TV Review: AMC’s The Walking Dead 5×09, “What Happened And What’s Going On”

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Three months later and things have not gotten any happier on The Walking Dead.  In fact, if it weren’t for the artsy-ness of this mid-season premiere episode, “What Happened and What’s Going On,” I would go as far as to say that this may be the bleakest episode this series has produced.  No, I am not forgetting the time pregnant Lori and everyone’s favorite T-Dogg were killed in the same episode, or the time two little girls had to look at the flowers, or zombie Sophia either.  Those were some dark moments of the series, but this is an episode where Tyreese not only dies a sad death, but is given enough focus to communicate to the audience that there is basically no hope and it is better to be a good person that chose death, rather than continue to live in this zombie apocalypse.  That is some dark stuff in a show that has not presented a lot of optimism in its run, but hey, it can’t rain all the time…right?

That is a question I am going to continue to ponder, as Tyreese’s death is coming right after an episode that already led to the shocking death of lil’ Beth.  Now, it is not unlike this show to feature deaths of major characters, but it does bring me back to that time in season 3, where we lost Lori, T-Dogg, and some lesser characters in quick succession.  It can be a lot to take in and if that keeps happening, sometime I just have to wonder when enough is enough.  To its credit, the way in which Tyreese dies in this episode is much different than some of the other deaths of major characters on this show, so now it comes down to how much one really cares about Tyreese, especially given the kind of information and message we are supposed to be taking away from his death.

Ideally, people are fairly fond of Tyreese.  I certainly think Chad Coleman has done his best with what was given to him (I mean, any actor from The Wire seems to always do their best), but I am also aware that he has not really become much of a favorite.  Compared to Daryl, Carol, or Michonne, Tyreese is more like the sappy dog that you do not want to see harm come to, but would rather have just stay out of the way.  That in mind, this episode’s clever conceit of having him face off against a number of deceased characters, basically vocalizing all of his inner thoughts about this life that is slowly leaving him, was effective enough stylistically, but also depressing as well as a bit repetitive.  Really, this show has done the whole “guilt over not being able to kill” thing a number of times in the past.  Coupling that with the message I have already mentioned about better leaving this life a good man, rather than living in a form of hell is a newish approach in a way, but again, it seems like it is only more effective if you really cared for this character.

It is actually somewhat funny that Bob popped up, as he was a character that I felt received way too much time, when it came to watching him die in an episode, given a real lack of connection, but here he is helping Tyreese move on, along with a singing Beth, little Lizzie and Mika, that jerk Martin, and of course, the Governor.  It is maybe one of the weirder ceremonies one can get for a Walking Dead death scene, but it is the final moments in the van, with the dead characters on the positive side of all of this that actually do keep this episode from really fitting the bill as the bleakest this show has ever been.

But at what cost?  The rest of this episode once again deals with what the next move is for Rick and the gang.  To back up, this episode makes a smart move by skipping past Beth’s funeral (more for the sake of a deceptive opening sequence), as well as avoiding talk of heading to Noah’s old neighborhood, and really just throws us into an already established situation.  Once we get to our main location of the week, while Tyreese and Noah are dealing with things, Rick and Michonne are involved in the subplot of this episode, which amounts to what it is that the people that will continue ‘suffering’ in this zombie apocalypse are supposed to do next.  It is a tricky question that has somehow not become a stale one for this series, given its immense popularity, but as always, Rick wants to keep moving forward.  I imagine more will come from this, as Michonne is really looking to plant her feet down somewhere at this point, rather than continue to be out in the world, moving from place to place, and her character needs more to do in this second half of the season, but for now we get the setup, which is fine.

This episode was written by showrunner Scott Gimple and directed by Greg Nicotero.  It is interesting to watch an episode like this, which essentially does the required things for a premiere episode.  It brings us back into this world and sets a path for things to come.  Based on the outcome, we definitely know we are back with the characters of The Walking Dead, but we also now know that Washington D.C. is once again the goal, even if there is presumably nothing there for anyone.  What makes an episode like this, which features straightforward storytelling ideas, more compelling is the style on display.  The Walking Dead has made it very clear in its run that it has a stylish sensibility and is never going to be subtle enough to not let you know that.  In “What Happened and What’s Going On,” plenty is done to disorient us early on and let it slowly reveal why we are seeing certain images, characters, and locations.  If I have not made it clear, I like that.  I like that The Walking Dead is continuing to find ways to impress the viewer in new ways and I am happy that this is a show wants to keep challenging itself.


“What Happened and What’s Going On” is a good episode of television.  It brought me right back into where we left off in this series and already makes me happy with getting away from the hospital stuff that I was not crazy about.  Gimple and Nicotero may be making use of some old ideas, but they have presentational confidence that does enough to keep a story that is incredibly bleak and depressing engaging enough to stick with and artful enough to admire.  Tyreese is gone and that is all sad and everything too, but now the show once again has a direction and as long as there is some sign of life, it may become a little brighter, while we watch the world of the dead that our heroes are trapped in.

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