If you liked the hopeful note that last week’s The Walking Dead ended on, I hope you enjoyed it while it lasted. Because this time, when we catch up with our heroes, that warm and fuzzy feeling is gone.
The Grimes Gang is watching as the gate in front of them clanks and slides open, and the tension is insane. When Daryl suddenly lets fly with an arrow, it’s like a gun going off. The target, however, turns out to be nothing but a now-deceased opossum.
“We brought dinner,” says Daryl.
(Sidenote: This is pretty much setting the tone for Daryl’s entire character arc during this episode, which consists of acting like a pouty teenage boy who has been dragged out to a nice dinner by his parents, and who is determined to make it such a miserable experience that they never make that mistake again.)
At this point, the camera pulls back for a wide shot of the whole group, striding through the gate. And in this moment, they’re suddenly not the characters we know and love; we see them as the residents of Alexandria see them, as swaggering, filthy strangers with guns on their hips and murder in their eyes. It’s jarring, because from a distance, Rick and his band of survivors look profoundly menacing—every bit as mercenary and frightening as the gang of Claimers from season 4.
Inside the gate, they’re met by a man who asks them to turn over their weapons, a request at which Rick bristles. The welcoming committee also informs the group that their next step will be to talk to Deanna, and Abraham goes, “Who’s Deanna?” in this hilarious, whiny voice—which I only mention because I had to watch it again just to make sure I wasn’t imagining how weird and awkward it sounded, like Michael Cudlitz improvised a line but didn’t fully commit to it. Also, on the subject of weirdness, I’ll just say now that Father Gabriel is nowhere in this episode. (Did anyone see him? I didn’t. I’m also not sure if this is ominous, or if perhaps Seth Gilliam just wasn’t on set that day and they tried to cleverly conceal it.)
The gate begins to roll shut behind them. As it does, Rick turns, looks through it, and says, “Sasha.” Sasha also turns, and raises her gun, and puts down a zombie from 25 yards away with a perfectly placed bullet.
The message is clear enough: Even if these people give up their guns, they’ll have no trouble taking ’em back.
“It’s a good thing we’re here,” says Rick. The look on the welcoming committee’s face says that he’s not sure he agrees.
Deanna, as it turns out, is Deanna Monroe: A woman who lives in a beautifully appointed house with a TV conspicuously mounted on the wall. (Ohmigod, do they have TV here?) The deal with Deanna is as follows: She used to be a congressperson; now she’s the president, or whatever, of the safe zone they’re in right now, which was a planned, self-sufficient community with its own solar grid, cisterns, and so on. Most of the people in the safe zone have been there since the plague hit, she explains, and Rick and his group are the first they’ve considered allowing to join the community in a long, long time.
NEXT: “Hi, I’m auditioning for a part in your safe, zombie-free zone and I’ll be singing “Knock Knock Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.””
An interesting twist: Deanna is filming her chat with Rick, with him sitting in front of the camera and speaking directly into it. The addition of this second lens has the same result as the wide shot at the gate: We see Rick from a remove, and it makes him seem like a stranger. A scary, dirty, stranger with wild eyes and a crazy man’s beard. The way he gazes directly at us, breaking the fourth wall within the show, it really does feel like an audition tape.
But it’s what Rick says, straight into the camera, that’s really frightening: He says, “You should keep the gates closed.” He says that the people still alive outside them are people who can’t be trusted.
“People measure you by what they can take,” he says.
We’ve been tiptoeing for years around the question of what might happen to Rick if he ever got to stop surviving and start living—if he ever got the chance to slow down enough to confront what he’s become. This is that moment, and he doesn’t shy away from it. He tells Deanna exactly what he’s done, what the world has done to him. But Deanna doesn’t mind. Deanna, in fact, is in the market for tough motherf–kers just like the man in front of her—people who will join the community and ensure its survival. And in exchange, she points out, she can offer Rick’s kids a place to grow up.
Specifically, she can offer them two beautiful suburban mini-mansions, with enough room between them for the entire group. There’s even a white picket fence!
Those who cannily pegged this episode as the last in which we’d see Mountain Man Rick, congratulations: You were right. With a hot shower and a can of Barbasol at his disposal, Rick goes about the process of shaving off his road beard. By the time a neighbor knocks at the door with a basket of food, he’s as fresh-faced and clean as the Sheriff Grimes we met back in Season 1. The neighbor is a blonde named Jessie, and she has a son Carl’s age, and the next thing you know she’s giving Rick a haircut while they discuss their kids. Rick fails to mention that Carl is a recently reformed murder-happy maniac; probably for the best.
Meanwhile, Carol, Daryl, and Michonne are getting the interview treatment, too. One by one, they express their feelings about the safe zone:
Michonne: “If this is how you’re saying it is, then this is what we wanted. We’re ready for this. All of us.”
Daryl: “The boy and the baby, they deserve a roof.”
And Carol? Carol cheerfully explains that she was just a housewife with a loving husband who she misses every day, and that she became a sort of “den mother” to the group that rescued her. That’s right! Silly old Carol, she doesn’t really know how to do anything but laundry and dinner. But hey, she’s really a people person: perhaps the community has a junior league?
NEXT: I’m sorry, I just hallucinated. I thought I heard you say “Junior League.”
If you’re anything like me, this was the point at which you started to feel like you were possibly losing your mind, because that’s how convincing and earnest this performance is. Carol, a happy homemaker with no survival skills to speak of? Did I, like, hallucinate two and a half seasons of this woman becoming a tough-as-nails, gun-toting hardass?
Answer: No. I did not. Carol is just as hardcore as always, but she’s lying through her teeth, the better to position herself inside the safe zone social scene and get to know its inner workings. Pretty savvy, Carol. And man, she really sells it: Next thing you know, she’s emerging from the house in khakis and a cardigan. A cardigan!
Daryl, who is gutting his possum all over the front porch of the group’s lovely new home, sneers at Carol and tells her she looks ridiculous. She tells him to take a shower, if only to keep up appearances; he sneers at that, too. Let’s just pause for a moment to consider how Daryl must actually smell right now, keeping in mind as we do that the last two things he ate were dog meat and earthworms.
DARYL, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, BATHE.
That night, Deanna stops by to see how the group is settling in and is delighted to find them all bedding down like total paranoiacs in one room. She’s also hard at work deciding what sort of jobs to give everyone, with Michonne, Rick, Sasha, and Daryl still as yet unassigned. (“I’m still trying to figure Mister Dixon out,” says Deanna. Trying to figure out why he won’t at least floss the earthworms out of his teeth, perhaps?)
From there, the group goes about the process of settling in to their new community. Rick briefly loses sight of Carl and Judith when they disappear to a neighbor’s house, and freaks out so hard that he breaks a sculpture belonging to Jessie-next-door, who is very cool and patient about it. (Question: Are these two meeting cute?) Carl gets introduced to the local teen squad: two boys and a girl, Enid, who also survived outside for a while before finding her way to Alexandria and who gives Carl a fierce side-eye the entire time.
Carl is obviously more interested in Enid than in the guys, who are far too well-adjusted and have clearly never murdered anything—and not only that, he’s a little concerned about the potential dangers of all this safety.
“I like it here; I like the people,” he tells Rick. “But they’re weak. And I don’t want us to get weak, too.”
And despite Alexandria’s aura of complete safety and security, there are at least a couple compelling reasons why our group shouldn’t let themselves go soft. For one, Rick steps out for a midnight walk on his second sleepless night in the safe zone and encounters a shadow-shrouded man on a porch nearby. He’s the husband of Jessie-next-door, and he says, “Welcome to Alexandria”—except the way he says it, it sounds more like, “I fully intend to murder you and urinate on your corpse.”
For two, Carl spots Enid climbing over the fence, after which she disappears into the woods with who-knows-what in mind.
For three, the gun Rick stowed in that trash heap blender last week is mysteriously missing. (What?)
And for four, there’s the small matter of Aidan, a.k.a. Deanna’s son, a.k.a. the biggest douchebag ever to grace The Walking Dead. (Also a.k.a. the guy whose name I thought was “Ryan,” for some reason, so thanks for pointing that out!)
NEXT: Obey and die!
Aidan is in charge of supply runs along with the first guy they met at the gate, plus three new additions: Glenn, Tara, and Noah. The team is so small because four of its previous members were recently eaten by zombies, a terrible tragedy which Aidan attributes to them not following his orders. Hmm. What kind of orders would those be?
Answer: CRAZY ORDERS.
Suffice to say that Aidan is in the same “zombies as playthings for sadists” camp as the head-collecting Governor, only much more alpha male about it: He captured the zombie that killed their old team and hung it up in the woods, so it could… um, think about what it did, I guess? Or so they could slap its ass, mascot-style, on their way to and from each supply run for good luck?
Whatever: Point is, the zombie has managed to free itself and wander off, because of course it has. And the guys are enraged by this and start furiously whistling for the zombie, so that they can get it back and string it up again, because of course they do.
Drawn by the noise, the zombie does, indeed, come lurching out of the forest, prompting Aidan to fumble with it for awhile before idiotically shoving it right into Tara, who tries to push it away, only to have its entire back peel away in her hands like the world’s most horrible coronation cape. And then the zombie manages to turn itself around, and it’s right up in Tara’s face trying to bite her, and this is the point at which Glenn, hero and all-around sensible dude, steps in and puts a knife right in Zombie’s head.
This is not what Aidan ordered, and Aidan flips his pancakes.
“You obey my orders out there!” he screams.
“Then we’re just as screwed as your last run crew,” says Glenn, which is not the thing to say to the one guy he’s met since the zombie apocalypse who could really reasonably be on steroids. (What’s in that well-stocked pantry of theirs, hmmm? Wink! Roids!) There’s some more in-your-face-bro aggro posturing on Aidan part, and then he takes a swing at Glenn, who easily ducks it and puts down his opponent with a perfectly-placed elbow jab. YES. FOUR FOR YOU, GLENN RHEE. YOU GO, GLENN RHEE.
This confrontation takes place just inside the gate, and it’s witnessed by Carl, Rick, Michonne, and Daryl, who was just waiting for this opportunity to leap into the fray and pin Aidan to the ground with his body, which he still has not washed.
But more importantly, the HBIC of Alexandria is on the scene, and she’s ready to lay down the law. For one teensy second, Aidan looks like he thinks he’s going to come out on top of this conflict. Only, hey, guess what: The law Deanna is laying down? It’s Rick, and it’s also Michonne, because they’re going to be the town’s new constables. And as constables, their first order of business is swamping Aidan douche canoe.
That’s right, gang: There’s a new sheriff in town.
And it seems like everything’s coming up roses for the Grimes Gang, doesn’t it? They’re fed, clothed, freshly shaved, and mostly bathed, ready to call Alexandria home. And Rick, it seems, is really ready to get back to the business of living, maybe even living like the man he used to be.
But as Rick comes downstairs in the button-down and tie he’ll wear as part of his new police duties, we hear his voice again, as it was on his interview tape: Telling Deanna she should keep her gates closed. Telling her that the people who walk through it will measure you by what they can take.
On the porch of their pretty new house, Carol confides to the others that she shares Carl’s worries: She, too, is concerned about their group losing ground, becoming weak. But Rick says no, that won’t happen.
“We won’t get weak. That’s not in us anymore. We’ll make it work,” he says. “And if they can’t make it… then we’ll just take this place.”
And of course they would. That’s why they’re here, after all: Because they came through that gate, they sized it up, and they saw that they could take it. They might not take it, they might even prefer not to, but oh, yes, they could.
In all fairness, he did try to warn her.