First things first: For a man who has expressed his absolute willingness to beat up everyone in Alexandria and take all their stuff for himself, Rick Grimes was looking like quite the pillar of the community on this week’s episode of The Walking Dead.
Well, except for the part where he’s still secretly plotting a potential coup of the safe zone, just in case, and the other part where he kinda sorta made a drunken overture toward another man’s wife. The uniform he’s wearing might look like the one he always wore, but the man inside it has changed, irrevocably. In an episode called “Forget,” a clear message emerged: Some things, you can’t.
And some of our heroes are having more trouble with that than others. Although Daryl Dixon and his beloved possum carcass won all of last week’s awards for failing to adapt to the gang’s new surroundings, this week’s black sheep was Sasha, who opens the episode by gathering up all the photos of the family who used to live in their house, and taking them into the woods for target practice. Although this isn’t that weird by Walking Dead standards—I mean, this is hardly the first time that a character has metaphorically murdered the vestiges of a world that no longer exists—Sasha is obviously unraveling, hallucinating the gurgles and groanings of zombies as she shoots down frame after frame, and then whispering, “Come and get me” at nobody in particular.
(Sidenote: Later in the episode, it becomes clear that she’s not just having trouble adjusting to Alexandria and its creature comforts, but that she’s got a pretty intense case of PTSD. This also isn’t weird by Walking Dead standards—it was just two seasons ago that Rick was getting phone calls from Lori in the afterlife, after all—but it certainly doesn’t go over well with Deanna when Sasha has an outburst that totally ruins her cocktail party.)
Meanwhile, Rick, Daryl, and Carol are plotting to get their guns out of lockup, just in case they still decide to go through with the whole “hostile takeover” plan. The highlight of this scene is the hilarious dissonance of Carol talking about “nine-millimeter autos” and “full mags” while wearing the world’s fussiest little floral cardigan, but there’s also a seed of something darker: One of the zombies they kill while having this little confab has a letter W carved into its forehead. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a scarlet letter on a corpse—the dismembered bodies back in Noah’s neighborhood were sporting the mark, too—but nobody seems to make the connection, or even to think it’s all that peculiar. They basically look at the W and shrug it off, like, Oh, it’s just one of those fancy alphabet zombies, no big deal. (The important thing is, if and when they overthrow Alexandria, how will they divide up the applesauce?!)
These “W” zombies are almost certainly going to prove important before the season is over, but they’re all but forgotten for the rest of this episode, which is pretty much consumed by the difficulties, small and large, of assimilation. Rick and Michonne are taking their police duties seriously—even as they discuss the distinct possibility that they’ve been given the cop jobs because Deanna wants them either tested or dead—and they’re stunned to discover how completely un-guarded Alexandria is. For one, the walls are constructed such that anyone could climb one of the bracing beams outside and get in. For another, they don’t even have a lookout stationed in the clock tower, which is the one vantage point from which people attempting to breach the walls could be spotted.
The beams, the clock tower, the Hester Prynne zombies: If this show foreshadows any harder, it’s going to hurt itself. And there’s more where that came from: Deanna acts like they’re being paranoid, and says that she appointed Rick and Michonne as law enforcers not because she wants them to, like, enforce the law, but largely as a symbolic Step One in the direction of the thriving society she wants to build here someday.
Seriously, raise your hand if you fully expect Alexandria to burn to the ground in the season finale.
NEXT: Daryl and Aaron horse around.
While the rest of the group prepares for a welcome party at Deanna’s home that night, Daryl resumes his busy schedule of prowling around outside the gates and being generally suspicious of everything, but particularly soap. (Daryl still doesn’t appear to have bathed, but he also doesn’t look any grimier than before, so perhaps his filth has reached a point of comfortable homeostasis that everyone can live with? Discuss!)
Out in the woods, he aims his crossbow at the underbrush and barks, “Come out! Now!”, leading an awestruck Aaron to creep out of the trees: He’s super impressed that Daryl can tell a walker from a person just by sound. Unclear: Why this is impressive, since it’s pretty easy to tell a zombie by that gargling-with-peanut-butter sound that they make all the time for no reason.
Daryl agrees to let Aaron tag along with him on his woods walk, which is how the two of them happen upon a horse hanging out in a clearing. The horse’s name is Buttons, Aaron says, named by one of the kids in the community who saw him run by one day. He’d like to catch Buttons and bring him home, and Daryl—who knows how to lasso a horse—offers to help.
Readers? Because we’re friends, and I like you, I’m just going to go ahead and tell you right now: Don’t get too attached to Buttons.
The bad news: Daryl’s horse whispering is foiled by the appearance of a bunch of zombies, and Buttons the Horse flees into the forest while Daryl and Aaron take care of business. The good news: Tracking Buttons through the woods means that the two have a chance to talk. Aaron explains that he and Eric were viewed as outsiders too, like Daryl, albeit “for different reasons.” (Translation: “We’re gay, whereas you’re a walking grease bomb who smells like opossum innards, but the point is, we’re all misunderstood, man.”) His advice to Daryl? Let people get to know him! And maybe go to Deanna’s party?
Also, maybe, like, bathe? Or at least, I assume that Aaron was about to gently suggest that last thing, were this not the point at which they come into another clearing and rediscover Buttons the Horse. Alas, they do not get there in time to keep poor Buttons from being cornered and eaten alive by a horde of zombies. Moral of this story: The Walking Dead is just a terrible, terrible place to be a horse.
NEXT: It’s party time![pagebreak]
Finally, it’s time for the much-hyped party at Deanna’s, beginning with the hilarious spectacle of Abraham and Rosita looking incredibly subdued and uncomfortable in their freshly-washed clothes.
“They have beer,” says Rosita, which pretty much sums up what’s great and terrible about this party. It’s not just beer; the alcohol is flowing freely and conspicuously, and everyone is awkward and uncomfortable, which means it’s basically a foregone conclusion that someone, or maybe even several someones, are going to make some mistakes before the night is through. Like, say, planting the world’s most sexually charged kiss on the cheek of their married next-door neighbor (Rick). Or making a terrible “live by the spear, die by the spear” joke vis-à-vis eating potato puffs with a toothpick (Abraham). Or having a PTSD panic attack that totally kills the vibe of the cocktail party (Sasha).
Oh, and then there’s Carol—who sneaks out of the party, climbs in the open window of the supply building, and gets caught red-handed stealing guns by Jessie’s curious little boy, who was following her to ask if she could bake him some more cookies.
And what does Carol do? No summary can do justice to this moment, so I’m just going to type it (more or less) verbatim:
“If you [tell], one morning you’ll wake up, and you won’t be in your bed,” says Carol. “You’ll be outside the walls, far, far away, tied to a tree. And you’ll scream and scream because you’ll be so afraid. But no one will come to help, because no one will hear you.
“But something will hear you. The monsters will come. You won’t be able to run away when they come for you. They’ll eat you up while you’re still alive, while you can still feel it. And afterwards, no one will know what happened to you.
“Or you can promise not to tell anyone what you saw here, and then nothing will happen. And you’ll get cookies.”
And in that moment, I swear Carol was infinite. (And with guns successfully procured, and a small child successfully traumatized, I assume she returned to the party where she enjoyed a well-deserved beer.)
There’s just one person conspicuously missing from the party: Daryl. And that’s because he’s having a spaghetti dinner with Aaron and Eric instead—a scene which feels like it was written at least in part to make the heads of certain fans, i.e. the fans who spent last year furiously debating the question of Daryl’s sexual orientation, explode.
However, it’s not all about stoking the fan fantasies of Daryl joining Aaron and Eric in a glorious ménage à trois; the guys also want to ask Daryl a very important question. Aaron shows him into the garage, which is full of motorcycle parts. They want Daryl to help build a motorcycle—because he’s going to need one, as Alexandria’s other recruiter.
NEXT: Oh, what a difference an A makes.[pagebreak]
“It’s hard to get used to people getting used to you,” Aaron says, and he also says that he understands Daryl’s conflict: Wanting to belong to the community, while still needing time outside its walls. But the best part is the reason why he wants him to be their recruiter: Daryl, says Aaron, knows the difference between a good person and a bad person.
Let’s just take a moment to acknowledge what a good and important moment this is for Daryl, who has always doubted himself in this way—who has never had faith in his judgment, because he’s never really believed that he himself is one of the good ones. To be welcomed this way, understood this way, is obviously deeply meaningful to him.
It’s so meaningful, actually, that when Carol shows up with guns the next morning, he gets all uncomfortable and noncommittal and is like, “But, do we really need these?” (Carol’s expression in response is priceless: It says, I wish you’d mentioned this before I offered an eight year-old the choice of either cookies or disembowelment.)
And Daryl isn’t the only one. Inside her pretty new home, Michonne is hanging her katana on a wall above the mantle—the way we do with things we no longer use but don’t want to forget. And out on the streets, Alexandria’s sheriff is patrolling with a pair of guns: The official piece issued to him by Deanna, and the stolen one he’s taken from Carol and stuffed in his waistband, just in case. Of interest: When he sees Jessie walking with her husband, his hand automatically and instinctively reaches for the latter—even as he raises his other hand, the one cheerfully stamped by Jessie’s son with a red letter A, in greeting.
Is a rubber stamp of approval and a sexy girl next door all it’ll take for Survivor Rick Grimes to be forgotten, and for Sheriff Rick Grimes to take his place? Will it even matter, when the arrival of the mysterious people responsible for the zombies marked “W” seems to be imminent? And with something clearly about to happen in the world of The Walking Dead, is it another bit of blatant foreshadowing that, as of the end of this episode, we’re just one red letter away from WAR?