Spoiler Warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “The Walking Dead” season 5, episode 15, titled “Try.”
Tensions have been simmering in Alexandria since the day our survivors arrived, but the March 22 episode saw them reach boiling point as Rick confronted Jessie’s abusive husband, Pete, resulting in a smackdown that broke not only a window (and probably a couple of bones), but also Rick’s tenuous control. After days of trying to pretend he’s still civilized enough to live in “civilization” again, our world-weary leader went full-on zombie on Pete, attacking with gnashing teeth and blind bloodlust as he tried to choke the life out of the abusive surgeon, much to the horror of the Alexandrians. Both Jessie and Carl failed to halt the brutality, and in the end it took Michonne knocking Rick out to stop the fight.
Although Rick has arguably been waiting for an excuse to hit the self-destruct button on their alliance with the Alexandrians, he chose the exact wrong time to try and assert control, and even Carol — who has been encouraging Rick to kill Pete for the past two episodes — wasn’t about to blow her cover as a wolf in sheep’s clothing to step in and back Rick up when he was practically foaming at the mouth. It’s debatable whether Rick and Jessie know each other well enough to justify Rick’s guard dog routine now (although Jessie obviously gives a very good haircut), but given that Rick seems to have been teetering on the edge of sanity for a while now, I prefer to see this as the straw that broke the camel’s back — a flimsy straw, perhaps, but one delivered at exactly the right time to tip him into beast mode.
Sadly, Rick is right that the Alexandrians are ill-prepared to handle the threats of the world they now inhabit, and it’s somewhat baffling that Deanna, for all her strategizing, didn’t immediately enlist Rick’s group to train the locals in target practice or the best way to go on a supply run without losing half your team as soon as they walked through the door. She was seemingly more concerned with trying to get the outsiders to assimilate, rather than supplementing the Alexandrians’ own knowledge, and I suspect that choice will leave the residents of the compound as cannon fodder when those flimsy walls inevitably come down. Still, that doesn’t justify our group’s paranoia and plotting — while Alexandria’s orchard obviously has a few bad apples (just the same as any other enclave in which a number of humans are trying to coexist) — I believe Deanna and Aaron’s motives were pure, and after everything Rick’s group has been through and all the betrayals they’ve suffered, it’s disappointing (if not surprising) that they immediately started planning a coup just because they didn’t agree with their hosts’ politics. Et tu, Rick Grimes?
It’s been fascinating to observe the evolving dichotomy between the two factions in terms of morality: To Deanna, a man beating his wife and children is acceptable collateral damage when that man is a surgeon who could come in handy when someone is injured. And while outright execution should never be justifiable in “civilized” society (there are pros and cons to a jail when there are limited resources for food/water), her preferred method of punishment is exile, which, for the untrained Alexandrians, is practically a death sentence in itself, albeit one where there’s also a good chance that the banished inhabitants could regroup, come back and exact their revenge. Rick’s approach is more brutal, certainly, but undeniably more practical — and it’s Rick’s practicality that has kept his group alive for so long.
And since someone outside the gates is carving Ws into victims’ heads before leaving them to die and reanimate as walkers, there’s a fairly good chance that the culprits are some of Deanna’s previously exiled Alexandrians, biding their time and filling the woods with zombies in preparation for an upcoming attack. They’re also apparently the type of people who tie victims to trees and allow zombies to eat them alive, so whether they’re banished Alexandrians with an ax to grind or just psycho outsiders, they seem like bad news.
While Glenn still seems desperate to make Alexandria work (mostly as a way to make Noah’s death mean something), “Try” revealed that Michonne seems to be struggling with the transition to normalcy just as much as Rick — just in a subtler way. Much like Sasha, this episode proved that Michonne relished the opportunity to take out some walkers again, just as Abraham did in the last episode, implying that there’s an addictive quality to their target practice — it’s not simply about making sure that their skills remain sharp, so much as doing something that they know they’re good at, and comfortable with — a bloodthirsty security blanket, if you will. It’s heartbreaking that they feel more at home smashing zombie heads than they do socializing at parties or sitting on a porch and relaxing, but there really is no going back to the way things were before, and pretending that it’s possible to walk your dog and remain oblivious to the creatures outside the gates is blind ignorance. As Enid pointed out to Carl this week, it’s the zombies’ world now — they’re just living in it. Or, as Rick succinctly noted: “If you don’t fight, you die,” no matter which side of the wall you’re on.
Now we know that slimy Nicholas was the one who stole Rick’s hidden gun from the blender (although how he knew it was there remains to be seen — was he following our group before they reached the gates? Is he in league with the overzealous carvers who keep mutilating people outside the walls?), it’s pretty obvious he’s looking to use it on Glenn, after Glenn’s ominous lecture this week. Regardless of the fact that Glenn’s still attempting to save Nicholas’ life by trying to prevent him from endangering himself or others on any more supply runs, the guy doesn’t seem to take direction well, and his attempts to undermine Glenn to Deanna imply that he’s harboring a serious grudge.
As the penultimate episode of the season, “Try” had to move a lot of pieces to set the board for next week’s finale, which led to an hour that felt somewhat scattershot, with satisfying character beats bogged down by plot contortions. Carl’s flirty sojourn beyond the gates with Enid might’ve been better served in one of the previous two episodes, and it seemed like many of our group members spent a lot of time walking and philosophizing rather than driving the narrative forward, as if the episode was spinning its wheels to kill time before the big climax. In a particularly casualty-heavy season, it remains to be seen whether another one of Rick’s group will bite the dust in the finale, but it certainly seems like the writers want us to be worried about Glenn — which makes me more worried about everyone else…
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.