The Walking Dead: 515 “Try” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Previously on The Walking Dead: a group from Alexandria went on a routine supply run to get a part for a solar panel, which unfortunately ended in the horrendous deaths of Aidan Monroe and Noah (one of which this reviewer cared about). Meanwhile in Alexandria, Carol discovered a sinister secret – that resident surgeon Pete was abusing his wife, and handily suggested the solution for the problem to Rick; kill Pete.
This penultimate episode of season five, Try, focused on an intriguing moral conflict – is Rick’s harsher, more tightly controlled way of leadership the way forward, or is it the more relaxed and more democratic way that Alexandria is ruled a better way? This thread was explored through several subplots, some more exciting than others – but it’s an appropriately weighty and genuinely interesting debate that isn’t given a concrete answer.
It’s up to the viewer to decide who is the hero and who is the villain here between Rick’s group and Alexandria – and this sense of moral ambiguity is fuelling a conflict that’s arguably more interesting than the straightforward conflicts against out-and-out bad guys we’ve seen. It’s certainly more thought provoking than say, the group’s battles against the Governor – and sets up a season finale where some viewers might not even be cheering for the previously designated heroes.
This clash of ideologies was shown most obviously in the brewing tensions between Rick and Pete. The scenes with Rick and Pete early on were briskly and efficiently handled, giving viewers a peek into Rick’s deteriorating psyche as he handles his gun while talking to Pete, but it was Deanna’s revelation that she knew of Pete’s abuse but kept him on due to his skills as a surgeon that is perhaps the most interesting revelation of this subplot. It puts the leader in a surprisingly bad light – while Deanna appears elsewhere to be a strong and resolute leader, her weakness in allowing Pete to continue his abuse shows that just about everybody in Alexandria has a little of the cowardice we’ve seen most obviously in new designated slimy coward (after the previous designated slimy coward passed away) Nicholas.
Try certainly seemed at this point to be painting the Alexandrians as weak and ineffective people with their heads still firmly planted in the sand – but with Rick suggesting execution of Pete, it was pretty clear that Rick’s group weren’t entirely in the right either. The Alexandrians may be cowards, but Rick is veering into slightly dangerous, dictator-like territory (or Ricktator) territory – but with no-one occupying the middle of these two extremes, Try was effective at eschewing out-and-out villainy or heroism and keeping both sides firmly in a morally grey area.
Sasha has had a fairly generous amount of focus in this run of episodes – and Try once again delved into her internal struggles following the conga line of trauma she’s experienced this season. The subplot allowed a little more face-time and development with Michonne (whose wide-eyed optimism has been eroded away following Noah’s death), and in a welcome turn of events, Rosita (she exists!). However, Sasha’s struggles to adapt to the new way of life remain only mildly interesting. Her post-traumatic stress has been explored a couple of times already this season – and with a massive catalogue of increasingly interesting supporting characters to play with, circling back to Sasha’s struggles smacked a little of wheel-spinning (complete with a newly manufactured reason for Sasha to feel terrible, because losing her boyfriend and brother wasn’t quite enough trauma).
On the other hand, Carl has been a little bit of a non-entity in the past few episodes, so the decision to shine the spotlight on him a little was rather surprising. Unfortunately, Carl isn’t the most compelling character, and his teen romance subplot with quiet Alexandrian Enid (who, despite my slightly wacky theories about her linking into the lurking outside threat, is really just a bit quiet) was mostly insipid filler. With momentum building up nicely elsewhere, Carl and Enid’s games in the woods were simply a little dull. However, the effort to link their story into the moral quandary of the week at least rescued the subplot from being entirely pointless – and there’s room for a payoff that will have an important impact on next week’s finale.
The finale is clearly going to feature a showdown of sorts inside Alexandria itself – but ticking away throughout Try is setup for a very different showdown that could potentially come next week (or early next season, a la Terminus). We’ve seen a W sign carved on a walker briefly a couple of episodes ago, but Try dialled up the setup for whoever is carving the signs several notches, with some genuinely tense and gruesome scenes of body horror. The discarded walker body parts and butchered woman tied to a tree were both horrific images – despite this mysterious group/person remaining entirely off-screen, The Walking Dead has effectively established a considerable and threatening presence for the mysterious W group with a well-paced and constantly intriguing mystery.
To take a brief detour into speculation, it appears that the threat posed by this group stretches further back than Alexandria – back in the mid-season premiere, we saw Shirewilt Estates ransacked and burned, with graffiti bearing the ominous warning ‘Wolves Not Far’ seen in the background. Coupled with the truck filled with torsos seen in the same episode, and it looks likely that the group responsible for the W signs might just go by the name of the Wolves, and were most likely responsible for Shirewilt’s near-destruction. Who are the Wolves? It’s possible to take a guess based on the comics (although, it’s probably not Negan), but the element of mystery here is very welcome indeed, and should help to make the finale a little less predictable.
The tensions between Rick and Pete were growing throughout the episode – so it was no wonder that they reached boiling point in the final scene. Their fistfight was a creatively shot (far more disorientating than you’d expect, neatly underlining Rick’s savagery) and satisfying set-piece; and, similarly to Rick and Deanna’s argument earlier on, there’s no clear cut hero in the situation. Pete is clearly a sleazy, violent drunkard – but surprisingly, Rick’s motivations weren’t entirely pure either, with a somewhat seedy interest in Pete’s wife Jessie fuelling much of Rick’s problem with Pete. It’s notable, and admirable that even with a fairly obvious villain in the equation, Try refrained from presenting things as entirely black and white.
If it wasn’t clear that Rick was losing his grip on sanity, his outburst at the very end of the episode showed that Rick has taken a less than graceful swan dive off the deep end. I’ve barely mentioned his work before, but Andrew Lincoln was terrific here, compellingly conveying Rick’s crazed desperation without ever slipping into an over-the-top and hammy style of acting. Rick’s speech may have made some good points, but pointing a gun at innocent civilians is a dark twist that paints Rick in a surprisingly villainous light. Despite this, Michonne’s swift knockout punch to cut his rant short came as a genuine shock, showing that even Rick’s own group is beginning to crack and splinter in their new home…
And next week, it’s the (extended!) season finale – and with Deanna pondering whether she should exile Rick; Daryl and Aaron in prime enemy territory and the mysterious Wolves on the prowl, Conquer looks like it might just be a bloodbath…
A table-setter through and through, Try takes its foot off the gas a little after last week’s blistering episode with some fairly extraneous subplots – but with a well-executed moral conflict running throughout the episode and a terrific final scene, the show is in good stead heading into the finale.
Scene of the Episode: Ricktatorship – Flashing a gun at bystanders, Rick delivers a slightly crazed speech to Alexandria, before he’s unfortunately cut short by Michone…