This week’s episode was nearly perfect to me; even its name was perfect, continuously alluded to by various characters passing the same sign at different times about hitchhikers being potential escaped inmates, an ironic warning since our survivors are all fearfully wandering these same roads having escaped the prison which had actually become their home. So much happened in tonight’s exciting and still poised episode that writing about it with similar style and ease will be as trying a task for me as sitting through the hour calmly proved to be. But, after last week’s slow start, I was more than okay with the suddenly breakneck pace of tonight’s episode, not to mention its clever but clear puzzle-like structure, full of parallels and [mis]connecting of dots. I especially loved how attentively, carefully, and entertainingly it balanced and transitioned between its range of character focuses and all the overlapping timelines directly post-prisonpocalypse. I’m giving this episode 4 and a half grapes out of 5; it was definitely one of my favorite episodes of the season so far, and I hope I can do it justice here.
First, the episode started beautifully; this series nearly always succeeds at haunting episode openings. Beth’s voiceover is reading one of her more painfully optimistic journal entries as we watch her and Daryl fight off walkers. The images and the words are so opposed to one another in tone and timing, that the emotional impact of both hits us so much harder.
The storylines in tonight’s episode flow seamlessly into one another, so instead of a confusing or overwhelming cutting back and forth, we merely see the same time-frame from different perspectives, each leading into the next logically and with ease. For instance, Beth and Daryl are tracking Lizzie and Mika. They see walkers and what appears to be a child’s shoe, believing the kids have not made it after all, debunking Beth’s spirit by having Daryl be right in his skepticism. But the next storyline we’re given backtracks to the beginnings of Lizzie and Mika’s journey as it actually unfolded. Getting to question the truth through one character’s perspective and false perception, then to see the actual truth right after is both liberating and unfair; we’re not bound to assumptions ourselves but must live with characters’ assumptions anyway, as we know more than the characters do about each other’s whereabouts.
Lizzie and Mika are with Tyrese (who, as expected, has Judith) and Lizzie is still pretty creepy so that’s status quo at least– she almost suffocates Judith when her crying threatens to attract walkers while Tyrese is away fighting some of the very walkers Beth and Daryl eventually run into. This is when the first major shocker of the night happens: welcome back Carol! That’s right, Carol is next seen after many episodes gone, toting Judith and leading Mika and Lizzie back to Tyrese (who doesn’t even realize still what Carol has done, making the reunion a potentially taut one. But her lie about where she’s been is subtle and evasive, allowing us a rare sigh of relief for the series). They all follow some train tracks together, ending up at some kind of camp where, according to a sign, those who arrive survive. We aren’t given much time to dwell on this before the next storyline, which finds Maggie looking for Glenn. She finds the bus he was supposed to have been on but does not find him among the walkers inside. It is a devastatingly frustrating scene, especially when we learn that Glenn had gotten off of the bus back at the prison.
The last storyline follows Glenn in the ruins of the prison, surrounded by walkers. He can’t give up on his search for Maggie (but like Maggie does in the bus, he must cry about it first; there is a lot of pathos going on in this episode, for good reason I guess). He puts on as much prison-guard armor has he can find, which still barely helps him battle through a herd of walkers, but we get some really great, stylized POV shots here (from behind his helmet) of the walkers closing in around him. Then, he finds Tara, who is moping out of understandable guilt and embarrassment; she trusted Brian, the Governor, and in doing so, helped bring the destruction these people have faced, people who she now realizes are good. So why would Glenn want her help? Well, he responds to this by saying he doesn’t want it– he needs it in order to find Maggie. We are given a lesson through their dialogue that there’s no point in living if there is no hope, and that one has to believe in order to keep going. But this lesson is haphazardly muddled in yet another walker onslaught; I’m not complaining about all the action, by any means. In fact, it gave the lesson something visceral and physical to ground itself in, and higher stakes to immediately exemplify it.
Then, just at the last moment, we are given our new characters for the remainder of the season! I’ve never read the comics unfortunately, but I’m eager and suspicious all the same of these new people, who Tara is first confronted by here; I have simultaneous excitement for what kind of plot direction some new characters would bring at this point in the season where the dynamic is unspecified and everyone is now displaced, and also fear for how villainous they may become for our already distraught characters who haven’t even been able to find each other or their bearings yet.