The Walking Dead introduced a new character in Sunday night's episode, so you know what that means—yet another person to shower with love, warmth and good cheer. Welcome to the crazy dysfunctional family. Right, Rick? How will you greet him? "I'll put a knife in the base of your skull." Cool, cool.
Aside from knives and guns, cynicism is a precious post-Apocalypse weapon. Ergo, Rick and his group have developed a routine for welcoming strangers: harass and/or kill them. This procedure takes place after Maggie and Sasha come across a man named Aaron who's roaming the area. He has "good news." They bring him back to the smelly barn to plead his case: there's a community in Alexandria, and he's willing to shepherd Rick's group to safety.
Rick has heard this pitch before. He's been fooled too many times by the allure of security and lost family members because of it. So with his usual positive demeanor, he greets Aaron as such: Fuck off. Rick would shoot this dude's head off in an instant. He automatically assumes that Aaron is desperate and that his crew is about to bum-rush them because why not. Whole squad on that real shit.
Aaron assures Rick that his people will be safe. He mentions that "the people" are what make it stronger. You'd think Rick would relate to this. Instead, he walks up to Aaron and punches him square in the face.
The other group members, thinking more levelheadedly, as I hope I would, need a moment to decide whether to trust Aaron's story. Hence, the theme of this episode: trust issues. This is an entire series about meeting and deciding whether to trust new people, which becomes clearer whenever a new potential enemy enters the picture. The group has been through this game with the Governor, the Cannibals and the Grady Memorial cops and, to a lesser extent, Tyreese and Noah.
Frankly, it gets repetitive. Rick tells Aaron, "It's hard to trust anybody who smiles after getting punched in the face." Well, Rick, lighten up a little maybe. Or not. I get it. This time, the group is so in need of salvation that they're willing to place their bets on Aaron.
1) Would we go with the new guy?
Yes. Because it all boils down to this question from Michonne: "What if Aaron is telling the truth?" Her suggested strategy is sound. At the least, let's check out his story, see if it holds up, and then go from there. Michonne makes a good point to Rick that they've handled much worse before, though I get that Rick is rightly focused on covering his bases and avoiding becoming tainted meat.
"Your way is dangerous. Mine isn't," he tells Michonne.
Aaron also understands their hesitation. "I know. If I were you, I wouldn't go either." I'm feeling bad for this guy, even as he curiously refers to the group as potential "recruits" and tries to sell them on the idea of safety like he's an insurance salesman. Having not read the comic books, I'm not sure if he has good intentions, so I'm eyeing him with equal skepticism.
While tied up (the rest of the group are out trying to confirm Aaron's story), Aaron informs Rick that he used to work for an NGO delivering supplies to Niger River Delta "when the world was still the world." He tries to rationalize with Rick, saying he knows Rick and the group aren't bad people. Another good point made by Rick: "Just because we're good people doesn't mean we won't kill you."
Right. "Am I still a good person if I kill" is irrelevant at this point. Rick knows he's running with trustworthy individuals and that everyone else is an enemy first.
There's another really brief moment in this episode that speaks volumes about the conditions in here. When the idea of "auditioning" for membership into the community comes up, Aaron says, "I wish there was another word for that. 'Audition' makes it sound like we're some kind of a dance troupe. That's only on Friday nights."
This stupid joke reminded me just how little humor there is on The Walking Dead. There are quips here and there, but this isn't the most enjoyable group of people. It makes sense that cracking jokes is the least of their concerns, but I'm finding myself wishing there was more to laugh about even when there's nothing to laugh about, however unrealistic that might sound. Especially since this show is so psychologically draining. It's the same cycle of enemies and the same questions and decisions to be made. The only way to keep it from being humdrum (like last week's episode) is to keep introducing the possibility of hope.
The question of "why can't these people laugh more" sounds silly because the easy answer is that there's nothing funny. And yet it reminds me of Jon Stewart's first post 9/11 episode of The Daily Show where he talked about the importance of humor during tragedy. Why continue filming anyway? "It's something that, unfortunately, we do for ourselves so that we can drain whatever abscess is in our hearts and move on to the business of making you laugh, which we haven't been able to do very effectively lately," he said. He also mentioned that restoring humor is a sign that you've overcome something. I guess in this case, Rick and the group are never that much relieved about anything to be able to laugh.
2) Would we take Route 16 (as Aaron suggests) or Route 23?
Aaron reveals that he's the one who left bottles of water for them and his Alexandria group has basically been surveying Rick's crew this whole time, including listening in on their conversations. "You're survivors. And you're people," says Aaron. "That is the most important resource in the world." What a statement.
Aaron agrees to drive Rick's group back to the community but wants to take Route 16 because it's already cleared of walkers. I don't know. Sure, let's take Route 23 but WHY AT NIGHT, RICK? Why leave at night? "You're trying to protect your group but you're putting them in danger," says Aaron. It's a blurred line.
Michonne confronts Rick about whether he has ulterior motives for going to the camp. He cites the deception of Woodbury and Terminus. This is playing tricks on the viewer, too. The blind leading the blind.
While they're driving, Michonne asks Aaron the usual: "How many walkers have you killed?" "How many people?" Aaron has only killed two people and it was because they tried to killed him, he says. Glenn barrels into a herd of walkers while driving and now it's a game of kill the walkers. Again, bad idea to be driving at night and eliminate the resource of sight.
Eventually, Aaron—the show's first openly gay character [Edit update: Actually, that's Tara]—meets back up with his partner Eric, they're both happy to see each other alive. And everyone's headed to Alexandria.
This was an episode about the price of showing humanity and trust and the worth of letting a person into your intimate circle, which I can totally relate to except without the Apocalypse conditions. Michonne at one point tells Rick, "The fight's over. You gotta let it go." Except that we know this isn't the series finale so it's not over and he shan't let it go.
Before they get to Alexandria (where they hear the voices of children right outside the gate), we see Rick walk off and hide a gun inside a blender. He can never be too safe. As Carol tells Rick, "Even though you were wrong, you were still right."
Image via amctv.com