The Walking Dead Sn5 Ep9 “What Happened and What’s Going On”

The first episode of “The Walking Dead” of 2015 may be its most artistic, ambitious, and therefore potentially most divisive to date. The pre-credit sequence is an amazing collection of sometimes seemingly disjointed images that are 1) hauntingly gorgeous, 2) suggest a heavy tale to come, and 3) showcase an amazing talent for editing. All of this sets the stage for an excellent and heart-wrenching episode of “The Walking Dead” that is a fitting for its subject matter.

I have to post this warning, there are probably things in here that are spoilers, but due to the nature of the story of this episode what it is about I cannot fathom a way to discuss it without talking about the main incidents at least. You have thusly been warned.

After the destructive events of the mid-winter finale Rick Grimes finds himself beholden to Beth’s last wish and escorts Noah (Tyler James Williams) to his home, a walled community in Richmond, Virginia. Once the group arrives at Noah’s former home things go the typical route, and then go really bad in short order.

It isn’t long before a much loved character is bitten in a moment of distraction while the group is divided on scavenger duty. What proceeds from this point under the direction of Greg Nicotero is a dark story wherein one man struggles for the quality and meaning of soul and life in the face of impending death.

Characters die in “The Walking Dead,” all the time. They die suddenly, sometimes slowly, often repeatedly. What sets this episode apart and makes it one of the most powerful for me is the way death, life, and the meaning of each in an end-time, when the dead come back and to be alive is a constant struggle for another day of survival and killing, is the focus.

“What Happened and What’s Going On” has a dual dialog about death and hope. As one character faces what might be his impending death and another confronts the death of all he once knew, the others in the break-off group, as of yet unaware of the calamity befallen their comrade, ponder their options due to the humongous changes that have affected their group and speak hesitantly about the future for once. These are interesting and, at times, awkward exchanges for the future in the drudgery monotony of post-apocalyptic survival isn’t something oft discussed. These discussions, emboldened with anger, loss, energy, and yes even hope, add an extra layer of urgency and pain to the other proceedings.

The multiple layers of this episode worked for me. With the stories of the bitten character’s childhood, the reemergence of long dead characters each carrying their own death narrative, and the intertwining of both with the struggle for the bitten character’s survival as a way to tell his tale worked well. Greg Nicotero directed this episode exceptionally well and brought gorgeous artistic flourishes to the story of dying in a world where death is so common place.

By the time the credits rolled I was emotionally wrecked. The ride was a difficult one. I applaud “The Walking Dead” for taking a chance on a different approach to storytelling. It was risky and potentially alienating. For me, it worked exceptionally well. I watched another series, “True Blood,” dedicate almost an entire episode to a character’s funeral who was barely a character, a tertiary character at best. While this “True Blood” character was an interesting character, stopping the momentum of the show like this for such a minor character was a poor decision. “The Walking Dead” gave us most of an episode focused on the continued struggle of a character who we have seen in transition for a while, so to witness his struggle with the real possibility of his death is not only acceptable, but appropriate.

“What Happened and What’s Going On” is a brutal episode. It is a welcome philosophical pondering of what dying and living means in a world where to die literally means to be reborn as something else moments later. Where to live means another day of struggle and killing. It slowed down the narrative in an appropriate manner and forced us to focus on something long absent from “The Walking Dead,” what is the nature of living and dying. It has been hinted at in series and episodes past, but this is the first episode to truly and fully address it. So far, up to this episode survival has been the point. I believe that after this we may see a thematic shift begin to creep in, our characters might start looking at something beyond “just survival.”


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