The Walking Dead: “The Distance”

Michonne-TWD-FeaturedImage

People who were all caught up in the Oscar buzz on Sunday night, you missed one hell of a girl-powered Walking Dead episode.

After two straight weeks of pain, pain, and more pain (RIP Tyreese), it was about time the show got onto something new. Following an exhausting night in an old barn fighting off walkers, Team Rick is absolutely shattered (that roast dog probably didn’t go very far) and ready to give up. But when a mysterious stranger named Aaron shows up promising food, water, clean clothes and a place for little Judith to grow up in comfort, it still takes some serious time before Rick agrees to give in and follow. An RV and a second car are waiting just up over the hill on a nearby road if only they would believe Aaron! Fifteen-foot tall barricades! Everyone gets their own home with a porch, and lemonade every morning! It’s all sort of like an episode of Oprah, but with less excitement from the audience.

Any semblance of trust left within the group certainly isn’t wasted on the newcomer. A search of the area and Aaron’s personal belongings proves that he is indeed telling the truth, but harrowing encounter after harrowing encounter has taken its toll, and Rick certainly isn’t ready to place his children in harm’s way yet again. With both Tyreese and Beth gone, the only two who might reasonably consider leaving with a stranger in search of something better, it’s up to Michonne to take responsibility. After stepping in and gently chiding Rick for potentially passing up an opportunity to keep his daughter safe and fed, Michonne redirects his anger and distrust into something stronger: the urge to protect his family.

With the group on the road at last and under the cover of darkness (according to Rick’s foolhardy hypothesis, they’ll be shielded from unfriendly eyes should the alleged safe-zone be a trap), it doesn’t take too long for their train to derail. And while perusing the photographs of Aaron’s encampment, Michonne also realizes that there’s something horribly wrong: there are no people in the pictures.

As actress Danai Gurira, who plays the samurai-sword wielding badass, pointed out in a post-episode interview on the popular Talking Dead, Michonne “feels a great deal of responsibility,” as she’s ultimately the one who lead them down this path. Before she can get very far in questioning Aaron, however, disaster strikes (quite literally) in the form of a walker herd, which forces the leading group (comprised of Michonne, Rick, Glenn and Aaron) out of the car and into the woods. While fighting their way through the darkness, they reconnect with the rest of the team from the RV once more. After meeting Aaron’s partner Eric and realizing that Aaron’s trepidation at giving the group all the puzzle pieces up front stems largely from his love for the other man (hooray for LGBTQ representation!), they allow him to lead them all to the front door of the new enclosure.

Early in the episode, Rick expresses his worries re: Aaron to Michonne, who has become somewhat of a confidante and second-in-command in recent days. “When you walked up to the gates of Woodbury, what did you hear? What about Terminus? Nothing,” he says, indicating that when things seem too good to be true, they very often are. But upon reaching the gates of Aaron and Eric’s group compound in Alexandria, Va., both Rick and Michonne pause to listen and as the sounds of children playing reach their ears, Michonne takes his hand and reassures him that he has made the right decision, even if it was only at her urging (this is something that Carol confirms to him a few moments later when she says, “You may have been wrong … but you were right”).

Throughout the episode, Michonne plays a pivotal role in the group’s well-being, moving them forward into new territory when they’ve been distrustful for so long, protecting any flicker of hope left to keep them going, and fighting for–and simultaneously against–Rick when she knows he’s wrong. Rick and the rest of the group know and trust Michonne, and are beginning to see her as a co-leader. It’s a refreshing change of pace for a show that is largely male-dominated in a literary sense, and it proves that a little extra female direction can go a long way.

There are a few nice moments between Rosita and Abraham throughout the trek as well (the former a uniquely powerful female character in her own right), which prove that the two are sincerely equals, despite their differences. Carol and Maggie remain toughened veterans who can take a hit and keep moving too, and Sasha, as always, continues to be a total badass (tote that giant rifle, girl–you’ve earned it).

The Walking Dead has certainly begun to wield more than a few feminist-friendly overtones (at last). Let’s just hope it stays that way.

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