Episode 510 of The Walking Dead has our group facing drought, walkers, hungry dogs, a storm, and potential loss of faith.
Season 5’s “Them” is not the easiest Walking Dead episode to watch, as it’s almost designed to be more punishing than rewarding. The group is dog-tired in a dog eat dog world. Every single character is more depressed than normal. In fact, even the walkers almost seem more depressed (especially the kidnap victim in the trunk, who seemed both victimized in life and tortured in death). While this episode might hit hard, it’s another reminder that life can be almost unrelentingly brutal.
These are characters who have lost nearly everything and, at this point, are doubting their prospects of survival. If that isn’t enough, there are signs of a drought. To conserve their energy, the survivors strategically avoid fighting walkers. As the undead walk behind them, they seem to collectively debate not simply succumbing to their rotting mouths.
However, even during these hard times, the group still has that minimal spark of survival. In addition to facing off against walkers, The Walking Dead has shown them fighting other humans frequently, including literal cannibals. They’ve dealt with the loss of loved ones, self-esteem issues, relationship tensions, and a lingering fear of the unknown. Every time they meet a stranger, they feel the need to point a gun at them. This would all take its toll, no doubt about it. Basically, there are few things this outbreak didn’t throw their way, and they feel they are on a road to nowhere with supplies exhausted.
Hope? Loss of faith?
Though the bleakness never subsides, it is augmented. These characters inevitably roll with the punches or get knocked out. When life gives them killer dogs, they eat dog-on-a-stick (sorry, but that happens in this episode). Father Gabriel might lose faith in miracles after tossing his collar into the fire, but nothing indicates he’s lost faith in his fellow travelers. Still, these scenes leave plenty to grapple with. Even a jaded atheist should respect one’s loss of faith as a profound moment, and worthy of its own unique considerations. Similarly, most Americans are not used to eating dog meat, but they do it to avoid starvation. In fact, near the episode’s start, we see Daryl Dixon eat an earthworm, like the hardboiled survivor he is.
The ultimate lesson is that, when push comes to shove, you must find your own determination. Sure, it can be bolstered by others supporting you, but your main protector is (and perhaps should be) yourself. However, to complicate such lessons, life throws yet another curveball at them: A violent storm forces them into a barn, and walkers also show up to play just outside the barn door. The group can barely hold them back, but seem to do so.
However, by morning’s light, we see that the walkers were almost like the storm itself: They pass. Well, actually, the storm apparently flung them around, indicating it may have been tornadic. Was it a miracle that the group of humans was spared? It’s debatable. In this case, it was ultimately the stroke of a writer’s pen. Still, life is not without its close calls, and they can be about as confusing as they are reassuring.
This is the first Walking Dead episode to feature Aaron, who at first seems like just another threat. So jaded and distrusting is the group that they refuse to drink the water he leaves on the road. Their suspicions are understandable. They have met people who would poison them just as soon as look at them. In fact, they have had reasons to suspect each other in the past (considering Shane or Carol).
Trust has led them into danger only recently, so every step they make has to be one of caution. That is wisdom. For our survivors, trust is not to be taken for granted but earned. While Aaron seems harmless enough, so do plenty of miscreants and charlatans. It does lead to an interesting conundrum, though: At what point does distrust become as wise as trust?
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