The Walking Dead, Season 5, Episode 10: “Them”
Directed by Julius Ramsay
Written by Heather Bellson
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on AMC
In “Four Walls and a Roof,” Gareth told Rick and co. “You’ve never really known what it is to starve.” As “Them” opens, we witness Maggie sitting and crying, and sipping her tears from her hand out of pure desperation. The group has seen lows, but now they’re realizing what it is to starve and to really go without anything to fend for and live on. The next scene pictures Daryl digging up grubs and eating them for lunch, completely oblivious to the group, who waits for something to swoop down and save them. Rick is the only individual certain of their abilities, but the time has come where even the militant Abraham is doubting how much further the group can go on.
Now that they’re deciding to make it to Washington to perhaps find some answers about the infection and build a new life, the group comes up short on supplies. Even master hunter Daryl does nothing but walk in to the woods to wait out his time, and return with the bad news that there aren’t any supplies. “Them” is another masterful episode in the season, a picture of the group reaching new bottoms, and still mourning the deaths of Beth and Tyreese. In particular, the writers tackle the reasoning behind Maggie not asking much about Beth, and it falls in line with the same reason why Sasha hesitated to look for Tyreese in season four. She was never sure if she’d find Beth alive, or in some horrific state, and she constantly battled with the reasoning for looking for her.
Plus, hell, she didn’t know where to start. Lauren Cohan and Sonequa Martin are given their chances to shine here, the pair being the focal point for much of the episode. Cohan gets her chance to really flex her ability to come to grips with Beth’s death through many symbolic obstacles over the course of the episode. There’s her conversation with Father Gabriel, his dispensing of the priest collar in the fire, her discovery of the blond walker tied and gagged in the trunk of the lone car, and the ballerina in the music box Carl gives her. There are many scenes of foreshadowing and glimpses at potential future storylines. (I highly doubt the water left on the road was tainted.)
That said, there are moments of pure desperation that keep the feeling exhaustive and the characters at the end of their ropes; the confrontation on the bridge where they have to fight without losing their energy is particularly sad, and of course there’s the confrontation with the wild dogs. Watching the group feast on cooked dogs hearkens back to the scene in “Four Walls and a Roof” where Bob watches the group eat his leg out of sheer starvation. There are myriad scenes that are mesmerizing and fantastic, such as that of the foreground and background mixing of the group and the dead, making the groups feel impossible to distinguish. I also loved the moment, and the ultimate act of the reach for survival where the group has to fend off a herd of the dead from getting in to their only sanctuary as a massive tornado sweeps the countryside.
The episode dabbles in confronting the notion of a God and a spiritual afterlife – the rain pouring down on them, the sunrise, and the music box seem to suggest a higher power, an indication of how anxious the group are to find some beam of light in the darkness. The performances are are top-notch throughout; there’s a real painful sadness and horrible, aching grief that emanates throughout the episode; Cohan in particular pulls off the climactic sequence brilliantly.
Everyone manages to get strong moments in, from Abraham getting drunk on found booze from a lone car to Sasha and Michonne nearly butting heads during the disastrous end of their battle with the walkers. Sasha has become the Andrea from the comics that we should have had all along, and she’s excellent with a sniper rifle. Hopefully, the writers are committing to really fleshing her out as Andrea-by-proxy and keep her around for a while. Martin-Green knows how to play fierce, and her gaze at Michonne when they knock one another down indicates there may be some tension down the road. The direction is superb as usual, as the series has reached a new echelon of existentialism and symbolism that the comics are so fond of hitting on time and time again. The surprise ending lends a ton of winks to the comics-reading portion of the audience, and will very much end on a mysterious note for folks that are new to the mythology.