[This is a review for The Walking Dead season 4, episode 13. There will be SPOILERS.]
Since its return from hiatus, The Walking Dead has made several attempts to discuss what the idea of survival means for the core characters lucky (or unlucky, as the case may be) to have survived the Governor's attack on the prison. There's been consistent mention of characters trying to find a life that is more than eking out a mere continued existence, something more than getting by day-to-day, and finding a life that holds more meaning than simply not dying.
In that regard, the show has taken a welcome step back, moved away from pitting the survivors against the callous ideologies of sociopaths like the Governor, and begun to explore the possibility that maybe there is some purpose to The Walking Dead that goes beyond simply waiting to see which character is going to be the next one to die. While it hasn't necessarily gotten there yet, it should be noted that the post-prison storyline has successfully worked in that direction, setting up a narrative in which hastily appointed groups – of largely odd couple pairings – have begun to explore that faint light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, for the time being, that light is called Terminus, and as 'Alone' demonstrates in its final moments, its light has shone bright enough to offer some small hope of reunion for nearly everyone who managed to escape the prison with their lives.
Last week, The Walking Dead took a surprisingly divisive detour to spend some time with Beth and Daryl. It was an admittedly facile, but still unexpectedly upbeat episode that saw the two tracking down Beth's first taste of alcohol and coming away with an opportunity to start fresh. While 'Still' peered into Daryl's (and by extension, the entire series') need for purpose beyond simply drifting or existing, 'Alone' similarly takes to examining the importance of strength in numbers beyond the purpose of fending off walkers, or worse. The episode opens with the relatively unexplored Bob Stookey (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) wandering alone, simply surviving until he happens across Daryl and on a desolate stretch of road. After passing the infamous three questions test administered by Daryl, Bob tells them "it doesn't really matter who you are," because for Bob, solitude is the enemy, and having others beside him is the purpose he's been searching for in the post-zombie world.
Of course, the show doesn't shy away from pointing out that it does matter who someone is, and even though the Governor is dead that doesn't mean the survivors are only going to encounter good people. An unknown assailant with a penchant for slapping religious iconography on his or her car presumably snatches Beth from nearly reenacting all five seasons of Six Feet Under with Daryl, while the jam-scarfing Mr. Dixon winds up in the company of Joe (Jeff Kober), a scruffy-faced tough guy traveling with the same band of ruffians Rick ran afoul of earlier, who apparently go by the rather friendly motto of: "Why hurt yourself when you can hurt other people?"
Such a clear distinction between good and evil is again, a little easy, but it's an easiness that is frankly welcome. The simple, straightforward depiction of people like Joe is far more in The Walking Dead's wheelhouse than, say, conflicted villains wondering where it all went wrong and supposedly resolute leaders talking to ghosts on disconnected prison phones. The show is already dealing with the end of the world; it doesn't necessarily need to be splashing around in the moral gray areas and solemn tones of the apocalypse all of the time. There is room for more; and if the smiling faces of Bob Stookey and Abraham Ford are any indication, then sometimes –even in the face of unremitting danger and death – a little optimism can make the end of the world a little easier to swallow.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with 'The Grove' @9pm on AMC. Check out a sneak peek of the episode below: