The Walking Dead 5×12 ‘Remember’: The only thing that matters

The Walking Dead 5x12 Cover

If there’s one thing that helps elevate this season of The Walking Dead above all others, it’s the willingness to have the narrative extend into new territory.  Sure, there have been a couple episodes where the narrative was plodding, where the characterization wasn’t as crisp as it could be, but for the most part, taking the characters out of Georgia and having them do new things is making the show far more interesting than before.  But even more than that, since The Walking Dead is largely an exploration of the status quo and the way that we attempt to adapt (or the way that adaptation strips pieces away from us), pushing the narrative into new places gives us new avenues with which to explore the status quo.

The Walking Dead 5x12-2

Source: AMC

This is why “Remember” is one of the best episodes of the half-season so far (only slightly edged out by “What Happened and What’s Going On”).  In a place that seems safe from the world outside, Rick and Co don’t really know how to exist.  They’re afraid because all that they’ve experienced for a long, long time has been horror and violence.  And even one of the incidents they’ve experienced is enough to send a person into madness.  All of them together would test even the sanest person.  So when Rick goes into Alexandria, when he sees everybody living in peace, no danger of zombies, he doesn’t know how to fit in.  He shaves his beard, has his hair cut, but changing his appearance doesn’t change who he is.  Being out in the wilderness, being attacked by The Governor and the cannibals, has changed him forever.  It’s apparent when, on the way inside, the group hears a slight rustling in the bushes and everybody aims their weapons at it.  They’ve been taught to believe that every sound is potentially lethal, that they could die at any time.

The Walking Dead 5x12-4

Source: AMC

But the episode isn’t just about the inability to adapt to the new Alexandria status quo.  It’s about how a new pair of eyes can instantly see what’s wrong with a new status quo.  Take Glenn, for instance, who sees Aidan nearly get Tara killed over a dispute with a single walker.  Aidan doesn’t understand the wilderness the way Glenn does, even if he thinks he does.  And it makes people weak to live within a safer status quo and not consider the more dangerous status quo outside the walls.  Carl and Carol both comment on that, how they don’t want to become weak because they’re being spoiled when the violent people outside become more violent and deadly.  So how does somebody exist within a status quo they know is flawed and protect themselves from the world beyond?  It’s a great question that the episode constantly grapples with, and it’s a question that Deanna is obviously thinking about as she invites them into her community.  She’s obviously incredibly intelligent and wants other decent, but violent, people around her to keep the community safe.  Because the most intimidating person from Alexandria we saw was Aidan, and he was a fool.

The Walking Dead 5x12-3

Source: AMC

We’re not immediately introduced to a new enemy, as there is more than enough intrigue to mine from having Rick and the group just walk around and meet the residents of Alexandria.  But, at this point, the enemy isn’t just the status quo, it’s the paranoia within Rick and the group.  It’s paranoia that is well-founded, but it could still lead to obliteration of the tense peace that has formed between the people of Alexandria and Rick’s group.  Carol puts up a front for her interview with Deanna, playing herself off as a den mother and a harmless, nurturing woman (which, when I thought back to “No Sanctuary”, made me audibly laugh).  Carl talks about killing his mother, in a display of horrified recollection and blatant intimidation.  Daryl is outwardly hostile, refusing to sit down as he paces back and forth across the room.  And Rick is honest about how the outside truly is: savage, violent, no room for anything other than survival.  He may talk about how everybody has an agenda, but every interview Deanna conducts has somebody playing her with their individual agendas.  At the end of the episode, after she appoints Rick as the constable of her community, he can’t help but wonder what her agenda is as well (because she clearly has one).  So when he tells Daryl and Carol about potentially taking the community if they need to, he’s not entirely wrong in being so paranoid, but we can definitely see how such paranoia could transform him into The Governor.

The Walking Dead 5x12-1

Source: AMC

The Walking Dead has also done a great job characterizing communities in short periods of time, which adds volumes to this episode.  Consider “Slabtown”, which, while not a perfect episode, did a great job showing us what Dawn and her community was about.  Or consider the Governor-centric episodes in Season 4, how they told us a story using people from an entirely new group and was able to draw connections between those characters in such a short period of time.  Here, in “Remember”, Alexandria is brilliantly constructed, as their leader Deanna is immediately characterized as a highly intelligent woman absolutely capable of leading a community.  There are even attempts to characterize other portions of the community.  We see Rick’s positive interactions with Jessie and his negative interactions with her husband.  We also see how Carl is almost completely unable to integrate with the boys his age (they love video games and he feels better when he’s killing zombies), and how he’s interested in a strange girl named Enid.  Enid is portrayed with a great deal of mystery, and the way that “Remember” teases a connection between her and Carl makes me hopeful for Carl’s characterization throughout the rest of the season.  I’ve always asserted that Rick and Carl are the backbone of the show, and any episode that emphasizes both of them gets a thumbs up from me.

“Remember” makes me extremely excited for the rest of the season, as it shows us that there is still a great deal of life left in the original premise.  The Walking Dead is all about how people react to shifts in the status quo, and creating such a massive shift while exploring it with depth will always inject life into the narrative.  We know that Alexandria isn’t going to be safe forever, simply because the premise would crumble as a result.  But I’m hopeful enough that The Walking Dead has a few more tricks up its sleeve.  “Remember” is a reminder that, even when there is sanctuary from the outside world, there’s no sanctuary from what the world does to you.  You have to carry that, no matter how painful it is, for the rest of your days.

So what did you think of “Remember”?  Are you as riveted by it as I am?  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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  • Guillermo

    Frankly, I’m very excited for the prospect of what could happen in the future of the series. The safe zone can prove to be a very fresh experience while still resonating with themes set before, as it was noticeable in this episode.
    One of the main themes I noticed was still felt were a reflection of Still from last season. One of the main things I noticed was how what Deanna said about who you were mattered is basically the complete opposite of what Beth said last season, about how you have to remain who you are now and not who you were.

    You know, after the constant failures we’ve seen when it comes to finding safety, I think we might just be about to see a chance to rebuild civilization. I think that, while it’ll run into serious trouble at some points, unlike the previous locations we’ll actually see it stay up and we might head into a new phase for the series, going beyond just surviving. If that’s where we’re headed, I think it’s a very exciting prospect. You can only repeat communities trying to work and falling so much before you start to lose interest.

    • Michael St. Charles

      Yeah, what I really love about the Alexandria storyline is how it seems like it’s going to show the evolution of a community. I really think that Alexandria is here to stay for quite a while, which is great, because it has so much more potential than the prison. But the show is really highlighting the specific flaws in the viewpoints of each group. The Alexandria residents are too pampered by a lifestyle that completely disregards the danger outside. Rick’s group is too focused on what happens when everything goes to hell. And my guess is that some major conflict (The Wolves?) is going to bring those two perspectives to a head. But instead of that clashing destroying the safe zone, I think we’ll see evolution, which would be really exciting, because it would break that repetitive streak that you’re talking about.

      So yeah, I’m thrilled to see The Walking Dead become actually fun to watch. “Them” REALLY made me nervous because it was such a drag to watch, but “Remember” reminded me how fun the show can be.