A borderline Malickian montage of deathly images and mournful sounds and sayings is certainly an apropos way to open an episode titled “What Happened and What’s Going On?” It’s an artful but unidentified perspective, one that we don’t finally understand fully until that heartbreaker ending. If Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes seemed keen on getting a move on in the wake of Beth’s murder, the happenings at Noah’s (Tyler James Williams) old neighborhood make him scared of stepping foot in a suburban home ever again.
The episode begins with Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) relaying an anecdote about his father’s taste in radio, one that speaks to the difference of facing suffering and horror or looking away. As Rick and a small party come upon Noah’s now zombie-ravaged home, the question primarily is if Noah can get past this latest test of will, seeing his family and neighbors picked apart. At the same time, Rick and Glenn (Steven Yeun) consider whether the choice to execute Dawn made them part and parcel of the horror of the post-zombie world. By the end of this familiar yet still involving discussion, Glenn shows his growing cynicism by remarking that everyone will be food for the living dead eventually.
But then, Glenn’s increasingly dim and gloomy perspective seemed a somewhat paltry element of the episode in relation to the loss of Tyreese, but the show is again barely cloaking a radical emotional mood. Tyreese gets bit about halfway through the episode and instead of turning to the usual rush to save him, with the group’s core members huddled over him, the writers stay with him. The episode becomes a plainspoken vision of coming to terms with death, something that countless shows have treated too lightly or sentimentally. Here, the writers give a surprisingly full and subtle vision of a man grappling with death and then ultimately deciding to give up his life. It’s the most graceful and deeply felt exit by a character from the series thus far.
The radio that Tyreese’s father kept on, the one with all the reports of war and slaughter across the globe, becomes a symbol of Tyreese’s relation to the new world. Many ghosts come to tell Tyreese why he died, but none of them are quite as convincing as the nasally voice on the radio, constantly parsing acts of merciless brutality and general atrocity. If it’s one thing that’s clear by the episode’s end, it’s the fact that no nemesis is quite as formidable as the cold, rational voice in a good man’s head, documenting the barbarism studiously and without much mind for context. That’s what Tyreese wasn’t willing to deal with anymore. Everything possible is done to save him, but the man on the radio is still there, and he’s still talking. Coleman’s studied, sensitive performance brings his character from indignation to a tragic yet inevitable exhaustion, which stems from always being at war with one’s own sensitive humanity. He has a similar, avant-garde-tinged outro, and all the while, Emily Kinney’s Beth sings Jimmy Cliff’s endearing “Struggling Man,” a fine, fitting label for a big man with a heart too big for a bad world.
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