Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Walking Dead Season 5, Episode 11: The Distance

This week marks a turning point on The Walking Dead, as the mysterious Aaron makes Rick & Co. an offer that will change the series forever.

As a reader of the comic book, I know who Aaron is and that his offer's on the level. Despite that, the TV writers did a great job making him seem somewhat suspicious, and sowing the seeds of doubt in the characters' minds (as well as the minds of the audience). They almost had me believing he was lying.

Rick's initial treatment of Aaron seemed harsh, but who can blame him? His little group's already been held captive by a psychotic one-eyed madman, and just a few months ago they came pretty close to being the main entree at a cannibal banquet. Who could blame him for being a bit mistrustful?

He did hang on to his suspicion long after the rest of the group believed Aaron though. It was interesting to see the subtle little shift in power as Michonne told him they were going to Alexandria, and he needed to dial it down a notch or twelve.

This episode would have made a good season finale. It would have been infuriating, as we'd have had to wait nine months or more to find out what's behind the Safe-Zone's gate, but a good finale nonetheless. In fact I'm actually surprised they didn't end the season here. That means there's probably something bad looming on the horizon again.

As I said before, this Alexandria story arc marks a huge change in the show. That's probably a good thing, because the group's been constantly on the run for five seasons now. How much longer could they realistically milk that formula? It's high time for a shakeup on the series.


The Plot:
Picking up where we left off last week, Maggie and Sasha bring Aaron into the barn. He admits he's been observing the group and thinks they'd make a good addition to his community. Rick is immediately distrustful of his offer, especially after Aaron says, "People are our greatest resource," which is pretty darned similar to Terminus' motto.

Aaron tells Rick he has a partner hiding nearby, just in case there's trouble. He also says there are two vehicles parked up the road that will take them to his Safe-Zone. Rick sends Glenn, Maggie, Michonne, Abraham and Rosita to find the vehicles and see if Aaron's story checks out.

Glenn's team finds the vehicles, which suggests Aaron's telling the truth, and drives them back to the barn. Aaron is reluctant to reveal exactly where his community's located, but says he'll drive them there in the morning, via Highway 16. Rick still doesn't trust him, and says he'll drive, taking Highway 23 at night. Aaron says 23 isn't safe, as his people haven't cleared it of walkers, but is ignored.

Rick, Glenn, Michonne and Aaron take the lead car, while the rest of the group follows closely behind in an RV. Of course Highway 23 is lousy with walkers, and Glenn plows through them in the car, eventually becoming separated from the RV. The car stalls after the engine is packed full of slimy walker parts. Aaron flees into the woods and is nearly killed by a walker. He's saved by Glenn, and the two of them rescue Rick and Michonne.

They reunite with the RV group, who've found Aaron's partner (and boyfriend) Eric, who somehow broke his ankle. Aaron reveals that the Safe-Zone is located in Alexandria, Virginia. The group heads there the next morning. During a break, Rick hides a gun near an abandoned house, which I'm sure won't become significant before the end of the season. They pull up to the gates of the Alexandria Safe-Zone, but Rick is still distrustful. He finally realizes Aaron was telling the truth when he hears the sound of children playing inside. Everyone leaves their vehicles and heads toward the front gate.

• Aaron's obviously recruited candidates for Alexandria before, but his methods do make him seem somewhat suspicious. Things like not telling the group he has a partner hiding nearby, admitting he's been observing and listening to them for days, and worst of all, the fact that he knows everyone's names. No wonder Rick doesn't trust him.

• Um, Rick, I know food's scarce and Judith's hungry, but feeding her raw acorns is probably not a good idea.

Acorns are full of tannic acid, are extremely bitter and are toxic in large amounts. They can be made edible, but only after extensive rinsing or boiling to remove the acid. Mashing them in a bowl ain't gonna do it. No wonder Judith was crying.

• Aaron tells Rick he brought applesauce for Judith. Rick is of course distrustful, fearing Aaron may have poisoned it. He forces him to taste it first. Aaron refuses, which again, seems highly suspicious on his part. Rick eventually forces him to eat a spoonful. A couple things here.

First of all, Aaron tastes the applesauce and doesn't immediately fall over dead, so Rick feeds it to Judith. I guess in Rick's mind, poison must work instantly, so the applesauce has to be OK.

Secondly, Aaron says he doesn't like applesauce because his mom used to force him to eat it to make him more "manly." I had no idea applesauce was such a masculine food. Take that, Popeye and your spinach!

• Aaron suggests they take Highway 16 to the Safe-Zone, because his people have cleared it of walkers. 

How the hell did they do that? Sure they could clear the road, but what's to stop it from filling up again a few hours later? It'd be like using your hands to try and keep the center of a bucket of water dry.

• I'm not exactly sure what part of the country the group's been in the past few episodes, but wherever it is, every "highway" looks like the exact same stretch of secluded two lane road with a forest on each side.

• On the way to Alexandria, Rick finds a stash of license plates in Aaron's glove box. Gosh, that's not suspicious at all. As creepy things go, that's just one or two levels below making a necklace out of the fingers of your victims.

Apparently Aaron gathers the plates from cars he encounters on the road, and sheepishly admits he's trying to collect license plates from all fifty states. I hate to break it to him, but he's never gonna have a complete set, unless someone drove over from Hawaii before the apocalypse.

• In the car, Michonne takes another look at Aaron's spooky, washed-out photos of the Safe-Zone. She suddenly notices there aren't any people in any of them and becomes suspicious. She immediately asks him Rick's Three Questions. You know, the three magic questions that are guaranteed to determine if someone is trustworthy: 1. How many walkers have you killed? 2. How many people have you killed? 3. Why?

I've never understood how these questions are supposed to prove anything useful. They seem like bullish*t job interview questions, such as "Tell me about your weaknesses." You ask a bullish*t question, you get a bullish*t answer.

• Rick's boneheaded idea to take the uncleared Highway 23 backfires when they encounter a road full of walkers. Glenn plows through them, painting the windshield in a thick coat of blood and gore that's very reminiscent of Emil's demise in Robocop.

• Rick and the others lose sight of the RV and stop, like idiots. When they get back in the car, of course it won't start. Ah, it's the classic Untimely Stalling Car trope.

• Zombie Kill Of The Week: Rick shoots a walker in the eye socket with a flare gun, causing its head to become a lovely translucent lamp shade.

• As the flaming-headed zombie burns brightly, the other walkers are momentarily distracted by the flickering light. I'd forgotten that the walkers on this show are fascinated by fire. Apparently so did all the other characters. Why haven't they used that fault to their advantage recently? They could have escaped the walkers following them last week by lobbing a few torches behind the herd.

• This was pretty subtle, so you might have missed it... Aaron and Eric are a gay couple! 

I have absolutely no problem with gay characters on the show. None at all. What I did think was ridiculous was the show's heavy-handed introduction of Aaron and Eric. Jesus, could they have been more blatant? First they stared longingly at one another across the room. Then in case you didn't get it, they embraced and passionately kissed. Then, just to drive the point home, Aaron tenderly held Eric's face in his hands. And for the dimmer members of the audience who still hadn't figured it out, they cooed and cuddled for a moment. You know what? I think those two might be gay!

I'm surprised the writers didn't have the two of them turn to the camera and wink as they wrapped pink feather boas around their necks as they sang, It's Rainin' Men.

Compare this to the Season 4 episode Dead Weight, in which we saw the show's first homosexual couple, Tara and Alisha. Those two quietly hooked up with nary a fanfare. In fact Tara's still with the group, and her sexuality is no big deal. Why the difference?

We get it, The Walking Dead. You've got two gay men on the show now. You're the most diverse and all-inclusive zombie show on cable.

Maybe now that Aaron and Eric have joined the cast everyone will quit asking if Daryl's gay.

• When the RV dies, Abraham says they're screwed because they need a new battery. Glenn shows him a compartment inside the RV where extra batteries are stored. When Abraham asks how he knew that, Glenn smiles wistfully and walks away.

This was of course a subtle little nod to Dale, whose RV used to break down at regular intervals back in the first and second seasons. It was a nice little bit of acting by Steven Yeun as Glenn here.

• On the way to Alexandria, the group sees Washington DC, their former destination, off in the distance.

I'm wondering exactly where they're supposed to be here. A few episodes ago they found out Eugene was lying about a cure for the zombie plague, but decided to make their way north to DC anyway. Alexandria is south of Washington DC. So to drive past Washington they'd have to be coming from the north. 

I suppose maybe they could be coming up from the south and heading west— then they might be able to look to their right and see DC. The cities are six to seven miles apart though, so it's iffy as to whether they'd able to see it. Geography!

• Halfway through the episode I knew we weren't going to see the inside of the Alexandria Safe-Zone in this episode, and I was right. We only get to see the front gate. Because why take just one episode to show us something when you can drag it out into two?

• Rick still doesn't trust Aaron or believe that Alexandria is safe until he pulls up to the gates and hears the sound of children playing inside. At that point he finally relents and agrees to take his family through the gate.

Wouldn't it be funny if next week they entered and saw there was a tape deck blasting "The Sounds Of Children" into the air? And there was a group of hungry cannibals staring at them licking their lips? No? Too far?

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