The Walking Dead
Season 5, Episode 11 – “The Distance”
The post-prison period of The Walking Dead has been pretty bleak thus far, but it looks like the show is getting a much-needed shot in the arm with “The Distance,” in which the promise of sanctuary reignites hope in our beleaguered heroes. After recent events, any good news seems too good to be true, and the mysterious Aaron and his offer to “audition” for a place in his community is rightfully met with suspicion. While most of the group is eager for respite, Rick still struggles to let his guard down.
This was a good episode for many reasons, but the single biggest improvement is a genuine sense of optimism that has been so elusive for the past season or two. The Walking Dead has made a point of pushing the group as far as it can towards despair and darkness, and it has done such a good job that even the audience is hesitant to believe the pendulum could truly be swinging back the other way. It’s been a long, unforgiving exercise in behavioral conditioning, and the show revels in further toying with the expectations of both its characters and the audience. What’s interesting is the tangible suspense that this unfamiliar hope brings–the tension exists not merely because lives are at stake, but because the light at the end of the tunnel might finally be something other than another oncoming train.
Understandably and amusingly, Rick greets Aaron’s offer with a punch in the face, but the rest of the group is more willing to hear him out due to their desperation for the safety and community he promises. Michonne and a few others are sent to investigate Aaron’s claims of vehicles nearby, while the rest stay near the barn to prepare for the worst. Aaron tries his best to be disarmingly nice and cooperative, but Rick makes a good point when he says “it’s hard to trust anyone who smiles after getting punched in the face”. Despite Aaron’s reassurances, everyone is on high alert, and the episode draws a lot of its tension from the ambiguous evidence that lends itself to all manner of interpretation.
Aaron’s flare gun and hesitance to eat the applesauce didn’t do him any favors, but it’s the conspicuous lack of people in the photographs he brought that finally arouses Michonne’s suspicions during the nighttime drive to his camp. It’s almost comical how quickly things escalate from here–Michonne remembers to ask Aaron the three questions just before the car plows through a herd of walkers. Aaron then attempts to flee after a flare is seen in the distance, and all Rick, Glenn, and Michonne can do is to follow in hopes of finding the others. The excessive action and gore on display is a nice payoff to all the tension the episode has slowly built up, and a refreshing change of pace from the more subdued, “artsy” direction recent episodes have taken. There’s a time and a place for muted slow motion zombie violence, but Rick shooting a flare into a zombie’s face isn’t it.
The group is soon reunited, and Aaron is reunited with his partner Eric. They agree to continue onto the community Alexandria in the morning, where Rick is met with the sounds of children’s laughter beyond the wall. Andrew Lincoln continues to do amazing work depicting the toll ruthlessness and hyper-vigilance has taken on Rick; and the relief that washes over him in this moment is palpable. He’s been conditioned to expect the worst and struggles to let that part of him go. It’s difficult to say whether his suspicions will be justified–all the communities on this show have a bad habit of being founded on some horrible, dark secret. The show seems to be laying the optimism on pretty thick though, so it’s very tempting to let down your guard. Maybe that’s exactly what The Walking Dead wants…
- I don’t think Rick told Aaron to shut up this episode, which is a shame because there were plenty of opportunities and I seriously think it should be his catchphrase.
- This episode notably contains a refreshing bit of humor as well–I particularly enjoyed how Abraham’s corny optimism was immediately met with a dead battery.
- Chekov’s blender gun!
- They need to stop giving Carol stupid lines. Silly way to end the episode.