“Still” is an episode that follows along with what I ideally hoped would be a big part of this second half of The Walking Dead’s fourth season, but still felt unsatisfying this time around. I would not say that I disliked this episode, because that is not the case, but the show does not have enough going for it to make the pairing of Beth and Daryl work as well as it could with other characters. I had previously feared we’d be getting an entire episode about these two in “Inmates”, but that turned out not to be the case. Now my fears have been realized and while “Still” is decently acted and has some nice sequences, The Walking Dead has never been great at filler episodes featuring a lot of shouting and melodrama.
As mentioned, “Inmates” previously gave us a taste of what a Beth and Daryl pairing could look like. “Still” is the full-length version of this idea, as we follow the two for the entire episode, with minimal development of any sort of main narrative for the season. The episode has a creative cold opening, as we follow Beth and Daryl into the trunk of a car, while they hide from walkers in their attempt to seek shelter for a night. This sequence works for its use of sound design and close quarters photography to maintain a sense of tension, which the rest of the episode pretty much lacks. Granted, there is not much of a place for danger in “Still” (even with the walkers around), as we come to realize that this is going to be all about Beth and Daryl explaining (and shouting) their feelings, but even with the inevitable time bomb that was Daryl’s emotions, this was never going to feature much in the way of suspenseful moments.
Moving on, the early parts of this episode focus on the familiar visuals – green forests, walker evasion, and camp fires. On a technical level, The Walking Dead rarely falters, but it can get tiresome, which is something that I have been noticing in recent weeks, even though I have really enjoyed the last few episodes, based on their stories and use of characters. Here, we are eventually given a break in the form of two locations that effect the way this episode swings, but watching a couple characters move around walkers in the woods and eat snake meat is losing its luster quickly.
There are a couple takeaways from this early part of the episode, aside from Daryl skinning and eating snakes, as it informs where it will be going. Daryl has basically shut himself down. While he has never been the guy to strike up conversations just for the hell of it, but he has been more open in ways that have gotten pretty much everyone on the show and those who watch the show behind him. It doesn’t hurt that Daryl is frequently given bad ass things to do (remember how he killed that tank in the mid-season finale), but the best part about Daryl has been his consistency. “Chupacabra” aside, Daryl may not get the meatiest plotlines, but he’s generally the least frustrating character on this show. Norman Reedus certainly brings some great talent to a show that features many actors trying hard as well, but he has been given a character that, for whatever reason, does not bounce back and forth in emotions, like a number of others. Obviously recent events have taken a toll on him in ways that were skipped over, following the death of Merle, but this episode is very obvious about detailing that notion.
It makes me wonder what a different pairing would have been like. With the role of Beth, Emily Kinney has not been given a whole lot to do in the history of this show, but I have also never really warmed up to Kinney, compared to the other actors. In this episode, Kinney at least gets a chance to flex her acting muscles a bit, as she makes up half of the duo, but the episode also reminds us that Beth is not really a character that has much definition beyond “Maggie’s lil’ sis, who sings and cut herself that one time”. Due to this, “Still” gets some credit for trying to shade Beth’s persona and add some sort of goal for her in this episode (“Beth Needs Booze”), but later on, as she is basically bullied by a drunken Daryl, I wish a character with more of a connection to Daryl could have been the one with him. What is Beth to Daryl, aside from being one of the many interchangeable characters that could have expressed concerned for him, after Merle died?
Beth eventually gets fed up with Daryl’s inaction and tells him that she wants her first drink. Not quite the request I saw coming, but it puts them on a mission that eventually has them finding their way into a country club. This is the first of two interesting locations this episode and it’s a fairly nasty one. Last week I explained how much I enjoy when the show takes a break from its natural dourness in favor of something a bit more “comic book-y” or even hopeful for a change, but “Still” puts us right back into the gruesomeness that the world of The Walking Dead has to offer. The country club is the type of location that is telling a story, without explicitly saying what happened. Between a horrifying mannequin display, zombies hanged in the back, and the general griminess of the location, the set designers had a field day communicating some bad stuff that previously went down.
Still, with peach schnapps not being a good enough option, according to Daryl, the two move on to the next location. This is where the episode turns into a 2-person play, as Beth and Daryl use the backend of the episode as an excuse to get fed up with each other and the world over a few bottles of moonshine. Never mind the fact that Beth can somehow out drink Daryl, this extended sequence, taking place in a cabin, leads to where the show finds a way to express its main goal, while also missing the mark on effectively nailing its points.
It is nice to hear more about Daryl’s past, which amounts to the most probable bits of new information. While everyone had big guesses for what Daryl used to do, the truth is simple; he was a dirty drifter who tagged along with his jerk of a brother Merle. These reveals are not bad, but all the moonshine drinking takes a turn for the worse when Daryl is set off by Beth’s line of questioning and he begins shouting up a storm. Obviously the alcohol is supposed to be an acceptable trigger, but that does not stop these kinds of scenes from feeling trite and contrived. It is unfortunate, because it is not for a lack of trying and entertaining the idea of drunk Daryl forcing Beth to use a crossbow goes a lot further than watching him yell about what he could have done to save everyone, but melodrama has been an issue for the series since its early days and it continues to take the show away from more nuanced storytelling.
The ending of this episode has me leaning both ways. While one side of me respects the interesting song choice and confidence in the episode’s decision to have its main character flipping the bird as a sign of growth, the other side of me has me wondering how smart it really is for characters to burn down a house in the middle of a wooded area, during a time that is free of emergency services. Obvious symbolism aside, not a very cool move, the more I think about it. With that said, I can only hope these two find their way soon, so we can move on with the main drive of the plotting for the rest of this season as a whole.
Filler is not all that useful to me in a show that is served best by keeping its eye on the ball. Episodes like “Clear” and “18 Miles Out” may exist as episodes featuring a fraction of the cast and isolated stories, but they also featured the more interesting characters on the show and had the backing of purpose that would go on to inform the narrative of its season. I am not sure what I will take away from knowing how sad Beth and Daryl are and how they are now moving on from that. It is the kind of episode that expands on what I could have learned in an episode half as long, let alone handled with the same kind of brevity that was seen in “Inmates”. The argument can be made for the characters involved and how we are seeing new sides of people in a show that should be about character development over zombies, but The Walking Dead is four seasons in at this point; it should have a better handle on which of the humans it really classifies as “important” and find a better way to drive everyone else to a clearer goal for the season. But hey, at least Beth got to have her first drink.
- Zombie Kill of the Week: I originally thought Beth would take the cake with her bottle stabbing, but Daryl’s golfing abilities proved effective and messy (and he ruined Beth’s new clothes!).
- Did anyone else get a Badlands/Bonnie & Clyde vibe from this episode?
- Daryl missed a squirrel with his crossbow! Has Daryl ever missed?
- I already have enough say about Emily Kinney, so I did not want to comment on a Nebraska native’s accent, but it did seem kind of all over the place.
- Daryl’s game of darts was a fun little bit that didn’t need much explanation to go with it.
- That “Rich Bitch” thing really was creepy.
- “I’m afraid of nothin’.”
- “You’re gonna be the last man standing” – The DarOmega Man”
- Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what myself and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on the The Walking Dead TV Podcast.