If there’s one thing that arouses suspicion on The Walking Dead, it’s a guy who shows up looking like he’s been taking regular baths. So naturally, this week’s episode was spent suspiciously eyeing the show’s most recent newcomer: Aaron, the suspiciously smiley guy who accosted Maggie and Sasha at sunrise, looking like he walked straight out of a combination L.L. Bean outlet and day spa.
Aaron says that he’s a friend who wants to lead the group to the home they’ve been longing for. But considering what happened the last time Rick bought that “sanctuary for all” line, they’re understandably skeptical. It also doesn’t help that Judith starts crying the second that Aaron appears in the barn, although that might just be because she’s suddenly realized that she should have reasonably been dead a dozen times over by now, and the dissonance of remaining on earth is too much for her tiny brain to handle.
The introduction is tense, and Aaron unhelpfully tries to overcompensate by being Mr. Friendly, making lame dance jokes about wanting the group to “audition” for a spot in his camp. To help convince them, he points to an envelope full of photos in his pack. This leads to the analog version of a Powerpoint presentation about the awesome safe haven he wants to lead them to.
Rick, who hates Powerpoint presentations, punches Aaron right in the face before he can even explain photo #2.
This is the beginning of a split in the group’s leadership, as Michonne points out that she was interested in the presentation, and was not actually blinking “PUNCH FACE NOW” at Rick in Morse code. When Aaron regains consciousness, he’s more cheerful than ever, and the rest of the group seems open to listening—which Rick reacts to by getting increasingly angry and paranoid. For instance: Aaron reveals that he was the one who left the magic mystery water in the road; Rick just gets angry about the part where he’s been following and watching the group for days.
But Aaron is not deterred. Aaron knows that Rick and his friends are the kind of good people who could be a part of… wherever it is he wants to take them, a post-apocalypse utopia with a robust apple orchard and zero zombies. Aaron, like his biblical namesake, is a hardcore spokesman. Seriously: If this guy turned up on late night television selling a slap-chop, I would buy 10 of them.
Rick, on the other hand, would not only not buy the slap-chop, but promises to put a knife in Aaron’s skull if it turns out that he’s lying.
Meanwhile, a group led by Michonne goes out in search of Aaron’s vehicles, and find two: A car and a camper. They’re startled by a few walkers—it’s worth noting that the zombies in this part of the country are a lot juicier than usual—but the only thing they find in the camper is a big, beautiful stash of food, including can after can of generic Spaghetti-Os.
The evidence keeps piling up that Aaron was telling the truth. But the food, like pretty much everything else having to do with Aaron’s appearance at the camp, just makes Rick angry. He goes fully aggro over the Spaghetti-Os—“This is ours,” he snarls at Aaron—at which point Michonne has finally had enough and makes an executive decision.
“We’re going, all of us,” she says. Of course, because she’s not The Ricktator, she also invites anyone who disagrees to speak up, but nobody does. (Except Daryl, who says, “This barn smells like horse shit.” It’s unclear what, if anything, this is meant to contribute to the discussion.)
After some argument about the right route to take—because Rick is going, but is also still unwilling to trust anything Aaron says—the group splits between the car and the camper, and heads for the promise of safety. There’s even a moment of levity when Rick discovers a bunch of license plates in the glovebox, and Aaron sheepishly admits that he’s been trying to collect all 50 states. But then, as Michonne flips through the photos of the place they’re supposedly going, she realizes: There are no people in them. That’s weird, isn’t it? And then she realizes: They never asked their new friend The Questions! And then, as she asks Aaron The Questions, Rick rummages somewhere in the car and discovers a listening cone, which means that someone could have been eavesdropping on them all this time, and everyone’s yelling and angry and then SPLAT goes a zombie that was standing right in the middle of the road.
As it turns out, Aaron had his reasons for wanting to take another route: This road is occupied by a giant herd of those super-juicy walkers. They mow down at least a dozen of them—and then a dozen more, since windshield washer fluid is powerless against an inch-thick layer of zombie innards—before the car comes to a stop, at which point they realize that the camper has disappeared.
For the first time since he came on the scene, Aaron stops being Mister Jolly Optimist. First he’s nervous, then he’s scared. And then, from somewhere out in the dark, a flare lights up the sky—and Aaron bails out of the car, his hands still bound, and runs screaming into the woods.
NEXT: Intermission! Zombie slaughter![pagebreak]
This is the part of the show where our heroes pause their interpersonal conflicts to kill a bunch of zombies, and you only need to know two things about it: First, Glenn finds and rescues Aaron, and the two of them then find and rescue the others, because they can make it together if they make it together. And second, it turns out that if you fire a flare directly into a zombie’s eyeball, you can make an absolutely gorgeous walking human jack-o-lantern! DIY Pinterest tutorial to come!
With everyone safely out of the walker-infested forest, and the group reunited somewhere indoors, we at last discover the source of Aaron’s uncharacteristic panic: He was consumed by concern for his friend Eric, who is actually much more than a friend. That’s right: Aaron wasn’t running away from the walkers! He was running toward love! And with Aaron and Eric happily cuddling (and the long-awaited introduction of the show’s first gay couple finally complete), it seems like this feel-good moment might set the tone for the rest of the episode. Not even Rick could keep being a sourpuss in the face of such a sweet reunion, right?
Yeah, no, of course he can. Rick suggests that he’s going to make the boyfriends sleep separately, even though Eric has a broken ankle and Aaron has pretty much proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he doesn’t intend to kill them. But Rick has already been losing ground as a leader, and he loses some more here, as Glenn steps in and is basically like, Yo, Rick, maybe let’s not be complete dicks about absolutely everything?
By the time day breaks the next morning, there’s no longer any question about whether the survivors will follow Aaron (or where they’re following him to: He reveals that they’re headed for Alexandria, Virginia.) One by one, they find hope. They believe that this place will heal their souls. It might even heal their bodies, too; as Aaron tells Noah, their community includes a gifted surgeon who might restore his leg. And when Abraham looks out the window and sees the Washington Monument—even knowing now that there was never a mission, never a cure—the sight of the spire rising skyward fulfills him all the same. He looks at the dashboard, where a warning light has come on, and says, confidently, “We can make it.”
Abraham’s confidence was charming, but misplaced. The next shot is of everyone standing morosely next to the trailer, stalled on the side of the road. But this isn’t a setback: It’s more like a timeout, courtesy of the universe, so that Rick can finally face the demon that’s hounded him since the beginning of the end.
Because where the rest of the group believes that they’re almost home, Rick just can’t accept that “home” is a thing within reach. That was the dark truth underneath last week’s inspirational speech: That Rick didn’t actually believe that the time would ever come when they’d stop doing what they have to do—when they’d stop surviving and get to live. Perhaps, too, part of him doesn’t want it to stop. This is a man who has found his strength, his purpose, in making the journey and staying alive. What happens to that man when he reaches a destination? What sins will he have to confront, when he’s not struggling every day just to survive?
Michonne, who has made this journey herself, tells him it’s time to find out. She’s done it herself, already; she went from surviving alone, trusting no one, to becoming part of a family. For her, the journey ended outside the prison, holding a plastic basket full of formula for a baby she’d never met.
For Rick, it ends outside the gates of the closest thing this world has to a promised land, holding that baby in his arms. They wait together, a family assembled by circumstance and by choice, in the light of the setting sun. And what awaits them inside? We won’t find out until next week, but there’s hope in Rick’s eyes, and with good reason.
Earlier in this episode, he reminded Michonne of what they heard each time they approached a gate that held horrors inside: Nothing. Nothing as they entered Terminus; nothing as they stood outside the walls of Woodbury. There was no sound at all. But here, there is. It’s faint, but it’s there. From beyond the gate, you can hear children, laughing.