Mar 3 2014 1:00pm

The Walking Dead, S4 E12 “Still”

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.

Final Thoughts

  • “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.

1. Herb923
"(It also feels like they were running out of room in the budget and needed an episode on the cheap.)"

I'm beginning to think this entire season is a variant on the bottle episode, AMC being both cheap and foolish.

I really thought the response to "let's burn it down" was going to be "in the morning." Moonshine also doesn't burn like that, but whatever. People that can't be bothered to get the big things right aren't going to get the little things right.
2. Colin R
I liked this episode a fair bit, and I don't really get the lukewarm reaction it has received. As far as I can tell, The Walking Dead is really good at action and suspense sequences, really bad at plot and exposition, and sort of all over the place with character drama. This is an episode of character drama though, and I think it was good seeing characters who typically don't have much to do brought to the foreground.

I mean for all that Daryl is a fan favorite, he hasn't had much to do for the past couple of seasons other than act as Rick's right hand, and sometimes have feels about his brother. Beth has had the thankless task of standing around holding the baby while other people do stuff.

Anyway, I liked this episode because it touched on a lot of things that the show has typically sort of ignored. There have always been undercurrents in the show that questioned what the point of surviving in the Zombie Apocalypse even means, and whether it is worth it. Heck, it got raised last week when Michonne found the room full of suicide victims. But this episode really hit the right notes, I think. Daryl and Beth could maybe survive in their mud camp for years, eating snakes and stuff, but is there a point to that? Is that living? They can't survive off scavenging canned goods forever; absent a community, 'survival' basically means living in squalor.

The reason that Daryl is potentially an interesting character of course is that he's used to squalor. His whole life was squandered; he is the only character for whom life in the apocalypse is actually an improvement. He is someone who has literally had a chance to start a new life. And it's also interesting to see how fragile that makes him. In a way, he has had a lot more to lose than Beth--he has a lot more invested in his new family than he is willing to show.

Now, it would be nice to think that all of the groundwork that they are laying here adds up to something more than some character flourishes--that the ideas of class and purpose that were raised here will continue to be important. I kind of doubt it--TWD has been pretty awful at that kind of long-form storytelling.
3. emeraldcite
I wasn't a big fan of this episode. The plot device was thin thin thin.

Not to mention all the silly junk that went on that didn't make any sense.

Like the fact that Beth's first drink is moonshine and she takes a big gulp and says "it tastes bad" with nary a cough. Really? First drink ever and it's moonshine? She doesn't even flinch.

I know daddy was a big drunk, but that doesn't change the fact that moonshine doesn't go down like water, even for the experienced.

Also, Walking Dead is turning into some PSA about alcohol. They almost got killed several ties in this episode looking for something to drink. What's his face got the alcohol in the one box store and literally brought down the walker-filled ceiling on everyone and got some people killed. Kids: don't drink during the apocalypse. It's bad for you.

I liked some of the character revelations, and some of them are a bit late, but this was a wheel-spinning exercise.
4. Fuzzy_Dunlop
I like the idea of this episode, and I'm glad they did it. But I don't like this episode. I thought the opening sequence in the trunk was well done, and the scenes in the country club. But beyond that I was constantly rolling my eyes throughout. The Crossbow lesson is a stand out terrible scene. As soon as they started drinking the moonshine I thought great Daryl is going to get drunk and be mean and we will finally get to developing these characters. Then it happened and I cringed the whole time.

My major problem with this episode were the revelations weren't all that surprising nor did they reveal anything deeper about the characters. I always figured Daryl was nothing more than a drunk whose closet thing to a job was occasionally selling a buck to a butcher, turns out I was right. I always figured Beth was your typical farm girl, bland and boring to everyone but herself, turns out I was right. While it was necessary to finally establish these characters, it would have been nice if my opinion of them had changed some what, it didn't.
5. Cole Norwood
This episode was good in my opinion. Mainly because Daryl is my favorite character. Getting the chance to finally hear him talk about some of the things he went through was cool. No the revelation didn't surprise me but it gave him a reason for being the way that he is. He blames himself for what happened at the prison. That, I would have never knew.

Daryl is the classic antihero. I LOVE ANTIHEROES. They're so much better than the usual.

6. Improbable Joe
Team Moonshine!

Alex, I think you hit the nail on the head about how they're trying to fix the show. Also about how ham-fisted the whole thing is. I mean, this was a decent episode and if we hadn't had 40% of the season being this same type of story it might have carried a little weight. At least they gave Emily Kinney something to do besides look damp and get rescued.

Also, part of this episode really reminded me of the conversation between T-Dogg and Dale WAAAAAAY back in Season 2 Episode 2. T-Dogg sort of says what all of us long-time horror fans knew from the start: the old man and the black man probably ain't gonna make it when there's hot young white people running around. Beth knows the score too: the waifish girl who sings the pretty songs isn't a match for the folks with the cool weapons and badass snarling emoting all over the place.
Alex Brown
7. AlexBrown
@Colin R: "As far as I can tell, The Walking Dead is really good at action and suspense sequences, really bad at plot and exposition, and sort of all over the place with character drama." - that right there is why this episode is getting a lukewarm reaction. That, and we've been down this road before. Repeatedly. With little alteration and no payoff.

And, like Fuzzy_Dunlop @ 4 said, the revelations of Daryl and Beth's backstories were simply reinforcements of stuff we've already guessed at. With Michonne (and even Rick and Carl on their mini roadtrips) we got whole new dimensions within their personalities. With "After," suddenly Michonne wasn't just a grumpy badass with a katana, but she was a woman with a complicated history and complex reactions to her experiences. With "Still," the writers skimped on the character development and said "You know what? Everything you think you know about Beth and Daryl is right. Let's just go with that. Seems easier." It's not development if all they're doing is pointing out things we already know. That's lazy writing, is what that is.

@Cole Norwood: Antiheroes have been the usual on television ever since Tony Soprano, and Daryl isn't exactly a new take on an old trope, either. But yes, he is awesome, although almost all of that awesomeness comes straight from Norman Reedus. The writers have done the character no favors.

@Improbable Joe: I'll give Beth credit. She stood up to Daryl and didn't back down. She's got a lot of Maggie and her father in her to be able to take his venom and not hold it against him. It'll be survivors like her that help turn the apocalypse into a functioning society, if she lives long enough...
Bill Capossere
8. Billcap
I thought this a pretty dull episode. As people have commented on, nothing new is revealed, and what is reiterated—or what is “revealed” that we all could have guessed anyway—is just not interesting. So we’re focusing an entire show on characterization that doesn’t characterize. As far as the “action”, again, there’s little here that couldn’t have been guessed at. When Daryl is packing money away in the bag, I said immediately to myself “that money’s going up in flames.” You knew from the get –go Daryl was going to get her a drink. You knew from that moment that the drunk was going to turn into a drunken “talk” and then a drunken “outlet of anger/emotions/grief” and then a drunken rapprochement. And all the “No, I’m not gonna drink” or “No, I’m not gonna talk” was about as perfunctory a “Yes, we all know we’re going to do this so let’s just pretend for a second we’re not until we do” a moment as one can get.

The burning down the house (thank you Talking Heads) as catharsis was trite, but as far as I’m concerned, didn’t make much sense anyway. Darryl burned down that house back a long time ago when he made the decision (s) to stay with this group. Now, had he discovered this place anew in this episode, walked in and recognized it (there’s my old man’s chair . . . ), and burned it down in just I’m pissed off and moody, I could have lived with that. (you know, in the daytime).

I feel like a real estate agent: Location, Location, Location. Why can’t they find others? Why can’t they go to Mumford or whatever little town is around the corner? Why can’t they use smoke as a signal? Why can’t they hear all those gunshots? So these people all got separated from the prison and not only decided not to look for each other or mark a spot (blazes, signs, etc—only the Terminus people think of that) or circle the area, but instead decided to pick a straight line and walk as far as fast as possible in that line?

Good idea (if overlate), bad execution. People doing dumb things. Again.
Alex Brown
9. AlexBrown
@Billcap: I also can't understand why Daryl and Beth - obviously the most capable of anyone else - can't seem to find the rest of the group? How far did they run? Everyone else has been circling each other for days now. Even Glenn passed by that damn school bus. Daryl and Beth are on foot, so they can't have gotten too far afield. Daryl is able to track down a cabin he came across once with Michonne months ago, which means he and Beth must know where they are in relation to the prison. Which means it shouldn't be that hard to find a ton of loud, gun-toting idiots bumbling through the woods with a screaming baby. Also, if he and Michonne did so much exploring, how come they never found ALL THE MANY SIGNS LEADING TO TERMINUS POSTED ALL OVER THE FRAKKING COUNTY? Good lord, but this show is exhausting my patience.
11. Fuzzy_Dunlop
Ouch! Those caps hurt, I never put that together and now that I realize it, it's such a glaring over sight it hurts.

Oh AMC why can't your TWD be as good as Telltale's game. Episode 2 today though, time for the show to be put to shame yet again.
12. sofrina
apologies in advance if it seems as though i'm defending this show. that is by no means my aim. but - as i've understood the episodes, the school bus went down the road in the general direction of woodbury. maggie and glenn have both gone after it. rick, carl and michonne have veered off on a different road, but have now found the railroad tracks to terminus. tyreese, carol, and darryl/beth all headed out/around the backside of the prison - opposite direction from the bus - until they hit the railroad tracks. tyreese & co were just a few hours ahead of darryl/beth. beth was almost bitten by the walker/man who told tyreese to head down the tracks to safety. when darryl/beth found the tracks, they headed in the opposite direction. so, at this point of course they haven't run into the others. everyone else is doggedly moving away from them.

it would please me no end if they would integrate a map into the show so we can know where people are in relation to one another. say, fadeout from the intro segment to an aerial view with dots and names on it. ten seconds would be lovely.

also, we don't know how long these maps have been about. how hard would it have been for the terminus group to send scouts out hanging maps while the prison group was dealing with that flu outbreak?

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