Mar 10 2014 10:00am

The Walking Dead, S4 E13 “Alone”

The Walking Dead Alone Beth

Just about every episode of The Walking Dead can be viewed as a study in parallel universes. In “Alone,” Bob, Maggie, and Sasha go on walkabout then split up due to go their own way, while Daryl and Beth decide to set down roots in the funeral home and eat pickled pigs feet together. Bob makes a failed romantic gesture toward Sasha, and who knows what’s going on between Daryl and Beth—Is it a deepening platonic bond? Are they becoming a close-knit family? Or do they just wanna bone?—while Glenn and Maggie are wrapped up in what they believe to be the greatest love story ever told. Daryl teaches Beth how to track walkers and hunt with a crossbow in a way that doesn’t involve drunkenly manhandling her, while Maggie hunts Glenn and Bob and Sasha track Maggie. Maggie, Bob, and Sasha break up and reunite by choice, while Daryl and Beth are forced apart by terrible, mysterious circumstances. The trio reunite with hope overflowing, while Daryl is conscripted into joining up with Jeff Kober and the Creeper Gang, and Beth is presumably being trafficked by an ex-preacher driving a Cadillac.

Huh. They’re really aiming to give everyone a personality and backstory, eh? Like I said last week with Daryl and Beth, none of what they’re revealing is all that revelatory. I’d already assumed Bob was wandering around being a drunk before he met up with the group, and sure enough. But it still works, somehow. Not very well, or at least not very subtly, but it works. The personalities the writers have chosen for these characters aren’t novel, creative, or especially deep, but there’s just enough there for the audience to latch on to.

I don’t particularly care whether Bob or Sasha are alone or together, nor does the prospect of their possible romance do anything for me. Sasha’s gotten the least screen time of just about anyone this season, save maybe Judith, and her character has suffered for it. Maggie and Glenn still vacillate between being insufferable and relatable, and will continue to do so until the writers decide to give them something to outside of pining for each other. If Beth had been kidnapped a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have cared except for how it affected Daryl. Now I actually fretted out loud about her whereabouts when Daryl found her bag on the ground. Same with Bob almost getting bit; I was mildly concerned for his well being in a way I wasn’t during the whole prison/Governor nonsense. Maybe I’m just more attached to Daryl and Beth because they’ve been around longer. Or maybe it’s just that Norman Reedus and Larry Gilliard Jr. continue to work miracles above and beyond the script handed to them and who make everyone else seem more interesting simply by virtue of their presence.

Jeff Kober—ahem, Joe—could make for an interesting Big Bad. Unlike the Governor, he isn’t a villain playing at being a hero or a psychotic control freak who really needs to learn when to walk away. Joe’s a run-of-the-mill asshole enjoying the sudden and profound lack of rules and regulations. He doesn’t care about restarting civilization or protecting a community. He’s the kind of guy who plucked the wings off flies and burned anthills as a kid. He’s the guy who got into fights at bars just because he was bored. He’s reveling in anarchy and apocalypse like a pig in mud. It makes him a different kind of threat, one much more threatening in both the short and long term.

The longer this End!verse ticks on, the more gangs like Joe’s will crop up. Roving bands of unaffiliated, uncontrolled assholes preying on the weak and vulnerable. In a way, they’re just as bad as the walkers. At least the Governor could be challenged and fought. His type of Big Bad is few and far between. You couldn’t reason with him, but at least you have a chance to come out victorious. But there’s a whole world of low-grade menaces like Joe out there. (Remember that group Brian’s crew came across that were slaughtered off camera? Could’ve been done by Joe as easily as anyone else.) Here’s hoping they don’t reduce him to Merle 2.0.

The three clichés TWD relies on most are “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” “hope springs eternal,” and “bad things happen to good people.” We get all three mantras with this episode. Sasha’s right to be worried about Terminus. The last time she sought refuge with a group of self-proclaimed good guys, the prison got blown up by a tank. The time before that, she and Tyrese wandered into Woodbury. Daryl and Beth find a place to crash that belongs to someone else and suffer the consequences of it. Bob and Beth have taken up Hershel’s hope-filled mantle, thus inspiring Daryl and Sasha enough to aim higher than survival. I guess you could see Maggie as hopeful, but to me it comes off more like desperate determination. She won’t accept that Glenn could be dead because without him she doesn’t have any family left. Beth is the walking definition of good people undeservedly suffering, but pretty much everyone not Shane, the Governor, Merle, or Joe and the Creeper Gang are decent people who experience varying degrees of terrible things. The zombie apocalypse leaves no soul unstained.

Final Thoughts

  • “How many people have you killed?” “One.” “Why?” “She asked me to.”
  • “Peanut butter and jelly, diet soda, and pig’s feet. That’s a white trash brunch right there.”
  • “There are still good people.” “I don’t think the good ones survive.” Foreshadowing!
  • Last week I was a little unnerved by what appears to be a budding attraction between Beth and Daryl. Now I want them to kidnap Judith and settle down in the funeral home with their one-eyed dog and spend the rest of their long lives eating white trash brunches together. Le sigh.
  • Speaking of which, while I don’t think Joe was behind Beth’s kidnapping, I do think whoever took her lead the zombies to the cemetery. Why is the bigger question, and I’m pretty sure I won’t like the answer.
  • I’m a little put off and confused by Maggie’s lack of interest in Beth’s whereabouts. She hasn’t so much as even mentioned her sister since the prison break that I can recall. So much for blood being thicker than water. She repeatedly almost dies as she goes after her husband, but can’t even be bothered to add Beth’s name to her bloody missives?
  • The mortuary brings up a good point. Why did the dead come back but those that were already buried didn’t? Was a switch flipped in our genetic code or a mass infection? Where’s the delineation in death?
  • The show finally made it clear Terminus has been around for a while. Which makes our heroes’ inability to find it sooner all the more inexcusable. What would solve all of this confusion is if the writers would define the amount of time that’s passed since the attack and the geography the groups are traversing. I’d be thrilled if someone would say “Oh yeah, Terminus! Down in south Georgia, all the way on the other side of the state from where we were in the prison. Gosh, I wish we had journeyed this far all those months ago when we were foraging for supplies so we could’ve seen these signs.”
  • The backhalf of season 4 could be viewed as a testing ground of sorts for the long-delayed pseudo-spinoff, as in crafting a show more about characters than gore with only a tenuous link to the Kirkman brand.

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.

Cory S.
1. Hungry_For_Hands
My one complaint this week. Daryl flinging the front door open without even peeking outside. "A dog tripped the alarm a few hours ago, so there is no way this could be a walker!! "
Colin R
2. Colin R
I suppose Maggie can be excused for her lack of concern over Beth--she at least has some notion that Glenn is alive. Beth's fate is much more nebulous to her, so she can't bear to think of it. Heavy-handedly, she spent a fair amount of time trapped in fog.

My trouble with this show is that the arc of the story is long, and it bends toward dissolution rather than resolution. Characters and relationships have no third acts in this show--they are introduced, developed, and then dashed on the rocks of fate (and the teeth of zombies.) If Beth dies, is that kind of sad? Yeah but... it's cheap manipulation. Daryl and Beth's charcter development, and their relationship development, very likely exists just to create that impact when it is destroyed.

I mean I suppose all stories are like that, but here the dissolution of their partnership is not a result of their own actions. Outside forces beyond their control have broken them up. I realize that's one of the theme's of the show, but it's not as compelling as the upcoming Mad Men--where events beyond the characters' control still arise, but the outcome of the resulting crises are determined by the choices and natures of the characters involved.
Alex Brown
3. AlexBrown
@Hungry_For_Hands: I know, right? I mean, you could totally see and hear the zombies through the slats in the door. Seriously stupid move, dude.

@Colin R: Yes, yes, and yes. Nic Pizzolatto gave an interview about True Detective and the finale last night, and in it he said something relevant to our conversation: "For me as a storyteller, I want to follow the characters and the story through what they organically demand." There is absolutely nothing organic about the lives and stories of anyone on The Walking Dead. Everyone are plot machinations and little else. But there are bright, shining moments - like "Clear" and "Claimed" - when all of a sudden we're graced with people rather than devices or ciphers. I get that those moments are harder to write and harder to sustain. But this is a show that deserves those moments and should strive for them rather than settling for ease, for solid mediocrity. And until they decide whether they want to be a little respected shock show or a highly respected drama, we're not going to get anywhere.
Colin R
4. sofrina
they structured the episode pretty well, placing bob's one bright light as the through line. everyone at the prison lost something/someone. he's the only one who finds something positive in their downfall, just because he's not the only survivor.

i completely agree that the walkers were led to the funeral home. the resident probably came home and same the noisemakers strung across the porch and sent the dog to scope out the situation first. either that, or the resident left before the kidnapper could come for them. it's hard to know what to make of that scenario... also, why do embalming in a room that only has stairway access? is that typical of a funeral home - to have to carry bodies in and out like that?

@alex - to your question about the dead/buried not rising, perhaps they weren't infected with the virus that caused the plague. perhaps it could only affect the living once it was unleashed.

i really hope that daryl is making a situational choice right now, and not just giving up. hopefully, he's not reading the arrival of these people when he was trying to choose a direction as providence.
Colin R
5. Kirshy
Interesting points being made here. I think overall the show has gotten better this season, especially since coming back from the break. It is still quite frustrating when characters make bone head descisions just for the sake of the plot but at this point I have come to expect no less from this show. Case in point, Daryl opening the door without checking for walkers first. Also, and I was hoping someone would have mentioned this. Maggie had a kickass hand weapon (best use of a street sign ever by the way), and just left it behind. I get that it might be heavy to carry, but if you only have 6 bullets left and a knife is your only melee weapon wouldn't you maybe want to have a backup with longer reach and more stopping power? Of all of the issues you guys have mentioned with this episode that one struck out the most to me.
Colin R
6. Dragonrat
I think the funeral home was a deliberately-set trap to 'catch' women, by some psycho/sociopathic killer or rapist who was active before the 'event'. Somebody like that would have had a much better chance at survival, because they wouldn't have the hesitation about killing other people that most 'normal' people do. The funeral home house was perfect; clean and full of conveniently stored food, ready to be moved into and lived in with little effort. Too good to be true.

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