Two deaths in a row– my heart can hardly take this show anymore. What I will say, is that with this mid-season premiere, The Walking Dead delivered a surprisingly redemptive, reflective exploration of death. The death is not a sudden event, which is to say, it is not succinctly shocking or instantly brutal like Beth’s was, for instance. But rather, death is treated as a process, a carefully paced journey. Death is an episode long arc in and of itself, making this victim’s unfortunate demise the most mournful and beautifully melancholy of any the show’s featured thus far.
Anyone reading this already knows that “RIP” is in order for Tyreese, the most recent “voice of reason” character and the most deeply conflicted of them. The episode begins so cryptically that we do not see this coming– until the montage of images that flash across our screens in the episode’s opening, are steadily disassembled, reappearing one by one throughout the episode. Then we understand what those images are– where they’re coming from. and what they truly mean. In that way, the episode is a bit non-linear; I loved that everyone on Talking Dead referred to it as their “Terrence Malick episode,” which is to say– it is exquisitely shot and edited, and reads like an existential-art house film.
Those images include dirt being shoveled for a grave– we assume at first that it’s for Beth– and Maggie crying– also for Beth? Think again. We see a painting of a house with blood dripping on it. We see Lizzie and Mika. We see a skeleton in the grass. These images are enough to sell the episode as an existential reverie of sorts, artistic and poignant and mysterious and meaningful. But it isn’t until Tyreese is bit in Noah’s house that the actual reflections and reckonings begin.
Half the gang has arrived and scoured Noah’s formerly walled-off town; now it is decrepit and deserted. Tyreese enters the house first before Noah, who is still reeling from the tragedy of finding his loved ones gone or dead (or zombified). Tyreese is bit, and from there, the episode is filled with reassurances and judgments in equal measure from both dead enemies and dead friends. These visions come to embody the push and pull that’s plagued Tyreese since the world fell apart– the Governor reminds him that he said he’d pay his due to survive, while Martin tries to make Tyreese feel guilty– as if Bob’s death and their current predicament would have all played out much differently had he killed him when he had the chance. Bob is there though, and so is Beth, and so are Lizzie and Mika, to tell him that everything is okay– not that he should or has to give up necessarily, but that everything has happened as it was meant to, so it’s okay if this is the end. If giving up versus fighting has indeed been the inner-conflict which Tyreese has grappled with all along, then that conflict manifests in these ghosts, all while he bleeds profusely, feverishly hallucinating them and making his peace because of them.
Then one of the hallucinations abruptly shifts to reality– Rick, Michonne and Glenn whacking Tyreese’s arm off. The shift is jarring. It almost feels sacrilegious somehow, like we have interrupted something sacred and spiritual by trying to save him at this point. Ultimately, we see the car pull over– we see Michonne and Glenn and Rick drag his body from the backseat. We see them bury him (see– not Beth’s grave after all), putting his iconic beanie on the makeshift tombstone. All before this though, we see what Tyreese sees from the backseat– he sees Bob, he sees Mika and Lizzie, he sees Beth. They leave the choice up to him but the choice seems logical and natural, as if this whole episode has been a reckoning for Tyreese, a way out but with the rare opportunity to reflect and forgive first, and to then go as peacefully as one could given the circumstances of their world– I think that’s what made this episode so emotional, because no other death has come with such an opportunity for the character who is dying.
Anyway, I wonder who will be the next voice of reason, or if the responsibility will be shared now in Tyreese’s honor. I do love that Michonne is giving Rick pep talks on being hopeful and practical, on having one more day with a chance otherwise what’s the point. But I don’t know where this leaves us and our characters– I know they’re hungry, tired and traveling, so the prospect of giving up might seem appealing to all of them. But I don’t think Tyreese gave up, not really– I think he let go, which is different. I think he became free, and what bittersweet liberation it was. 4 out of 5 walkers.