I generally dread reviewing the penultimate episode of a season. What with the serialised nature of modern television and fan demand for an explosive finale, I might as well be judging the merits of a blockbuster epic based on its first reel. Take, for instance, “Try”, which devotes its entire runtime to setting up next week’s “Conquer” (you’ve got to love those imperative titles). Even by The Walking Dead standards, this isn’t a story so much as a collection of cold opens to be developed in seven days and concluded months later, when season six premieres. Curse you, whoever invented the cliffhanger!
Granted, some of these subplots have been simmering for some time on The Walking Dead. For example, Sasha has been slowly losing her marbles since “Four Walls and a Roof”, though she may have a point about taking a more proactive stance regarding the undead. I did the math: presuming that ninety-nine percent of the initial population was turned and that embalmed corpses from the last decade all have enough girth to pose a threat, the situation could still be resolved within four months if everybody killed just one zombie a day. Of course, “Try” doesn’t want us to think about that. Rather, it invites to consider how holding on to the past keeps us from adapting to the present.
After all, Carl and Enid seem to be adjusting fine, finding romance amid a pack of rotting cannibalistic corpses. Unburdened by any attachment to the way things were, they view the zombie threat as part of existence, neither to ignore nor obsess over. Compare their healthy outlook in “Try” with the level of denial displayed by Michonne, who proves so desperate to recapture her old life that she ignores apprehensions so deep as to keep her up at night. The woman’s instincts have been dead-on throughout the The Walking Dead, but now she’s turning on Rick without even trying to talk him down. For Pete’s sake, at least let the man finish his sentence!
Mind you, Rick doesn’t make it easy, raving like a lunatic while waving a gun in the air. We fans of The Walking Dead know that beating Pete to a bloody pulp constituted an act of self-defense, that the former sheriff’s deputy was sincere in his attempt to resolve the situation with a few empowering words and a healthy dose of authority. However, I suspect that, for Michonne, the true transgression in “Try” lies in his exposing the truth about Alexandria: “Things don’t get better because you want them to […] If you don’t fight, you die.”
If I didn’t know any better (which I don’t), I’d say “Try” just unveiled the series’ central metaphor. Consider Constable Grimes’ speech to Jesse: “In here, you can’t see it, but it’s the same. It’s the same as out there. We have food and roofs over our heads, but you don’t get to just live.” For all its pensive discussions of hope and human nature, could The Walking Dead be a simple tale of self-affirmation? Glenn’s lecture to Nicholas certainly fits the bill, though I suspect the writers are merely setting up a more personal confrontation to round out next week’s extended finale, one that involves Rick’s long lost gun apparently.
Mind you, as far as I’m concerned, all this animosity stems from Deanna sweeping everything under the carpet as if civilisation were only a matter of appearances. As her debriefing video at the start of “Try” hints, the mayor of Alexandria has long been aware of Nicholas’ cowardice, yet chose to ignore the problem at the cost of her own son’s life. By the same token, she looks the other way when the town surgeon abuses his family and favours exile over execution as a punishment, even though many would find the latter more humane. I have no idea how this season of The Walking Dead will end, but I can’t imagine the woman maintaining her reign of plausible deniability much longer.