Spoiler Warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “The Walking Dead” season 5, episode 12, titled “Remember.”
It’s been a long road, but it seems like our group may have finally found the last vestiges of human civilization in Alexandria, a self-sustaining housing development that might actually be capable of delivering on all the broken promises of Woodbury and Terminus. Compared to the Governor’s enclave of equally brutal survivors, most of the residents of Alexandria seemed positively suburban — grandparents sitting on the porch to coo over babies and mothers working on abstract sculptures with their kids in the driveway; a marked difference from our gang, who skulked through the gates like a pack of wolves, dirty and haggard after too long on the road.
The most satisfying aspects of this week’s episode came courtesy of the group’s tentative attempts to fit in amid such completely foreign surroundings — their reactions ranging from the sincere (Michonne and Glenn’s heartfelt admission that they wanted and needed to make Alexandria work for them), to the suspicious (Daryl’s caged animal routine in Deanna’s living room, prowling around like he was afraid to sit still lest someone throw a net over him and cook him up for dinner).
Carol’s strategy proved to be the most canny, as she went to great lengths to convince the inhabitants of Alexandria that she was simply the meek and obedient housewife she’d always been with Ed, serving as the group’s honorary “den mother” and charity case instead of one of their most accomplished and self-sufficient fighters. Daryl wasn’t impressed with her charade, but her attempt to “keep up appearances” by playing a Stepford Wife was certainly convincing, as she wrestled her oversized gun off as if she was still unused to handling it and donned a cardigan to cheerily head out and cook dinner for the community’s most needy inhabitants, a veritable wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The group’s varied coping mechanisms were as fascinating as they were heartbreaking, from Rick taking a knife and standing watch over his family as they slept in the same room every night to Daryl’s insistence on lurking outside all day like a guard dog, even when the rest of the survivors went out to explore. Mr. Dixon remained the most inscrutable member of the group, even to poker-playing Deanna, refusing to shower or partake in Alexandria’s conveniences in favor of disemboweling rodents on the porch and side-eyeing every stranger who came close.
We also finally got to see Rick without his wildman beard, a sight that shocked him as much as it shocked Michonne and Deanna. He was just as taken aback by how ragged he looked before the shave as he was by his transformation after, a stark reminder of how foreign the concept of vanity is in the survivors’ “brave new world.” His newly exposed face certainly seemed to have a positive effect on friendly neighbor Jessie — could Rick finally get a chance to move on from Lori?
Carl’s attempts to acclimate were perhaps the hardest to swallow, as we saw just how foreign the innocent concepts of video games, comic books and school have become to him when he finally met some kids his own age, leaving him paralyzed by the abundance of choice afforded to the young inhabitants of Alexandria. His first instinct wasn’t to revel in the freedom of being a child again, but to warn Rick that he was afraid they’d grow weak if they decided to stay in the company of such privileged survivors. Naturally, this led to father and son leaving the safety of the estate for a bonding exercise, deciding to keep their skills sharp by tackling a few walkers with nothing but their knives. Practice makes perfect, after all.
Likewise, Rick’s faltering attempts to feign normalcy provided an excellent showcase for Andrew Lincoln’s considerable skills — from the subtle euphoria of a shower and the simple relief of a haircut to his abject terror at losing sight of Carl and Judith for even a moment in unfamiliar territory. Lincoln’s performance hit notes both gut-wrenching and darkly amusing as he was given the opportunity to be the fish out of water in more civilized surroundings.
While Alexandria certainly looked good on paper — from its benevolent leader, Deanna (a politician with a knack for reading people), to its friendly neighbors like Jessie, willing to give the newcomers their space and offer playdates and haircuts — there were still enough red flags to indicate that the idyllic peace Deanna’s folk had established could easily be shattered. Rick discovered that the gun he stashed in a blender outside Alexandria’s walls had disappeared (has Morgan finally caught up to them, or has someone else been watching them?), and he met Jessie’s suitably enigmatic husband, a man who declined to introduce himself while lurking out on his porch and smoking ominously from the shadows. Deanna also admitted that she’d had to exile three men from the safe zone, which, in the world of “The Walking Dead” isn’t so much a death sentence as an opportunity for them to return to attack when the inhabitants least expect it. Glenn, Tara and Noah also encountered Deanna’s arrogant son, Aidan, who didn’t impress our group with his supply run strategy, almost getting Tara bitten after deciding to try and recapture an escaped walker that they’d strung up for daring to kill one of their own — as if the walkers have any concept of justice or retribution. Deanna was pleased that Glenn knocked some sense into her overbearing son, but it doesn’t take a psychic to see that he’s likely to become a problem as our group settles in.
Having seen the relative innocence of Alexandria, it’s arguable that the inhabitants of the safe zone need Rick’s group even more than our survivors need them, since Deanna admitted that they’ve been lucky enough to avoid any major disasters thus far (and how long can that last on a show like “TWD”?). That’s an interesting tension for the show to introduce — will the darkness and cynicism of Rick’s gang corrupt Alexandria’s naive existence (or threaten to destroy it altogether), or will it strengthen the community even as it allows our survivors to soften, just a little?
After a lengthy interview process (videotaped by Deanna, in a delightfully organic way to juxtapose the wildness of our survivors with the pristine, civilized surroundings of Deanna’s orderly living room) the group decided that there was no harm in staying for a while, with Rick and Michonne even tasked with being the community’s constables and keeping the peace. It was startling to see Rick donning a uniform again in the episode’s final minutes, but just as Carol decided to hide in plain sight with her sweater sets and perky demeanor, Rick’s decision to stay had nothing to do with trusting the other Alexandrians. “We won’t get weak — that’s not in us anymore,” he reassured Carol and Daryl. “We’ll make it work. But if they can’t make it, then we’ll just take this place.” Shaved or not, that’s the grimy Rick Grimes we know and love.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC. What did you think of the group’s introduction to Alexandria? Is it too good to be true, or do you think the survivors might finally find a real home? Weigh in below.