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Okay, so, two problems with this whole week-by-week thing: one, life is periodically A Right Bastard, and two, I barely even know what to say about the last two episodes. Like I said for 5.03, after the 5.04 uptick, these here episodes are the lean pickin's for theme-tracking, since a huge amount has already been established and now it's mostly about driving it forward, and setting things up for the mid season clash of threads and consequences. And, as it turns out, unpacking stuff so front-and-centre that there's little to do beyond twidling thumbs, or *chinhand*ing and going uh-huh, uh-huh, uh.... Noooo. You did? Oh rly? Gosh! Uh-huh, uh-huh.... But since life required I let things slide (Abraham would not be proud, I bet), I do at least have two episodes to pick through, so let's get with the pickin' and some make-work.



Wider season/series perspective:
Soooo. The path and the job – pressing forward and knowing when to turn back, in order to achieve your goals. Also, what those goals are and how correct your information is that you are basing them on, not to mention what is driving you to it – why (WHY?) you're doing it in the first place. That was all ... very firmly explored, well done, there, show. (Contra-theme: not only does Daryl know when to turn back, but when the way both forward and back is blocked, he knows how to find a hole and fall sideways.) We also had *clear* and *path* brought into conjunction, so add that in to *marking* the trail. THE ROAD FIGHTS BACK, THE PLAN GETS JACKED. EVERY DIRECTION IS A QUESTION. (Abey baby. You're almost as good as Gareth, you big murderous ginger mustachioed lug. C'mere! *playful bodyslam*)


Review and reassessment:
— Three big sighs of relief: the "cure" is nothing but noise (check off those squeaky empty water jugs slung over Abraham's shoulders as he talked about the mission last season – the tank is empty, Abraham! Stop trying to "Ford" forward, Abraham!); Glenn has made it, at least until the mid-season finale, I'm gonna guess; and Carol has very likely used up another of her nine lives but almost certainly not her last one.

— Very interesting how deep they've taken Carol, that even though she has demonstrated conclusively that capacity that she has learned to kill in order to save, the only part of it she can truly *see* anymore is the killing (what up, black eye), the damnation of the act, that the loss of humanity bound up in what she does (and can't, herself, stop doing – this might be the crux of it for her, consciously or not) is the identity, trumping any identity derived from the lives she's saved. (Contrast Eugene and Abraham's attempts at self-justifications.)

— Because of discussion, I circled right away from my first instinct of what was up with the Beth-rescue situation, and then eventually circled right back around again, which turned out to be pretty close on (while the Trojan Carol incursion wasn't done deliberately, it'll very likely still function that way, and still comes about because she still can't quite stop pushing too far forward, etc). That kind of discussion and circling around alternate avenues is one of my favourite parts; sure, I lucked into the right direction in my insta-reaction, but that's all it would have been. What makes a good read of the direction is looking into the factors, the other possibilities they raise, and understanding the why of the read – why choose this way, not that way? What shape gives the best fit to all known elements, and retains as much flexibility as possible to allow for the hidden/unknown elements? The insight, and lay of the land – both of self and story – are invaluable, always strengthening your ability to evaluate things correctly. I'm kind of tickled that this happened to be the season they pulled that specific path-finding process into the thematic spotlight; for myself, I'm finding a bit of a *sleepover & reciprocal hair-braiding* vibe in it all (and sleepover reciprocal hair-braiding is THE BEST).

— In the course of checking something, I discovered that I'd misremembered Daryl getting the cut on his cheek (corresponding with Beth's) from the fight with Merle; it actually happens in between when we see him covering Rick&co's escape from Woodbury and being hauled into the arena, adding another little layer of over-connecting. Woo over-connecting!

— We can now take it, I suppose, that the answer to Abraham's question of how the hell Eugene managed to kill their near-indestructible army truck was "very careful aiming"? And I was wondering if we'd get a radiator-hose call-back; I guess sabotaging the fuel line was close enough (though in fairness to Dale, at least his sabotage attempts never set things on fire).

— Working through the differences between parallels and matched-pairs (even if the distinctions I'm making are actually just in my own head, which is a real possibility), at this point I feel like Bob and Glenn more had parallels going on rather than being a matched-pair (Abe and Gabe are practically mirror-twins by now, though – Gabriel making a lie of what he believes by refusing to act on it, Abraham bullheadedly refusing not to act on the lie he believes in). Not that this gets Glenn off the chopping block; I still think he's for it. But we will see!


Digging into the nitty gritty:
I really, honestly, don't know what to say about these episodes. HEY EVERYBODY, LET'S JUST TALK ALL ABOUT SAMSON! HEY EVERYBODY, LET'S JUST TALK ALL ABOUT THE HIDDEN WAR AND STUNTED LIFE OF ABUSE! IDENTITY! THEMES! LOLOLOL. Well, that's great, show, but it does rather leave me with not a lot else to offer (rude.) (but also kind of amazing and adorable and I love it) (and also what it's done all along, so I don't actually have a leg to stand on) (motif!). So I'm kind of left with random observations, general musings and more Apocalypse Philosophy. Which is actually just Humanity And Life In Sharp Relief Philosophy, so. Here we go!

Sooooo glad that they're not going to be tweaking the overarching paradigm/theme of "human condition in the inevitable face of death" with some ass-pull "cure". (I kind of expected it, to the point of even assuming it, but that they dispensed with it so quickly is just ... this kind of track record is what makes me genuinely trust these writers, and willing to just follow their lead and their story wherever they take us.) So, so, SO glad they're teasing out and examining the power that people can accumulate by plausibly claiming to know the way to salvation, harnessing, herding, trading on people's desire for it, for the very legitimate need for more than just the long, hard, painful, meaningless slog of being merely dead-people-walking. And the reasons why people will unquestioningly pursue and even give themselves over to unexamined, untested claims (seeing people "do stuff" is not, on its own, necessarily sufficient proof – "signs" still always need to be correctly read to navigate by) running from the things in themselves that they can't or won't face even more than they are following in the footsteps of the one who claims to know the way.

The journey to the wisdom of knowing who to trust, whose leadership is "tried and true", is a long and, unless you are extremely fortunate, terribly costly one. (To wit: it took four very solid seasons, and some fairly in-depth examination, for me to put my faith unreservedly in the storytelling of this show, to give it my confidence and trust to take me wherever it's going to go. To give an idea of how rare that is, I've only ever done that with a grand total of one other show; and only two others have I trusted to the extent of them clearly knowing exactly what the hell they're doing and how to do it.) The fulcrum of this story, Rick, is blazing the path forward – clearing it as much as he is able – taking upon himself the great cost of trying and proving true, and necessary, every single step for all who follow in them. Thus, Carl – for whose sake Rick is spending himself on this – is learning that it is not a lack of mistakes, or lack of cost in life (and humanity, but that is less evident to him so far), that makes Rick a trustworthy man to follow. The price is always inevitable, no matter what steps you take (or refuse to take), even though the pain of it is easy to misread as a failure of leadership, because we want to believe that someone can cure the loss, destruction, and death that is the price of life. Rick can't change that; but as a leader will always take on himself the price of taking the step first. He will never abuse his authority as leader to ask anyone to pay the price for him.

Thus, Glenn, narratively and thematically you are not in any position to "clear the path" for Rick; added to your insistence that the Terminus job was finished, that's twice you've been utterly wrong about the job/path you're on. (Contra-theme: Daryl was taught to track and hunt but could never rely on anyone to protect or provide for him as he clearly sees Rick does for his people, whose faith in Rick is not shaken by the ugly damage life deals out because Daryl grew up uninsulated from the reality of that, Rick has honour. He frequently scouts the way forward and has Rick's back, trusted to read the signs correctly and provide reliable intel – and follow-through – for Rick's decisions about the question of direction.)

Still enjoying the inversion and swip-swapping of biblical themes (even if they're getting just a little bit VERY PUSHY about it); Samson's uncut hair being the sign of dedication to God, a visual identification to all who saw it that God was the source of his strength and capacity to deliver his people from their oppressors; Abraham's military jarhead cut (needing a trim from the sexy, and well-sexed, but utterly loyal Rosita to maintain) visibly signalling that his strength was in his clinging to that training, discipline, and total blind commitment to The Mission. Delilah sexed Samson's secret out of him; the friendship and support of two women, both completely sexually unavailable, were what created the context for Eugene's confession (given the catalyst of Gabriel's own confession – confessions do have a way of becoming chain reactions – and, more pressingly, the certainty of his death at the hands of Abraham's refusal to abandon their path forward). Once the source of his strength was cut, the Philistines blinded Samson for his trouble (read: total arrogant refusal to learn from his idiotic mistakes when it comes to women; what up, eye-injury motif), and his last act was to pray for and be granted his strength back to take out the two central supports (what up, legs to stand on, and Abraham sinking to his knees) of the temple he was in, killing himself and more of his and his people's enemies than he had in the course of his life. (What up, self-sacrifice, and someone's death being more useful in practical terms than their life.)

And, yadda yadda, Eugene seeking to overwrite his poor survival value/identity by a lie, and Abraham seeking to overwrite his poor humanity value/identity by that same lie. Meanwhile, Carol's experienced a burning away of various identities/value, until she feels empty and not knowing how to start over, while Daryl's burning away of various identites/value has merely cleared the way for his growth from boy to man. He is able to halt, just enough, Carol's overrevving and driving forward by insisting that she doesn't have to kill the mother and child walkers (taking it on himself, carrying the little girl's body out to burn, to contrast with Carol earlier refusing to let him help carry her water – they are alive, the walkers are the ones who are ashes, to ashes (pardon our dust, to dust)). This allows Carol to later pause enough to confess that she doesn't feel like she can save anyone anymore. This, in turn, gives Daryl context to understand his choices with Noah: whether to express Carol's value through justice – exacting punishment for nearly killing her – or through mercy – meeting her need to know it's still possible to save people. And, despite his own strong drive to deal punishment for endangering one he loves (and the dark lure beyond that of Joe's voice of why suffer when you can make other people suffer instead), he is able to make the choice to turn back from that, take the higher path of mercy and restoration (which, in itself, is only possible in the context of justice already met; a judgement of punishment needs to be passed, recognising the wrong done, the price that damage and violation has taken, before that sentence can be forgiven – whether that's in a legal or formal context, or the interpersonal, organic consequences of losing trust and relationship). And in his letting-go and taking-hold he ends up saving the in-depth intel – a tried-and-true guide – the means to save two people he loves.

Speaking of Philistines, I really enjoyed the bookstore locale, showing all that storehouse of knowledge is only as good as its present usefulness (what up, Dr Steve and all your books and research), the shelves serving as fortification, the pages as kindling, the binding as surgical thread (what up, thin cuts that just won't close and blood on knuckles and murderous out-of-control strength motif – meanwhile, next episode, Daryl is contra-themedly picking up a book on abuse recovery, and slamming Noah into an empty bookcase, bringing it crashing down to trap him). For future reference, Abraham, a good shepherd knows when to stop at a good watering hole and let his flock rest and recover, not to mention when to turn around and take them on a less dangerous and foolhardy path. So, if that's still a career you're contemplating, maybe get your issues sorted out beforehand? If you don't, you know. Die first. (Although it is true that your water source in this case was a toilet cistern. Aww, Eugene, are your claims for restoring life – not to put too fine a point on it – completely full of shit? Don't worry, the other career path Abraham's contemplating is plumber. I'm sure his unclogging attempt on you will help matters right out, there. ... ... Abraham. Dude. Was it all just a ~pipe dream~?... SOMEBODY STOP ME. SEND HELP.)

And, Philistine-and-Dr-Steve related, we also get another water-adjacent conversation over a piece of art. Dr Steve has already established that art no longer has survival value (smiles a bittersweet that's nice, child smile at the idea of Beth's singing, while personally drawing meaning from the example of Peter's betrayal of Jesus); Daryl's contempt is, of course, nothing to do with life-and-death survival at all, but that the painting has no meaning (flat-out asked Beth to keep singing, rescinds his death sentence on Noah). Unlike the Caravaggio, the piece of abstract modern art has no history or story and might as well have been painted by a dog smearing its ass across the canvas for all the human-connection value it carries. And Carol, in her current burned-out-hollow identity, likes it – finds it, at a guess, unthreatening, not requiring her to try to access her seared humanity (also, resemblance-wise, it looks A WHOLE LOT like the camoflage she put on her face when assaulting Terminus). Daryl won't force her to talk, to connect and access what she's trying to hide from, but he's sure as shit gonna call her on it when she tries to lie to herself and claim the human-value connection and communication is happening when it's not. (And hey look, his black eye is beginning to clear u– oh, look. A minor (though left-sided) black eye and tiny cheek cut for Carol! What up, Beth! What up, Noah! Black eyes for everyone! Injury motif upon injury motif! *waves white hankie of surrender at it all*)


Random final items/tracking threads:
— Tara disobeyed Abraham with Eugene, bringing him out of the crashed (and on fire) bus before the coast was *clear*, giving him guidance to learn to fend for himself and increase his actual survival value; so far, Tara seems to be learning all the right lessons from her compatriots. Maggie, when Glenn gets got, after the mourning period, I'm just sayin' ... Tara seems pretty cool. Just, y'know. Sayin'. Okay, that was insensitive. *cough*

— Glenn, I love you best when you're being dryly snarky. Pls be dryly snarky more while you still can OH GOD. Okay, that was insensitive too.

— Well, yes, Carol, technically a leg wound might not kill Noah. But in this walking dead life, the capacity to keep putting one foot in front of the other is, as we have seen, not just figuratively but also quite literally crucial to survival. Thankfully, this "just a kid" with a busted up leg looks like he's going to do a lot better with Rick's group than his parallel Randall. Plus Daryl's already dispensed with the whole death-sentence-brink-pardon in under a minute (seriously, everyone's getting so efficient about things they've already learned, it's lovely), and since we've already presumably seen that Daryl's leading him safely out of the woods back to the group, I think we can say Noah's probably past any neck-snapping attempts, too.

— So is "cleansing"-fire-and-smoke-plumes gonna be a Wolf Family motif *thing*, now? I could definitely get behind that. (Interesting, too, that what we're shown of Daryl's efforts to free Carol from the damnation/identity of being only what she has done is burning the child walker body for her, when, of course, his own smoking-in-bed mother was burnt to nothing when he was a kid. They are the ones who are (still) right here – trying. And then he drops the "nah, fuck him" cigarette he'd lit up when he grabs Noah's shoulder to ask about Beth.)

— Oh, right. Wolf Family, aka how I've got Daryl, Beth and Carol categorised in my head (and not just to get a classical mythology/history break from all the biblical references this season). The song playing over Daryl and Beth burning down the moonshine shack last season (and connecting via the smoke plume with the lost mother-figure Carol in The Grove) directly references Romulus and RemusOur mother has been absent ever since we founded Rome / but there's gonna be a party when the wolf comes home – twins fathered by Mars (or, possibly, Hercules), abandoned to die by the usurper to their grandfather's throne, suckled by a she-wolf, and raised by humble shepherds, growing into great warriors and leaders, before arguing over their read of the auguries of where to found a new city, when Remus is killed in the fight and Romulus founds Rome (as you do).

Of course the show isn't content to play that straight, so instead you've got Daryl and Beth twinned by their drunkard fathers and inheritance of violence-bred strength and tough sumbitchness, having been ejected from the nuture of the prison-womb (the whole Lori-giving-birth-there thing, plus the shape of the fertile enclosed field curving out from the body of the prison itself, not to mention the cesarean section treatment The Governor gave the field's fences that also killed the prison) and abandoned to fend for themselves (the specific twinness of Daryl and Beth then being reinforced by the night spent en-wombed in the boot of a car, curled fetally next to each other – and gripping their weapons ready the whole time – plunged in a veritable (Tiberius) river of walkers). Suckling moonshine for wolf's milk (the first shot of that episode being the full moon) and then using it to burn down and flip off the last claims of childhood and past weaknesses on their identites, cementing their bonding and badassitude; and, throwing the chronology in reverse for a moment, being fostered by shepherd-minded men to instill certain fundamental principles. So that their fight over each other's "signs" ends in shared grief and a hug, and by the time they get to the funeral home, they are growing up and not arguing but teaching each other how to read the signs – valuing each other's reading – and appear to mutually agree on staying and trying to found what community they can with whoever lives there ... right before they have to fight for their lives and lose each other anyway.

So. Grady Memorial. Not only did you abduct one war-twin away from the other, you have now also abducted their surrogate mother-figure, a woman who could very easily be described as a one hell of a she-wolf....... I'm gonna get myself in fighting trim / scope out every angle of unfair advantage / I'm going to bribe the officials / I'm going to kill all the judges / It's going to take you people years to recover from all of the damage / Our mother has been absent ever since we founded Rome / but there's gonna be a party when the wolf comes home. ("Right now, we got the advantage. We'll see who they are. If they're a group, we'll see what they can do. And then we'll do what we gotta do to get her back.") .... So, yeah. Good luck with that, Grady Memorial; let's see how high the smoke rises.


And in the meantime, let's see how all the pieces get set up.

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