Stop! Hammer Time: A Review of The Walking Dead Mid-Season Premiere – Season 5, Episode 9 “What Happened and What’s Going On”

Posted: February 9, 2015 in Reviews, The Walking Dead, TV
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Episode: 509
Airdate: February 8, 2015
Directed by: Greg Nicotero
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Scott M. Gimple (episode); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels)

With the events of the mid-season finale still fresh in our minds, I think that a lot of fans of The Walking Dead were expecting tonight’s episode to be a bit slower paced, a bit more reflective. And to be honest, what we did end up getting was supremely reflective, although the pace was not what I’d call slow – nor were the stakes lowered at all from the last episode. Greg Nicotero, special effects master on the show and the director of tonight’s episode, conjured up director Terrance Malick (naming him as an inspiration in the follow-up Talking Dead episode), and in so doing put together what may very well be one of the best – and certainly the most artistic – episodes of The Walking Dead so far. Click through for my full review.

<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead mid-season premiere, S05E09, “What Happened and What’s Going On” – read more at your own risk.>>

Farewell, Tyreese – we knew thee well. Tonight’s episode felt more like a love-letter to a character than a typical narrative, and this is only appropriate, as he was generally a more-beloved character than either of the two main group members who have died earlier this season – Mr. Johnny-come-lately Bob, and Beth. Beth’s death was (and is) a sad moment, coming as suddenly as it did. Bob’s was drawn out over two episodes, and he was given a chance to say all of his goodbyes. Tyreese’s comes somewhere between those two, getting a wonderful send-off, combined with a completely random moment that ends in his death.

Tyreese Williams S03E08-S05E09 RIP

Tyreese Williams

The episode opens seventeen days after Beth’s death (although this is not stated in the episode, Greg Nicotero explained this plot element on tonight’s Talking Dead). We see earth being shoveled, an image of a small painting with blood dripping on it, a skeleton lying alone in the forest, a flower growing through it. More images come at us, filtered through flame and strobing light: a door frame, blood splattered on it; Rick asking Noah about his family’s compound in Richmond, Virginia; Lizzie and Mika, both exhibiting their death wounds, Mika telling Tyreese that everything’s okay now; blood, more blood, and then flames.

After credits, we cut to a vehicle interior. Rick, Tyreese, Michonne, Glenn, and Noah are driving toward Richmond. Noah is trying to reassure Tyreese. He tells him that his call for an exchange was the right one, that it was working. Tyreese scoffs at him, pointing out that the end result was exactly the same as if they had gone in with murderous intent. Tyreese tells Noah about his childhood, about his father and the sense of responsibility he instilled in he and Sasha growing up. He told them that, as citizens of the world, it was their responsibility to keep themselves informed. He’d make them watch and listen to the news, to be aware of the world around them, and more importantly, their place in that world.

As they’re approaching the enclave, Rick radios Carol on a walkie-talkie. The rest of the group is waiting behind them, while these five go ahead to scout out Noah’s family’s home. He tells her that they’re close, and that he’ll contact her again in about twenty minutes. Always the pragmatist, Rick decides they should pull over and approach through the woods. They find a pair of bullet-riddled vehicles – one with a “W” painted on it – and head in on foot.

They come across a series of wires and cables strung through the trees – a pretty effective way to keep walkers away. Noah cuts his forehead navigating through, but soon the get to the road. Arriving at the gates, they first note that no one is on lookout duty. Glenn peers over the fence, and just shakes his head: everyone inside appears to be dead. They find buildings burned, bodies on the streets, and one section of fence on the backside of the neighborhood knocked down. Ominously, there is a bit of graffiti on one fence: “Wolves not far.” Who are these Wolves? I suspect we’re going to find out very soon.

Upon seeing the remnants of his community, Noah sits down hard, and begins to cry. Tyreese, goes to look after him, while the other three look for useful items. In front of one house, they find a bunch of baseball memorabilia strewn about. Michonne smashes a glass case with a vintage jersey in it. “Clean shirt,” she explains to Rick. Glenn gets in on the looting, taking a bat. He and Rick have been having a bit of a conversation about the Beth situation back at Grady Memorial. Rick has told him that he could see right away that Dawn didn’t intend to shoot Beth, but that he simply didn’t care: he wanted to shoot her. Now, Glenn tells us much the same thing. In fact, he asks Rick if her remembers the boxcar he insisted they stop to open back at Terminus (in Episode 501). Rick nods. Glenn tells him that now, he would just walk past the boxcar without a second thought. Events are changing everyone, and it is a shame to think that Glenn is coming to this – but Beth’s death has affected him as badly as anyone save for Maggie.

Rick clarifies his position for Glenn. Glenn seems to think that coming to Noah’s place is pointless, that after finding out that Eugene’s cure story was a lie, and with Beth dying, there isn’t much point to anything they’re doing. Rick is adamant: Beth wanted to get Noah home, so coming here is not about Noah at all – it’s to honor Beth’s memory.

This conversation becomes all the more important as events unfold. After all, Glenn has played the role of moral compass on the show at times, especially early on, and again at Terminus. Now, with previous moral compasses Dale and Hershel gone, Bob going earlier in the season, occasional moral compass Beth dying too, and Tyreese biting it tonight, Glenn seems no longer able to take that position, leaving it void for perhaps the first time…although Michonne seems to be stepping into that role a little.

She has a discussion with Rick about the need to get off the road. She’s seriously concerned that being without a solid base for too long will turn them all savage – Glenn’s conversation with Rick in front of her being, I suspect, the catalyst for her thoughts. She tells Rick that they could fix the fence here, use the houses, find stability. But when they head out of the breach, two shocking sights greet them. The first is a bunch of torso-less bodies. Legs and hips, as well as arms, but no torsos or heads, strewn all about. And second, when they turn back toward the fence, it quickly becomes apparent that the fence wasn’t pushed down; rather, it was blown down explosively, and several black soot marks along the fence indicate where weapons were used. The town didn’t fall to walkers – it fell to humans. Are these the Wolves the graffiti is referring to?

While this is going on, Tyreese tries to comfort Noah. He urges him not to give up, telling him that there was a time that he almost did so himself, but that because he didn’t, he was there to save Judith at a later time. Noah gets up, and then starts to run down the street, Tyreese in pursuit. They stop in front of a house a couple of corners down, and Noah tells Tyreese that it was his – he wants to check inside. Tyreese initially wants to keep him out, but realizes that’s futile – instead, he says, “Me first,” and heads in.

Noah’s mother’s body is lying on the living room floor, her skull smashed in. Tyreese goes down the hall while Noah mourns her, seeing movement under one door, so leaving that room to check another. Inside the second room, he finds one of Noah’s twin brothers with his carcass largely eaten, lying on the bed. Tyreese looks at a series of photos on the wall. They’re all of the brothers, one with Noah as well. He seems oddly fascinated, almost hypnotized by their encapsulation of the normal life eluding them now – so he doesn’t notice that Noah’s other brother has come up behind him, until he bites Tyreese on his left forearm.

He pushes the child zombie back, and Noah comes to his aid, using a model F-15 to stab his brother’s body right in the eye. He tells Tyreese he’ll go for help, leaving him bleeding heavily.

At this point, the episode begins to go in a new direction. A radio near Tyreese starts broadcasting, something that sounds like a BBC Radio report about a civil war in Africa (interesting tidbit: the voice belongs to Andrew Lincoln (Rick), speaking with his natural English accent). To be honest, when I first heard it, I thought it was a local broadcast that was being picked up, something indicating a kind of civilization in the area; however, it quickly becomes clear that this is a fevered hallucination, a throwback to when Tyreese’s father used to make him and Sasha listen to the news. Someone begins to talk to Tyreese, and he jerks his head up to see that it’s Martin. If you recall, he was the Termite that Tyreese beat the hell out of, and then told Carol that he’d killed. He later showed up at the church with Gareth, and Sasha was the one who finally killed him. He’s accusatory – not because of his death, but because he says that Tyreese is weak. He tells him that it was through his actions, or rather his inactions, that he finds himself in this situation.

A dissenting voice is raised – it’s Bob Stookey, sitting on the edge of the bed. He tells Tyreese that this was all supposed to happen. It wasn’t Tyreese’s fault that he got killed by Martin and Gareth – in fact, he was already bitten and dying before they ever got to him. Mika and Lizzie add their voices, telling him that everything is better now, that things will be fine. But another voice is added to the chorus: the Governor, in all his eye-patched glory, telling him, “You promised to do whatever it takes.” Tyreese tries to defend himself, explaining that he didn’t know who the Governor really was when he made that promise, but ol’ patchy is having none of it, and lunges at Tyreese – transforming into a walker at the last moment. They struggle hard, Tyreese trying to use his injured arm to get his hammer out of its loop, dropping it in the process. Desperate, Tyreese offers up his already munched forearm, distracting the walker just long enough to grab a geode off of a bookshelf, smashing the walker’s head in. It drops over a chair, and drips thick blood down onto the painting of a house we saw in the intro.

Back outside, Glenn and Rick finish their discussion of Beth’s death. He tells Rick that it really doesn’t matter who shot Dawn, so much as it matters that she was shot and dealt with. It’s at this point that Michonne makes a pitch to Rick and Glenn: they should head to D.C. Glenn is immediately opposed, reminding her that Eugene lied, but she rationalizes that the other part of Eugene’s idea – that D.C. is the most likely place to have been prepared for the apocalypse – actually makes sense. Suddenly, they hear Noah screaming for help in the near distance, and they take off at a run.

They find him holding off three walkers, and they’re able to make relatively short work of them, although Michonne finds herself in trouble momentarily when her blade strikes a piece of rebar poking out of a walker’s shoulder. He tells them what’s happened to Tyreese, and they go to get him.

Meanwhile, Tyreese’s hallucinations continue apace. Beth has joined everyone, and she’s playing a guitar and singing. He briefly sees Judith. He’s sweating hard, bleeding profusely, physically in shock as his mental faculties feed him a combination of saints and sinners in his past, representative of the good and bad he perceives himself to have done. This weirdly wonderful manner of reviewing his life lends a certain poetic beauty to his final moments. Realizing he’s slipping, he says, “It’s not over. People like me…People like me, they can’t live.” The Governor, back again, tells him with barely controlled fury, “You had to pay the bill.” Mika reaches out to him, and takes his left hand in hers, Lizzie adding her hand as well. We flash to the room from outside Tyreese’s perspective: it’s Glenn and Rick holding his arm out, while Michonne takes aim with her katana, striking it off just below the elbow.

The four of them, with Noah, struggle to get Tyreese back to the vehicle. They have to face off a bunch of walkers that have come to the gates, with some amazing slow-motion work with Michonne’s sword, and a lone walker that almost gets through to Noah and Tyreese, before Rick is able to shoot her, first through the shoulder, and then through the head. They get back to the cables and wires strung through the forest, and Tyreese’s foot gets caught for a moment, but they manage to loose him and get to the SUV.

They drive off, Rick radioing ahead to Carol to let her know to start a fire – they’ll need to cauterize Tyreese’s stump. We shift back into Tyreese’s perspective. He sees Beth driving, with Bob beside her, and the two girls in the back seat with him. Gone are Martin and the Governor, and gone are their accusations as well. Tyreese has come to accept his choices, knowing that in the long run, he was always true to himself and to his father’s teachings. He was a responsible and informed man, and he always did what he thought was right. The four dead companions tell him that everything is alright now, that everything is better. He relaxes, and lays back against the SUV door.

We cut to an external shot. The brake-lights come on, and the vehicle pulls over. The take Tyreese from the backseat, and lay him out on the road. He’s gone.

We don’t see the coup de grace (although we do see Michonne put her hand on her hilt). Instead, we cut to a close-up on Tyreese’s face. He looks gray, but at peace. A white sheet is placed over his face, and dirt is shoveled on top. We pull back. Father Gabriel is giving a eulogy, and Sasha is there to help. Rick takes the spade when all is done, and buries his friend. The burial we saw at the beginning of the episode wasn’t Beth’s at all – we’ve come full circle, and it is Tyreese that is being laid in the earth.

This was a very strong, and poetically beautiful episode. Nicotero’s direction never comes across as heavy-handed. While this episode could have been played up for maudlin effect, I found that it was treated with a great deal of sensitivity. Tyreese’s death at this point feels almost anti-climactic. He doesn’t die in a big battle, or saving anyone, or sacrificing himself for the group; instead, he’s bitten by a random child walker that he allowed to sneak up on himself in a moment of distraction. But really, that’s the point here: no matter how commonplace the uncommon becomes, those dangers still lurk just under the surface. As he himself said, people like him “can’t live.”

The cinematography of the first two minutes of the episode had me wondering what direction things were going – so much imagery, strobing lights, flames and blood – but in retrospect, what these moments become is a journal of Tyreese’s last memories. These are the things that flash before his mind’s eye as he begins that last journey. I felt that the decision to have his last moments play out as an internal battle of Id, between those choices he regretted and did not embodied in visions of dead friends and foes, to be a fascinating way of making Tyreese’s death just a little bit different from every death we’ve seen over four and a half seasons of The Walking Dead. Chad Coleman was right up to the task, and carried the episode with a solid poignancy that left me a little breathless by the end. Well done.

Steve’s Grade: A-
An excellent beginning to the latter half of the season, with a remarkable effort from Chad Coleman as we all say goodbye to our favorite hammer-wielding survivor. How much lower can things get for our group?

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  1. dave says:

    Thanks for the review, great job as usual. You are right that last night’s episode was well done, but for me ultimately not very satisfying. Two things. First, I’ve been hoping someone would take Tyreeses’ hammer out of his hand and give him a good whack with it like they did in older movies when someone was getting hysterical and the leading man would smack them and say “get ahold of yourself!” Regardless of how it impacted other character and the storyline, his whiny passivity was grating and tedious to watch. I kept hoping he would grow in some way that would let him keep his core beliefs, but survive in the zombie apocalypse, but he didn’t. Maybe there’s only room for one Carol type of personal transformation? I don’t know, but I can’t say I was sad to see him go. Beth on the other hand I think was a mistake to get rid of. Her character had a lot more to offer the story and should have stayed around longer.

    On to the bigger problem though. After 4-1/2 seasons I’m getting to the point where I’d like to get an idea that there is some sort of “end game”. A hint that there is a purpose or goal. Something that drives the narrative forward needs to be introduced. Just wandering around blindly running into groups that will never live up to the Governor and his gang’s brand of evil will not cut it for long. The groups since Woodbury (Terminus, the hospital and Daryl’s friends) have been interesting and I’m glad they did not spend two seasons dwelling on any particular one, but without an “end game” or serious protagonist the show is getting a bit rudderless. I’d like to see the Walking Dead go out on a high note like Breaking Bad, a show that started with the knowledge that it would last 5 seasons and come to a conclusion. It would be a shame if it just drifted around until I simply lost interest.

  2. Thanks for reading, Dave – I always appreciate your feedback. I told you I was going to get back to writing the reviews!

    I agree on the aimlessness, which is why I welcome the push toward DC. I’m up-to-date on the comics, and even though the show takes wide departures, there is a ton of potential material for them in that direction, including something that feels, in a lot of ways, like a potential end game.

    Tyreese was very annoying this past half season – he didn’t get enough airtime last season to grate, I felt, but the shift into solid pacifism the last 8-12 episodes felt off, especially considering how absolutely kick-ass he’d proven to be at times in the past (such as the veterinarian hospital episode in Season 4). What I did feel was that this was a fitting ending for him, and allows the show to move on. They’ve clearly stated that pacifism and hesitation gets you killed, so for that I thank him.

    Beth – yeah, her death bothers me. She was never my favorite character, but she was showing development. I especially enjoyed her birthday episode with Daryl last year, and thought she showed real potential. Her death, in a lot of ways, feels to me to be the most gratuitous of all of the main group deaths so far – it really didn’t serve any purpose whatsoever, that I could see.

    I totally agree with your overall sentiments, Dave. As I’m sure you’ve noted, whenever there was a hint of movement, I got pretty excited about it in my reviews. Anytime it looks like they’re moving backward, or worse, treading water, I’ve been a bit down on it. I was afraid that production costs were dictating storylines to a degree – after all, they have quite a bit invested in the Georgia locations – but if they really start moving north, it will be the best thing the show can do. Just be ready for some bigger shocks down the road, and possibly enemies and groups that make the Governor look – relatively – civilized.

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