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‘The Walking Dead’ Season 4 Recap, Episode 15: ‘Us’ [Spoilers]

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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 following along to see who lives, who dies, and who appears for one scene.

It’s all smiles on The Walking Dead this week, as lovers reunite, nerds run the world, and Daryl learns a fun new game. That’s okay. After last week’s soul-shearing horror, we needed a break.

One of the major annoyances of the second half of Season 4 has been how the stories were split up. While striving to delve deep into some fairly emotional, heavy stuff for 4.5, the creative staff of The Walking Dead devoted entire episodes to single groups of characters, and the timing has been a little wonky. We’ve gone several weeks without seeing Rick, Carl and Michonne; there was a gap of five episodes before we caught up with Carol, Tyreese and the one whose name shall not be spoken; there was an entire episode that could have been called the Beth and Daryl show, and yet the pair played a prominent role in the next episode anyway, serving as the B story.

When you’ve got several groups of characters heading in different directions, it’s got to be difficult to space those stories out properly, but it feels like there were a couple of obvious areas for things to be moved around. Episode 12, “Still,” probably could have involved another group as a B story; Carol and Tyreese could have shown up somewhere between the beginning of the season and “The Grove” to show an escalation of their little problem; Sasha, Bob and Maggie probably could have popped up here and there just to remind us that they were around. “The Grove” certainly needed to focus entirely on Carol’s group, but looking back at “After,” the first episode of the second half, there was clearly much more wiggle room, and an opportunity to space out these stories in a way that kept certain characters more prominent in our minds. Remember, TWD, it’s 2014: everybody has ADD now.

In “Us,” it feels like they’re trying to play catch-up. Compared to the last six episodes, there’s a lot of flipping back and forth between Glenn and Abraham’s group, and Daryl, now with team sexual harassment. And because we’ve seen neither hide nor hair of Rick, Michonne and Carl since episode 4.11, we get caught up with them. For about two minutes, at the beginning of the episode, with no further cuts back to them. It didn’t just feel sloppy, it felt like they had somehow realized their mistake in editing – oh crap we haven’t actually seen our lead character in like a month.

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After the opening catches us up on Glenn’s group, and Daryl, we get a heaping two minutes of Rick, Carl and Michonne on their way to Terminus. And where are they emotionally? Well, Carl and Michonne are keeping each other from losing their minds and turning into monsters. They play a game on the railroad tracks, betting to see who can keep their balance longest, each of them barely holding themselves back from murdering everyone around them while crying floods of malnourished tears. They bet a candy bar, Carl wins but shares because he’s done been raised good, and Rick looks happy. The end. That’s all for them now, come back next week. Now back to Professor Mullet and the Fu Manchu.

Look, I know the second half of the season has been about the power of belief and stuff, but if Eugene told me he knew how to save the world, I’d kick him in the nuts and steal his Pokemon cards. He splits his time evenly between hitting on Tara, a monumental dead end, trying to convince everyone how smart he is, and exerting control over Abraham and the others by taking advantage of their belief in him. How anybody believes him is the question, one that applies to both the characters in the show, and the people watching it. Do any non-comic-reading viewers buy that Bill Hicks’ ugly brother is going to reverse the zombie curse?

For Glenn, belief is finally paying off. After getting Abraham and his group to agree to follow him just through sheer force of will, he’s finally found a sign that Maggie is still out there. Literally, a sign by Maggie, who would logically have to have been alive to make her message to Glenn. (It’s technical, you probably wouldn’t understand, and you’re just going to have to trust me on that.) It’s happy times in the wasteland for a second, and as Glenn runs gleefully toward the camera, and we all get to forget for a second that Carol killed a kid.

Over on Daryl’s side of the story structure, things don’t look so good. First of all, there’s another guy who uses arrows. Technically, it’s a compound bow, not a crossbow, but that’s still kind of Daryl’s thing. So when the guy turns out to be a rabbit-stealing creep who thinks it’s okay to have sex with kids (although Carol did kill one, remember!? Aaaah!), Daryl’s ready to go all Daryl on him before Joe sets things right. Joe’s the guy who looks like he plays in a Waylon Jennings cover band (which I am not knocking), and it’s been apparent from his first appearance that he’s the leader in thissun group.

And I have to say, as far as leadership strategies go, it’s not an awful one. Sure, there’s a lot to be said for Rick’s benign dictatorship and broken pledges of non-involvement, but Joe knows what he has: bad people who need to have just enough rules to stop them from tearing each other apart. They’re not a family, they’re not compatriots – they’re just in a group because they have to be. The number one rule: if you claim something, it’s yours, no take-backs. Literally, all you have to do is say “claimed,” and the other guy has to eat it like a chump. It’s fun, it’s like a game where you probably get killed if you try to say you were invisible or it was opposite day or something. Plus, Joe gets Daryl, sizing him up pretty quickly and breaking him down with the poignant “ain’t nothin’ sadder’n outdoor cat thinks he’s an indoor cat” line, especially since Norman Reedus does kind of look like a cat. Daryl hates it there, and hates what he’s going to become, but we all know this is an environment in which he’s going to thrive.

Back in happytown, Glenn and Abraham’s group comes across a tunnel on the railroad tracks, with a fresh message from Maggie beckoning Glenn inside, despite the faint echoes of the undead within. Abraham won’t risk it because it would endanger Eugene, so Glenn splits off from the group to spelunking. It’s weird, seeing the type of power Eugene has over the bigger, stronger, more capable man. Abraham is willing to do whatever it takes to keep Eugene alive, including sacrificing others. Throughout the episode, Eugene flexes his control over Abraham and Rosita, always seeming to get his way. Whether he’s a genius or not, though, we can tell that Eugene has a moral center, and will look out for his fellow survivors. Still, he’s way too into Tara, who has way too much on her mind even if she weren’t a lesbian.

We’re starting to see some potential for growth in Tara. After being duped by The Governor into assaulting his prison, and surviving despite losing her sister, niece and girlfriend, Tara’s dealing with a lot of survivor’s guilt. On top of that, she knows Glenn could have left her in the cage or just killed her, so throughout the rest of the episode, wherever Glenn goes, Tara goes. It’s an interesting parallel between Abraham and Eugene’s relationship: even though Glenn has Tara’s complete devotion, just as Eugene does of Abraham, he won’t exploit it. But he also won’t turn down the help, especially when he’s walking into a goddamn living nightmare, even though she’s limping like nuts because Abraham only cares about Eugene.

A short while into the tunnel, Glenn and Tara – who continued to talk about hope and stuff even though walkers definitely would have been able to hear the echoes – come across a pretty convenient cave-in that trapped about twenty walkers or so. Climbing up to the top of the pile of rocks, they find that the rest of the tunnel is choked with even more. The whole tunnel sequence is pretty arresting, actually, and the shot of beams of light poking through the holes that had eaten through one walker was pretty cool, even if it was CGI. It’s genuinely one of the scariest sequences of the last few weeks, and it slows Glenn down and five seconds.

Acting without fear, Glenn just checks to see if Maggie is among their number, and figures out a way to get around. But just when you think that walker shadow puppets is going to become the next big party game, Tara, still with that limp, gets her foot caught under a large rock. There’s some kind of leg-injury theme going on with her or something, she just can’t seem to get away from them.

Even though she pleads with Glenn to leave her, he stays with her to fight them off, and just when they’re about to be overwhelmed, automatic gunfire rings out through the tunnel. Maggie, Sasha, and Bob connected with Eugene, Abraham and Rosita off-camera and showed up just in time to give everybody a deep breath of hope. Maggie tells Glenn that she caused the cave-in by shooting at the ceiling, which a) doesn’t seem possible, b) sounds awesome! Where was that scene? You leave the zombie cave-in offscreen? and c) is pointless because he wouldn’t have been able to hear a word she said after all that gunfire.

Sorry, I’m pissing on love, aren’t I? The important thing is that Glenn and Maggie are back together, two groups have become one, they’re heading for Terminus and love reigns supreme.

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Now, remember when I said that Daryl would thrive? That was before I found out he sucks at “claimed.” Daryl gets schooled in claimed, son. It’s almost embarrassing, especially since literally all he has to do is point at something and say “claimed.” Things build to a head with Creepy Bowman guy, with the pedophile planting evidence of unfairness in Daryl’s trash bag. Decades-long feuds have been started for less.

For a moment, it looks like Daryl might get stomped out of existence, but Joe turns the tables on his own guy and punishes the pedophile (sorry to belabor this point, but he said he was a pedophile), for lying. The whole group pounces on him Compton-style, beating him to death. The next morning, somebody else in the group is carrying the bow, and the lifeless body of the guy who made jokes about child sex slaves is dumped in the muck. Daryl thinks of covering him up for a moment, but stops himself, because he’s conflicted now and that’s a pretty easy way to show it.

Now Daryl is drinking someone’s Kool-Aid. Joe makes a lot of sense to Daryl, and he’s starting to get the hang of “claimed” because he called dibs on a turnip or something. Joe explains that although they’re heading for Terminus, it’s not because they want in. They’re after the man who hid in their house and killed one of their own. Although Tony actually killed Lou, Joe is under the misapprehension that it’s Rick they’re after. Within a couple of days with his new group, Daryl is unwittingly already coming into conflict with his old life. Gotta say: I like the story potential of Daryl’s fledgling alliance.

Glenn and Maggie’s group – floating on air with the power of love and belief and holding hands – finally make it to Terminus, a converted train station made into the happiest place on Earth through chain-link fences, a few plants, and a welcoming pregnant lady. They even threw in a righteous tune.

If not for the fact that there’s nobody else around and this weird queasy feeling, it would actually a pretty uplifting ending.

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