Hello again, my frabjous bandersnatches! I'm back to catch you up on all things zombiefied in the wild, wooly world of The Walking Dead. We've got a couple episodes to cover before coming up to the most recent episode, so let's dive in!
All I have to say about Episode 5, “Self Help,” is that the comic book fans who knew what was up with Eugene from the minute he stepped on the scene can now stop biting their tongues, as all was revealed. The Emperor wasn't wearing any clothes. Neither were Abraham or Rosita.
Eugene's Short-Lived Bout with Heroism
Of course we were going to screencap Abraham & Rosita's Two-Backed Monster, even though there wasn’t much to work with.
Then last week we caught up with our favorite platonic duo, Daryl & Carol (or Durl & Curl as we like to say 'round these parts) in Episode 6, “Consumed.” But not before being rocketed back to quite possibly my least favorite Rick moment – when he unilaterally booted Carol from the group for her admittedly extreme actions, WHICH she undertook in furtherance of the survival of the group. We see the exiled Carol pulled over on the side of the road, crying over the steering wheel. At first, this scene irked me. Why is it that we constantly need to be reminded of the frailty of strong women? Carol has shown herself to be the consummate badass – SHE TOOK DOWN TERMINUS nearly single-handedly: one woman, one gun, one fiery propane-fueled ball of fire. – and myriad Walker guts. But then I am reminded that crying and vulnerability are not necessarily weakness – that she was entitled to some fucking privacy and a few tears (OK STUPID WALKER!?!?), while she mourned the loss of her community. I loved the scene when she told the Walker to “GO AWAY!” – all her impotent frustration and rage boiled over into such an impossible, almost adolescent demand.
WHY WON'T YOU JUST LEAVE ME ALONE??!!
Speaking of impotence, the irony of Carol's choice for refuge after being 86-ed by Rick is not wasted on those of us who have had the misfortune of working in the law. What's the least useful place you can think of during a zombiepocalypse? Where would NO ONE think of going? That's right, a lawyer's office. I wonder if she hadn't visited this particular office at one point, contemplating divorce.
So after settling in with her recycling, she goes about making the lawyer's office her new home. As she's rigging a water catcher, she sees smoke in the distance. She knows it's coming from the prison. And not for a minute does she hesitate, not for one minute does she entertain the notion of, “Well, fuck them.” She sees the smoke and that high alert maternal concern spreads across her face. She jumps into action, burning her station wagon's precious fuel to find the prison engulfed in flames.
This can't be good.
The post-credits scene flashes to the present, to Daryl & Carol tailing the mysteriously and obviously marked “crossed” car. I just want to reflect for a moment on how differently the course of action is decided upon between Daryl and Carol and the edict-master that is Rick Grimes. Carol suggests the rather aggro-commando move of running them off the road and torturing the driver to get Beth's location, taking into account all the factors. They're low on gas and they have the advantage of having the car away from its home base, wherever it is. They're also at a disadvantage, since the rest of their group doesn't know where they are. Daryl suggests continuing on, offering the very rational explanation that if the driver doesn't talk, they've got nothing. He mentions the advantage of the car not knowing about them tailing it, and the importance of reconnaissance on this new group. They agree to this compromise without much more, but the sense is overwhelmingly that they're both on board. Compare this to the NUMEROUS times Rick demanded a questionable course of action as a show of loyalty, almost. The parallels with The Governor are obvious, if a matter of degree and psychopathy.
The cars drive down that familiar stretch of I-85 into Atlanta, made famous by Rick on his horse.
Gamers will be used to this kind of barely visible scenery.
Their tail leads them to have to seek shelter at, wait for it, at a shelter that Carol knows from her past as a survivor of domestic violence. Daryl asks her, “You used to work here or something?” Carol, in a small voice: “Something.” Coming back to this place demonstrates just how far she's come. It's a reminder that for some people, as horrific as a new world infested with zombies is, it might actually be an opportunity. Shattering the myth of the “good old days,” both Carol and Daryl have undergone metamorphosis and it would be hard to argue that their changes are not for the better. As humble as Daryl is – answering “I'm trying,” to Carol's question of whether he started over – the undeniable fact is that he has taken advantage of the tabula rasa and re-invented himself. What more evidence do you need of his journey of self-discovery and re-shaping than seeing a psychology handbook relevant to his past tumble out of his backpack?
The bulk of this episode revolved around the strong bond that is Durl + Curl. It is beyond refreshing to see a relationship as deep and loving as Daryl and Carol NOT be about sex. Not just because we here at Geeks OUT are hoping like MAD that Robert Kirkman's tease about Daryl's sexuality proves to be true (because how great would it be to see THAT on television?), but because it would demonstrate that men and women can relate to each other in a way that does not involve their genitals touching. Daryl demonstrates the depth of this care in a way that only the zombiepocalypse provides: by taking down the Walker mother and daughter trapped in one of the shelter rooms, so that Carol needn't think on Sophia any more than was inevitable. You've gotta love when a tender moment means building a pyre and burning the “murdered” undead bodies of zombies for your BFF.
How am I going to top this for YOUR Christmas present?
Tender moments give way to reconnaissance, and as they make their way to higher ground, Daryl employs the curious flame attraction technique (now Walkers are moths?) that I will suspend disbelief for. Up on the upper levels of the commercial building, they encounter the Worst.Camp.Fort.Ever. Just a sliver of carelessness leaves them open to getting robbed of their weapons by Noah, which has got to be devastating to both Carol and Daryl's egos. Especially when he gives them the extra added fuck-you of unleashing (un-tenting?) the Tent Walkers on them to give him time to escape. Low blow, man.
The question of “who we are now” resurfaces again and again in the dialogue and actions between Carol and Daryl. Daryl keeps reminding her that they are, at the very least, “trying” to start over, to be better than they were. Carol, although a consummate badass and obviously a much stronger person than she was when she was caught in a cycle of domestic abuse, takes a darker view, willing to shed compassion when it gets in the way of protecting the things she cares about. Daryl keeps her from shooting Noah, explaining, “He's just a kid.” Carol gives a litany of good reasons why shooting Noah was a good idea, but with the drop of that therapist's textbook from Daryl's backback, humanity plays its trump card.
The lack of sexual tension in their conversation about how they've changed is noticeable. Daryl asks Carol, “You said I'm not like how I was before. … How was I?” She explains, simply [WITH ZERO SEXYTIMES INNUENDO] , “You were a kid. Now you're a man.” Daryl asks, “What about you?” Carol explains the woman of inaction she was before “got burned away. the person I was I got to be who I always thought I should be. Who I should have been. Then SHE got burned away.”
The breadcrumb of clues to Beth's whereabouts leads them to good ol' Grady Memorial, and back to crossing paths with Noah, who Daryl is now ready to let die. Carol, seeing some of the old Daryl flare back up in his willingness to do nothing to save the trapped-under-a-bookcase Noah (and his cocky cigarette smoking), softly pleads for Noah's life. Daryl delivers redemption with an arrow, staving off moral decay for another hour.
A glimpse of the “boy” he used to be does not sit well with Carol.
The scene flashes back to a denouement in the woods following Carol's takedown of Terminus. Carol sinks to her knees, exhausted, wiping off Walker effluvia with her guts-stained poncho. Carol occupies a unique space in the world of The Walking Dead – not unlike Michonne, her “lesbian” haircut, lack of sexual relationships with men, and general capability to fend for herself characterize her as occupying a non-traditional female role.
Get this shit OFFA(l) me.
There is something very feminine in this moment – and familiar to anyone who has had to remove copious cosmetics from their face. It's a moment of revelation and vulnerability – a pause, a stripping off of protective layers. Although referring to make-up as “warpaint” is culturally appropriative, employing the comparison here is useful (if problematic), given the apocalyptic setting. Using the Walker remains as camouflage allowed her to step out into a dangerous world, blend in and “pass” - an occasional goal for trans women, especially when safety is an issue. For many women who employ cosmetics in our aesthetic, putting on our “face” is performative as well as prophylactic, and it always comes at a cost – conforming to gender expectations can often make you invisible in a way that may not draw the negative attention that a more masculine of center presentation might, but it also means that you are marked as an available target for cat-calling heteromale attentions. Sort of like the way Carol was able to shield Walker attacks with her stench and appearance, but that left her open to sniper fire from the tops of Terminus buildings. As the flashback ends, another column of smoke is seen through the trees. Contrast this 180 degrees from the column of smoke at the top of the episode that signaled the prison attack, and the end of the safety of that home. Carol caused this smoke – she was the agent of this destruction. The empowerment is palpable.
Blowin’ up shit, savin’ lives and recovering crossbows.
The intelligence value of saving Noah is made immediately apparent – even while panicked, he confirms Beth's presence at the hospital and notes that the guards will be on their way. Confirming my suspicions that Beth was not “saved” by the Grady resident officers, but was attacked in order to be “saved,” a Crossed station wagon mows down Carol and loads her onto a stretcher. Noah, showing remarkable quick-thinking, restrains Daryl from taking out the cops, knowing that the medical facility is the only thing that can save Carol from this, her second car accident in a number of hours (counting the drop in the ambulance from the freeway over pass to escape the Walkers). The episode ends with Daryl, knowing about the back-up he's got from the rest of the group, taking Noah back with him to round up the posse for yet another showdown.