Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and co. work out their trust issues in ‘The Distance’.
Let’s bitch it out…
How do you know who you can trust? Obviously in the post-zombie world of The Walking Dead this question has become paramount. Walkers can be dealt with, even in extreme situations such as zombie frogger on the highway. No, as the world becomes increasingly dangerous for survivors and food becomes more scarce, the question about trusting others – especially when you’ve been down this road before – is proving to be the toughest challenge of all. After the events at Woodsbury and Terminus and, to a lesser extent the hospital with Dawn, it would be hard to trust Aaron (Ross Marquand). After all, once upon a time these were all viable prospects for safety and community and, in time, each turned out to be a variation of the same death trap.
It is inevitable then that the first section of ‘The Distance’ is dedicated to figuring out who Aaron is and what angle he is playing. The clean cut, well-dressed man hardly looks like he’s suffering (he’s closer to the Governor in the way he offers reassurances and temptations as he lays out his sales pitch for why the group should join his “community”). Rick, ever mistrustful, immediately punches Aaron in the face. Michonne (Danai Gurira), however, wants to investigate. And so begins the back and forth negotiation that dominates the episode.
Over the years I’ve turned into more of a casual The Walking Dead viewer, dipping in and out, but rarely watching regularly. Tuning in for this last stretch of episodes has been interesting (Michonne actually talks now!); one major area of change since my S1-3 hey day is the evolution of the group’s decision making process. We’re a long way off from the Ricktocracy days, as the balance of balance of power within the group appears to be a little more democratic. With that said, however, I’ll confess that I was surprised that this episode is so heavily focused on Rick and Michonne. Considering the gravity of Aaron’s offer, I expected to hear more from Darryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride). Instead this episode offers nothing from Darryl, with only some cameo advice from Glenn (Steven Yeun), Maggie (Lauren Conrad) and, briefly at episode’s end, Carol – siding with Rick on the cautious, get-ready-to-blow-these-mothers-away-at-the-first-sign-of-danger front.
As an action-lite episode, the drama is inherently steeped in Rick and Michonne’s debate about what the group truly needs. There’s more than enough character drama to sustain the hour. The possibility of a safe haven is undoubtedly attractive, but overcoming mistrust isn’t easy. Even though all of Aaron’s claims are revealed to be true (he is only traveling with one person, the applesauce isn’t poisoned, and route 16 is safe passage), it’s still not enough. As nice as he seems and despite how he acts, we’ve heard this pitch before. Admittedly it does feel like the writers unfairly stack the case against Aaron, though; there are moments that feel artificially constructed to create audience unease such as the lack of people in Aaron’s photos and his dislike of applesauce (both are elements that I would have expected an ambassador to be better prepared for considering how uneasy groups would be). Even Aaron’s break for freedom after the incident on the highway feels like an attempt to make the audience question whether Michonne is being foolish for trusting so easily.
Ultimately this isn’t an episode about setting up a “destination” in the same way it was with Terminus. This is about Rick getting to a point of acceptance about what the group – and more specifically what he – needs. Aaron calls them survivors because they didn’t turn on each other when times got tough last week, and the moniker has never been truer. But survival has made them do some pretty terrible things and Rick’s assertion that they can be good people and still do bad things is just as true. They may be their own community, but they are damn selective about how close they let outsiders get.
The spectre of the past looms large over ‘The Distance’. The episode literally only covers the ground from their introduction to Aaron in the barn to the gates of Alexandria. Those hoping for a glimpse of the inside of the steel-reinforced community will have to make do with the blurry photos that Aaron carries around. But this episode was never about getting inside: it’s about reaching a point of willingness to even consider a life of safety among a large group of people again. And that’s not an easy decision to make.
- Aaron is lucky he got World Weary Rick, not Angry Torturous Rick. I spent the majority of the episode hoping that we wouldn’t see the poor guy lose a few fingers in Rick’s quest for information about the community.
- Rosita (Christian Serratos) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) spot Washington in the distance on the road to Alexandria. I’m sure people who care about these characters will care about that. I don’t know them, so I didn’t.
- For those of you who don’t read the comics, is the reveal that Aaron’s travelling companion, Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson) is his boyfriend a surprise? It should be interesting to see how the ravenous The Walking Dead viewership, which skews young and male, responds to the presence of a loving gay couple in the mix.
- Finally, who would have thought that the sight of an RV would make me nostalgic?
- Aaron (when Sasha explains what he wants): “I wish there was a better word. Audition makes it sound like a dance troupe. That’s only on Friday nights.” Crickets.
- Rick (when Aaron suggests they’re not bad people): “Just because we’re good people doesn’t mean we won’t kill you.”
- Michonne (with wonder after Aaron mentions his house): “You have your own house?”
Your turn: did you side more with Rick or Michonne? Were you surprised that so few other characters chimed in? Did you enjoy Zombie frogger on the highway? How do you think a gay couple will be received by fans? And what are your hopes for Alexandria? Sound off below, but please remember that this is a spoiler-free zone so please keep your knowledge of any future comic occurrences to yourself!
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm EST on AMC