The Walking Dead 5×10 ‘Them’: Dead or alive

The Walking Dead 5x10 Cover

It really says something when I’m watching a television show and want to fast forward to get through it.  “Them” is the first The Walking Dead episode in a long, long time where I’ve felt that, at least the first time through the entirety of Season 5.  Even the first half of Season 5’s shakiest episodes, like “Slabtown” or “Coda”, were interesting enough to keep me watching for the runtime.  But “Them” took a couple scenes worth of plot and characterization and stretched it to fit an entire episode.  It takes the focus that made “What Happened and What’s Going On” as great as it was and throws it away in order to focus on the entire cast.  And, as I’ve said before, the quality of the writing just isn’t good enough to handle the focus being on the entire ensemble.

The Walking Dead 5x10-2

Source: AMC

That’s not to say that “Them” is a terrible episode.  The concepts are focused enough.  Everyone is tired from being on the road for so long.  They have to walk the majority of the journey from Richmond to Washington D.C. and they’re running out of food, water, and hope.  Everybody is unraveling from the deaths of Beth and Tyreese.  Every interaction centers around these central ideas and the development of the tone as one of desperation.  And, at the very least, they keep the focus on these ideas.  They are able to sell the journey to Washington D.C., for the most part, as being a brutal one.  They stumble along the road, followed by a horde of walkers, like the dead themselves (not a subtle metaphor, to be sure).

Source: AMC

But the themes and concepts aren’t any more focused than that.  They aren’t intricate enough and they don’t delve any further into what these characters are experiencing.  Maggie is sad about Beth’s death and doesn’t want to talk about it.  Sasha is angry about Tyreese’s death and starts making mistakes.  Daryl doesn’t know how express his feelings for Beth’s death and hurts himself to feel it.  I can explain in one sentence how most of these characters felt and developed over the course of the episode, and while these ideas are interesting, they don’t go any deeper than that.  Sure, “Them” attempts to pair off the characters in order to have them build off of each other (Maggie and Gabriel, Michonne and Sasha, Daryl and Carol), but the dialogue is so clunky and bad that it loops back around to the same idea again and again.  None of these characters feel like people in this episode.  They’re brooding robots, to the point where they almost feel like people in a soap opera.

The Walking Dead 5x10-3

Source: AMC

And part of that is how the best character development comments on things that happened entire seasons ago, referencing the history of a single character and what they’ve been through.  Just look at how “What Happened and What’s Going On” references Tyreese’s entire character history, how we see The Governor, Bob, Mike and Lizzie, Martin, everybody that made Tyreese who he is.  Here, in “Them”, each character is a single problem without anything more behind that.  We can see that Sasha is angry, but aside from that, there’s not a whole lot else there.  And the issue is that there really isn’t that much history to reference.  Sasha could have talked more about Bob.  She could have talked more about the group she was with before Rick.  She could have talked about The Governor.  But that’s about it for her, and even that isn’t referenced.  The writers have a tendency to take a look at a character’s singular problem and create an episode around that instead of figuring out what makes these characters tick and then letting them breathe.

The Walking Dead 5x10-4

Source: AMC

The climax of the episode deals with Rick’s monologue and the group’s stand against the walker horde, and it comes off as more cliché than anything else.  Rick finally gets his “we are the walking dead” speech, and while it’s certainly better than the clichéd mess that it was in the comics, it still came off as a little goofy.  That said, I do like the idea that these people have to shed their living selves in order to survive in a world that doesn’t make space for them.  The mid-season premiere commented on the idea that embracing your living self is only going to get you killed, and “Them” builds off of that assertion by wondering if there is a way to shed that facet of yourself and then pick it up again when there is space for it.  Of course, it’s more complex than that, and that makes Daryl’s comment “We’re not them” all the more important.  To become dead is to lose all that makes you human: love, compassion, decency, pride, emotion, etc.  After Daryl allows himself to feel his loss, he’s unwilling to admit to being “dead”.  Couple that with the group barricading the doors from the dead.  Only together, with the bonds they’ve created as living human people, can they face a world that doesn’t allow for people like them.  It’s cliché, sure, but it’s the best idea the episode has.

Despite some decent scenes and ideas, “Them” is certainly the most boring and frustrating episode of The Walking Dead that we’ve seen in quite some time, not only because the writing is poor, but because the previous episode boasted such quality that it makes “Them” look exponentially worse.  It makes sense that the road is miserable.  It makes sense that the trip to Washington D.C. is .  But The Walking Dead cannot be going back to the same pool to mine the same themes again and again and again unless it something else to say.  And “Them” just doesn’t boast anything new.

So what did you think of “Them”?  Am I being too harsh on it?  Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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