My God. All this time Beth and Daryl were the competent ones. They’ve got this survival thing down pat. When the group reunites, I vote for them to be in charge. Also, Daryl eating snake is the best thing to ever happen on this show. While Carl’s spending his afternoons eating pudding and running into doors, Beth takes care of business. She decides she’s sick of camping in the woods with a taciturn, snake-eating jerkwad. But it’s not safety or security she seeks.
No, what Beth really, really wants is a stiff drink. That’s right. This entire episode’s impetus is Beth wanted to get drunk. That’s about all that happens, plot-wise. Beth sets off in search of hooch while Daryl follows. Beth breaks into a golf club house while Daryl follows. Daryl takes her to a moonshine cabin, they get snookered, they scream their feelings at each other, they hug it out, then they burn the cabin down. Roll credits. It’s what happens between the sparse storyline that matters.
Here’s the thing. There’s a whole lotta The Walking Dead left before season 4 closes out, too many characters who’ve never made it out of two-dimensionality, and not nearly enough plot to fill the gaps. Which is where “Still” comes into play. It was a filler, pure and simple, but filler with grand pretensions. This episode was concerned with meta issues, rather than something as trivial as “plot” or “motivation.” For one, we got more world building. The prisoners hardly ever run into any survivors, but before this season we rarely saw other communities. Now we keep getting peeks into the ruins of other groups. As a narrative device, it works like gangbusters. We get both foreshadowing and reinforcement of past events. It reveals there are a lot more survivors than we first realized—and more potential threats, as evinced by the creepers who broke into Rick’s stolen house last week.
For two, it offers a convenient way to have a character explain their backstory. Before “Still,” did you know Daryl had issues with the American class system? Or that buried under all that sweaty, gritty sex appeal is a man who’s kind of an asshole with some serious daddy issues? And apparently Beth is a tough-ass who can hold her liquor. On one hand, getting to know other characters besides Rick is vital to the continued success of the show. He can’t hoard all the plots, but none of the others are realized enough to do anything but react to plots set in motion by the hero. If the writers want us to care about the characters, to worry about them, we need to understand them beyond their tropes and actions. After watching their attempt to expand on Daryl and Beth, it seems like Michonne’s growth came more from her relationship with Rick and Carl and residual affection from the comics—and Danai Gurira killing her scenes—than from any particular work on the writers’ part. Daryl’s growth was hinged upon Norman Reedus being a great actor more than anything.
Much of what Gimple and company are doing with this half of season 4 is righting the ship—fixing or axing faltering plotlines, fleshing out blank characters, tightening up the storytelling—but it’s doing so by hitting the same beats over and over again. Every episode since fleeing the prison has been pretty much the same: a few characters wander around, fight and/or hide from some zombies, stumble into the denouement of a vastly more interesting story about other apocalypse survivors, talk about getting the gang back together, shout about wanting to do more than just survive, and get to know each a little better. Rise and repeat.
Like the Governor-centric episodes that turned up right about this same time in the first half of season 4 when the show also found itself with too much time and not enough story, “Still” aims for the same depth and intensity as “Clear” but falls drastically short. It’s a double-edged sword, really. The drama of “Clear” came from having characters the audience already knows and cares about undergo bonding experiences that offer subtextual clues as to the heretofore unknown aspects of their personality, but it only works on characters the audience already cares about; who wants to watch 42 minutes of getting to know secondaries who are probably going to die soon anyway?
“After” did a fine job of developing the hell out of Michonne, but it was work that should’ve been done a season ago. “Still” plays the same hand, with diminishing returns. Everyone likes Daryl, sure, but the audience doesn’t know anything about him other than he’s great with a crossbow, probably should’ve gone through family therapy as a kid, and would be really hot if he took a shower. Beth, well, Beth was a character whose name I couldn’t remember up until about 3 episodes ago. That’s why “Still” comes off more like the Governor episodes than “After.” All this character development for characters this far down the totem pole seems ridiculously overdue and like pointless filler. (It also feels like they were running out of room in the budget and needed an episode on the cheap.)
If this review sounds ambivalent, it’s because I genuinely can’t decide if I disliked this episode or found it tolerable. I am glad the writers gave Daryl and Beth something to do, I just wish it was better than what they ended up with. Getting to know them is good, but winding it all up with them shouting their emotions was hackneyed at best. Sending them on walkabout is harmless, but overdone. Character development is hugely important, but feels a little pointless with secondary characters this late in the game, especially when it’s done as heavy-handedly as this. Overall, I enjoyed my time with Daryl and Beth, in spite of its half-assedness.
- “You wanna know what I was before all this? I was just drifting around with Merle, doing whatever he said we were gonna be doing that day.” And now you’re drifting around with a bossy teenage girl, doing whatever she says you’re gonna be doing that day. #Growth.
- So, they can locate a random cabin in a random part of the woods, but they can’t seem to find the massively conspicuous safehaven with signs posted everywhere? And why are they hiding out in the woods when Daryl knows there are un-zombied houses nearby that can be easily fortified?
- Burning down the cabin was a royally dumb decision. Now what are you going to do? It’s the middle of the night and you’ve just put up a massive beacon to every biter in 5 miles and are walking away from a high-powered fire in the middle of a densely wooded area because it looks cool. And the writers have already used the whole “let’s burn down a building while someone poses dramatically in front of it” motif with the Governor a several eps ago.
- Speaking of kick-ass Black women and apocalypses that kill off a large portion of sentient life, when are they going to get Y: The Last Man to television? Talk about a wasted opportunity. Danai Gurira would be fan-frakking-tastic as Agent 355.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.