The Walking Dead Review: “Self Help”

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After last week’s Beth-heavy episode, The Walking Dead got back on its usual track last night as it followed Abraham, Glenn, Maggie, and very real scientist Eugene on their way to Washington D.C to stop the walker outbreak. If you follow any social accounts for show, you were probably blasted with dozens of images and questions of “Will they make it to DC?” Given what actually happened in the episode, it was a clever diversion for what was really coming.

The episode started shortly after the one two weeks ago, with the splintered group (including absolutely legitimate scientist and world-saving brilliant mind, Eugene), traveling on the bus they discovered at the church. Characters spent a decent amount of time recapping events and discussing the allure of a well groomed mullet, which was nice. Had this been directly after episode two weeks ago, it would have been obnoxious, but being that we just previously followed Beth and their romp through a Grey’s Anatomy episode, having the recap was appreciated and got everything back up to speed quickly.

After that, in typical The Walking Dead fashion, something inexplicably happened that caused their bus to flip onto its side and crash right near a group of walkers. Abraham’s first thought was of course to save Eugene and his limitless knowledge. It all got explained later on, so I had no problem with this inexplicable crash, but how they escaped the bus was hilariously bad.

Being that the bus was flipped onto its side, they had to climb out the back. They decided to have everyone without a weapon hop out and run directly into the zombies, while the select few that actually had a gun slowly crawled their way out and took their sweet old time aiming their guns. I guess the argument could be made that they wanted to save ammo, but they ended up shooting anyway, so that kind of goes out the window. We know this group is supposed to be a hardened zombie-killing force, yet they still have these stupid tactics.

The Walking Dead screenshot

Don’t get your weapons out too quickly, you might startle them.

Again, something small, but it was hilariously stupid in a place in the episode that should have been suspenseful.

Abraham and company then found a library in a small town to camp out in for the night. While it certainly picked up later on, this section of the episode in particular felt stretched for time and just plain dull. It also fell into the dreaded season two setup of having two characters break off and talk to each other one after the other, and nothing was really gained out of it until the very end.

I did like how the scene where they were setting up their temporary camp showed just how well adjusted they are. Barriers were raised, windows covered, and fires lit all without a single word being spoken. The group is obviously battle-hardened and adjusted to the life they now live, and it all showed without another pointless walker-killing montage.

Mustache aficionados dreams did come true, however, as we were treated to Abraham and Rosita having some romantic chair sex. Eugene, being his typical genius weirdo self, was watching the love birds and eventually gets called out by Tara. The two break off to have a quick discussion and he reveals that the bus explosion was his fault, all while the docile tones of a post-apocalyptic whoopee can be heard in the distance.

Up until this point, it was a pretty disappointing episode to be honest (hot mustache sex aside), but from here it picked up considerably.

One of the best walker killing sequences happens after a calm night when the group began to explore around the town in the morning. They come across a fire engine, and after several loud attempts at getting it started causes them to realize its not going anywhere, a group of walkers attack them. Eugene predictably retreats to the high ground and hops on top of the vehicle while the others go to town beating in the heads of walkers like we have seen every episode for four seasons – until Eugene has the brilliant idea of spraying them down using the engine’s powerful hose like they were nothing more than a carnival game. It was extremely satisfying seeing the zombies torn apart like cheap toilet paper under a faucet as their years of rot and decay made them easy to shred through.

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I thought it was weird that the scenes leading up to this consisted of characters complaining that they were out of water, yet no one seemed to care that Eugene wasted a massive amount of it. It’s not like they were in any real danger – the six of them with fully loaded with guns and knives easily outmatched the small batch of walkers that toddled around them, but Eugene still shot them all down with water that could be used for drinking instead.

Abraham finally gets the firetruck working (after learning where the engine intake is), and the crew make their way towards Washington D.C. to save the world! That is until they run into a zombie-covered farm and they are forced to stop. After a short scuffle and a gun being pointed perilously close to his face, Eugene cracks and reveals the secret he’s been carrying all this time. While is he clearly more intelligent than these “low IQ basic pleb noobs” (I’m paraphrasing here), he is not actually a scientist that knows the cure to walker outbreak. He is actually just a cowardly middle-aged man that wandered too far away from his cold dark computer room and lied to get someone to take him to Washington. A place he assumes is a safe haven.

Eugene’s big reveal that he is in fact not a scientist and just a lover of mullets absolutely made this episode for me. That, and how it tied it together with the flashbacks of Abraham’s past that were in the episode, made this one of my favorite adventures of the season. I have never read the comics and somehow avoided this major spoiler, so maybe the impact would be less so if you knew for a fact that it was coming, but wow!

The best type of plot twists are the ones that leave breadcrumbs for you along the way that make you question everything you know about a show or character, and this one did just that. Every single action of Eugene’s comes back into question now that we know he is a liar and not actually a scientist. He clearly has been slowing the group down all along but, outside of sabotaging the gas line earlier in this episode, it was never anything too outrageous enough to make it completely obvious that it was coming.

Maybe he did legitimately did think it was a good idea to circle and wait for Glenn, maybe he really is just too stupid to use a gun and shot the gas tank on the military vehicle on accident, or maybe he did just always really need to stop to pee all those times? Sure, now that you know the truth these are all obvious, but prior to this there was always that thought in the back of my head that maybe he was just that damn clumsy and slow.

Either way, this big twist goes a long way towards improving my outlook on the show in general, as well as how I feel about the past few episodes. All those times stupid decisions that previously could be chalked up to “typical The Walking Dead writing” had good reasons. All those times that Eugene was completely insufferable with his overly complicated dialogue really were just him lying and making crap up – and that’s great.

The episode closed by showing us why they were doing all those Abraham flashbacks that consisted of him trying – and failing – to save his family. Having just discovered that his wife and kids have been eaten by walkers, Abraham is just a moment away from killing himself when a stumbling Eugene being followed by a trio of super slow walkers asks for help. After Abraham dispatches them with some knives to the foreheads, Eugene tells him the lie that started at all. It was a great way to close the episode and link together the two stories that were running side-by-side throughout the whole thing.

Overall, as I said earlier, this was one of The Walking Dead‘s most enjoyable episodes of the seasons, despite a pretty horrid start. After the first commercial the pacing picked up, the story got interesting, and the big reveal at the end legitimized a lot of the show’s writing. Visually, outside of the same terrible digital blood effects we have been subjected to all along, the episode looked great. Especially the big farm landscape at the end.

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