Five and a half seasons in, The Walking Dead shows us something new in its visual style and in handling the death of another major character in as many episodes. Described by Director Greg Nicotero as Terrence Malick-esque, the mid-season premiere in certain scenes had a hallucinogenic, dream-like quality with a character straddling the afterlife and the living world. “What Happened and What’s Going on” is a confident episode that marries an introspective reflection from a person facing death and the survival horror thrills the show is known for.
Everything after the break will contain full spoilers and a discussion of The Walking Dead Season 5 Episode 9.
That Opening & Ending Montage
The first two minutes of the mid-season premiere were made available earlier in the week and I admit I had some reservations how it would fit visually and tonally into the episode. Having seen it within it’s proper context, essentially book ending the episode, it turned out to be an effective device and a nice piece of misdirection.
The montage is a super efficient way of dealing with Beth’s death without the characters having to talk about it. Pretty clever sleight of hand how it is actually the beginning of an hour long farewell to Tyreese. By placing the montage in the opening it could be viewed like a predetermined flash forward, referencing one of Tyreese’s internal conflicts expressed in his fevered dream: Did all of Tyreese’s choices lead up to this particular event? Or is Tyreese powerless to do anything other than what he actually does?
It’s Better Now
The Walking Dead is no stranger to handling the death of its characters, but the depiction of Tyreeses’s death is the show at it’s most artistic and introspective. Usually, it’s the survivors reacting and coping with their friend’s demise. Here, the perspective is from the mind of the dying character.
Tyreese is not as problematic of a character as Andrea but he certainly is a conflicted one. For the character himself and for viewers, it hasn’t always been easy to reconcile the choices he has made. He’s a bit of paradox in that he’s a gentle, merciful soul in the body of a beast.
In contrast to what Tyreese would do, there’s a brief scene where both Rick and Glenn admit they’d blow the brains out of Officer Dawn after she killed Beth, if Daryl didn’t do it first. As Chad Coleman mentioned on the Talking Dead, for Tyreese it’s not a question of ‘To Kill Or Not To Kill’, it’s about placing value on human life and under the right circumstances he’d kill to protect the people he loves.
Turn It Off
The old radio news broadcasts, the kind Tyreese used to listen to as a kid, brought up the value of staying in tune with the world and reminded us of the horrors the group have committed in the name of survival. As morally grounded and physically capable as Tyreese is, he was not in tune with this post-apocalyptic world and he no longer had the will to endure it if these are the kind of choices he has to make. This is a fitting of an end for Tyreese as we could have hoped for. Writer Scott Gimple did a good job of putting in perspective the highly questionable choices Tyreese has made and at the end of the day Tyreese had to answer for them.
They say we all die alone and that our life flashes before our eyes at the moment of death. The former is not true in Tyreese’s case. It was a poignant scene when Tyreese is forced to confront his guilt and regrets in form of the Governor and Martin because I think most of us wonder when it’s our turn to knock on death’s door, what will we wish we have done differently in our lives? Basically second guessing ourselves when all we could do in that moment is to try to make peace with it all. I thought it was comforting seeing Tyreese’s deceased friends and familiar faces in the car, a good way as any to briefly bring back characters that have died on the show.
This was Tyreese’s episode yet the genesis of it was in honor of Beth. Rick decided to go to Noah’s home in the first place because it was what Beth wanted to do. As Michonne pointed out and Rick later agreed to, “living out there” is forging the survivors into something they’d rather not be. Beyond the basic need for food and shelter, the group really needs a place to call home. But Shirewilt Estates is not that place. It’s pretty evident that something suspicious happened. For starters, how did the lower half of those walkers’ bodies end up near the forest perimeter while their upper torso ended up in the car that Rick drove into? Who attacked Shirewilt Estates and how soon will it be until Rick’s group crosses path with them?
“What Happened and What’s Going on” is a good, solid start to the final half of Season 5 but not an immediate personal favorite. This may be an episode that gets better over time after allowing everything to sink in. From the moment Tyreese’s arm got bit I sensed his number was up, so the last minute amputation didn’t get me thinking “he might just make it”. However, it wasn’t a concern for me that there has been two major deaths in a row. The long break in between episodes gave me time to process Beth’s death, the good and the bad parts of how it was handled. Though some of the repetitive dialogue like “Pay The Bill” and “It went the way it had to” was driven a bit hard, this episode had something to say about Tyreese and his place in this world, making for one of the better handled deaths on the show.
What do you think about the way Tyreese was characterized on the show? What do you like or dislike about the mid-season premiere?