The Walking Dead: 510 “Them” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
It hasn’t been the best season for Rick Grimes and crew. In the space of just a few weeks in-universe, the group have lost three members, faced off against psychopathic cannibals, mounted an ultimately pointless rescue mission and found out that Eugene’s cure was a lie. With group members dropping like flies and a long way from Washington DC, is there any light at the end of the tunnel for Rick and crew?
This week’s episode, Them, explored the fractured psyche of the extended group after the traumatic losses of Beth and Tyreese – and for the first time in a while, we saw the group having lost pretty much all hope. With the full, slightly unwieldy cast present and correct, Them zeroed in on the two people most affected by the deaths; Sasha and Maggie.
Sasha has been an intriguing emergent character this season, portrayed as the more cynical counterpart to the optimistic Tyreese – and while the character’s shift to reckless and suicidal behaviour is well-trodden ground for The Walking Dead, it’s some strong and much-needed development for a previously obscure character. Tyreese’s death may have felt a little gratuitous, but the fallout of his passing is executed in a satisfying enough fashion.
Likewise, complaints about Maggie’s lack of comments about Beth earlier this season are partially addressed here as the last surviving Greene sank into despair (not entirely helped by the creepy tied-up walker in the car), abrasively brushing off Father Gabriel and simply blankly staring at the rain while the other characters practically jumped for joy. The last two episodes’ mini murder spree of main characters might have felt overly grim, but seeing the differing reactions to the deaths via the medium of Maggie and Sasha was engaging enough to go some way to justifying the deaths of Beth and Tyreese.
However, while the focus on Maggie and Sasha was welcome (and received a strong pay-off at the episode’s end), Daryl’s emotional breakdown wasn’t quite as interesting. Unlike Maggie and Sasha, who are a little more ancillary, Daryl is essentially an overdeveloped character – the emotional beats here were familiar, as we’ve seen Daryl guilty and despairing last season. Norman Reedus did a typically good job with the material, but the focus on Daryl didn’t quite wield the emotional wallop for this reviewer that was intended, and the screentime could (and should, arguably) have been dedicated to one of the more peripheral characters.
A chief problem with Them, though it may seem an easy complaint, is the pacing. The Walking Dead has struck gold with its more deliberate character-building episodes (last week’s episode being a chief example, as was Consumed earlier this season), but Them never really feels like an essential piece in the jigsaw of season five. While the chance to see the group despondent and struggling to live helped develop further the idea of what it’s like to live in the apocalypse, Them feels just a little too slow and aimless at points, nudging the plot forward slowly towards the cliffhanger. It was hardly a dull episode, but Them often felt like overstretched filler that could quite easily have been compressed; a stopgap between Tyreese’s death and the next chapter of the story (but more on that below).
Despite the often-languid pace, Them served up a handful of very strong scenes towards the end of the episode as the group retreated into a barn – and chief among them was a take on one of the most iconic scenes from the comics. ‘We are the walking dead’ may be a slightly on-the-nose line, but it marks a subtle but satisfying conclusion to the group’s struggles about how to live on in the apocalypse. The simple answer; you play dead, and wait for the time that you can live. It’s a well written and strongly performed little speech that almost marks a mission statement for what’s to come. If Them is to be the final episode for a while where the group have no real aim or hope, it’s a fitting cap to a certain tonal strand of The Walking Dead that has become just a little bit stale in the past season.
Them was light on action scenes, but the short scene where the group struggled to hold the door against a herd of walkers in the barn was a nice moment of teamwork – after an episode where the group was (for once, not actually literally) splintered and divided, seeing the group working together to keep the walkers out was a surprisingly uplifting image. The resolution (the walkers ended up conveniently torn apart by the storm which entirely missed the barn) was a little cheap and the scene was somewhat choppily edited, but seeing the group pooling their strength instead of fighting each other was something of a relief in an otherwise downbeat episode.
After a cliffhanger-free episode last week, Them delivered a doozy of a final plot twist. As I mentioned earlier in the review, The Walking Dead was beginning to feel a little aimless – but the ending of Them, which saw a friendly, suspiciously clean stranger named Aaron appear bearing ‘good news’ and asking for Rick, snapped the ongoing plot for season five firmly back into focus. Without spoiling, Aaron’s first appearance was a pivotal moment in the comics, opening up what is essentially the next big chapter of the story (which, much later on down the line, will lead to a nice man named Negan) – whatever take on the upcoming arc the show chooses, the next few episodes are going to be very exciting…
Them wasn’t a vintage episode of The Walking Dead, with an overly conservative approach to advancing the plot and some unnecessary spotlight on Daryl, but with some strong character work and an intriguing final moment, it was by no means a poor episode.
Scene of the Episode: We Are The Walking Dead – A little less shouty and further on in the timeline in the comics, TWD delivers one of its most famous lines on-screen.