Sunday, March 8, 2015

"Remember" THE WALKING DEAD Only Gets Better and Better

Article originally written for Seat42F.

Our heroes on AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD enter the settlement of Alexandria this week, where they must “Remember” what it’s like to live as civilized people. This task is much easier for some than others, of course, but one wonders if those who can stay hard might not have the advantage in the long run. There are a few things that come across as suspicious in this town, and if Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and company can’t fit in, Plan B is to just take over the place.

“Remember” is an interesting episode because it’s hard to tell who the bad guys are. Fans of THE WALKING DEAD have been trained to be suspicious of anyone new that comes around, and the people of Alexandria have their share of shady characters. There’s Aiden (Daniel Bonjour, Midnight Movie), a self-proclaimed douche bag who almost gets Tara (Alanna Masterson) killed in his quest for revenge on a mindless roamer. There’s Pete (Corey Brill, The Normal Heart), the creepy, possibly abusive husband of kind neighbor Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge, American Horror Story). And then there’s Deanna Monroe (Tovah Feldshuh, Flesh and Bone), the Ohio congresswoman in charge, who seems nice enough, but is definitely keeping her eye on the newbies.

Pete and Aiden are jerks, clearly, but if there’s someone to worry about, it’s Deanna. Politicians have an untrustworthy reputation for a reason. Deanna presents only kind words and expressions towards the survivors, but she videotapes their initial interviews and stops by their house to check on them, which could be kind, but probably isn’t. Rick’s backup gun hidden in the woods goes missing, and I assume she has something to do with that, too.

But while Deanna is suspicious of our protagonists, as she should be, she may not be evil. She says they need Rick and his company, and I believe her. As several of our main players observe, the people of Alexandria are weak; they don’t know what it’s like to survive in this dark world. Deanna herself admits to being behind her wall the entire time. This town needs survivors like Rick to protect them, and so when she makes Rick a constable and Michonne (Danai Gurira) his deputy, it makes sense. She has to start to trust them, at least a bit, in order to keep order, even willing to let Glenn (Steven Yeun) deck her son, if that’s the cost of living.

The reason I’m not sure who the villain is, though, is because Rick becomes kind of bad guy-esque in “Remember.” He is willing to play by Deanna’s rules for now, but he casts a wary eye around, checking the perimeter and walking the streets at night. He isn’t the only one, Carol (Melissa McBride) putting forth a completely false persona in order to appear more harmless, though Deanna seems to be keeping a close enough eye on them to see through this. Carl (Chandler Riggs), too, is determined to stay hard, and Rick is confident that at least some of the group can. And if the Alexandria residents can’t do what Rick thinks is necessary, Rick is determined to take the town as his family’s own safe haven.

Rick is the other side of the coin from The Governor, a man who ran a settlement through manipulation and terror. I believe Rick is more straight-forward with his intentions, and he wouldn’t torture these people unnecessarily. But he can be cold when it comes to protecting his group. Alexandria is a place they can be safe, and if Deanna and her people don’t want to let Rick and the others do what they need to do, he’s willing to use force against her. This is the spirit that has kept him and the others alive, but it may not be the one Deanna completely wants from him now.

THE WALKING DEAD excels at presenting these moral quandaries in complex, authentic ways. Viewers are not likely to turn on Rick because they understand what he’s going through and know he’s not going to kill the others unless he has to. We all want Rick’s group to survive, and so we can sympathize with his position. But from our comfy, secure living rooms, it’s also hard to imagine what can drive a person to go so dark, even after witnessing events for nearly five seasons, and it makes “Remember” an uneasy hour to watch, in a good way.

Not everyone adjusts to the settlement easily. While most of the group presumably takes jobs and starts to settle in, Daryl (Norman Reedus) remains himself apart, skinning possum on the porch. He would never have lived in a place like Alexandria pre-disaster, and he doesn’t seem willing to do so now. Rick doesn’t chide him, though Carol says he should pretend, as she does. But I can see Daryl being a problem if Rick doesn’t take over. Certainly Deanna cannot allow someone like Daryl to live inside her walls for long unless he’s willing to adapt. Will Daryl be his own worst enemy? He suddenly seems like a character that could actually be written off, which would break the hearts of many a fan, myself included.

“Remember” is a fascinating, excellent episode of television. From the interviews, which say a lot about our people, to Rick’s cathartic shower-and-shave scene, to Carl interacting with other kids, including the standoffish Enid (Katelyn Nacon, Too Many Cooks), there’s a lot to digest. The installment begs re-watches, as the amount of new characters and the subtle ways our cast interacts with them likely telegraph much of what the next few episodes of the show will be. Alexandria is a major, major new chapter for THE WALKING DEAD, with “Remember” serving as a turning point for the entire series. It’s with great anticipation I await next week’s episode.

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

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