All the problems of Season 2 and the events on the farm wrapped into one, “Them” is an episode of The Walking Dead that epitomizes why the show has been steadily declining in quality ever since its spectacular first season. Zero sense of direction, characters losing their personality traits, and generally lazy, redundant writing all make for a miserable TV watching experience. We examine this corpse of an episode in our latest The Walking Dead review.
Credit should be given where credit is due, and the first shot of the episode is a pretty great one. It’s hard to tell at first who we’re even looking at, and once it becomes clear that it’s a distraught and haggard Maggie you can really see how far she’s fallen from the chipper farm girl who had a family. The exasperated way she gets up and stabs the walker, while done several times over in the show to this point, has more of an impact now than it has previous times. Few have lost more than Maggie, and it really shows.
If brevity is truly the soul of wit, then this week’s The Walking Dead has the mental capacity of a teenager stabbing an armed police officer with surgical scissors. Everything you need to know about the events that occur in “Them” is established during the cold open. Before the credits even roll, it’s made clear that the group is exhausted, out of water, and slowly crawling towards their final destination of Washington D.C while mourning the recent deaths of Beth and Tyreese. From then out we’re treated to several one-on-one conversations of characters reiterating just how tired they are, how thirsty they are, or how sad they are that people died.
Sure, the episode does a fine job of getting across just how hot and sticky the south can get in the dead of summer but do you need an entire episode to tell you that after watching five-and-a-half seasons establishing that? Character’s hair has been extra greasy and the group has been exhausted for seasons now, and it’s always been in the background. “Them” is an attempt to bring these issues to the forefront, but it does so in such a blatant way with nothing else to carry a story that it falls completely flat. The laughably stupid method of getting rid of the zombies – by sidestepping them and pushing them off a cliff – was one of the highlights of the episode, but definitely not for the reason writer Heath Bellson wanted it to, I’m sure. What better way to get across just how tired our characters than to have them mope around for an hour and awkwardly push walkers around?
In general, the idea of devoting an entire episode of a season to showing that characters in a post-apocolypse filled with zombies might be in a rough spot is an hour of time that doesn’t need to exist.
The episode also has several attempts at symbolism that are just as bland and pointless as the rest of the episode, culminating in the mother of all “they said the thing” moments with Rick dropping the “we are the walking dead” bomb. There are some decent shots during the episode that hint to the iconic line coming (such as the group shuffling along while the walkers shuffle behind them), but that’s it. It’s a shame that such a moment – which was so well done in the comics – had to be shoved into an episode as poor as “Them” just so there is something to talk about with it.
Imagine that Rick didn’t drop that line – what else actually happens duringc the episode other than the cold open and the last two minutes? People are sad and thirsty, Gabriel throws his collar into a fire, there is a storm, and a group of dogs show up and immediately get shot. Anything that could be considered character development during these events (if there is any) could easily be established during actual stories, and not an entire episode built around shuffling down a country road.
While we’re on the subject of poor things to have an episode or season built around – does a single person watching this show believe that the group is going to either a) make it to Washington D.C. or b) make it and have everything be as safe as the group assume? This setup of the group travelling to somewhere in hopes of a safe haven is the same setup that has been used since Season 1 with the CDC, Season 2 with the farm, Season 3 with the prison, and the first half of season Season 5 with Terminus. Sure, in a walker apocalypse there’s bound to not be much more than heartbreak at every turn, but if that’s all the show is going to do without developing interesting characters it makes one question what the point of it all is. In The Walking Dead‘s current state, we’re not watching compelling television in any way unless you are still getting a thrill out of seeing someone stab a walker in the head – an act even the characters themselves are growing tired of.
Thanks to the appearance of Aaron in the last minute of the episode, it can’t be said that absolutely nothing happens in “Them.” What can be said, however, is that everything between the cold open and Aaron’s shockingly clean-cut face popping up from the brush is a total and complete throwaway. Even the big dramatic storm, that came at the most convenient time imaginable of terms of getting clean drinking water, is over and done with almost immediately; the impacts of which will have no effect on future episodes.
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