[This is a review for The Walking Dead season 5, episode 12. There will be SPOILERS.]
There is a turning point near the end of 'Remember' that delivers a dramatic gut punch and serves to make the episode into something more than a mere rehash of any of the other times The Walking Dead allowed its characters to find sanctuary. The difference is, after arriving in Alexandria to find a sustainable, relatively safe community that seems to genuinely want to welcome the survivors, Rick announces to Carol and Daryl, "We won't get weak. That's not in us anymore. We'll make it work. If they can't make it, then we'll just take this place."
Rick's response is, in part, to assuage the fear voiced by Carol and Carl that, if the group is allowed to enjoy the comforts afforded to them by the community of Alexandria – things like running water, electricity, an unseen pantry that Glenn considers impressive, and, of course, shelter and security – they will become weak. The episode uses this fear to delve into the new politics of the post-zombie apocalypse world. There's a class system of sorts at play, and according to Rick, its hierarchy is determined by one's ability to survive on "the outside." Meaning, despite ostensibly being the "haves" in this situation, the people of Alexandria exist in the lower echelons of the grand scheme of things – at least in the world according to Rick.
That takes The Walking Dead to a potentially interesting place. One that asks a question that goes beyond the usual "can this person survive this particular harrowing situation?" and asks the characters to make a major decision based on the values they've developed, the values that have contributed to their still being alive. And, for the time being, it also establishes an underlying pragmatism that fits right in the show's every-man-for-himself wheelhouse.
What is more surprising about 'Remember', then, is how the episode manages to compose a sketch of the Alexandria inhabitants as quickly and efficiently as it managed to do so with Aaron. Sadly, Aaron is marginalized for the most part, reduced to showing Rick and the others the two houses they can call their own. But by moving him to the side, there is room for developing Alexandria's governing force, Deanna Munroe (Tovah Feldshuh), and Jessie Anderson (Alexandra Breckinridge), the young mother of two with whom Rick shares a surprisingly intimate and personal conversation while she cuts his hair.
The episode makes room for these characters in different but effective ways. Deanna's introduction is swift. There's not a whole lot of beating around the bush, or lengthy explanations of what the rules of Alexandria are. Instead, Rick is tossed immediately into an interview that Deanna apparently uses to assess the potential value of the members of the community, and to assign them jobs, jokingly saying, "The communists won after all."
But Deanna is more than just Alexandria's HR department; she's also the figure of authority, one who carries herself with a certain benign wisdom intended to make her remarks and insight into the newcomers seem somehow patient and profound. Like any new addition to the show, those positive elements hint at something hypothetically threatening lurking below the surface, but it's hard to get a read on Deanna. The fact that she freely admits to finding Daryl a tough nut to crack, and doesn't seem perturbed by his pacing around her office like a caged animal (nor does she comment on the dead opossum hanging from his waist) is a sign she knows how to be diplomatic – an attribute she displays again, when her son Aidan gets into a scuffle with Glenn and she sides with the newcomer.
Deanna is an intriguing figure, if only because she threatens to be another rehash of deeply flawed characters with authority, like the Governor or Dawn Lerner. There's a certain degree of waiting to see how she develops and what direction the show decides to take her in (if she lasts long enough to have a direction) that is part of the intrigue and mystery whenever a new character pops up. But so far, her benevolence is made most compelling by Rick's stipulation that their hosts must prove themselves to his group, not the other way around.
Jessie, on the other hand, is more cut-and-dried. There's clearly some tension and chemistry going on between her and Rick from the get-go. Maybe it's just that Rick answered the door without a shirt on, or that there's something intimate about the way she cut his hair while he talked about the more important beats of his journey so far (like the fact that he's a single father), but it's clear the two might have a relationship down the road. And, naturally, the potential for that relationship comes with the threat of conflict, when Rick is introduced to Jessie's husband, Pete, who seems like a real peach.
When you stop to consider the turnover rate for the average character on The Walking Dead, it's no wonder the series has gotten so good at the "getting to know you" phase. Season 5 has offered a slew of new – and often short-lived – characters that have felt fully fleshed out remarkably quick. From Gavin to Dawn to Noah, and now Deanna and Jessie, the series has been flexing its character-building muscles in convincing fashion over these last 12 episodes. And although these characters are introduced in scenarios that will inevitably go the same way, by offering the audience some variation on the individuals themselves – some of whom, like Rick, have been around from the beginning – the cyclical circumstances are given the chance to say something new.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with 'Forget' @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Gene Page/AMC