Broadcast Date: 15 February 2015
Director: Julius Ramsay
Writer: Heather Bellson
Cast: Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira, Andrew Lincoln, Melissa McBride, Norman Reedus, Chandler Riggs, and Steven Yeun
Oh, good heavens, that was boring! Since the start of the season, I’ve been praising the show runners for finally addressing the long-standing pacing issues plaguing The Walking Dead, but “Them”, penned by co-producer Heather Bellson, has got about the worst timing imaginable. To be clear, I don’t mean just in terms of the wider arc this year or the in-continuity timeline or the rhythm of the episode itself. I’m referring specifically to the wider arc this year and the in-continuity timeline and the rhythm of the episode itself.
“Them” reminds me of those quiet stock-taking issues one often finds jammed between two major comic book arcs. You’ve got a mundane, self-contained hurdle to keep the characters busy, like finding water and shelter for the night; deep confessions about the toll recent events have taken on our heroes, like Carol telling Daryl he needs to process his grief; and finally a heavy-handed symbol of hope, like a music box we’ll likely never see again, to assure us The Walking Dead will keep trucking. The problem lies in “What Happened and What’s Going On” having already checked these boxes last week, making this episode feel like a less effective, redundant chore.
I’m also sceptical about the central premise of “Them”, which shows Rick and the gang losing hope after three weeks of travel. Now, as Deputy Grimes notes in “What Happened and What’s Going On”, their starting point (Richmond, Virginia) is approximately a hundred miles from Washington, DC. Assuming they walk nine hours per day at an average speed of three miles per hour, our heroes ought to have reached their destination within four days, even if their car had immediately broken down. More to the point, does The Walking Dead expect us to believe such seasoned survivors would set out on a two-hour road trip without first making sure they have half a tank of gas?
Lest we forget, the tribe just left a quaint little ghost town filled with parked cars and abandoned household supplies. Surely, one person in “Them” would have thought of heading back to Richmond, siphoning some fuel, and fetching everyone four plastic containers to fill up at the nearest lake. It’s not like the clock was ticking. The central tragedy of The Walking Dead lies in the idea that the world will remain just as messed-up when our heroes wake up tomorrow. Besides, Carl even took the time to get Maggie a music box. A freaking music box, for Pete’s sake!
I’m reminded of early episodes of The Walking Dead, wherein Frank Darabont would forgo internal logic and common sense to score specific emotional beats. The difference lies in “Them” favouring broad-stroke symbolism over character introspection. Granted, we get a few gems like Michonne pointing out that Sasha and her late brother have been displaying the survival skills of a cloud-gazing turkey in the rain. Otherwise, though, Bellson hits the same slow, shallow note over and over again, as one character loses hope, another urges him or her not to give up, and the universe rewards them at the last minute. Rinse and repeat.
I resent this approach to faith in fiction, largely because it relies on a cheat. Sure, our heroes within The Walking Dead would consider a sudden rainstorm, a conveniently located barn, and a zombie-killing tree fall serendipitous. However, to me as an external observer, these miracles don’t prove the existence of God so much as the existence of a writer, making “Them” akin to attending a church sermon about the spiritual relevance of a plot conceit. I guess what I’m trying to convey here is that “Them” didn’t just fail to entertain me; it bored on a metaphysical level.