‘The Walking Dead’ Review: “The Distance”
The Walking Dead season 5 brings its 11th episode to life with Sunday's “The Distance,” as Rick and the others evaluate the mysterious Aaron's claims of a walled sanctuary, before walkers interrupt the possibility of following him.
Last week’s The Walking Dead installment, “Them,” saw Rick's group trudging on in the aftermath of Tyreese and Beth, while a violent storm preceded the arrival of a mysterious stranger. So, what does the latest episode of season 5 bring?
Read on for your in-depth review of everything you need to know about The Walking Dead season 5, episode 11, “The Distance”!
Few would argue that last week’s “Them” stretched the narrative as thin as possible, if only to highlight the group at their lowest point, thereby making Aaron’s promises of a Utopian safe haven resonate that much more effectively. Even in stumbling across a prison paradise, this is not a group that historically gets by on luck, and the clean-cut stranger's appearance seemed positively alien last week, something made all the more atonal this time by his sparse attempts at humor and talk of dance troupes. The supporting players barely speak a word at the sight of this unicorn survivor, and “The Distance” lives up to its name in early scenes that run long enough to breathe in the situation's unfamiliarity.
It seems The Walking Dead has at last gotten back to asking the right questions, rather than spouting insoluble platitudes about coping with tragedy, and “The Distance” very much gets its message across in these strong early scenes: How, short of torture or violence, could anyone ever trust such unfathomable nicety from a stranger, given all they’d been through in recent years? No matter how plainly Aaron lays out the process of bringing the group in to “audition,” Rick plots counter-moves to avoid any potential trap, even hesitating to feed his crying daughter, despite Aaron’s recoil at the absurdity of poisoning Judith. At the end of the day, Michonne articulates the point best, at a certain point, one simply has to let go of the fight, and open up to trust
And while the idea of permanent sanctuary may not feel new in the context of five Walking Dead seasons, Alexandria poses a very different challenge than making prisons livable, warring against neighbor despots, or battling cannibals in a rail yard; for the first time, Rick’s group has to surrender their control. Assuming the idyllic Alexandria lived up to its reputation, neither, Rick, Mochionne, Daryl or Abraham would necessarily call any shots once inside, and that provides an existential dread more potent than the AMC series has the ability to make of the undead, at this point.
Andrew Lincoln gets most of the A-material this week in pushing the hard-worn Rick to a point of deference, though Michonne’s willingness to take the first steps plays a large part in facilitating Rick’s acceptance. The size of The Walking Dead’s cast makes it difficult to afford everyone enough spotlight, and Chad Coleman recently made a point of noting that Rick has several right-hand men at this point, though the smaller focus on Rick and Michonne’s relationship this week well-illustrated how challenging trust has become, especially when “the rules keep changing.” Even amid the danger, the temptation of returning to life before, and surrendering agency can be powerful.
The Walking Dead being The Walking Dead, we spent near of the entire episode just getting to the very walls of Alexandria, forging said trust amid the usual zombie carnage, though the road-tripping also afforded us to get to know Aaron outside of his mission. “The Distance” smartly highlights that despite his affable nature, Aaron wasn’t afraid to stand up to Rick when necessary, even over something as small as a distaste for applesauce. Not to mention, the later scenes with his boyfriend Scott go a long way toward making Aaron seem like a real person in a relatively short time, a stark contrast from the alien figure popping out from behind a tree last week.
The highway walker battle itself was a little less effective, in that such dimly-lit scenes have historically been problematic for The Walking Dead, and all the chaos made following the action a bit more difficult, particularly after the flare gun signaled to Rick and Michonne that they’d found a way to catch up with the RV. It at least helped to establish Aaron’s trustworthiness with Glenn a bit more, and offered one of the more exciting walker kills of the season, another flare gun to the face. Say what you will about zombies no longer seeming like a threat to the main characters, the visual inventiveness of killing them off never grows old.
Of course, Rick isn’t entirely won over by Aaron’s apparent trustworthiness, storing a gun nearby should things at Alexandria go south, but the actual arrival brought the series to its most emotionally resonant point in years, as the sound of children playing washes over Rick, carried by angelic musical cues that hearkened back to the series’ pilot. Along with the presence of an RV, “The Distance” seemed to intentionally walk down memory lane before the ultimate arrival at Alexandria, which, if AMC follows the comics, will at least prove a significant arc. It’s hard to say how willing to embrace that change The Walking Dead will prove over the course of the series, but “The Distance” adeptly highlighted how ragged and mistrusting its characters have become, ultimately opening up to some exciting change.
AND ANOTHER THING…
- The emotional beats between Abraham and Rosita felt a bit lost in the shuffle, but offered a nice little C-story. The group has grown so large, that this is the second week I’d forgotten about Noah before he popped up in a later scene.
- Aaron couldn’t go back to the car at some point, and reclaim his license plates?
- I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure The Walking Dead would ever actually head to D.C., rather rewriting Alexandria to be somewhere closer to Georgia. Of course, production remains in Georgia, so we’d imagine the weather between the two locations won’t necessarily sync up, particularly in February.
Stay tuned for more coverage of The Walking Dead season 5's latest, and join us next week for our review of The Walking Dead's next episode, "Remember" on AMC!