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The Walking Dead 4.12 "Still" Review: Letting Go of the Past

    This week’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Still,” once again focused on one group of survivors, giving us a chance to really connect with the characters. The episode focused on Beth (Emily Kinney) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) and both actors delivered outstanding and powerful performances. This episode picks up some of the themes that the show has been concerned with all season. How do you go on in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds and the loss of everyone and everything in your life? Possibly the biggest thing that this episode delivers is a huge part of Daryl’s backstory – something viewers have been speculating about for seasons. I loved this episode, so this review is long. I hope you'll stick with me to the end and share your thoughts.

    The episode was written by Angela Kang and directed by Julius Ramsey. Kang’s last episode was this season’s “Infected.” Ramsey is primarily known as an editor, having served in that capacity on the show since the first season. He also worked on Flash Forward and Battlestar Galactica. This episode is his directorial debut on the show, and he does a brilliant job. The episode is beautifully shot and paced. As for cinematography, I’m thinking specifically of the scene in which they are in the trunk and we get tight close-ups on Beth and Daryl, but just the shadows and noises of the walker herd. 

    This episode, like so many others this season, has a one word title, and that one word resonates in several different ways throughout the episode. In a very literal sense, there is the still where they get the moonshine for Beth’s first drink. Still can also mean a lack of movement. One must be still when there are walkers around so as not to attract them. There is also a stillness to Daryl that is a reflection of his being cut off from his own feelings. In another sense, Beth and Daryl are still here, still alive. In another sense, they are not still the people they used to be even though they still carry their past with them.

    The first scene underscores the desperation of their situation as they are alone at night with only a few arrows and a knife between them and a herd of walkers. They take refuge in the only shelter they can find – the trunk of an abandoned car. The claustrophobia of their situation is enhanced by the tight close-ups of their faces. Anybody else waiting for a walker to fall on the trunk and slam it all the way shut?

    There is little to no talking between them even after the walkers are gone. Daryl has closed himself off. He even walks ahead of Beth. Daryl is in survival mode, and at first it seems Beth is too. They scavenge what they can before moving on to make camp. Beth fortifies it and makes a fire pit, seemingly heeding Hershel’s mantra of ‘you have a job to do.’ Daryl meanwhile gets them something to eat. I have to admit that I don’t find the show generally makes me queasy, but Daryl skinning and eating that snake? Shudders. However, as Daryl is doing what needs doing, we see Beth looking at a ladybug. One is concerned with death while the other has already turned back toward life.

    Beth’s quest to have her first drink may seem trivial and ridiculous in the face of their basic survival, but it’s a highly symbolic moment for her. Beth has actually found the desire to live again, to actually feel something – being drunk in this case. For those fans who were – and still are – freaking out that Beth and Daryl have been thrown together, it should be noted that her quest could have been for another first experience and yet it was not. The choice of a drink is particularly important as it’s something she couldn’t do while Hershel was alive. Drinking is one of the rites of passage from childhood to adulthood – at least in North America – and represents a breaking away from your parents and becoming independent. This is again, especially important when you consider Hershel’s own alcoholism. Beth knows she is playing with fire (pun intended), yet she risks her life for that one goal – of feeling something, of asserting her independence. I loved her flipping Daryl the bird and asking him if he felt anything. She sees he is closed off and is goading him to come back to life. 

    Daryl can’t just let Beth go. He’s appointed himself as her guardian now. This is the thing that has given him purpose and a sense of worth, so even in the face of his despair, he follows her. This season has featured a number of tableaux – places that have clearly experienced some devastating event. The characters happen upon these places, and we as viewers are left to wonder what happened. In this episode, it’s the golf course, but previously it was Joe and Joe Jr’s. In this instance, just like in “After,” there is a significance in the choice of setting that can be drawn from the evidence we’re presented with that resonates with the characters.

    We see walkers hanging from the ceiling and evidence that the golf course had been used as a refuge. The hanging walkers would seem to have been patrons – affluent. Beth continues to look for a drink – much as any golf course member might have before. Daryl continues to scavenge, rifling through people’s belongings, looking for anything useful. If you were wondering about the money – paper starts fire – and of course that’s what he does with it in the end.

    As they move through the clubhouse, they find a woman whose torso has been horrifically attached to the bottom of a mannequin and who has a sign that says “Rich Bitch” around her neck. Beth insists they cover her up while Daryl’s response is why, she’s dead? Beth also shops for some new clothes in the pro shop, tellingly donning the sweater set favored by the female patrons who we are meant to identify Beth with. Clearly, the violence here was directed against the rich, privileged members of the course, likely perpetrated by those like Daryl who were more interested in surviving than societal niceties. Beth is clearly seen as from the segment of society who would have been members of the course.

    Beth’s new clothes are ruined when Daryl takes a stand against the walkers following them and puts a golf club to horrific use. The anger that he displays is the first step in Daryl coming out of his emotional stillness. Beth tells Daryl, “All I wanted to do today was lay down and cry but we don’t get to do that. So beat up on walkers if that makes you feel better but I need to do that.” This echoes Hershel’s mantra that you’ve got a job to do and to focus on that to get you through.

    When they finally reach the bar, Daryl actually toys with the pool table but opts for another parody of darts by using the rich members’ photos as a target rather than the dart board. Beth meanwhile prepares to leave her father and her childhood behind by drinking the only thing she can find – peach schnapps. Daryl is further brought back to life when Beth starts to cry and smashes the bottle of schnapps – thank heavens! Yuck!

    Daryl takes her to a place where she can get a real first drink, no doubt what his own first drink was – moonshine. Beth hesitates to drink because Hershel cautioned her that bad moonshine could make you go blind. I have to admit that that was the first thing I thought as well. Norman responds that there’s nothing worth seeing anymore anyway, underscoring the dark place he is in.

    Daryl doesn’t want to drink, but he tells her to drink lots of water. He’s still looking out for her. Of course, we see once he does start drinking that he loses control. He’s a mean drunk, and he wants to spare Beth from that, but he also doesn’t want to lose the control that has allowed him to keep his despair and guilt locked away.

    The cabin is a stark contrast to the club house – though in this new reality they are both horrific and destroyed, leveling the differences between them. Just as we see the club house as Beth’s natural habitat – where she would have died at the hands of those like Daryl, we see the cabin as Daryl’s natural habitat. Daryl tells Beth it’s exactly like where he grew up.

    Beth mocks Daryl by calling him Mr. Dixon and her chaperone, but she also clearly sees him as an adult – or at least someone older than herself and in the protector role as she saw her father and her older brother Sean, who she mentions later. Beth’s drinking game reveals much that we didn’t know about Daryl, but also once again shines a light on the differences between the two. Daryl isn’t familiar with drinking games. He says he “never needed a game to get lit.” Drinking was simply a way to numb the pain of their existence. It’s a diversion for those in Beth’s social circle, not a necessity. I’m sure that many were concerned that one of the revelations of the game would be that Beth hadn’t had sex before and that the drinking would lower inhibitions.

    The game reveals that Daryl has never been on vacation or even out of Georgia. I have to wonder if this is still true – have they never left the state in their travels? Strictly speaking the show hasn’t, of course. Beth presses him that he’s been camping – what would be a vacation for those in her social circle, but for Daryl that was survival even before the apocalypse – it was to learn how to hunt. It’s one of the things that leads Beth to say that Daryl was made for this life.

    When Beth suggests that Daryl might have been in jail, he finally loses it. He’s hurt that she would think that little of him. And yet, I was still not entirely convinced that Daryl never did end up in jail. After all, Beth said even Hershel ended up in the drunk tank. Beth is still in some ways very innocent.

    Daryl has never wanted to play the “what were you before” game because he’s ashamed of what he was before. Seeing that even without knowing what he was before, Beth’s assumptions are still damning, Daryl explodes from his stillness. He lashes out at Beth, first at the different and more privileged life that she came from, telling her he’d never eaten frozen yogurt or had a pet pony or gotten presents from Santa. The items get tellingly more personal until we get a fuller picture of what a terrible childhood he must have lead. His final declaration of “I never cut my wrists looking for attention” is shocking on two levels. First, it’s probably the most horrible thing he could say to Beth, but there’s also the shocking revelation that his life before the apocalypse was probably bad enough to warrant him wanting to kill himself but that is a luxury he would never have been afforded.

    After attracting a walker, he decides that he’ll teach Beth to shoot the crossbow – the one thing she’d confessed to never doing. In his drunken anger, he does another thing that he know will bother Beth – he tortures the walker rather than simply killing it. This is finally the catalyst that jolts Daryl fully back in touch with his emotions and the alcohol lowers both his and Beth’s defences enough for Beth to get through. She tells him to “Stop acting like you don’t give a crap, like nothing we went through matters. You look at me and just see another dead girl. I survived and you don’t know why.” Beth acknowledges what we’ve all been thinking. There’s no logical reason for her to still be alive. She’s not tough like Maggie, Michonne on or Carol, yet she’s still alive.

    Once again this episode reaches back into past episodes and Beth remembers how Daryl looked when Sophia came out of the barn with the other walkers. Even then she was noticing how Daryl was feeling. She saw what he lost when he realized that his quest to save Sophia had failed. She realizes that Daryl also feels that way about her and the rest of the group.

    This scene was simply brilliantly acted by both Reedus and Kinney. Daryl admits that he feels like a failure for not listening to Michonne and tracking down the Governor and killing him. That he is also consumed with guilt for not having been able to save Hershel. Daryl’s biggest fear is that everyone is dead and he won’t even be able to save Beth. He’s tried to cut himself off even from her, but he can’t. It’s not who he is. Beth solidifies her role as comforter – and that is an important role – when she embraces Daryl. Once again, there is nothing overtly romantic about this gesture, it’s carefully blocked as she embraces him, somewhat awkwardly, from behind.

    The final scene is also brilliantly shot and acted. Once again, they face each other in the dark – as they did in the trunk at the beginning. But instead of the suffocating claustrophobia of the trunk, they are on the porch in the open air. They are also somewhere between the pastoral golf course and the inside of the moonshine cabin. Norman acknowledges that he’s a dick when he drinks and reveals what he was before the apocalypse.

    He tells Beth that he was “just some redneck asshole with a bigger asshole for a brother” and they drifted around with no clear purpose and clearly on the wrong side of the law. But even the horrific story he tells about almost getting shot, underscores the devotion that actually existed between the brothers. Here Beth and Daryl have common ground – family. Beth recognizes that Daryl misses Merle. She confesses that she misses her family and had really hoped that Hershel would be able to live to a ripe old age and die quietly – die in the stillness of peace. But that stillness is gone.

    Beth wishes that she could change, to not hope for things that are no longer possible. Daryl assures her that she has changed. Her determination to live proves that. Yet, in many ways she is also incredibly realistic. She tells Daryl that he’s going to be the last man standing and that she will be gone. She tells him that he was meant for this world. Daryl tells her that he’s just used to it being ugly, and the episode has made it very clear why Daryl’s previous life prepared him. But there’s also something they both bring that gives them the edge to survive. Both Beth and Daryl still revere life and the lives of others. Beth may need Daryl to physically survive, but Daryl needs Beth to spiritually survive. She gives him purpose.

    Beth’s suggestion to burn down the cabin is her ultimate and complete rejection of his past and all it represents. She tells him “You’ve got to stay who you are, not who you were.” It’s also telling that Daryl uses the money he found at the campfire in combination with the moonshine they found at the cabin to burn it down – something important to both their pasts.

    If you know Norman Reedus, you will know that the one fingered salute is his trademark. It’s an affirmation of a life – a screw you to the past and to death here at the end of the episode. Just as Beth flipped Daryl off at the beginning of the episode, saying screw your stillness, your inability to move on, to continue to fight, they both affirm those things here at the end of the episode. There is a nice close up of each as they move away from the walkers coming towards the fire. Beth’s face is serene and determined, but a small smile plays across Daryl’s face.

    I thought this was simply one of the best episodes the show has done. What did you think of the episode? Were you surprised at Daryl’s revelations? Were you satisfied by them? Do you think Beth will be the next character to die? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!