by Thom Yee
5×09: “What Happened and What’s Going On”
Under normal circumstances during a zombie apocalypse, you’d be pretty happy if not thrilled to run across a guy like Tyreese in the midst of your struggles. He’s big, he’s strong, doesn’t seem particularly opinionated; he’ll be good in a fight, he’ll be useful. If there’s one thing your group probably doesn’t need through said apocalypse though, it’s another moral centre, whether it’s the quiet religious guy who slowly goes crazy or the seemingly strong character who basically acts like a freshly neutered Rottweiler until his untimely demise. For a little while, this show actually had both.
So welcome back to our Walking Dead season five coverage, and doesn’t it feel like a lifetime ago that we last met here? We’re just over two full months since the midseason break, but since then I’ve seen a lot of good movies, and that really kind of poisoned the well for how much I possibly would’ve liked another Walking Dead episode. Especially one like “What Happened and What’s Going On”, an episode with a title that hilariously mirrors many of our feelings of bewilderment and bemusement on the series after such a long break.
So, two spoiler alerts:
- Everybody Hates Chris’s Noah’s people are all dead, so no matter where he was headed post-hospital breakout, he’s stuck with us now.
- Tyreese dies.
That second point is the only one that really matters.
For better or worse (almost always worse), The Walking Dead comicbook and television show have become vastly different things, even if they’re more than following the same basic spine of stories and scenarios. What really, really separates the two beyond the specifics (i.e., there is no Daryl or Merle, Dale died much later on, Andrea didn’t suck and is still alive) is that the comicbook is much faster paced. It wouldn’t dare waste an entire issue or episode trying to create the fake pathos of “What Happened”, so when somebody important dies, not only does it hit harder — because it wasn’t so telegraphed and because it didn’t take so long — but there’s also a continuing sense of danger because it doesn’t feel like we have so much time to sit around moping. Without going into the specifics, the major character death in the 100th issue of The Walking Dead (and plotwise, we’re probably at about issue 70 in the show) is one of the only times I’ve ever felt so genuinely and deeply distressed and actually pissed off at a major event in any piece of fiction I’ve seen or read, and it’s a moment that’s far and away superior to anything I’ve ever seen in this show. Something to look forward to, or yet another thing to be done worse than the original?
In speaking of this week’s episode, several of the creators have referenced Terrence Malick as an influence, and if that means gimmicky, highly conscious styling with the intended effect of looking artistic for its own sake, then they’re right. Early on, Tyreese gets bit and we basically spend the rest of the episode in his fevered delusions whereby the story struggles to tell us why Tyreese was right. In real life, I’ve come to think that at the heart of most people, no matter what we think and no matter how badly we may want revenge, is a desire to not kill. It’s a line that most of us instinctively don’t want to cross, which is probably a good thing. But y’know what? This isn’t real life.
I know there’s almost always a desire to maintain a moral centre in most stories, and I know that the best fiction says something important about our non-fictional world, but this is the post-zombie apocalypse, and these are stories that have gone pretty far in the other direction.
I mean, there’s this…
And then your sister does this…
… and that’s all in one episode.
It’s that world that Tyreese lived in, and yes, it’s okay, as all the apparitions of those passed told Tyreese as he moved on from this world. Yes, it’s okay, like I’ve always said, to let go and just die when surrounded by zombies and the end of the world, but as it happens, that also mean you’re going to be one of the first to die and that also means you’re gonna look like a pussy.
Having said all of that, there’s a distinct line between the hatred I felt for Beth and what I felt toward Tyreese. The former was annoying, really, really annoying. The latter was merely ineffective throughout and a shadow of the character that inspired him, and as much as I grew to dislike TV Tyreese, I also didn’t really want to see him tortured to death (e.g., bleeding out from zombie bite, then temporarily abandoned only to be attacked by another zombie and having to choose to be bitten again) while suffering through thematically relevant (and somewhat redundant) hallucinations. Also, if it was me in a similar situation and I was coping with my inevitable death, I would think my thoughts would linger towards my still-living sister and how much I’m sorry to be leaving her behind in such a horrible world. Just a thought.
So goodbye TV version of Tyreese. Though you managed to save Judith (for all that will ever be worth), you were still a pretty big drag all things considered. You and your stupid wool hat in the punishing, hateful Atlanta heat.
And here’s to your far superior comic-book inspiration and a far-superior death.
The Walking Dead “What Happened and What’s Going On” final score: 4.5
Items of Note:
- So that’s three protagonist deaths so far this season. Fingers crossed for a fourth and that’ll be it for Tara.
- Those dismembered corpses must mean something, right? You don’t just cripple zombies without killing them for no reason, right?
- “Daddy, what’s the red stuff dripping onto the picture?”
“Uh, that’s, that’s just, er, raspberry jam.”
“Dad, should I beat people to death with a rock like the man did?