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The Walking Dead - What Happened and What's Going On - Review

The Walking Dead returned with “What Happened and What’s Going On.” The episode was written by showrunner Scott M Gimple and was directed by Greg Nicotero, and as always, these two delivered a powerful episode. It combined a powerful message, terrific performances, and brilliant use of Bear McCreary’s music. We might have wanted a more positive episode or at least one that gave us a chance to catch our breath after losing Beth (Emily Kinney) in the last episode, but that was not to be. The episode does provide a fitting send off for Tyreese (Chad L Coleman).

The episode is shot to reflect the chaos our group of characters find themselves in. We see that they are all struggling for meaning, and it is hard, if not impossible, to find and that’s reflected in the quick scene changes and disjointed action. Even the title reflects this theme. How does one make sense of a world gone mad? How does one even make sense of the events of one’s own life? We get glimpses of things – a bloody door, the picture of a house, Maggie crying, Noah crying, and some of the group running towards abandoned cars. None of these images mean anything until the episode plays out and we see each of them again in turn in their chronological order. We need time to figure out what's happened and what is going on.

The episode begins and ends with a burial. I simply assumed that they were burying Beth, but it seems clear that we begin and end with Tyreese’s burial. In both instances, we hear Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) saying the following: “We look not at what can be seen, but we look at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God. A house made with hands, eternal in the Heavens.” Interestingly, the only difference in the two readings is that at the beginning he says “with hands” and at the end he says “from hands.” Tyreese is visited by a number of people that only he can see.

Seeing plays a huge role in this episode because it represents so much of what Tyreese is. Noah (Tyler James Williams) tries to make Tyreese feel better about what happened at the hospital, reassuring him that the trade was the right thing to do. Tyreese tells him, “it went the way it had to. The way it was always going to.” Tyreese had no expectation that there would be no bloodshed, he simply went with the option that would result in the least. Noah confesses that he’d never wanted to kill someone before – and the implication is before he wanted to kill Dawn.

Tyreese tells Noah that he felt that need to kill before too, but the anger then blinded him to everything else, so he couldn’t face it. The “it” is the horror that life had become, that it had become a kill or be killed world. Just like the trade and not killing Martin (Chris Coy) and forgiving Carol (Melissa McBride), Tyreese has always tried to find the non-violent solution. But is that still possible? He then tells Noah that his “Dad always told Sasha and me that it was our duty as citizens of the world to keep up with the news. There were always those stories on the radio – some horror I couldn’t wrap my head around.” Whether those stories were a thousand miles away or a block away. His father called it “payin’ the high cost of living.” Now, of course, the horror is all around them and completely inescapable. This scene is paralleled with the final scene of Tyreese and Noah on opposite sides of the car in the back seat.

There are several great shots of the group moving into the subdivision and only Tyreese notices the skeleton lying in the grass – no one notices it on the mad dash back to the car. Tyreese is also the only one to take notice of the roadkill or the abandoned grandfather clock. The clock is both a symbol of heritage – grandfather – and time. Only Tyreese is paying attention. Only Tyreese marks the existence of these things thus giving them meaning.

To bear witness has both a legal and a religious connotation. Witnesses in trials give evidence to prove some fact or other. When one bears witness to Christ, it refers to living one’s life as a reflection of what Christ taught. Martyr means a witness, someone who gave their life and in doing so proves the truth of Christ’s teachings. Christians are called to bear witness to good news and to their religious convictions. When Tyreese enters Noah’s brother’s bedroom, he studies the pictures on the wall of the twins, bearing witness to the life that was lost. But is there time for this kind of reflection in this world? This episode would seem to say there isn’t as the twin brother shows up and bites Tyreese.

When Noah is devastated upon discovering that his home is gone, it’s Tyreese who stays with him to comfort him. He tells him, “It’s alright. You’ll be with us now.” Noah won’t be alone. He also tells him about the despair and rage he felt after Karen and how it made him reckless. Of course, Tyreese took his violent killing spree out on those who were already dead. But the point was, he didn’t give up and because he didn’t give up, he was able to save Judith and return her to Rick (Andrew Lincoln). His choosing to live saved a life. In some of the most glaring irony ever, Tyreese tells Noah “this isn’t the end.”

As Tyreese lays dying, he’s visited by a parade of the dead. Interestingly, he’s not visited by Karen, but by those who perhaps tried hardest not to die. It was fantastic to see these actors again, if only briefly, because it also reminds us of what we’ve lost on the show. Martin and the Governor (David Morrissey) taunt Tyreese with his failures. But Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr), Beth (Emily Kinney), Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika (Kyla Kenedy) all give Tyreese permission to step down, to choose rest over vigilance.

Martin tells Tyreese that because Tyreese showed mercy and didn’t kill him, Gareth was able to find the others. But Bob echoes Tyreese’s own words about the trade for Beth: “It went down the way it had to. The way it was always going to.” Bob points out that he was bitten at the food bank – not killed by Gareth – though interestingly, he’s still missing his leg in Tyreese’s hallucination. There is only so much one can do about fate.

The Governor keeps telling Tyreese that “the bill has to be paid. You have to earn your keep.” The Governor goes on to say, “You told me you’d earn your keep. You had no idea what you were talking about, did you? Your eyes were open, but you didn’t want to see. Even though I made you see it. I showed you. But did you adapt? Did you change? That you could sit there in front of a woman who killed someone you loved? And you would forgive her?” Bob interjects here to say, “That’s all there is,” meaning forgiveness. But the Governor says, “This is all there is. This is it.” His meaning is clear too. All there is is violence to survive.

        But Tyreese finally rails against him, declaring, “I didn’t know who I was talking to. I didn’t know what you were. But I know who I am. I know what happened and what’s going on. You didn’t show me shit. You’re dead, and it’s not over, and I forgave her cuz it’s not over. I didn’t turn away. I kept listening to the news so I could do what I could to help. I’m not giving up. People like me. They can live. Ain’t nobody got to die today.”

Yet, we keep losing our “gentle” souls like Hershel, Bob, Dale, and Beth. Beth assures Tyreese, “It’s okay, Tyreese. You gotta know that now.” Bob tells him, “It’s okay that you didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.” Lizzie tells him, “It’s better now” and Mika echoes, “it is.” Of course, the Governor disagrees with them. Tyreese continues to fight. It’s horrific when he’s attacked by another walker and he lets it bite his arm to hold it off long enough to kill it.
As the episode unfolds – “it went the way it had to. The way it was always meant to” – it visually fulfills this statement. We see the bloodied doorway, the picture, the pictured covered in blood, the frenzied run to the truck, and finally the view out the window, a dirty window as Tyreese lies dying. All of these images don’t mean anything until we’ve witnessed them unfolding and are able to understand them in the context of the larger narrative. Tyreese spends the episode trying to make sense of his larger narrative too.

As they flee in the truck, Tyreeses sees Beth is driving – though clearly it’s a good thing she is dead and really isn’t driving because she looks at Tyreese rather than the road the entire time! Tyreese has been listening to the radio (or at least hearing it) throughout the episode and a newscaster has been describing some horrible genocide – possibly Rwanda – but now, Tyreese is ready to stop bearing witness and he says, “turn it off.” Bob asks if he’s sure, but Beth once again says, “It’s ok, Tyreese. You gotta know that now.” Lizzie says, “It isn’t just ok,” and Mika adds, “It’s better now.” Along with the flashes of the recent past, Tyreese also bears witness to the prison and the tracks to Terminus, and Carol shooting Lizzie. We see his sight slowly fade to black as he goes to a peace that is better than fighting the violence.

This seems like a pretty bleak episode, but there is also some hope within the episode. It doesn’t, however, come from Glenn (Steven Yuen), who is at his lowest point ever. When Rick suggests taking Noah home, Glenn is the first to say, “What if it isn’t there?” As they pull up to their destination, we see Glenn snap a CD. He’s bottling up his rage – and this is a perfect symbol for it as music plays such a significant role in the episode. It was also a part of the light within Beth.

In fact, it’s to honor Beth and her hope that drives Rick to want to fulfill her wish to take Noah home. There’s an interesting dichotomy between Rick – and those who have been surviving “out there” and Noah. Noah just wants to drive up to the front gate, but Rick knows better and they go in stealthily. Of course, when they get there it is gone.

Rick tells Glenn that he knew immediately that Dawn hadn’t meant to shoot Beth, but he wanted to kill her anyway. He tells Glenn, he “wondered if it even mattered one way or another. It didn’t have a thing to do with Beth.” But bringing Noah back did have to do with Beth and was a way to give the group a purpose outside of themselves and bare survival.

Glenn tells Rick, “I was thinking about that guy in the container back at Terminus. How I made us stop. After the prison, on my trip, I got Maggie back. Things went okay. Losing Washington. Losing Beth right after finding out she’s alive. I wouldn’t make us stop. And I’d have shot that woman dead.” They are losing their capacity for empathy and compassion. But the fact that they are still talking about it, that they feel guilty and bad about it, shows that there is still hope for them. They are bearing witness to their own actions and their repercussions. However, Glenn later adds that it doesn’t matter who shot Dawn. The implication is that it was inevitable just as the slow slide toward violence is and this echoes what we hear in Tyreese’s story.

Michonne (Danai Gurira) is the most emotional and distraught that I think we’ve ever seen her. She insists “We need to stop. You can be out here too long.” She want to refortify the walls and stay. Rick and Glenn both point out that it’s not a good location because the forest cuts off any sightlines. And Glenn further points out that that is why the prison fell.
But Michonne pushes them. She wants to go to Washington, not because there’s a cure but because Eugene (Josh McDermitt) “did the math and realized Washington was the place where there’d be a chance.” She wants more for them to just survive because clearly that’s not working. “We’re close. What if it’s someplace we could be safe. It’s a possibility. It’s a chance. Instead of just being out here. Instead of just making it. Because right now, this is what making it looks like.” She is referring to the field of legs they’ve just stumbled across and the burned out subdivision, but also to what’s happening to them, their loss of hope and humanity. She goes on to say, “Don’t you want one more day with a chance?” Rick agrees that they should try. That this is the right decision seems to be even further underscored when they find the truck full of the torsos.

The episode uses structure to enhance, echo, and reinforce the themes, and it also makes amazing use of music and sound. The episode begins and ends with the sound of shoveling earth. Are they all being buried by the violence, losing their humanity, becoming the walking dead themselves whether they’ve been bitten or not? In fact, the episode goes to black and all we hear over the closing credits is that sound of shoveling. At the end of the teaser, we see the group decide to take Noah back, then we have flashes of light with no sound other than the shoveling, Mika saying “It’s better now,” and then silence except for the blood dripping on the picture – a symbol of violence covering a symbol of civilization.

While Tyreese waits for help, Beth shows up, playing guitar, and how we are going to miss Emily Kinney’s beautiful voice! Kudos once again to the writers for continuing looping us back to previous episodes. I’m reminded of the discussion about the place of art in this world that Beth has with Edwards in “Slabtown.”
Tyreese sees Lizzie and Mika holding his arm. They are gently and smiling and there is soft music as the only sound. Then we jump to noise and yelling as Rick holds his arm, and Michonne cuts it off. As the group runs back through the forest, Kinney’s voice sings the haunting lyrics, “I’m a struggling man and I gotta move on.” It’s a message for both Tyreese and Rick. The only sound we hear after it fades to black in the truck is music. I was struck by the fact that Rick actually pulls to the side of the road before he stops – it’s a little vestige yet of civilization. We see them all get out of the truck and remove Tyreese’s body, presumably to ensure that he doesn’t turn. Then it’s back to the shovel noise and Gabriel’s speech from the beginning. Just as life goes full circle – dust to dust – so has the episode.

Coleman delivered a terrific performance in an episode worthy of being his swan song. Lincoln, Gurira and Yeun also had powerful performances. The writing and music were really outstanding in this episode as well. Kudos to Nicotero for the attention to detail like the stop sign in the background as Michonne appeals to Rick to do just that, and the shot of just the ‘dead’ part of the dead end sign on the bedroom door as Tyreese talks to the dead, and the enter sign over Lizzie and Mika - to enter peace. It’s hard to lose yet another character, but it keeps the stakes high. What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

About the Author - Lisa Macklem
I do interviews and write articles for the site in addition to reviewing a number of shows, including Supernatural, Arrow, Agents of Shield, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Forever, Defiance, Bitten, Glee, and a few others! Highlights of this past year include covering San Diego Comic Con as press and a set visit to Bitten. When I'm not writing about television shows, I'm often writing about entertainment and media law in my capacity as a legal scholar. I also work in theatre when the opportunity arises. I'm an avid runner and rider, currently training in dressage.