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The Walking Dead, Ep. 5.09, “What Happened and What’s Going On” is a very symbolic return

The Walking Dead, Ep. 5.09, “What Happened and What’s Going On” is a very symbolic return
The Walking Dead, Season 5, Episode 9: “What Happened and What’s Going On”
Directed by Greg Nicotero
Written by Scott M. Gimple
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on AMC

The Walking Dead
‘s midseason premiere is all about warning signs and acceptance of death. It’s an episode to bid a heartbreaking goodbye to our big man Tyreese, but mostly it’s about warning signs and how poorly the group has responded to them. Tyreese failed to see the warning signs within the house he was raiding for character Noah, thus he is bitten and lies infected and dying. Now he has to face his demons, which come back to find him and show him why he’s basically been the poor man’s survivor the entire time he’s been on the show. The only reason he’s survived so long is because of his size and strength, but beyond that there isn’t much Tyreese has done beyond mow down a few zombies here and there. Even when he’s stepped up, it has only really been for the good of Sasha or Judith, and his lack of following through has put him in some hot water.

He failed kill the cannibal threatening Judith and in doing so he failed Bob, who paid for Tyreese leaving the cannibal alive. Most of “What Happened and What’s Going On” involves saying goodbye to Tyreese and giving him the truly phenomenal farewell an actor of Chad Coleman’s caliber deserves. It’s probably the lowest we’ll ever see the group, reeling from the loss of Beth and now having to face life without Tyreese, whose own hesitation to bring down Walkers and foes has rendered him sloppy. Watching him get a chunk of his arm bitten off is a terrible blow, and one that leads him into a descent of darkness and fever-soaked horror that brings back milestone characters who have had significant influences on Tyreese.

Seeing Mikah and Lizzie assure Tyreese is like watching the end of the classic The Twilight Zone episode “Nothing in the Dark”, where the big boom Tyresse thought would follow his being bitten is nothing more than a whisper from a few familiar folks. It’s a walk into the gates of redemption where his own self doubt and blame have to materialize once and for all, as if to signify his earning his passage into the after life. There is something about this episode that feels so utterly horrifying, despite its uneven tone. Even the shadow-draped Walker stuck in the abandoned car is rattling. Who the Wolf is remains to be seen, but we know looking at Noah’s old home that something heinous occurred.

Gregory Nicotero has really grown as a director and he shows this with what is a misleading episode from the launching point, typical of The Walking Dead and Robert Kirkman. Not since Darabont has someone so fully embraced and realized the manipulative stance of the comic and why Kirkman loves to tease fans. Nicotero’s directorial work and cinematography are fantastic and his Terence Malick-inspired direction really helps this episode stand out among the other episodes this season.

The opening montage, while completely misleading, is beautifully filmed and the grindhouse effect lends the events a realism that the episode sorely needs and a poetic beauty that the death of Tyreese warrants. Watching him coast through these visions of the Governor, Lizzie, and Mikah is haunting, and we’re pulled back and forth through the grinder wondering if this character will pull through or just completely give in to the fever that will inevitably turn him. Coleman’s performance is mesmerizing in his last go around, and it’s sad seeing him become a victim of the infection.

Over the series, Tyreese has done everything he can to survive and it’s sad to see Michonne at the end of her rope, watching the dead pile on as she desperately tries to salvage a doomed mission. It’s clear that their sanctuary has been corrupted, but by whom is a mystery that’s too frightening for Glenn or Rick to chance. The evidence of what occurred in Noah’s small cul de sac is too harrowing to risk revisiting. There is no more a gut wrenching moment this episode than the silent shot of the group pulling over to the side of the road as Tyreese falls limp in the car. It’s a soul crushing defeat for the group.

Tyreese is a wonderful character and it’s a shame he had to suffer such a cruel death, but his is one of the more spiritual of the group, his hallucinations giving way to a crises of conscience and the assurance that his life was not for nothing since Judith, the cub to his lone wolf, has at least a fighting chance thanks to him. I loved this episode, a very symbolic return with a ton of foreshadowing that will likely come to light very soon.

– Felix Vasquez Jr.