Tonight’s episode is another in the series of focus episodes we have had over the last several weeks on The Walking Dead. Unusually, we get more of the same people that we saw last week, Daryl Dixon and Beth Greene. Coming so soon after their characters, especially Beth’s, got far more exposition than they have received at one time to date, it had me wondering about the writers’ motivations, a la previous efforts to grow a character and create sympathy in the audience, only to then have them fall immediately thereafter. This was definitely a good way to subconsciously raise tension prior to the episode even airing, and the scene choices for both the Sneak Peek and the Promo (see my comments here) only serve to heighten this sense of impending doom. Read my full review and synopsis of the episode after the break.
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead S04E13, “Alone.” Read more at your own risk.>>
We begin the episode with a close-up on Bob’s face. He’s alone, and his hair is longer; at first, it isn’t clear if this is a flashback, or a flashforward. He’s carrying a machete, wandering through the forest. He finds an old mine entrance, and uses large branches to close off the entrance. He sits back and drinks cold medicine – he’s either off the wagon or not yet on it – and he falls asleep. He wakes, watching a lone walker at the improvised bars. We cut to Bob on a road, with a tractor trailer abandoned in the middle. He climbs on top, and makes a bed among the fallen leaves. As he rests, walkers go by, parting on either side as they continue on their mindless journey. The next day, he gets up, and starts to walk down the road again, when he hears approaching motors. It’s Daryl on his Harley, and Glenn in a truck. They give him the three questions (How many walkers have you killed? How many people have you killed? Why?). He passes to their satisfaction, and they invite him back to the prison. We’re in a flashback, and this is Bob’s “origin” story.
We go back to the present, and Bob, Sasha, and Maggie are in a circle, back to back in the fog, as walkers approach. This is the scene from the Sneak Peek released by AMC last week. They fight, and as we see Bob get overwhelmed, a walker bites him squarely on the right shoulder, right where he was shot during The Governor’s assault on the prison. Sasha yells his name, and goes to help him as Maggie is knocked down, barely able to hold the walker’s mouth off her body. Just as it bears down, a gunshot rings out, and its head explodes.
Next we cut to the scene from the Promo released during last week’s Talking Dead. Daryl is teaching Beth how to track, and she’s quite excited that she can tell it’s a walker due to its zigzag pattern. “Yeah,” Daryl says, “or a drunk.” They move through the forest and into a clearing. A walker is in front, on its knees, eating something. Beth creeps closer, when she steps on a leg trap, snapping shut on her foot. She falls and is stuck, and the walker turns on her. She shoots, but in her haste she only hits it in the jaw, not penetrating the brain. Daryl grabs the crossbow, and hits it with an uppercut carrying enough force to snap its neck and kill it.
Back at Maggie’s camp, the three companions are mopping up after the walker attack. Maggie’s compass is broken, but Bob is optimistic, pointing out that they can use the sun to navigate. They decide they need to move – they need to be in a place that provides them with more visibility, so they can avoid being surprised and surrounded again.
Beth, limping walks with Daryl into a large clearing – it’s a cemetery, and in the middle distance they can see a large funeral home/mortuary. She’s having difficulties, so Daryl turns around and tells her to get on. He piggybacks her toward the house. Daryl is cautious, but Beth tries to reassure him: “There are still good people, Daryl.” He replies, “I don’t think the good ones survive.” They stop partway there, and Beth looks down at a gravestone. She looks like she’s about to cry, and Daryl looks at her, then at the marker. He reaches down and grabs a handful of flowers, placing them on top of the gravestone, and Beth slips her hand into his as they stand there looking down in silence. The camera moves to the stone; written on it are some dates from the 19th century, and the epitaph, “Beloved Father.” Hershel’s death is still fresh, and she’s barely had time to mourn him.
Maggie, Sasha, and Bob are now on the move. They come across railroad tracks, and see a sign from behind. They come around the front – it’s a sign for Terminus. Maggie is certain that Glenn would head there if he saw the sign, assuming that Maggie would do the same. Sasha is more than a little hesitant; she wants to hole up somewhere and work on survival. Bob backs Maggie, and Sasha reluctantly agrees to move forward, worried that what the sign promises is too good to be true.
Beth and Daryl, meanwhile, enter the funeral home, and find it abandoned but curiously clean. They enter into a viewing room, where a body lies embalmed on a table, wearing a suit. Daryl checks it for freshness, and his fingers make twin furrows in its cheek – it’s been dead a long time. The creepy thing is that it looks like it was a turned walker before being laid out as though for a funeral – who would have done this? They go downstairs, and find a small embalming room with a couple more bodies laid out, both in suits. These ones were definitely walkers before being embalmed. Daryl is disturbed by this, but Beth tells him it’s beautiful. She sees it as meaning that someone cared enough about the fact that these used to be people, that they wanted to see them get proper funerals.
Setting camp for the night, Sasha and Bob are alone, Maggie off reconnoitering. Bob asks Sasha what she’s afraid of, and she claims not to be. She’s the pragmatist – Glenn’s probably dead, and they will be too. She wants them to hole up in one of the towns they’re inevitably going to be passing as they walk down the tracks.
Back at the funeral home, Beth and Daryl find supplies, but again Daryl is concerned, because there’s no dust on them – he knows this is someone’s stash, and he’s hesitant to take it all. They get some pop and jarred pig’s feet, and chow down. Outside, Daryl sets up a rope with cans and other noisemakers attached, while inside Beth sits in a chapel, playing the piano and singing, surrounded by candles and with an open, empty casket beside her. Daryl comes in, and promptly climbs up into the casket. Beth is flabbergasted, but he tells her it’s the “comfiest bed I’ve had in years.” He asks her to keep playing, despite her protests that he doesn’t like her singing. In typical Daryl gruff fashion, he mumbles that there isn’t a jukebox.
Near the tracks, Sasha awakes to see that Bob is already up. He looks at the ground, his eyes widening. There’s a note scratched in the dirt: “Don’t risk your lives 4 me. Good luck.” Maggie’s left them in the night. Sasha is reluctant to follow her, but Bob insists, and she agrees to come as well. We see Maggie, some distance ahead, walking alone down the tracks. She sees another Terminus sign, and goes to make a note on the wall beside it using her knife. Before she can do so, she hears a walker approaching, and gets a thoughtful gleam in her eyes. She walks over, dispatches it, and then tears open its belly with her knife, plunging her hand with a rag of cloth inside the gaping guts. An indeterminate time later, Bob and Sasha are coming down the tracks. He’s smiling, and Sasha’s getting annoyed, but in a playful manner. She jokes with him about just being happy to be alive, and he tells her that isn’t why he’s smiling – it’s because he isn’t alone anymore. He tells her that the cycle has been broken, that although both times he’d been with a group before he’d ended up alone when they all died, this time is different – no matter who else died, at least the three of them survived together. Sasha kind of shakes her head at him. They keep walking, and she notices the dead walker Maggie killed, and a note written in blood and smeared walker guts on the wall beside the Terminus sign: “Glenn – go to Terminus. Maggie.”
In the funeral home, Daryl is joking with Beth, telling her to hurry up. He picks her up and carries her into the kitchen, and she laughs. Just then, they hear the alarm cans sound from outside. Daryl is suddenly all business, telling her to stay put. He opens the door – it’s a scruffy, one-eyed white dog. The dog looks at him, but won’t approach, taking back off away from the building. He tells her it’s just a dog, and they head back to the kitchen.
Sasha and Bob, on Maggie’s trail, are holed up in a wrecked open warehouse. Bob sits up – Sasha is still awake, looking out into the darkness. Sasha tells him he needs more sleep in order to heal, and he tells her he tries, but she calls him on it – he never sleeps very much. There’s a walker somewhere nearby, and she says she’s been listening to it for an hour. He lies down, but can’t settle with the constant growls. Sasha asks him, “Bob, what the hell are we doing out here?” He deflects, asking her why she thinks her brother Tyreese is dead. She denies it, but he tells her that she knows Tyreese would go to Terminus, so if she isn’t willing to, it must mean she thinks he’s dead. You can tell he’s doing this earnestly. He’s not trying to anger her or call her out, he’s trying to understand her. A real empathy is developing between the two of them, and it’s obvious that there is a mutual attraction.
The same night (presumably), Beth and Daryl are in the kitchen of the funeral home. Beth wants to leave a thank-you note for whomever has left the supplies, but Daryl suggests she might not need to. In fact, he suggests they wait there until the person or people come back. Beth asks him what’s changed, more specifically what’s changed him into believing that maybe there are still some good guys around. He gets all awkward and embarrassed, and tells her that she already knows. What’s this we have here? Is Daryl getting a crush on Beth? Sure, she’s much younger than he is, but in the zombie apocalypse, who better to connect with than someone who is as resourceful and skilled as Daryl? And Beth herself is turning out to be intelligent and resourceful in her own right, and maintains a certain kind of innocent humanity that Daryl is sorely missing. He as much as admits that her innocent outlook has brought him around. Outside, they hear the dog again, and the clanging of the pots and cans. Daryl goes to get the door – and a rush of walkers pushes in. He jams the door with his shoulder, trying to keep them out, and yells to Beth to get his crossbow. She does, and he tells her to run. She doesn’t want to go, but he tells her he’ll meet her out on the road. She leaves, and he backs up, trying to keep the walkers at bay. They force him downstairs, and into the tiny embalming room they checked out the day before. He wheels one of the corpses between him and the walkers, and stabs at them with anything he can grab – his crossbow, a scalpel, syringes. He’s being overwhelmed; there’s at least a dozen walkers crowding into the room. He crawls under the gurney, and his back is up against the side wall. He swings the second gurney around, pinning several of the walkers, and he makes for the door, stabbing as he goes. He gets outside, runs to the road. There on the ground is Beth’s bag, apparently dropped in haste. Behind him he hears a car go into gear; he turns just in time to see a large sedan driving away. It has what appears to be a white cross in its otherwise blacked out rear window. Daryl gives chase – Beth must be in the car. He runs down the road, yelling Beth’s name over and over again.
Daytime, and we see Bob and Sasha continuing down the railroad tracks. They see another sign, again written in blood, telling Glenn to go to Terminus. Back on the road, Daryl’s walking down the road, exhausted and stumbling. He’s following a barely discernible set of tire tracks through the fallen leaves. He reaches a crossroads, where the road ends in a Y-junction, and a set of railroad tracks passes nearby. He’s exhausted – he’s obviously been going all night – and he drops his crossbow to the ground, following it himself a moment later. He sits, cross-legged at the junction, hanging his head low. He can’t make out which way the car went.
Sasha and Bob come to a junction of their own, a spur line running into a small town. Sasha insists on staying, and Bob insists equally as strongly that they keep going. “She’s out there alone,” he tells her. He knows what it means to be alone – he was the soul survivor from his first two groups – and he knows that Maggie needs their help to find Glenn. He tells her again that she doesn’t “need to be afraid,” but she denies that she is. Neither is willing to budge, so he tells her, “I’m going to try something.” He leans in, and the two meet for a nice kiss. He smiles at her, almost sadly, and starts back down the tracks. His parting comment to her is that he won’t be alone. Sasha goes into the town, and enters a large brick warehouse near the tracks. She looks around – it seems empty – and she begins to relax, putting her things down on the floor. She walks over to a window and looks out. Below, she sees an ice-cream truck, and three bodies laid out beside it. Suddenly, she realizes that the one in the middle is Maggie, and that she is covered in walker guts. She leans on the window to get a better look, and it pops out of its frame, crashing to the ground below. Maggie sits bolt-upright – she’s still alive – as walkers begin to emerge all around. Sasha grabs her stick and runs outside, and the two of them enter into a well-choreographed dance of walker mutilation, Sasha striking with her sharpened stick, Maggie with the metal edge of a road sign. In a few moments, they’ve dispatched them all, and Maggie tells Sasha that back at the camp, she’d heard everything Sasha was telling Bob. She figured that Sasha was right, that it wasn’t fair of her to ask the two of them to help her find Glenn. But now she’s reconsidered. She knows in her heart that Sasha is wrong, that Glenn isn’t dead. Not only that, but she has the right to ask her and Bob to take risks, to risk even their lives for her, as she would do for them. Sasha asks why she was here, in the town, rather than moving further down the tracks. “Because I was waiting for you,” Maggie replies. She says she can’t do it alone. Sasha tells her that she, is in fact, afraid – mostly of being alone. She tells Maggie, “So let’s go get Bob, and let’s get there.” They head on down the tracks.
We see Daryl again, sitting on the crossroads. A set of legs walks up to him, followed by several more. Six men, weapons drawn, surround Daryl. Suddenly, Daryl leaps up, decking a gray-haired man, knocking him on his backside. It’s the same man that led the group into the house Rick, Carl, and Michonne were holed up in, the man who was bouncing the tennis ball. He tells the group to “Hold up.” One man, holding a bow, says, “I’m claiming the vest. I like those wings,” but again the gray-haired man says, “Hold up.” He stands up, and stands a couple of inches from Daryl’s loaded and cocked crossbow. He stares him down, talks about what kind of weight the crossbow must pull, and calmly points out to Daryl that even if he fires, the rest of the men will just take him out. “Name’s Joe,” the man says. “Daryl,” Daryl replies, lowering his crossbow. Pan out, wide shot as each of the other five men also lower their weapons. Guess Daryl’s no longer alone – but what kind of group is he joining up with, exactly?
We see Bob from behind, alone, walking down the tracks. “Bob,” Sasha’s voice comes, and he smiles and turns. He sees both Sasha and Maggie. Maggie comes to him and gives him a solid hug, and he turns to Sasha, giving her a hug as well. They continue, no longer alone, down the tracks toward Terminus.
Cut to another Terminus sign, and a gloved hand touching it, going over its words. It’s Glenn, and it looks like finally we’re getting everyone heading in the same direction – save for Daryl and Beth.
No one died in tonight’s episode, but there are some pretty big question marks yet to be resolved. Maggie and company are on their way to Terminus, and it’s only a matter of time before various of our groups begin to meet up again. However, we don’t know who has taken Beth, nor for what purpose. I doubt it’s the marauders led by the tennis ball guy, as neither time we’ve seen them have they been using a car. The white cross in the back of the car that took Beth is surely no accident. I believe that it’ll turn out to be someone who was associated with the funeral home in the past, and is likely the same person who had the stash there, and who has been embalming fallen walkers. I suspect that the funeral home itself is a trap intended to lure people into a false sense of security, and that the person who set the trap is also the dog’s owner – and he uses the dog to bring walkers there to deal with intruders when he’s ready to separate them. There can’t be any good reason for taking Beth, and it will be interesting to see if Daryl is able to utilize the new group he’s with in an attempt to find her. You know it’s going to be one of his main priorities, second only to staying alive (hence his apparent willingness to ally with an obviously dangerous group). He isn’t stupid – he understands exactly what this group is about; the man “claiming” Daryl’s jacket just confirmed his suspicions. For now, Daryl will do what he needs to to survive, because otherwise he’s no good to Beth. But he’ll only stay with the group so long and so far as they are able to serve his needs; if they don’t, he’ll leave at the earliest opportunity, likely taking a few of them out in the process.
Messages and traps have strong thematic ties across the episode. Beginning with the Terminus signs and maps, we see notes and messages being left or talked about throughout – but the question I think that all viewers have, is whether or not Terminus is truly a safe haven, or is just another trap. Maggie leaves notes, first scratched in the dirt for Sasha and Bob, later painted in blood on the way to Terminus. This is symbolic of her desire to find Glenn: she’s literally ripping out the guts of her enemies and using them to send a message. Beth, too, wants to leave a message, this time to the people who have left the stash of food in the funeral home; but her message is never written, as the walker attack turn this apparent sanctuary into a trap. This is particularly appropriate being that the funeral home may, in fact, have been set up specifically as a trap, much like the leg snare that hurts her earlier in the episode. She walks into a third trap when she’s taken away by car at the end of the episode. Similarly, Sasha walks into a trap in the town, when she is surprised and almost overwhelmed by walkers, as was Maggie before her, having to hide herself among the fallen dead. And the episode’s penultimate scene shows Daryl in a metaphorical snare, as he is surrounded by men wielding weapons, which further echoes the way in which he was nearly trapped in the embalming room earlier in the episode. He clearly sends a message to Joe, the leader of the marauders, when he decks him, telling him without words that he isn’t someone to be trifled with. Messages and traps are clearly recurring themes, and are used to bridge gaps between the survivors that find themselves unexpectedly alone.
The episode was a little faster paced than last week’s, with some scary moments, and a real sense of jeopardy for several of the characters. Daryl’s fight scene in the embalming room was the highlight, although seeing Maggie’s resourcefulness as a sort of latter day post-zombie apocalypse Jackson Pollack was a neat twist. It was definitely done for effect – of course, using blood and guts to leave a message would not be a good choice in the real world, as it would wash away with the first rain. Maggie should have gone with her initial instinct, and carved the sign into the wood. Beth’s abduction should lead to an interesting storyline of its own. In having read the comics, I’ve got some ideas about what might be happening, but to be honest, nothing in the second half of Season 4 so far appears to be familiar territory at all, save for the introduction of Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita. There are only three episodes left before the end of the season, so I think that we’ll see the first reunions next week; the Beth and Daryl storylines will, I sense, not be resolved by then. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the season finale involve Daryl having to confront former comrades in some sort of way, where sacrifices might need to be made in order to save the most people. And what the heck is Terminus, anyway?
Steve’s Grade: B+
A lot of trekking cross-country as our groups of survivors appear to be closing in on each other and the town of Terminus. What secrets will the town hold? How will the redneck with a heart of gold, who now believes in good people being in the world, deal with a murderous gang of thugs who are willing to nearly kill each other over a simple thing like a bed? And will Beth’s captor(s) play the banjo a la Deliverance? So many questions yet to be answered, and March 30th fast approaching.