The road to D.C. is paved with good intentions. While Rick and co. were getting their boring on at Hershel’s farm and eking out a life for themselves in a prison, Abraham, Rosita, and half a dozen others were dragging Eugene from Texas to Georgia on a mission to save the world. They fought for Eugene, and died for him. He was Abraham’s saving grace, literally; they crashed into each other’s lives just as Abraham was about to eat a bullet after losing his family to walkers. He couldn’t save them, but he could protect Eugene. Glenn and Maggie seem to be mostly just going along for the ride. Who knows what Rosita’s motivations are other than what the hell else would she be doing instead, which puts her more in line with Glenn and Maggie than Abraham. And Tara is with them because she’ll go where ever Glenn and Maggie go until she feels she’s atoned for her Governor-related sins.
In “Self Help,” the setbacks and obstacles pile up until they become insurmountable. After the bus crashes a mere 15 miles from the church, the group seeks refuge in a forgotten bookstore. Abraham reinjures himself, but it’s manageable. A little midnight nookie and good night’s sleep patches them all up just enough to keep rolling along. That is, until the fire truck craps out and releases walkers from the fire station. Fate doubles down when the truck stops a few miles down the line, then plays its winning hand with what looks like hundreds of walkers festering in an abandoned cattle ranch along the main highway. Trouble is, Abraham doesn’t know when to call it quits. The rest follow him through everything until they reach their breaking point when he tries to force them through the horde of walkers. And then the world comes crashing down.
The Walking Dead has gone out of its way to cast doubt on Eugene every chance it gets, to the point where if any member of the audience was genuinely surprised at his confession please identify yourselves so I can sell you a bridge. What caught me off guard was how quickly the writers got to the reveal. I figured it would be closer to the mid-season finale rather than smack dab in the middle of the half-season. Good thing, then, that the writers took the time to shed some light on Abraham and Eugene pre-Rick so the Big Reveal would have maximum impact.
I do find it a bit concerning that it seems the only way TWD knows how to do character development is to dedicate an entire episode to one or two of them. On one hand, I get that it’s hard to get to know a cast as sprawling as this—at last count, there’s Rick, Carl, Michonne, Daryl, Carol, Beth, Glenn, Maggie, Li’l Asskicker, Tyreese, Sasha, Abraham, Rosita, Eugene, and Tara in the main cast, plus Morgan, Dr. Edwards, Officer Dawn, Noah, and Father Gabriel on the fringe—so it makes sense to put one center stage for 42 minutes and get all their backstory and shading out of the way. On the other hand, I wish they could find a way to let the audience get to know them within the group. I guess it’s a high class problem compared to the dearth of interesting characters prior to the back half of season 4, but still. I just want it to be a little more organic, you know? I will say how interesting it is how the writers have chosen to deal with the huge cast by breaking them up into smaller groups. Most shows would be downright terrified to leave their lead out of two straight episodes.
The more I think on it, the more I see this ep as a parallel to Beth’s story last week. The hospital was basically a bottle episode, and her entire goal was to extricate herself from motionlessness and return to her roving group. Abraham is like a shark: incapable of standing still and prone to fits of exceptional violence. Both groups function on an agreed upon hierarchy and a dream of the end to the end of the world, and Officer Dawn and Abraham are equally being both good and bad at being in charge.
Beth is the one strong person in a sea of weaklings, while Eugene is the one weak person of a group of warriors. Beth doesn’t have physical strength like the rest in the hospital, but she is intellectually and strategically powerful. Eugene, on the other hand, is a pile of lies in a bad haircut doing everything he can to stay alive and keep the ruse going—two things inextricably intertwined. He’s right when he says that without his “cure” he has no value. Unlike Beth, who was easily the weakest link in Rick’s group but proved herself worthy during her time with Daryl, Eugene has done nothing at all this entire time (and no, wasting 500 gallons of water shooting walkers doesn’t count).
If Eugene had been found by the hospital, they would’ve ditched him in a heartbeat. He’s had nearly two years of zombie apocalypse to make himself useful. But he’s done nothing. He practiced no skills, didn’t learn how to kill a walker, can’t hunt, can’t treat or medicate, can’t do anything beside talk in a monotone and put glass in gas tanks. If he had applied himself he could have created a value for himself. Instead he did nothing. He doesn’t deserve to die in the middle of a zombie-infested highway, but he sure as hell did deserve to get punched.
“Self Help” is the story of a violent military man whose own family chose to take their chances in the end!verse than be around him. It’s also about a mulleted fraud whose self-preservation instinct comes at an impossible price. It’s about a group of people willing to suspend disbelief and risk their lives for a lie because there is literally nothing else left to do. Putting all their stock on hope, no matter how flimsy, is better than accepting that the nightmare is real. Bob’s cheeriness only carries him so far before he sneaks out to cry to himself alone in the woods. Abraham’s determination drives him so long as he has a destination, a mission, and without that, well…
- Abraham’s terrible dye job is getting on my nerves. Christ, it’s awful.
- Rosita’s finally gotten a personality, I see. Not sure I want to sit through a whole episode about her life and times, but I could stand a little more fleshing out.
- Look, all this wandering around Georgia getting to know people is fine and dandy, but let’s get back to the real star of the show: Carol.
- Ya’ll should be glad I chose to stay home and watch TWD instead of going to see John Wick for the third time. Hardest decision of my life. The things I sacrifice for my job.
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.