Spoiler Warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “The Walking Dead” season 5, episode 13, titled “Forget.”
There’s no place like home, and home is no place like Alexandria. After the group’s rough assimilation last week, with all the suspicions, threats and growing pains that came with adapting to foreign territory, this week the Alexandrians were on their best behavior, trying to make our survivors feel welcome in their new roles — even as our survivors were plotting against them.
In the last episode, Glenn, Tara and Noah came face to face with Aiden, Deanna’s abrasive and overbearing son; this week, Sasha came face to face with Spencer, Deanna’s charming and hospitable son. In the last episode, Jessie’s husband declined to introduce himself to Rick, calling to him ominously out of the darkness while smoking on the porch; this week, Jessie’s husband (Pete!) enthusiastically thanked Rick for taking on the role of constable, acting as if he’s as sweet as cherry pie. Instead of viewing our gang as interlopers, the locals were offering to make them dinner and trading recipes like they all live on Wisteria Lane. Is it an act? In some cases (Pete’s!) that seems likely, and Deanna certainly took an aggressive interest in Sasha this week, needling her to try and engage more with the town — but other inhabitants, like Aaron and Jessie, seem to genuinely want to get to know Rick’s crew.
We haven’t had much time to check in with Sasha since Tyreese died, as is “The Walking Dead’s” custom, but in “Forget” we saw just how isolated she’s become, even among her own group. After lying awake staring at the photos of the happy family who inhabited the house before them, she took the pictures outside the gates and used them as target practice to try and draw the walkers to her, seemingly unable to bear their smiling faces in the wake of her own loss, daring the zombies to come and get her. (They didn’t.) Later, after Deanna insisted that she attend the group’s welcome party, the blissful ignorance of Alexandria’s inhabitants became too much, reminding her of her gang’s brief moments of respite before the real world crashed back down on them and she lost Tyreese and Bob in rapid succession. After one friendly neighbor asked her what her favorite meal was, telling her she was worried about cooking Sasha the wrong thing, Sasha snapped, demanding, “That’s what you’re worried about?” before bolting.
Playing the lone wolf has certainly been working for Daryl, but this week, Aaron managed to lure him in for a meal after the pair shared a harrowing attempt to rescue a horse from the walkers outside the gates. (Human deaths have become so ubiquitous as to have lost most of their impact, but animal violence still has the ability to shock — first with the wild dogs the group shot and ate a few episodes back, and now with the devastating sight of the walkers pulling the horse down and devouring it in front of the hunters). Daryl talks a good game, but unlike Carol and Sasha, he doesn’t truly seem to long for solitude, allowing Aaron along on his hunting trip without argument on the condition that keep up and stay quiet (one out of two ain’t bad). The two clearly found a kinship with each other; with Aaron noting that they were both outsiders — that he and Eric still felt isolated from most of the other Alexandrians because of their relationship. “People are people — the more afraid they get the more stupid they get. Fear shrinks the brain,” Aaron explained. “They’re scared of you and me for different reasons. They’re less scared of me because they know me, less and less every day. You should let ‘em get to know you.”
After their bonding exercise, Aaron got Daryl to actually come inside for dinner with Eric, before offering him a motorcycle and a job being Alexandria’s other recruiter so that Eric could stay out of the field — and because Aaron recognized that Daryl would be able to separate the good recruits from the bad apples. It’s nice to see the outsiders sticking together, and for Aaron to see the potential in Daryl despite his best efforts to keep everyone at a distance. His table manners may leave something to be desired, but rough edges don’t diminish a person’s character, and it’s clear that Daryl knows the difference between good men and bad, even if he’s slow to let his guard down.
Rick seemed equally reluctant to unclench this week (granted, he certainly has the most to lose, with two vulnerable children to consider), and it wasn’t long before he, Daryl and Carol were holding clandestine meetings in the woods and threatening to steal some of the Alexandrians’ guns in case of trouble. Carol continued her covert Stepford Wife routine, still pretending that wasn’t used to handling a gun and giving some of the burly locals the doe-eyed treatment, then sneaking into the storeroom during the party to steal their weapons.
Andrew Lincoln continues to find fascinating new facets of Rick in his unfamiliar surroundings; his instinctive resistance to accepting a drink from Deanna’s husband Reg subtly spoke to that ingrained paranoia, while his growing attraction to Jessie and his satisfaction at seeing Carl bonding with kids his own age allowed for an actual smile or two — a startlingly rare sight among our survivors.
While Carol remained suspicious, by the end of the hour, both Daryl and Rick were reluctant to take the guns she’d unflinchingly terrified a child over, although Rick did decide to arm himself in the end. The reassurance of the gun at his hip clearly helped him relax a little, but it also seemed as though the sanctuary of Alexandria was starting to get through to him too — he prowled around the streets with all the confidence we saw from him back when he was still wearing the sheriff’s uniform, and he seemed at peace simply standing on one side of a wall with the knowledge that the walker on the other side couldn’t get to him. Is he finally starting to open himself up to the potential of a new home? That may be premature; judging by the W carved on the head of one of the zombies who attacked them outside the compound — the same mark left on the mutilated walkers who’d had their arms and legs cut off outside Shirewilt Estates where Tyreese was killed — there’s another threat waiting just around the corner.
“Forget” was directed by David Boyd — who continued the clean, zippy pace of the past few episodes and struck just the right balance of humor (in Carol’s covert operations and Abraham’s drunken wisdom) and tension (as Sasha’s self-destructiveness grew) — and written by Corey Reed, in his first solo script on the show (he co-wrote “Four Walls and a Roof” and “Consumed” this season — two powerful episodes). This week, his dialogue tended towards the heavy-handed; Aaron telling Daryl that the Alexandrians were scared of them for different reasons seemed like an overt and unnecessary way to reinforce Daryl’s straightness to the audience, rather than leaving it ambiguous, as if the very fact that the two characters were fraternizing could’ve been construed as something potentially romantic just because Aaron’s gay and Daryl’s sexuality has thus far remained undefined (in the show, at least, since Robert Kirkman recently confirmed his heterosexuality on “Talking Dead”). Likewise, Jessie’s speech to Rick at the party, extolling the virtues of Alexandria, was an inarticulate rehash of other speeches we’ve already heard this season, clunkily reminding Rick about the importance of forming new bonds: “They’re all from totally different backgrounds, they never would’ve even met, now they’re part of each other’s lives — they are each other’s lives. We all lost things, but we got something back. It isn’t enough, but it’s something.” (Duh.)
This tendency to overexplain every sentiment worked well in one case — when Carol confronted Jessie’s son, Sam, and shared a very detailed, very chilling description of what might happen to him if he told anyone that he’d seen her stealing guns from the storeroom, vividly explaining that he could end up tied to a tree while the monsters (human or zombie?) ate him. Or, if he kept his mouth shut, she’d give him cookies! Seemed like a fair deal.
Much like last week’s “Remember,” “Forget” succeeded in immersing the survivors and the audience in Alexandria’s disarmingly charming — and yet unnervingly unpredictable — world, keeping us off-balance while excavating new sides of our well-worn characters, who seem to finally be opening themselves up to the possibility of hope again. Given our experience with the show (and the general conventions of dramatic television), that relative peace seems unlikely to last, but it’s refreshing to get a break from the constant misery — even if Michonne ends up pulling her sword back down from its display before the season is out.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
What did you think of “Forget”? Do you trust the Alexandrians? Weigh in below!