It’s not hard to see The Walking Dead as an extended metaphor for war and the problems that arise when a person (or a group of people) has been fighting for too long and now returns to the home front, so to speak. We can also see this episode — or story arc — as an extended riff on The Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai: a band of hardened fighters is hired to protect simple townsfolk who aren’t prepared to deal with the badness that surrounds them, and what happens when that hardness comes into contact with “civilization.”
While the episode is dialogue heavy, it’s interesting to contrast the way the Alexandrians use words compared to the way Our Gang does – or mostly doesn’t. When you are safely ensconced in your domesticated, comparatively decadent world, words aren’t just tools for communication… .
The crew approaches the gate of Alexandria still watchful and tense, Our Gang on the cusp between hope and history. Carl sees a girl watching them from the window of a nearby abandoned house, and then, like a vision, she’s gone. A trash can tips behind them and the group, as a unit, trains its weapons. Before you can say “Daryl Dixon,” the source of the noise — an opossum — is skewered on his crossbow bolt. The citizen inside the gate looks stunned by the sight of a small, grimy, heavily armed troop of survivors. “We brought dinner,” says Daryl holding up his kill.
That good old Dixon humor is going to go over big in Alexandria.
Inside, Our Gang watches with mixed emotions as the gate closes behind them, reminding us that walls and gates serve two purposes. They are told by the “guard” to surrender their weapons if they’re going to stay. Rick states that they’re not sure if they are going to stay, so Aaron reassures the kid, Nicholas, that everything is cool — and Rick for emphasis adds, “If we were going to use them, we would have started already.”
It has been a while, if ever, that the people of Alexandria have seen a group like this.
Aaron wants everyone to meet Deanna, the one person in the community who can answer all their questions, starting with Rick. Right on time, a walker comes shambling towards the gate, so Rick — seeing a teachable moment — calls on Sasha, who coolly turns, aims, takes its head off. One shot. “It’s a good thing we’re here,” say’s Rick with a smirk.
Now that’s a cold open. They haven’t even been in Alexandria for 30 seconds.
Rick is in the home of Deanna Monroe, a woman with a kind face and a warm smile, who wants to film their interview for the sake of transparency — and if all goes well, history. She records the conversation. She informs Rick that she was a Congressperson from Ohio and she asks Rick what he was formerly, “I don’t think that matters anymore,” he says. “Oh, I know it does,” she replies, but Rick has already moved on. Deanna gives Rick the rundown on Alexandria: A planned community, solar power, water and filtered sewage. Totally self-sufficient.
She goes on about trying to make it back to Ohio when she was diverted by the military to the small community. The walls went up almost as soon as they found an unfinished construction site to mine for materials. Her husband, an architect (the past does matter, she says) and sons built the first walls, and, as people started to trickle in, they built the rest. Rick is shocked that they’ve been behind the wall the whole time. While it does explain why the pampered townsfolk could use the help of a few gunslingers, it doesn’t explain where her husband is. Deanna tells Rick that his is the first group they’ve taken in “in a long time.” Rick replies that they should keep their gates closed — presumably even to them.
Rick goes on to explain exactly how things are on the outside — that it’s become a “survival at any cost” world, where people are looking to chew you up and spit you out. She reminds Rick that Aaron trusts him, to which he retorts that he — one of the GOOD GUYS — has had to kill countless people in order to keep his family safe. “Sounds like I’d want to be a part of your family,” mumbles Deanna.
She informs Rick that Northern VA had been effectively evacuated, yet, despite the reduced number of survivors and walkers, the community has suffered recent losses. Deanna claims to have “exiled” some “who didn’t work out.” She needs the team, maybe Rick most of all, to help the community survive and uses everything she’s got to get him to stay.
Later, on a patio somewhere, Our Gang unloads their weapons (an arsenal of almost comical proportions that makes you wonder if they haven’t at least doubled the amount of firepower in Alexandria) onto a rolling cart. As they keep unpacking you can see a hopeful wariness while Deanna informs them that they can have their guns back whenever they need them to go out.
Later, Aaron shows Rick and Carl the homes that have been bestowed on the group — two of them, standing side by side. Aaron tries his best to make them feel welcome, but his homey joviality just makes him seem far too domesticated for his own good. The house itself is a turnkey affair, fully furnished with other people’s stuff, but it has running water!
Rick immediately showers and gets rid of his beard, transforming from his feral state to someone who appears more civilized. He’s barely out of the shower when Jessie, a woman from the welcoming committee, drops by with supplies for the pantry and, one suspects, to check out the newcomers. Rick specifically. She offers to cut his hair, which is, frankly, weird. “You don’t know me,” says Rick, but he doesn’t resist. They get to chatting, she has kids and Rick has kids and it seems Rick is charmed by this domesticity and neighborliness that he never thought he’d see again.
Flashback to Daryl at his interview, pacing like a caged animal, still holding his freshly killed opossum. Deanna simply asks if he wants to be there; he says it might be good for other people, the kids maybe.
Cut back to Daryl on the porch of their new home, dressing his kill. It’s evident that everyone is still anxious. Carol and Carl head next door to explore their other house. Inside, Carl notes how much like mansions the digs are and Carol, pointedly, notices that it’s a bit odd that they’re being given away. Carl lingers while Carol heads back.
Outside, she catches Rick and Daryl who have done a quick recon. Carol mentions that while the houses are next door to each other… Rick completes the thought: Now they don’t have weapons, “they’re splitting us up.” They decide the group is going to stay together that night.
Meanwhile, Carl explores the house next door, finding nothing of interest but a kind of a rumpus room in the unfinished attic.
Later, Our Gang bunks down for the night, very quietly as if they’re still too wound up, too on guard to relax. The only one who seems to have settled a bit is Michonne, having just come out of the bathroom after 20 minutes of brushing her teeth. She takes a moment to notice Rick’s new look and realizes that she’s never seen him clean-shaven. Michonne, having taken stock of the mood, admits that while caution is a good thing, Rick really should try to relax. “I’ve got a good feeling about this place,” she says. They agree to hope she’s right, but neither is quite convinced.
Deanna drops in for a visit and pays some compliments to the group, especially Rick. Does she see him as the leader of their group or the one most valuable to hers? She then tries to warm them up, saying she has a job in mind for everyone except “Mr. Dixon” who she still hasn’t figured out. Can she lure him in with the promise of domesticity or is he forever feral?
That night, in the dark, everyone is sleeping except Rick, who can’t resist a midnight trip to the kitchen to make sure there’s a big knife available.
Then we get a brief flash of Michonne’s interview where she states that the group is “ready for this.” “Everybody?” Deanna asks her pointedly. After a good think, Michonne replies, “Everybody.” But we all know whom Deanna means.
Our Gang heads out for a stroll around the neighborhood, except Daryl who is having none of it. Rick confesses that he and his wife used to window shop in neighborhoods like the one they’re in. “Well, here we are,” says Daryl. Indeed, Mr. Dixon. Indeed.
Rick walks off the porch and realizes that he’s alone on the street. He goes into panic mode, sprinting down the unfamiliar streets and collides with Jessie. She walks Rick up the street, where Carl and Judith are visiting a nice elderly couple. Rick confesses to Jessie that he just had a brief bout of losing his mind, but she’s gentle and understands, and suggests that their boys should hang out sometime. Is she working on Rick from that angle too?
Later the boys do get together. Carl is shown around by Jessie’s son, Ron, who introduces him to Mikey and Enid, a sullen girl who has recently come in from the wild. They try to get Carl involved in choosing an activity — should they play video games or go over to Mikey’s to play pool? — but Carl is overwhelmed. Until now, unlike conversations in his life to this point, he’s only had one choice — vigilance.
Flashback to Carl’s interview: During the interview, Carl’s got Judith on his lap. He brings up the fact that his mom wanted a “place like this for us.” And when Deanna offers her condolences for his mom’s death, Carl confesses, and reminds us that not only is his mom dead, but he had to be the one to kill her. Remember that? Brutal.
Cut back to Carl, lying on his bed — rather, a bed, a familiar image, but from a different show. He and Rick have a bit of a chat and while they both admit to liking the community and its people, Carl is concerned that they’re weak and he doesn’t want Our Gang to go down that road.
That night, while everyone else is sleeping Michonne notices Rick staring out the window. She mentions that Deanna hasn’t given her a job yet, and Rick admits that he’s not sure about committing to this new life quite yet. She claims to be ready, yet neither can sleep. Rick decides to take a walk.
The streets are dark and peaceful, until a voice from off-screen says, “You’re Rick.” Rick turns and calmly looks to the source of the voice, a far cry from where he was a couple of days prior. The guy on the porch — mostly hidden by shadows, and smoking — mentions that his wife cut Rick’s hair. Rick takes this in stride, but has to be wondering why Jessie never bothered to mention dude, which now begs the question: Are these actual families? “Welcome to Alexandria,” Jessie’s husband says with a… something … in his voice.
At home again, Rick tries to sleep and fails.
Flashback to Carol’s interview: Carol is all smiles and sweetness as she reminisces about her life as the happy housewife, making dinner for her husband Ed — “I miss that stupid wonderful man every day.” Can I just say wow? This is some crazy game-playing here and I love it. She says her role in the group is like a “Den Mother” (a real bear is technically a den mother, right?) and is just thankful the group is willing to protect her. She offers to join the Alexandria JUNIOR LEAGUE, but manages to stop short of offering to put on a bake sale!
Cut back to Daryl endlessly tuning up his crossbow as Carol steps out of the house in some homely Stepford garb, off to her job, which is making food for the old people in town. The look of disgust on Daryl’s face is priceless. She tells him to clean up, that they have to keep up appearances as she toddles off to work. Carol even seems to walk differently to maintain the illusion.
Cutaway to Glenn’s interview: Like Michonne, Glenn says they need to make this work because, “We were almost out there too long.”
Cut back to Rick heading out beyond the walls for a stroll. At the same time, from his room, Carl spots Enid skulking around the back yard. He watches her approach the wall and marvels as she effortlessly scales it.
Meanwhile, Deanna’s son Aiden and Nicholas, the kid who opened the gate for Our Gang, approach Glenn, Tara and Noah. They’re recruiting for a supply run. Aiden brags about almost making Lieutenant in ROTC when “this shit blew in.” He wants to show the new blood the ropes and test their mettle. Does he really think he’s that tough? Glenn and company are game but are also a bit miffed when Aiden hands them the “sweet-ass biscuits he picked out.” By biscuit he means guns, which turn out to be pathetic. Can he really be this obtuse?
Meanwhile, Carl is outside the wall trailing Enid through the woods but he loses her when she gets spooked by a loud noise and bolts.The loud noise is a walker coming out of a steel shed near Rick. He ignores it in favor of checking on his stashed pistol. It’s been taken from the hiding spot, which leads me to believe someone – oh, I don’t know, Enid? – saw him hide it. It doesn’t take much time for the few nearby walkers that have managed to evade Aiden to become interested in Rick. He draws a knife and is joined by Carl, who has just stepped around the corner. The two of them bond over some close-range zombie slaying. Rick is apparently unsurprised/unconcerned that Carl isn’t at home. Times have changed.
Aiden informs Glenn, Tara and Noah that he and his men have swept a radius of 53 miles in a semicircle around the community, which feels more like a brag than a fact. They also inform the new bloods that the only reason they’re there is because Aiden & Co. lost four people on a run the month before. Aiden then admits he can be a “hardass” and a “douchebag,” and launches into some random military jargon to prove his point. Then — if you don’t already hate these kids by now — he brags about capturing one of the “dead heads” that killed one of their guys and torturing it for kicks. Of course, when they get to the spot where it should be, it’s missing. Tara is nearly killed when the thing comes back and the boys try to play with it. Glenn kills the walker, which pisses Aiden off because who are they to kill his toy?
Glenn, Tara, Noah and the boys stomp back to the community, where a humiliated Aiden attempts to publicly assert his authority, claiming Glenn, Tara and Noah aren’t “ready for runs yet.” A crowd — most of the town actually — gathers to watch Glenn and Aiden go mano-a-mano. Glenn tells the kid to step away. Deanna tries to call a halt to it, but wounded pride can be a bitch and her son swings at Glenn who puts the kid down with a single punch. Daryl, lurking near the edges, tangles with Nicholas who gets lucky that Rick arrives and can actually remove Daryl from the kid’s throat.
Deanna, wisely and publicly, declares that Our Gang is now a part of the community and should be considered equals. She finally gets around to Rick’s job and offers him the position of Constable, offering Michonne the same. Rick and Michonne accept the duties, leaving Daryl — already hurt and furious — feeling betrayed. Deanna thanks Glenn for knocking Aiden on his ass.
If you think this all feels a little Machiavellian, I’m with you.
Flashback to Rick’s interview (again). He’s going back over the “you should keep your gates closed” speech, that fades to… night (that night?). Rick comes down the stairs sporting his official police threads, as the voiceover from his interview continues. The juxtaposition indicates that, perhaps, he is the man he was warning Deanna about, the man “who will measure you by what they can take from you, by what they can use you for to live.” The group, scattered around the house turns to look on in wonder, surprise, amusement….
Rick and Daryl meet on the porch to clear the air and Carol drifts out as well. Daryl asks if he’s a cop again, but Rick claims he’s trying it on for size. Carol, like Carl, is worried that if they stay they’ll get soft, but Rick assures her that they can all sleep in their own homes. Rick surmises, rightly or wrongly, that they are the apex predator behind the walls of Alexandria.
“We won’t get weak,” he says. “That’s not in us any more. We’ll make it work. If they can’t make it, then we’ll just take this place.” Fade to black, roll credits.
After spending last week being nervous about Aaron and what he might have up his sleeve, I find it very hard to relax about a town that seems so weak on the surface. They’ve survived a long time – longer than Terminus, the Prison, Hershel’s, Woodbury, and The Hospital – and that doesn’t happen by accident. Rick seems convinced but I have my doubts.
Do we really believe the Alexandrians are this naive and soft? Are they working our guys like Carol is working them? Everything seems like a show, like a long con and maybe Rick has fallen for it. Carol: no, Daryl: who knows? While the rest of the group is wary, they seem mostly relieved.
There is something deeply unsettling about the videotaped interviews. Stylistically, they have the effect of turning Our Gang into specimens in a zoo, increasing the sense of claustrophobia. They also remind me of game films. Deanna calls it “transparency.” “Strategy” might be a better word. She plays people for a living….
What’s your take away on the episode, the gang’s new circumstances and the intentions of their new neighbors? Sound off in the comments section below!
New episodes of The Walking Dead premiere Sunday nights at 9/8CT on AMC.