Most of the time, the writers of The Walking Dead, like Rick Grimes & Co. themselves, like to take their time feeling out new environments, letting the audience get comfy before offering hints of whatever colossally fucked-up nonsense is going on beneath the surface. But in last night’s episode, “Remember,” the red flags were going up before the group even entered the gates of Alexandria. As our apprehensive heroes approached the newest attempt at post-apocalyptic Xanadu, an opossum (not to be confused with a possum) scrambled out from the brush and became Daryl’s next meal. One of the small wonders of this episode was in how Daryl, who became a near-mythic figure in TWD fandom and in the group itself due to his rugged individualism, now seems like the weird one for not altering his behavior to suit Alexandria’s creepily idyllic surroundings. Of course, this lapsed into well-tread Carol-Daryl territory (of course he didn’t shower, Carol, because something something principles) but at least we got to see Daryl in an environment where his nonconforming filthiness really stood out.
But here’s the thing about that opening scene: When have you ever seen an opossum walking around in the daytime? Fair enough, it’s the dog days of the zombie apocalypse, and fair enough, the woodland rodents of yesteryear are probably sitting prettier in post-American Virginia than we’re ever shown on TWD (not that I’m complaining; this isn’t a documentary about bi-penised marsupials, after all). But come on; Alexandria is arguably the most civilized mini-society we’ve seen thus far. Woodbury may have had abundant water and the hospital its sophisticated medical equipment and drugs, but Alexandria is the first place that looks and feels like real suburbia before the fall. Say what you want about its neo-commie system of government and its wildly inept supply run division, this place is functional, clean—a suitable imitation of what was once upper-middle America.
And then there’s that fucking opossum.
That Daryl shoots the wilderness-meat can hardly be taken as a symbol of greener pastures ahead. The opossum is more likely to function as Coleridge’s albatross: a sign of good luck—good Walking Dead luck anyway, signifying dinner and the hope of more dinner to come—the murder of which can only bring a curse upon the group.
Or maybe not. Maybe, perversely, the bloody possum can bring some good news. As the other members of the crew assimilate, albeit hesitantly, into what they hope will be their first taste of normalcy in years, an overhead shot shows a quaint smattering of Alexandrian micromansions. The quiet, tasteful splendor of American comfort—except for the lingering stain of opossum blood that graces the porch of the house. The house is temporarily shared by all, but really it belongs to Rick and Carl. As in God’s final plague upon Egypt, a prophet has painted the entryway with the blood of a sacrificial animal, signifying that the first born son of the house would be saved from God’s wrath. Our friends from the south, it seems, are the chosen ones; if we ever held our breaths for the fate of Carl Grimes, we can probably chill out for now.
Whether or not these allusions exist only in my mind remains to be seen, but even without them this episode gave us plenty to chew on. Alexandria offers us the first honest-to-goodness politician we’ve yet seen on this show. We’ve seen great orators on this show, like Rick and the Governor, and we had a fine fascist theorist in the hospital’s Dawn, but now our leader is an actual congresswoman. Deanna Monroe (Tovah Feldshuh) has an ostentatiously WASPy name to match the ostentatiously WASPy realm over which she reigns, and her outward appearance is gentle without dispensing any of the suspicious charisma of a Governor or a Gareth. She’s weirdly interested in Rick, seeming to have a deep understanding of his natural inclination toward leadership before she even gives him a razor to shave with. (I’m not sure how I feel about AMC pimping the hashtag #CleanCutRick on the east coast, considering the fiasco that was the midseason finale reveal.) It’s hard to tell how long Alexandrian intelligence has been tailing Rick’s crew, but that secrecy and the fact that Monroe and her cabinet(?) have their shit together enough to even have an intelligence unit capable of recruiting a sheriff and his minions make Alexandria a little more interesting right off the bat than was the ill-fated Terminus. This is not a makeshift society with an improvised government; this is a real autonomous state with a real politician calling the shots.
Alexandria does not, however, have a competent supply run unit, as we saw when the creepily adorable Aiden (Daniel Bonjour) took seasoned supply-runner Glenn on an excursion, along with Tara and (for some dumbass reason) Noah. It’s clear that Aiden uses tied-up walkers for some ulterior motive that I can’t quite figure out yet, but as we saw in the opening moments of this episode, it’s a good thing the Rick crew is here, because killing walkers is their business, and business has never been anything but booming. What’s crazy about this scene—Glenn saving Aiden from a walker, Aiden getting all ROTC-pissy for some reason—is the scene afterward, when Deanna Monroe takes the side of the Rick crew and scolds her field agents like a high school principal who has plenty of other shit to deal with and so does NOT need this SHIT. Deanna fetishizes Rick and his group to an extent we’ve never seen. She doesn’t view Rick as a savior, exactly, but she seems to want to make him happy. She appoints him “constable”—an archaic term indeed, one whose roots have more to do with keeping the peace than enforcing a strict code of law—so quickly and with such resolve that we wonder if Alexandria is more in need of lawmen than its glossy image betrays. Indeed, Rick’s encounter with Pete (Corey Brill)—husband of Jessie (Alexandra Beckinridge, weirdly called “Samantha” on this episode’s IMDB page) who cuts Rick’s hair—is foreboding: he smokes (he smokes! Alexandria has cigarettes!) and is bathed in shadow as he welcomes Rick to Alexandria in a voice that seems to say, “You’re in for some shit now, brother.”
But how bad could it be, really? With Rick as the enforcer of law—whatever that law may be—we know we’re in good hands. And as our fearless leader says in the episode’s final moments, if this isn’t the utopia it seems to be, and if the people aren’t as agreeable as they put on, the group will just take the land by force. Much consideration is given in this episode to the possibility of the group growing weak if they adjust to the comforts of Alexandria (voiced by Carol, embodied by Daryl, the two ever each other’s mirrors). It was smart of the writers to dispel this notion by having Rick maintain his militaristic stance in dialogue, but the signs of change are already showing. Rick is clean shaven and even his head-hair is cut (a Samson reference?). Carl takes off his father’s hat for the first time in ages, and the other outsider-turned-insider he meets (Enid, played by Katelyn Nacon) seems to be harboring some secret, possibly sinister knowledge. Carol returns to what are essentially “wifely duties,” donning a blue cardigan and feigning love for her abusive, departed husband Ed (was it Ed’s shadow in which Pete was enveloped on his porch?). Michonne, who took such admirable charge in last week’s “The Distance,” is almost too optimistic about Alexandria—and let’s recall that her introduction to this series made her out to be a woman of few words and even fewer trusts. The only unchanged group member is Daryl, the killer of the albatross. He knows that there’s a curse upon this land, even if he’s the one who set it in motion.
It’s fitting that this episode of TWD aired on the same night as the premiere of Fox’s new postmodern sitcom, The Last Man on Earth. In that show, Will Forte finds himself the lone survivor of a nationwide virus, and as such he reacts the same way anyone would: he sets up camp in a mansion and enjoys the fruits of high society that were alien to him before the rapture. The message here is almost Marxist in its straightforward indictment of the American bourgeoisie: in this world, anyone can have a mansion. Anyone can enjoy the good life, because the usual prerequisites for those trappings—income, status, lineage—are either irrelevant or nonexistent. Wealth is arbitrary. It’s a brave new world, indeed.