‘The Walking Dead’ Season 4 Recap, Episode 12: ‘Still’
Season four of The Walking Dead, AMC’s television adaptation of the Eisner Award-winning Image Comics series launched by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore and now drawn by Charlie Adlard, is well into its second half, and the despair has been turned up to eleven. ComicsAlliance’s John Parker is back again to see who lives, who dies, and who trips at the Oscars again because she's just so awkward and down-to-earth.
As the few remaining survivors continue to fend off the constant threats that relentlessly surround them, a seemingly simple idea drives them to complete an unlikely mission that promises to inspire everyone involved in the operation. That’s what my cable guide says, anyway.
Ever since The Governor ransacked the prison and turned it into a smoking pile of ash, the remaining survivors have been going through rebuilding processes of sorts; soul-searching journeys to find the strength to continue living in a dead world. Naturally, the motivation to go on has so far been family: Rick has Carl to egg him on, Michonne has her surrogate family to save her from isolation and Glenn and Maggie have each other to keep moving and hoping.
“Still” deals with two survivors for whom family is a little trickier. The only blood relation Daryl had was Merle, a one-handed bigot who died trying to do one good thing for his brother; the closest relationship Daryl had in prison was with Carol, and he had already essentially written her off because Rick said so. At the beginning of Season 4, Beth was so hardened by survival that she was unable to even shed a tear for a dead boyfriend, and that was before she got separated from her sister and watched the wisest dad on TV get decapitated by an insane post-apocalyptic cyclops. How could these two beaten-down survivors find hope, out there on their own, with the world burning down around them?
The answer, as it often is, is alcohol.
After one of the tensest and best-looking opening scenes in recent memory – with Daryl and Beth hiding in the trunk of an abandoned car from walkers in frenzy during a thunderstorm – we see that their situation has not improved much since we last saw the pair, and coincidentally, Beth burned that diary page that was about hope. They’re still out in the woods with no shelter, and Daryl’s aim is off, meaning he’s off. After missing some delicious squirrel meat, Daryl is forced to kill a snake and eat it... and I officially vote for that as the most disgusting moment in the four-season history of The Walking Dead. Who needs ipecac when you can watch Daryl “Doesn’t Believe in Hand-Washing” Dixon eat a greasy lump of burnt snake?
Beth, knowing that life is a fourteen-acre garbage fire, decides that she’s never had a drink of alcohol, and now’s the time to do it. Not yet ready to believe that she’ll be reunited with her loved ones, she finds a little thing to live for: her first drink of booze. With a plot that could have easily become a jaunty coming-of-age comedy with only a few tweaks, “Still” gave us the series’ first intense look at Beth, and the first real vulnerability in Daryl. And even though there was less action in “Still” than in an actual still photo, overall the episode worked.
Even though they seem like they have nothing to talk about, as almost complete opposites, Daryl and Beth make good foils for each other. And despite a few clunky scenes, the actors' performances were very natural, and needing a drink is something almost all of us can relate to. “Still” seemed a little more real than the rest of the episodes in the second half; a nice back-and-forth between two characters who had been pretty much shoved to the side this year.
While Beth tries to take her father’s words about hope to heart, Daryl has given in to pessimism and rage. Reverting to Vintage Daryl, he needles at Beth’s needs for protection and for belief while robbing dead country-clubbers of that super-valuable-in-the-apocalypse paper money. I like that the first place TWD’s staff chose to send the two was a country club; while Beth makes guesses at what Daryl did before “the turn,” the dichotomy of a walking loogie in such a hifalutin setting tells us everything we need to know. Daryl’s the kind of guy who steals Lowry’s Seasoning Salt, Beth. He was stealing Lowry’s Seasoning Salt before the apocalypse, he’s stealing Lowry’s Seasoning Salt post-apocalypse, and if the afterlife has barbecues, he’ll be stealing it again.
While in the country club, the duo come across three or four survivors who hanged themselves, died and became walkers, strung up through the drop ceiling to flail for eternity. Even though it only lasts a moment, this is a very significant scene that reflects on both characters. The last time Daryl saw someone who hanged themself and became a walker, he was disgusted at the idea of taking the easy way out. But with all that Daryl has lost – his first real family, a leadership role in the prison community, Carol – that might not be such a bad idea. To Beth, obviously, it’s a reminder of her own weakness, her own inability to have hope, when she nearly committed suicide back in Season 2. Without something to live for, either one of these characters could conceivably string themselves up just to get it over with.
So alcohol works for now. After finding some Peach Schnapps, Beth has a miniature breakdown, probably because that cardigan got ruined, or the death of her family or something. Even though he appears to have gone full-scumbag, robbing corpses, throwing darts and generally being a delinquent, the kinder, gentler Daryl is still there. Smashing the bottle of Schnapps, Daryl forces Beth to snap out of it and keep going. And even though Peach Schnapps is the perfect first drink for a teenage girl, Daryl has a better idea: moonshine. Right. Because they call it white lightning because it goes down so smooth.
Hunkering down in a redneck castle in the woods, Beth and Daryl play a game of “I Never,” and in accordance with the rules of all drinking games, it leads to an emotional outburst and somebody pissing on the carpet. Daryl has his first big emotional scene of the season, screaming at Beth for needling him about his past, for being dependent on him, for nearly killing herself. It all comes from his insecurity of not having a real family before “the turn,” and his fear that without his post-apocalyptic family and his meaning to the community, he’s worthless. Lashing out at Beth, he finally breaks down and cries, joining The Governor and Michonne as the third G.I. Joe character to shed tears this season. In that moment, when it has seemed the whole episode that Beth needed Daryl – it’s the other way around.
Like most good drunk fights, it ends with the two of them getting chumly again and really working through some ****. They take turns divulging what they miss and what they fear, talking of family and trauma and death, and the struggle to maintain the will to keep living despite their twisted, desperate existence that life has become.
We’ve seen those conversations more times than we can count by now – the struggle to maintain the will to keep living despite a twisted desperate existence that life has become is discussed in something like forty-odd episodes. But this is a good version of it. There’s something about these two characters, these two actors put together that works. Even though veerrry little actually happens in the course of forty-eight minutes, it was still an engaging episode that pushed each character into new territory. Daryl has admitted what he’s afraid of; Beth has moved past the weakness that defined her younger self, but doesn’t sever herself from feelings of loss anymore. In nice performances from both actors, Beth and Daryl prop each other up, practically laughing about how ****** everything is while making it clear that they will keep each other going, that they’re strong enough to make it through it all. And in what it guaranteed to become a popular GIF for a few days, Beth smiles like Satan and says they should burn the hillbilly haven to the ground.
So when Beth gets drunk she wants to burn things. She’s that girl (hi, Cassandra!). Besides being a giant red flag, that’s just stupid. They’ve got a nice shelter, and there could be tons of walkers out in the woods, so clearly Daryl is going to put a stop to—oh, he’s cool with it. Okay.
Uuuuhhh…okay. Symbolism is nice, but this ending is way off. A nice episode with strong emotions and good performances turned into a music video, and my girlfriend and I gave each other WTF looks so hard we almost got whiplash. By all means, let Daryl and Beth show their freedom from their fears and their renewed leases on life, but that final scene was tonally jarring. It was like The Walking Dead was hijacked by an indie movie, and Beth was the pixie dream girl who did stuff like destroy her only shelter while surrounded by the walking dead, using liquids with medicinal value as accelerant because she’s just that kooky. The scene is so out-of-place, it just narrowly avoids ruining the episode.
Knowing that zombies can’t resist sweet, delicious fire – see “Inmates” – Daryl and Beth set the shed ablaze and walk off all cool while giving their fears the finger. They have changed, and they have found new strength in each other and themselves. But it’s doubtful they would feel so strong that they could completely abandon their shelter for a symbolic gesture. Nope, it turns out this episode really was a coming-of-age teen comedy, and it was all about the cool walk-off.
Let’s be honest: Daryl doesn’t even know what symbolism is. He’s just a Judd Nelson fan.