For much of its duration, “Still” understatedly teases the imagination with new possibilities for how The Walking Dead will explore the psyches of its characters. But subtlety goes up in flames in the episode’s final moments, when Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Beth (Emily Kinney) resolve to let go of past pains and torch a house where they spend some time getting drunk, reminiscing, and imagining the lives they wanted rather than those they have. Their decision to burn the place down follows earlier scenes in which Daryl rattles off memories about his painful upbringing and how the run-down dwelling all too closely resembles his childhood home. Accompanying the images of Daryl and Beth setting the building ablaze is a song with a twangy voice bellowing lines such as, “There’s bound to be a skeleton in the closet no matter where you live.” In the end, this on-the-nose combination of image and complimentary song grossly simplifies the dense emotional landscape that the makers of the show survey over the course of the episode.
Until the final sequence, “Still” doesn’t have a locked thematic focus, or at least not one so transparent. It’s a very stripped-down episode that concentrates first on Daryl and Beth’s scavenging techniques to survive before developing into a journey for both of them toward each other by way of mutual lament. Narratively, this is a thin episode, but there’s something refreshing about the fact that it’s not trying too hard in the early segments. The opening scene, in which Daryl and Beth are forced to hide inside a car trunk as troves of walkers stagger by in the stormy night, apart from its evocative sense of claustrophobia, potently articulates the forced intimacy of their situation, even if they feel little for each other. Any remnants of an honest human connection between them has faded almost entirely, and they’re sticking with each other exclusively for survival. In fact, the tension mounting between them seems to originate from a simple mutual acknowledgement that their personalities aren’t compatible. From there, anger festers within both of them.
“Still” intensely focuses on the unspoken-ness of Beth and Daryl’s interactions, resembling a one-act play in some sense, particularly as the symbolically rich narrative plays out. Not all of the dialogue rings true, but the beats are more naturalistic than those of the more plot-heavy episodes of the series. Beth’s desire for alcohol, apart from initiating the journey both characters make toward self-acceptance, is a refreshing change from Glen’s (Steven Yeun) stalwart determination to find Maggie (Lauren Cohan) in last week’s episode. These characters are no longer interested in connecting with others or trying to find meaning in a world largely bereft of it. But, as they learn when they enter the main building on the grounds of an overgrown country club, the social identities and burdens they carry from their previous lives are impossible to escape. Between the vandalized, polo-wearing corpses lying about, one with a sign reading “rich bitch” hanging from her body, and Daryl’s dart-throwing practice, wherein the likenesses of the former club’s most esteemed members are used as targets, the foray into the club house offers a strong taste of a residual class strain, from back when money had more uses than to start a fire.
The episode’s later portion takes Daryl and Beth to the old home that they eventually torch. There, fittingly, they drink moonshine after Daryl’s insistence back at the country club that Beth’s first drink of alcohol, as he says, “ain’t gonna be no peach schnapps.” They playfully wax nostalgic over a drinking game that starts off with a hint of verbal foreplay before rapidly morphing into a nasty expression of their insecurities and demons. Reedus is convincing in his portrayal of the self-loathing in his drunken rage, and even though the late scenes focus more on his character’s problems, Kinney brings shades of resolve and vulnerability to Beth previously unseen on the show. Alas, the dreaded “talkiness” to which the show too often resorts rears its head toward the end, but the most revelatory and moving moment in “Still” arrives not during the moments of dialogue, or when the two decide to burn down the house (though the mutual flipping off gesture does help to soften the impact of the otherwise disappointingly tidy final scene), but instead when Beth innately wraps her arms around Daryl after he breaks down in tears. The pain of the past may never be washed away, and it certainly doesn’t go up in smoke.
For more recaps of The Walking Dead, click here.