The Distance – Aaron’s friendly offer of a new safe and secure community sounds too good to be true and for Rick it most definitely is. Still feeling the scars of Terminus, he casts every possible doubt towards his story even when finally agreeing to go the distance and head to Alexandria. Has Rick become too lost to find a home again?
So this week’s episode boils down to highly tense examination of hope and trust in an environment where such things can kill you faster than a Barry Allen zombie. We’ve seen the group stretched to the limits of paranoia and vigilance in the interests of self preservation but now see them facing the dilemma of going against these core principles for the chance of finally finding a new start in life. Like feral drops trying to accept reluctantly trying to accept being rescued. This plays out as a fascinating balance of power between Rick, Aaron and the rest of the group as the episode progresses. The rasher Rick’s actions grow and the more Aaron is proved to be telling the truth the more Rick becomes the antagonist to the group as it becomes his actions and choices that put them in danger. While this overly cautious persona isn’t a new side to Rick it’s still utilised well here in an uncompromising form as he lays down the old right cross of friendship while Aaron’s mid sales pitch. Rick’s scenes with Michone provide the most rewarding insight into his mindset as he openly admits that even when he agrees go make the drive with Aaron he genuinely doesn’t know if anything he finds will convince him it’s safe enough. Their exchanges really make the ultimate destination payoff worthwhile as we witness their last line of inhibitions his finally shattered with a killer blow of humanity. Although with practically Carol sums Rick’s decisions up best “Even though you were wrong, you’re still right”. That despite where they now find themselves it changes nothing about the realities of their world and the group will still need to that distrusting Rick the prick again someday. It’s curious to imagine how this would have all played out if Aaron found them all pre-Terminus and the very different (though much more boring) episode that would have delivered.
The biggest mud being thrown The Walking Dead’s face since its return has been a lack of action. While there have been some skirmishes in each episode it would be fair to call the majority of them routine walker encounters. This episode seems keen to make up for that the night time road trip disaster produces the best action of these last three episodes and even some genuine peril for several characters. The road kill frenzy harks nicely back to the fire truck “drive through the herd” dilemma earlier this season. The instant the front runners slam the car and sludge up the windshield we immediately feel the danger as Glenn desperately keeps his foot on the gas without any clue what’s out there. The aftermath effects are impressively gruesome as Michone pulls the mangled guts and limbs out of the clogged radiator grill. Yet it’s the venture into the woods that really gets the adrenalin going. The low light levels really amplify the feel isolation genuine danger even if most characters involved are on “the safe list” (Currently I’d say Rick, Carl, Judith, Michone, Daryl and for at least a few episodes due to being plot crucial, Aaron are all un-killable..... the rest are fair game). It also delivers the best effects shot for some time as a walker takes a flare gun to the eye lighting his skull up like the Pumpkin King and earning a consoling high five from Pacific Rim’s Leatherback. A best supporting kill award for Glenn when his head smasher really gets the juice flowing. This is exactly what we want The Walking Dead to deliver; not zombies just chucked in for the sake out it each episode but varied and creative confrontations that permit ever more adaptive and innovative killing techniques.
The most frustrating part of the episode is how little time it has for too many of its characters. Yes this is primarily Rick’s story but considering how many of the show’s episodes tend to be splintered off on fewer individuals, full ensemble offers like these should mean more than having familiar faced non-speaking extras. This was a minor issue last week but here it’s far more noticeable and deteriorating. Especially when those benched got a lot of investment work in the first half of the season (like Carol, Eugene and Tara) making us want to hear more from them. However if does find a few welcome moments to catch up with Rosita and Abraham following their fall out. The pair appears to be reaching at least a middle ground on their way back to being lovers (Eugene approves). Yet as this is The Walking Dead, the focus on reunion just screams kill off bait as the pair develops something worth living for again. Of the two, Abraham seems the most likely as his past hand injury is still there implying a slow developing infection. Or the dream grand departure for his big bad self would be as an introduction to Negan. Even if weakened Abraham’s still the biggest and strongest member of the group so seeing him get batted out of the game at the new character’s hands would immediately paint him as seriously bad news.
The episode struggles more than usual with lighter moments as it tries to keep things tense. The surprise source of all tone breaking smiles is from the captured Aaron as he tries to stay positive and complete his job despite the unwillingness of Rick. His applesauce moment along with meeting his super best friend Eric do well to keep Aaron humanised and likeable, making him seem the reasonable party in comparison to Rick’s actions. We can also hopefully look forward to seeing Friday night’s musical theatre in episodes to come.
The Distance is a transitional episode with clear purpose that it does deliver on. It could maybe have travelled there by a better route but it passes all the important milestones to launch the show into a longer term change of scenery/setting that many have been crying out as all the woods and bordering roads start to look the same. From the comics perspective there’s many directions they could go for their time at the Alexandria Safe Zone. All that remains is to see which way the story will roam.