The Walking Dead – Recap: The High Cost of Living
Recap video and review of The Walking Dead – Season 5 Episode 9 – What Happened And What’s Going On:
When the first two minutes of this midseason premiere were released earlier this week, I wasn’t aware just how much The Walking Dead was spoiling. What appeared to be a funeral for Beth (Emily Kinney) turned out to be an entirely different tragic farewell.
“What Happened and What’s Going On?” is one of the better episodes this season, although it veered into ponderous territory for much of its runtime. The episode kicks off with the journey to Noah’s (Tyler James Williams) home community, as the group is desperate to find a place they can settle down. But within minutes of the episode’s runtime, the group arrives at the community to find that the entire place has been overrun by walkers. Noah is absolutely beside himself with grief, and it only gets worse once he gets back to his house, as his mother is dead, along with his brother. In the process of clearing the house, Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) gets distracted by photos of Noah’s family, and ends up getting bitten by a walker. From this point, the episode becomes a meditation of sorts on the nature of survival. Early in the episode, Tyreese tries to help Noah get past his grief by saying that he’d have never saved Judith if he’d just given up after he lost Karen. After he’s bitten, Tyreese is now faced with the question of just how hard he’s willing to fight to survive. Will he keep going or will he give up? Is that even a call he gets to make?
During his time waiting for aid, Tyreese hallucinates everyone from Bob to The Governor, even Mika and Lizzie, all of whom try to convince him “it’s better now.” Bob insists that things happen in exactly the way they were always supposed to, whether it’s his own death or Tyreese’s. In essence, this would absolve Tyreese of having to choose whether or not to fight on. If it’s meant to be, the universe will find a way to let him live. And if it’s not? Well, perhaps it’s all for the greater good. But it’s a theory that the narrative doesn’t actually seem to endorse, as part of the B-story focuses on Michonne (Danai Gurira) trying to convince Rick (Andrew Lincoln) to take the group to Washington anyway, on the hope that some semblance of civilization has survived. It’s a tough choice for Rick to make, but he ultimately chooses hope, compelled by Michonne’s plea that having “one more day with a chance” is better than giving up. The decision is framed as a choice Rick makes not only for his group, but for Michonne in particular, since survival isn’t as much about surviving for your own sake, it’s about surviving for other people as well. You fight on so your loved ones won’t have to forge on without you — because, really, those connections between friends, family and loved ones are the only thing worth living for in a world like this. And so Rick agrees to the Washington plan for Michonne, just as he agreed to come to Noah’s home for Beth, to honor her memory and do what he could to see that her sacrifice wouldn’t be in vain. Yes, the possibility of a home at the end of that journey was a motivating factor, but Rick is often motivated by loftier principles than just the bare essentials of survival.
Similarly, Tyreese is motivated by the greater good. Early in the episode, he tells Noah how his father used to make him listen to news reports on the radio so he would feel empathy with the plight of people less fortunate than he. It was “the high cost of living,” as Tyreese’s father put it. And so, when he hallucinates the specters of his past, they all play on his sense of responsibility. He envisions Martin from Terminus giving him a hard time for lying to the others about having killed him. Tyreese’s mercy is framed as a weakness. But he refuses to allow the ghosts to tell him that this is the end. He refuses to believe that this is all there is. There has to be something more left in the world, whether goodness or hope. Chad L. Coleman does his best work of the series in confronting these hallucinations, and it makes me sad to see him go. Not that the show doesn’t give us a glimmer of hope that he might make it, as Michonne cuts off his arm to prevent the infection from spreading. But he ultimately loses too much blood, and slowly fades away as the group attempts to race him back to camp for aid. It’s a heartbreaker, but also unmistakably poignant, as Tyreese has always been a character who’s believed that there’s a better world out there than the one to which they’ve found themselves condemned. It’s just a tragedy that he won’t live to see it. His burial is one of the more crushing moments this season, and so soon after Beth’s death.
The Walking Dead is back, and as emotionally savage as ever. I can’t imagine the journey to Washington will be any less treacherous, but it’s a journey the show has to make. After all, there has to be something out there, somewhere, that’s better than this.