I have to admit that I was nervous about this episode of The Walking Dead when I saw that it was written by Heather Bellson — the writer responsible for the worst episode of the season, “Self-Help.” With this being only her fifth produced script since 2011, it definitely could have used a bit more polish. The fact that it is directed by Julius Ramsay, who has only directed one other television show, and that was last season’s “Still,” also helped to undermine my enthusiasm before watching. “Still” wasn’t a bad episode, but it was written by Angela Kang, who has a somewhat reliable track record. After watching “Them,” I’m pretty comfortable in saying that either Bellson learned some lessons from her last time out, or the editorial team worked over the script, giving us a pretty strong installment — although one that suffers in the end from over-writing and heavy-handed symbolism. The first three quarters of the episode is rock solid, although I’m sure haters gonna hate and complain that nothing happened and it was boring. The gang is starving and succumbing to dehydration; they barely have the strength to continue on, three weeks after the events of last episode. Not only are they battling hunger and thirst, suicidal depression is also knocking at the door. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) are the dealing with their losses in very different ways, with Sasha becoming dangerously — sloppily — aggressive, while Maggie just wants to give up the fight. There’s a heavy dose of Camus in this episode, as Maggie epitomizes his one fundamental question: In a world without meaning, or God, why not commit suicide? For Camus, suicide meant the rejection of the freedom that comes with no inherent meaning or purpose. Embracing life meant embracing the “divine irresponsibility” of the condemned man. If there’s nothing beyond this world, then living is essentially our responsibility in the face of the absurd meaninglessness of life. Maggie doesn’t so much come to this conclusion as she simply convinces herself to push on while simultaneously convincing Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) to give up on his own faith — for the time being, anyway. People like him, though, will look for anything to keep them tied to their delusions, and the sudden rain is proof enough for him that God is still there, looking out for them. Sasha, on the other hand, finds herself struggling through self-destructive impulses that echo her brother’s early struggles. She claims that she and Tyreese were very different, but that’s a lie she’s telling herself; and Michonne (Danai Gurira) lets her know it. Meanwhile, Daryl (Norman Reedus) can’t seem to process Beth’s loss, either, and from what I’ve read over the past couple of days, there’s some blowback about this online, saying it wasn’t earned. People seem to forget that back in “Alone,” just before Beth was abducted, Daryl had admitted that she’d convinced him that good people still existed in this fucked up world of the walking dead. She had become symbolic to him that life didn’t have to be as horrible as it seemed. She was his hope. His hope is now dead and he can’t make himself feel anything. Carol (Melissa McBride) understands what’s going on in his head, and sure enough, he eventually has to make himself confront the pain, even if it means triggering the emotional response by hurting himself. Back to that rain I mentioned, though. It comes hot on the heels of the discovery of a care package of water; a care package that the gang is way too cautious to accept. Eugene (Josh McDermitt) does the math and since he’s the most expendable, volunteers to taste it, but Abe (Michael Cudlitz) knocks the water from his hand, finding himself somehow still concerned with Eugene’s fate. Maybe it’s the booze he’s been swilling all day long, but maybe he actually cares, now that he’s worked through his crippling disappointment. The rain is cathartic, bringing the first expressions of joy and the first lightening of their load in the episode. But that joy is brief as the rain quickly turns into a monstrous thunderstorm — which should be another sign for Father Gabriel, but of course he doesn’t follow through on the metaphor and see it that way. He can’t. And the storm forces everyone to the shelter of an old abandoned barn. And here’s where things get sticky, quality-wise. While out on the road, there was very little dialogue and the actors were able to really sell their experiences through their performances (and the nasty-looking, sweaty make-up and costuming didn’t hurt). Once everyone’s safely ensconced in the barn, the writing begins to falter. Rick gives a long speech that starts strong, but ends with the awkward (and obvious) assertion that “We are the walking dead” before immediately backtracking, when Daryl adamantly refuses to accept the title. The strengths, though, are mainly in vocalizing another of Camus’ tenets (“I want to know whether I can live with what I know and with that alone.” — Camus, An Absurd Reasoning) when Michonne argues that the world outside isn’t the real world, but an aberration. Rick refuses this concept and asserts that “Until we see otherwise, this is what we have to live with.” It’s this rejection of an ideal fantasy for the acceptance of the physical experience of living that has made me finally start liking Rick. It makes me concerned about Michonne, of course, as it kind of goes contrary to her earlier admonition of Sasha to deal with her grief and not give up — not entirely contrary, but we’ve already seen last week that she’s becoming desperate for some sort of relief; some break from the constant bleak nihilism that is the world of The Walking Dead. That makes her vulnerable. Another strength of Rick’s speech is the story he tells of his grandfather’s experiences behind enemy lines during WWII. Essentially he told young Rick that as soon as he was in enemy territory he was dead (or should have been). Every morning he would get up and tell himself “Rest in peace. Now get up and go to war.” This is exactly what I wrote about last week, when I wrote: There is no hope for these people. Their world is dead. There’s no going back to any sense of normalcy. Any peace and comfort they find is transitory and will end in destruction and death. All they can do is struggle to survive from day to day, with the explicit knowledge that there’s no way out. There’s literally nothing they can do to save themselves. They’re dead already… You’re all going to die. All you can do is struggle to survive. Struggle to find and hold together family. Sometimes you have to do horrible things to achieve something you can call good. Everything is transitory. Everything is always-already ending. This is at the heart of The Walking Dead. Always has been. It’s only in the last couple of seasons, though, that it’s really being allowed to flower and inform every aspect of the show. When Rick says that “we do what we need to do; then we get to live,” he’s not just talking about the fictional world we’re watching obsessively week-in and out. He’s stating a fundamental principal of life without God or inherent meaning. He’s stating that essential existential truth that Camus wrote about. It’s honest and brutal and resonating with a larger audience every week. This is why the ending of the episode falls flat. It’s nice to see the people most ready to give up, Maggie, Sasha, and Daryl, be the first ones to rush to the barn door to help hold back the sudden clichéd arrival of a herd of walkers, but then as everyone leaps up and throws their combined weight against the door it just becomes too much. The symbolism is too obvious. And the sudden cut to the next morning was awkward and confusing. Instead of fighting off the herd, everyone is just sleeping like nothing is wrong? Was it all just a dream? If only. Instead, apparently our heroes were saved by the freak appearance of a tornado that threw trees at the herd, disabling ALL OF THEM. It allows for some wonderful zombie effects, but thematically it undermines everything that the show has been building toward. Divine intervention has saved them? Combine this with the final scene, which starts strong, but ends with another heavy-handed symbolic moment, as Maggie and Sasha decide together that they’re going to survive this, but are then suddenly confronted by Aaron (Ross Marquand), the friend who provided the water earlier. He says he’s a friend and wants to speak to Rick. How he knows Rick’s name is a mystery that will hopefully be revealed next week. This wouldn’t have been a bad way to end the episode, but added to this is the fact that the broken music box suddenly starts working. What music box, you ask? It’s a forced piece of symbolism that was awkwardly added to the narrative earlier, when Carl (Chandler Riggs) presents it to Maggie — because she’s a girl and girls like music boxes, right? — but it’s broken and won’t play. Later, Daryl presents it to her again, saying he’s fixed it, but when she and Sasha try to listen to it as the sun rises, it still doesn’t work. Until Aaron arrives with words of hope. It was just a little silly and unnecessary, undermining the emotional and philosophical strengths of everything leading up to it. It’s a pandering to what could be perceived as the broader audience, when the show is doing just fine avoiding sugar-coated optimism and forcing viewers to confront the existential truths of life. The Walking Dead 5.10 "Them"Paul's Rating4.0Overall ScoreReader Rating: (0 Votes)Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related George So, I enjoyed it overall. But the cutting from the barn-storm to sleepy-folks was jarring. And there’s a thing that some directors do that just takes you out of things and that’s… Precision editing. At the end of the episode, the music box chimes, and you know exactly where the tune will end and it’ll fade to black. Such on-the-noseness editing and framing is great in cinematic stylish movie-making, but when we’re dealing with a show that is meant to be “raw” then this niceness breaks the atmosphere and the logic. There’s a time for cinematic, precision-cut moments on this show. Like when we get wide shots of them walking among the city ruins – basically world-perspective shots. But when we are getting person-perspective shots it needs to retain the gritty off-kilter aspect. The Walking Dead‘s lesser episodes are often marked with this “movie-timing of events” problem. The better ones keep that possibility of things being not framed neatly, visually or sonically, throughout.