[This is a review of The Walking Dead season 5, episode 13. There will be SPOILERS.]
Despite it being what almost every character wants, sanctuary has historically proven to be a problem for The Walking Dead. Lengthy stays at both Hershel's farm and the prison were, creatively speaking, problematic for the series, as the restraints of the show's budget kept the characters from moving around - which was, not coincidentally, the element that did the most to keep things interesting. What is striking about 'Forget', then, is the way, after just two episodes of watching Rick and the rest of the group adjust their expectations about Alexandria and the people therein, the sanctuary has begun to feel as though it has the necessary components to not only sustain the characters for the foreseeable future, but the storyline as well.
Now that the preliminary phase of the survivors becoming Alexandrians is over, 'Forget' sees the first phase of Rick, Carol, and Daryl's plan against the neighborly folks put into action. They're just going to steal a few guns, to keep on hand should things escalate to the point that they have to take the place by force. And sure, there's no actual plan in place just yet, but the trio are definitely thinking about it - which, for the time being, is enough to generate considerable tension.
That tension is what drives the majority of what is a surprisingly entertaining and energetic episode. The question of when or if things are going to go bad helps propel the plot forward and continues to drive certain members of Rick's crew, like Carol and Sasha (who gets a bit of tough love from the increasingly charismatic Deanna), but for the most part, it's the surreptitious actions of the three against residents of the sanctuary that really succeed in keeping things going.
There is a nice, fundamental division in the worldview of Deanna and her Alexandrians and Rick and his people. It works to establish motivation in a way that's a surprising but exciting turn for the series that also underlines one of the oft-repeated notions of the episode: the longer a person spends on the outside, the more he or she becomes a product of that environment.
It's a brutal world outside the confines of Alexandria, and prolonged exposure to that brutality alters the way a person thinks. As last week's 'Remember' made perfectly clear, surviving outside for so long made Rick's group stronger, more capable of surviving than the people locked behind the metal walls. But that which made Rick's people stronger, also made them defensive, paranoid, and on the verge of becoming that which they found themselves fighting against so many times. They have, to paraphrase another work: survived long enough to become the villains.
Thanks to its post-apocalyptic concept, there have been precious few opportunities for The Walking Dead to place its characters in an atmosphere where socializing for the sake of conversation, food, and an adult beverage or two is an option. As a result, the party thrown by Deanna becomes a new opportunity for the series to explore not only the differences of two groups of survivors, but also the motivations of the few that might one day see them at odds.
It is a chance to see Rick and Carol behaving in a manner that is completely removed from who they once were. While holding what very well may be the product of Shane and Lori's brief affair, Rick puts the moves on another man's wife. And sure, Pete was kind of a jerk to Rick last week, but as the episode ends, there's a foreboding shot of Rick reaching for his stolen gun, as Jessie and her husband walk by. The implication being: Rick may just have it in his head the people of Alexandria are weak enough that everything is his for the taking.
Meanwhile, Carol strikes fear into the heart of a young, cookie-seeking boy by telling him all the nasty things that will happen to him if he doesn't keep his mouth shut about the guns he saw her lift. The moment is another memorable one for Melissa McBride, as she continues to make season 5 a highlight reel for Carol. But more than seeing how quickly Carol can shift from the meek woman she used to be, to the strong, dangerously pragmatic woman she is now, the threatening exchange offers The Walking Dead a chance to lighten up, and use a moment with the potential to be tonally incongruous, as a means to get some laughs. And if season 5 has shown anything, it's that (aside from the first two episodes of this half-season) the show is more cognizant of the ways in which certain shifts in tone can make a relatively simple episode seem far more meaningful than if any such shift hadn't occurred.
Near the end, there's another shift, but this one comes from one of the characters. After spending the day with Aaron, tracking down a now-wild horse that eventually finds itself cornered and munched on by the undead, Daryl finds himself easing up on his own wild stallion-like nature. The metaphor may be a bit thin, but it ultimately leads to the sense that Rick, Carol, and Daryl are all moving in different directions. The distinction being that they are at least moving, whereas Michonne seems to contemplate easing into the life in Alexandria more fully, by turning her signature weapon into a decorative piece.
In the end, 'Forget' manages to build tension within two sets of groups, while still dropping hints that outside forces are a factor (that zombie with the "W" etched into his forehead can't be a good thing). Moreover, the episode does all of this while maintaining a sense of levity and exploration of character motivation that feels fresh and entertaining. It's the kind of thing that makes you hope the stay in Alexandria will last for a while.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with 'Spend' @9/8c on AMC. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Gene Page/AMC