unlike the previous two times the settlement he was in fell, he’s not by himself, and determined to make sure he doesn’t get that way again.

That’s why when Maggie (Lauren Cohan) sets off on her own, having overheard Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) tell Bob that Glenn is most likely dead and they should stop looking for him, Bob insists on going after her. Bob knows how it feels, and he’s not about to put Maggie through that. Even when a kiss can’t convince Sasha to give up a building she has picked for their new home, Bob sets off solo, sure he can catch up with Maggie and stop either of them from being “Alone.”

This episode is really interesting because neither Bob, Sasha, nor Maggie want to be alone. Maggie’s insistence on going to Terminus is about finding Glenn, not abandoning her friends. Sasha wants Bob to stay with her, and in that moment where she is by herself, we see her vulnerabilities laid bare. And the reunion at the end, after Sasha finds Maggie and the two catch up to Bob, is just about the happiest we’ve seen any character in quite some time. Their own motivations, each valid, pull them apart, but their loneliness and affection for one another bring them back together.

Would THE WALKING DEAD have been more interesting if they hadn’t become a trio again? I doubt it. For one, that would have increased the odds of one or more of them dying in the near future, something I thought might happens this week and am relieved to see did not. For another, the cast is already fractured enough. We don’t need more individual stories to follow!

“Alone” does do a great job of hammering home these emotions and how it feels to be in this situation. I’ve long said the best hours of this series are character-development-driven, and “Alone” is all character development.

Best of all, we see Glenn find the map to Terminus at the close so we know yet another group of our heroes are heading for the same place. Only Beth (Emily Kinney) and Daryl remain unaware that there is a convenient gathering spot everyone else is moving towards.

The other story this week is of Daryl and Beth, again. It’s a lot more upbeat than last week, the two finding a funeral home that has been stocked and taken care of. Beth keeps trying to tell Daryl there are good people left, and through her, he begins to agree, even considering staying at the house to await the owners’ return. That is until walkers break in, shattering yet another haven.

In the ensuing chaos, Beth seems to get kidnapped by a car with a cross on it, making one wonder if the funeral home, the one-eyed dog, and the walkers aren’t a planned trap. And Daryl, after evading the dead, is found by a group of roughnecks who quickly proclaim they like hurting people and probably only leave Daryl alive because he looks like he belongs with them. We know he doesn’t, but at least he can stay alive until an escape opportunity presents itself.

I’m not a fan of the growing Beth / Daryl romance. Seeing them as a friends is fine, and if they were truly the only two left, I’d root for them. But even though Daryl doesn’t think he’ll ever see Carol (Melissa McBride) again, she’s out there and that’s who he should be with. Sure, Carol may be a little old for Daryl (well, seems it in action, if not in years), but Beth is a little young for him. More importantly, though, Carol has similar sensibilities and is more likely to stay alive, thus sparing Daryl some heartache. Though a strong friendship between Beth and Daryl, as such a relationship seems to benefit and round out both, is welcome.

It’s pretty clear Daryl has grown very fond of Beth as he runs after her, even leaving their supplies behind. We’re left to think that Beth has become more important to Daryl than food, and her departure leaves him listless, without direction. That’s too bad because he is a survivor and even this should not make him give up. The good thing is, at least Beth will have someone looking for her.

Yes, “Alone” leaves both Beth and Daryl in precarious situations. I don’t know that she will survive, though Daryl’s extreme popularity as a character makes his continued existence more likely. This also means, more than anyone else, we’re likely to see the two of them again before the Terminus reunion at the end of the season. As much as I miss the others, I can’t find any reason to complain about that, the two having been made loads more interesting these past couple of weeks.

It’s rough to go several installments without Michonne (Danai Gurira) or Carol or Rick (Andrew Lincoln) or Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman). However, I’m also really enjoying this season. The disappointment at waiting so long to glimpse certain players again is made up for by how well the show handles those it is focused on in any given week. This half-season has definitely been a departure from the typical WALKING DEAD structure, but it’s also been extremely enjoyable and well done.

THE WALKING DEAD airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

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