Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Walking Dead, Season 5, Episode 11: The Distance

Aaron is brought back to the barn where the gang has gathered where Aaron begins his pitch about how he lives in a totally cool place and he’d love them all to join because more people would be awesome. Rick punches him. Because Rick.

Michonne is not impressed, nor is Maggie. Rick searches Aaron’s stuff and finds a flare gun, pointing to him not being alone and, Aaron being conscious again, questions him about his fellows. Aaron rightly concludes it doesn’t matter what he says, Rick will assume he’s lying. Aaron tells them he has one companion and offers to drive them to the community. Rick still doesn’t trust him even as Aaron points out they’re in the most perfectly vulnerable position and if Aaron had a gang of people looking to ambush them, they’d be dead already

Michonne wants to follow it up even as Rick insists Aaron is lying. Michonne says it’s all well and good for rick to be that sure – but she isn’t. Maggie agrees. Rick warns of the danger – but Michonne hits back that passing up a place where they can live, including baby Judith, sounds pretty damn dangerous too. She also doesn’t ask – she makes it clear they need to check it out so that’s what they’re going to do, Glen seconds her. Rick sends Abraham and Rosita with them and organises the rest to spread out so the death trap isn’t so death-trappy; leaving himself with Aaron.

Who still thinks Rick is a good man.

Michonne and co walk and Glen says to shoot anyone they see – but Michonne questions this assumption that everyone is a risk. Though Glen does point out that they’re 5 people with guns, anyone approaching them isn’t friendly. And if they’re people like them, then they’re scary and on that note, glen doesn’t understand why the group would want people like them after what they’ve done. Michonne doesn’t agree at all – they saved a priest, a girl who joined the prisoner and “a crazy lady with a sword”.

As they talk, a man watches them

Back in the barn, Rick wants to feed crying Judith ground up acorns and Aaron offers a stash of apple sauce he brought (to prove they have apples). Rick is super paranoid and sure that Aaron wants to work a diabolical scheme involving poisoned babies and have brought apple sauce for just such an occasion! He forces Aaron to eat some of it despite his protests before feeding his baby.

This is a world that encourages caution. But this level of paranoia isn’t remotely reasonable.

Michonne fine an RV full of supplies and co run into a pack of Walkers  and it shows a lot that they all pull guns when they hear a noise – then put them away when it’s walkers. It’s like “oh just more silly zombies.” Rosita and Abraham kill them then have a moment together – with Abraham especially trying to rebuild their relationship after he lost it on Eugene.

They return to the barn with the supplies, presumably left by Aaron’s group, and Rick makes a big speech on how the supplies are theirs now even if they don’t go to the camp. Aaron adds, again, that they have more than enough supplies and even Carl doesn’t understand why Rick doesn’t want to go to the community. Michonne again speaks up about how they have no indication that Aaron is lying and that they need the community. She firmly announces that they’re going but invites people to speak up if they object. Rick says they’re going

They go to Aaron for directions which he’s not thrilled over, he’d rather be the driver for his friends’ safety but even Michonne draws the line there. Of course Rick decides to use different directions – roads that Aaron’s group hasn’t cleared. And he wants to go at night.

Michonne finds Rick when he’s alone and asks him if he meant it when he agreed to go – or if he’s just trying to find out where Aaron’s camp is. Rick agrees they’re going – but he also points out to Michonne that, from outside the walls of both Terminus and Woodbury she heard nothing – just silence. So how can you tell if a place is safe from the outside? What could convince Rick to go in?

Travel time – with Michonne, Rick and Glen taking Aaron using Aaron’s car (with Aaron talking about his house and Michonne’s surprise that he has one). Remembering some suspicion, Michonne asks Aaron the questions – how many walkers have you killed? (Aaron can’t remember how many), how many people? (2) and why? (because they tried to kill him).

Then Rick finds Aaron’s parabolic microphone and has an uber paranoid moment even as Aaron points out he did tell them he’d been listening to them. While Rick rants, they drive into a road full of Walkers, charging down in the dark, splattering walker bits everywhere (it’s messy and doesn’t improve visibility) until they come to a screeching halt – surrounded by walkers. This is why this road at night was a bad idea. They’ve also been split up from the other car. Clogged with walker parts, the car won’t start

They see a flare go up and while they’re all gasping. Aaron decides this nonsense is over and runs. Rick tries to avoid both but Michonne tells them to follow the flare – which may be their people. They all get split up in the woods and there’s lots of dramatic zombie killing in the darkness. Glen finds Aaron, still with his hands tied, trying to fend off a walker with his feet and, after a brief hesitation, kills it.

He releases Aaron and together they shoot the wave of walkers about to overwhelm Rick and Michonne. Some more obligatory threats from Rick and they follow the flare and join the rest of the group.

They’ve found Eric, Aaron’s partner who Aaron rushes too. The rest of the group found Eric who has broken his ankle; Aaron is massively concerned and they kiss – and it’s all sweet and wonderful. Aaron thanks them all for helping Eric and tells them the name of the community – Alexandria. They decide to continue the next day but for utterly paranoid reasons Rick decides that Eric and Aaron need to sleep separately. Aaron draws the line there and Glen speaks up against Rick’s utter paranoia and adds that he’s not willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of safety

Next day more driving and  we have Noah and Aaron sharing pain medication and talking about Alexandria’s surgeon which could help Noah’s leg. Eugene playing cards and Rosita and Abraham having a moment. They have a brief non-troubling break down which allows Michonne to have another talk with Rick telling him he needs to stop fighting.

Before they go any further, Rick hides a gun.

They reach the gates of Alexandria and they don’t hear silence – they hear children playing. Michonne and Rick have a moment and Rick agrees to go in, Rick gets Judith. For some reason Michonne says “even when you’re wrong, you’re right” for no apparent reason

Rick continues to annoy me – now there are some good points in which this episode is clearly setting him up to be wrong. But he’s going to be seen as wrong – but understandable. Sympathetic, perhaps even evidence of how very sad and hurting he is. This is the power of the inevitable leadership of the straight white man in so many shows despite the fact several characters are pretty clearly better leaders than him.

There’s also the the all encompassing redemptive power of Manpain. Rick kills people who are helpless, he lashes out violently and unreasonably, he punches a man for having the audacity to speak. He rages around and it’s justified because MANPAIN or the noble sacrifices of leadership. When Rick makes the judgement call to kill or attack, that’s fine because he’s the Boss and it is Important. Carole? Not so much. Rick is hurting, suffering from grief and loss and uncertainty – so him lashing out in his distrust, refusing to listen, violently attacking Aaron is considered, if not right, then sympathetically understandable. But he is not hurting more than anyone else, he hasn’t lost or suffered more than anyone else – and the most recent losses to hit the group have not been that personal to him; yet no-one else has the kind of license he has for violent grief-rage. Except, maybe, Abraham.

Now let’s get to the good – Aaron has not been straightwashed from the comics, he and Eric have a genuine, loving relationship and even a kiss. This is a good start and very promising – I won’t go more than that because Aaron and Eric are minor characters in the comics and introduced just before a massive explosion in the number of straight characters (a common ploy) but so far things are looking up. But based on both the comics and the treatment of Tara, they may not stay that way

I also love Michonne, Glenn and Maggie this episode (while being a little surprised by Carole’s silence – but she tends to lean towards the cautious and violent as well). They know what they want – home, safety, a chance at a place to live rather than survive. They’re not willing to let Rick take that chance for him and challenge him – and overrule him. They’re not just followers and they’re not going to obey him when they clearly disagree. She doesn’t ask – she says “that’s what we’re going to do”. The Rickocracy has been challenged. It’s also the way it’s challenged – Michonne firmly (not angrily) says what they need to do and why, but she doesn’t just dish out a command, she invites the group to speak and air their doubts. Rick is being challenged by both Michonne and Glen – but not to be replaced with another Rick

I also like Michonne’s run down of the good they’ve done. It’s easy on these shows to focus on the terrible hard choices and being forced to kill and all the dramatic moral anguish. But they’ve also shown a lot of compassion and trust that wasn’t required of them, it’s nice to emphasise a different side from the “we had to kill these people because it’s all terrible”.

On the apple sauce scene – I’ve seen this criticised as faintly ridiculous because Aaron wouldn’t eat the sauce to prove his good will – but I think it was subtly done. Aaron mentions his mother forcing him to eat it to make him “manly”, this is a nicely subtle indicator of an abusive childhood, especially since Aaron is gay and it’s easy to extrapolate how parents who tried to make him “manly” would react to that. Looked at in that context, we’re not seeing a man being unreasonably faddy about food, we’re seeing a man dealing with an actual trigger.