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Sunday, March 30, 2014

THE WALKING DEAD Is Good to "Us"

Article first written for Seat42F.
 

In the penultimate episode of AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD this season, “Us,” fans finally get to see almost the entire cast in a single hour. True, three sit out, but at least there’s a happy reunion, and some lighter moments for other survivors, too, as the group begins to reform and reach Terminus.

The start of “Us” is Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) goofing off on the railroad tracks, a smiling Rick (Andrew Lincoln) looking on. The relationship between Carl and Michonne, a sibling-like bond, is definitely one of the highlights of the show, and it’s gratifying to see it aired out here in such an amusing exchange. These three will have dark times ahead, which we’ll get to, but for now, they’re about as happy as we’ve ever seen them since THE WALKING DEAD began.

Then we flip to Daryl (Norman Reedus), who isn’t playing well with others in Harley’s (J.D. Evermore) group. A man named Len (Marcus Hester, Banshee) takes it upon himself to bait Daryl, and while Daryl won’t conform to the rules of the gang, he also won’t rise to violence is Harley is around, keeping the peace. In the end, Len oversteps, and Harley has the others kill him for it.

At first, these guys seem only like bad news. But as “Us” plays out and Daryl shares a few conversations with Harley, they begin to seem not so evil. Yes, many of the members are unruly and impolite, but they live by a code, and that has kept them mostly alive. Even Len’s death is a penalty for a crime, not some cruel, senseless thing. Daryl is used to a more compassionate make up of people, but he can readjust to this personality set, given time.

But then we get the bombshell – Harley’s guys are the ones Rick encountered in the house a few episodes ago, and they are tracking Rick down to get revenge. Rick doesn’t deserve it, from our perspective, having acted out of fear in a scary situation. Harley, however, thinks otherwise, and his man Tony (Davi Jay, Treme) is ready to identify Rick when they catch up. If only Daryl knew who they’re after, he could take out Tony and save Rick, as while Daryl may be adapting to these people, he hasn’t shown any sign of loyalty to them, and can’t possibly turn on his former leader.

This means that Harley may not be so agreeable as he pretends to be. After all, Rick only struck after overhearing some dastardly plans. It could have just been Len and others blowing off steam, but at the same time, it could also mean that Harley is just putting on a face to suck Daryl in. Plus, Harley will never fall in line between another leader, thinking his strong hand is needed to keep order, so when these men reach Terminus, it won’t be pretty. This plot leaves a nifty cliffhanger for next week’s big finale.

A huge chunk of “Us” follows another group on their journey. Glenn (Steven Yeun) and his four companions come across the signs Maggie (Lauren Cohan) has been leaving and, seeing that they’re catching up, Glenn makes a concerted effort to push ahead faster. This doesn’t sit well with Rosita (Christian Serratos), who sees that Tara (Alanna Masterson) needs to rest, but won’t stop blindly following Glenn, who saved her. It also doesn’t fly with Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) because rushing endangers his charge, Eugene (Josh McDermitt). And so, at the mouth of a dark, scary tunnel that clearly has walker sounds echoing from it, Glenn and Tara part ways with the other three.

Look, it’s easy to get Glenn’s single-mindedness, but it’s making him stupid. Going around the tunnel would only cost a day (which ends up happening anyway), and at least he knows he’s on Maggie’s trail. Why can’t he put safety ahead of this obsession, satisfied with the fact that Maggie is alive and he’s getting closer? It’s not like the tunnel may be dangerous; it definitely is!

Worse, Glenn is putting Tara in danger and doesn’t see it. Not until Tara gets stuck in the tunnel, that is, and then Glenn refuses to leave her, even though it might cost them both their lives. Glenn does the right thing by her, but only after it’s too late. This version of Glenn is way too stubborn to survive long in the post-apocalyptic world, so it’s a good thing he’s shed before the end of the hour.

While Glenn is stumbling in the dark, Eugene has a change of heart and manipulates the others to the end of the tunnel, hoping to find their friends again. It’s arguable whether this is because Eugene has come to care about anyone else or because he knows they need a bigger group. Ultimately, Eugene convinces the others to go to Terminus to recruit and restock, but again, we still don’t know the socially awkward man’s intentions. I don’t think Eugene is a bad guy, but he is calculating.

Eugene and the others find someone other than Glenn, though – Maggie, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), and Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.). We can assume, though we don’t see it, that Maggie is the one that insists Eugene’s van drive into the tunnel to save Glenn when he doesn’t come out. And just in the nick of time, they rescue Glenn and Tara from the walkers.

If this seems a little too easy a story twist, it is, but it’s hard to care when confronted with Glenn and Maggie in each other’s arms. They’ve both been so determined to find one another, and in this dark existence, every happiness is celebrated. Besides, sometimes coincidences do happen, right?

It’s also nice that Glenn claims to have met Tara along the road. Tara may feel the need to confess her real origins at some point, but Glenn is doing her a favor, not needing to explain herself for her actions at the prison, being only seen as a helpful savior. Tara, after everything she’s done for Glenn, deserves this break.

Then, this eight-member group (!) becomes the first to reach Terminus. It looks ideal, flower gardens and unlocked gates, and is staffed by a single woman named Mary (Denise Crosby, Ray Donovan, Star Trek: The Next Generation), who is welcoming. All this has to be too good to be true, though, right? A beautiful flower luring them in to a deadly trap? I mean, where are the guards and the barricades to stop the walkers? What is Mary’s agenda?

We have a lot left to get through in the final hour. Rick, Michonne, Carl, Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), and Carol (Melissa McBride), currently in two groups, have to get to Terminus. Harley and Rick must have a show down, which Daryl will likely play a part in. We need to find out what has happened to Beth (Emily Kinney), if she’s still alive. Something tells me the season ender won’t just involve a happy reunion party at the new settlement.

Terminus means “end of the line,” and this is definitely the end of the line for this arc of THE WALKING DEAD. Terminus was also the original name of Atlanta, around which the story has taken place so far, and is likely to move away from after season four. So it’s all a very neat, fitting tie up to a heck of a good tale. Though I am glad the show will continue after this, beginning a new volume.

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

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