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The Walking Dead: Too Soon?
By SP_COP on February 09, 2015 | From
The Walking Dead: Too Soon? Sims: For much of this episode, I thought I had The Walking Dead figured out: After 2014’s mid-season finale and Beth’s death, the first episode back would give the group some time to grieve and decompress, maybe find a new direction to head in, and set a course for the latter half of season five. "What's Happened and What's Going On" opened with a montage of funereal digging, and the image of blood pooling on some picturesque watercolor. A little cheesy, maybe, but the show can do good things with cheese, and while Beth was never a character very close to my heart, it’s always good to lend some focus to the weight of things going forward.

Then Tyreese got bit on the arm. WELP. How quickly did you guess that this episode was going to serve as a sendoff, rather than further general plot development, Lenika? Initially I thought that Tyreese would just have to go armless for the rest of his time on the show, but once he started getting tortured by visions of the dead, and the show kept tying into those images it had led off with (his blood pooling on the picture, etc.) it seemed like this was it for Chad Coleman, one of the show’s best additions in these recent seasons. There was no ambiguity, no cliffhanger: We watched through his eyes as he expired, and realized the burial glimpsed at the beginning was for him. The Walking Dead is a show that often excels at killing off its characters out of nowhere and with little fanfare, but Tyreese deserved the attention he got here, I think.

Still, it’s kind of a wacky move, in one sense. Why cap your mid-season finale with Beth dying—who, I’m sorry Lenika, I did not shed one tear for—if you’re planning to knock off a much more beloved member of the crew one episode later? From a plot perspective, it makes sense that Beth died at the hospital, but just in terms of the emotional gut punch, thi way harder. Like many a character on The Walking Dead, Tyreese bit the dust due to someone’s general foolishness—Noah leading them to his former settlement, which had been overrun and zombified, and his refusing to leave his family home despite Tyreese’s insistence. No one saw the zombie kid in the closet, he lunged out, and boom, that was that.

Obviously the biggest impact here is on the group’s mental health at large, particularly Rick, who seems more and more besieged by survivor’s guilt as comrades die on his watch. Tyreese had somewhat outlived his status as a character crucial to the story—he felt a bit adrift in the last batch of episodes, although Coleman always did fine work with whatever material he had. So it’s not insane that he’s gone, but I’m still genuinely bummed. How about you, Lenika? And what did you make of his dying visions, including the ghostly return of the Governor and the two creepy kids?

Cruz: The two creepy kids have names, David: Lizzie and Mika, whose deaths were honestly the last that made me cry before Tyreese’s. But Lizzie and Mika’s sendoff episode (“The Grove,” written by fantastic showrunner Scott Gimple) had much in common with this one (also Gimple-written): Both were beautiful, surreally shot contemplations on forgiveness and tragedy that unexpectedly ended in blood. And both managed to give us more than just another unfortunate, but ultimately forgettable, death.

While summoning the literal ghosts from Tyreese’s past could've felt hackneyed, these apparitions managed to help cement in our minds what had made him such a special, beloved character for the last couple years. We’ve seen him consumed by anger, grief, and compassion, and have watched him, like so many others on the show, get pulled away from the edge, time and again. But his unimpeachable will to live (to the point where he forced his own bitten arm into the mouth of a biter in order to kill the biter) and his defiant declaration of his own humanity didn’t feel at all trite. It felt earned.

Compare that to this episode’s slightly more frustrating predecessor, “Hounded,” in which a gone-loopy Rick talks to several of those who died in season one (and his wife, Lori) on a phone in the prison. “What’s Happened and What’s Going On” improves on the hallucinatory-convo-with-the-past approach, partly because of its steady-handedness and artful manipulation of the audience’s sense of security. Rick’s conversation instead felt like a detour; his overall detachment from the living, including his poor son and newborn daughter, didn’t help matters. But with Tyreese, there was enough emotional breathing room to let the moments land, linger, and fade away the way they need to.

Zooming out a bit, I have to applaud this show for tricking us into thinking we’d spend 42 minutes (or at least the cold open) mourning Beth. Instead, we found ourselves unwitting guests at a funeral for a character we didn’t expect to lose so soon. And so, yes, The Walking Dead delivered us yet another senseless, avoidable death (why are walkers only as loud-or-quiet/slow-or-fast as the story requires?!). But this gorgeous and lovingly directed episode helped atone a bit for the cruelty of that world, mending our hearts a bit even as it broke them....
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