“It’s What We Do”: Beginnings and Endings in This Week’s ‘The Walking Dead’ (‘Spend’)

gabe“It’s what we do,” says Nicholas, whose name I kept mishearing (though not inappropriately) as “dickless” in last night’s episode of The Walking Dead, entitled “Spend.” He’s speaking to Aiden, who’s been double-impaled by thick steel beams and was briefly thought dead. Aiden isn’t past saving, but getting him out of there would be risky, with a horde of walkers closing in and only Glenn and Nicholas there to both carry the badly wounded idiot and fend off the attack. “What we do” is we leave the wounded and vulnerable for dead, and there, folks, is the rub. There’s the darkness beneath the slick surface of Alexandria, the darkness we knew we would find eventually, because after all this is The Walking Dead, where no mini-society is without its horrifying underbelly. Woodbury murdered dissidents, the hospital preyed on the weak and euthanized the strong, and Alexandria leaves its wounded scavengers to be eaten alive. Welcome to Paradise.

This cruel policy of natural selection is, of course, the key to Alexandria’s improbable idyll. The reason our sun-kissed Alexandrian suburbanites are so (for the most part) pleasant and optimistic is because they refuse to engage in close combat with walkers. They haven’t seen the true horror of the apocalypse because they run from it and never look back. Instead of fighting to save their fellow men and women, the Alexandrians shoot at medium range and back off when the zombies get close; anyone who gets closer than necessary is cut loose to fend for themselves. We haven’t yet seen how Alexandria deals with death, but it’s hard to imagine that it has as much impact within those walls as it does amongst our friends from Grimes & Co. Lives are mourned within the Grimes crew not just because of its close-knit exclusivity, but because each life has been fought for by all, and losing those lives after so much struggle and hard work is a tough blow to stomach. Who would’ve thought a few seasons ago that we’d eventually devote an entire episode to the death of Tyrese, and that the sight of a wool-hatted grave would be the most emotionally damaging moment of the entire series so far?

When you aren’t invested enough in the lives of your fellow humans to fight on their behalf—to spot them a bullet or a fist or an improvised mace when certain death is lumbering toward them—there can be no such thing as community. When a group member isn’t willing to sacrifice safety or convenience to save another, there can be no brotherhood or sisterhood among the populace. In a way, the Alexandrian policy of protecting one another only up to a point is contains shades of the reality of living in an American suburb (or perhaps living in any real society). In the introduction to his book I Wear the Black Hat, Chuck Klosterman writes that it’s easy to care about other people in the abstract because we humans like to believe that we’re upstanding and altruistic in nature. But in the specific, we don’t really care about anyone we don’t know intimately. If my next door neighbor died tomorrow, it would not upset my daily routine one bit, and I probably would never know it happened unless someone told me. We care about people only insofar as they affect our waking lives.

In this way, the Alexandrians more closely resemble pre-apocalypse Americans than any other society we’ve encountered on The Walking Dead. What Rick & Co. had in common with all the failed societies they left in their wake was a strict, binary view of other humans; each newcomer was either an asset or a threat. The assumption of the latter could only be superseded by the earning of trust, but once that trust was earned and the newcomer became assimilated, they could count on the protection of the group in any situation, no matter how dire. (Even in the hospital, Beth and Noah were protected and treated as essential, though their safety was only provided in exchange for their slavery.) The Alexandrian Way seems to include a more indifferent view of human life. No one is worth dying for in Alexandria, and those who view themselves as essential avoid the conundrum by staying within the walls. Deanna Monroe won’t be slapping magazines into any Knight’s Armament SR-15s any time soon, nor will her husband Reg, whose mission is directly tied to keeping the wall strong and keeping those inside safe from whatever’s outside. Alexandria may not be as paranoid about possible threats as latter-day Rick, but its people are primarily and unflinchingly self-interested.

carolI try to stay away from the internet on Sunday nights for obvious reasons, but I imagine that around 9:50pm EST, Twitter was a raging chorus of “Glenn should’ve killed Dickless Nicholas!” But of course we know he would never. Of all the surviving Grimes group members, Glenn has remained the most free from sin. He’d do well to employ Carol to do his dirty work. Blue cardigan or no blue cardigan, Carol is not the “den mother” of this or any other group, and her behavior since the arrival in Alexandria might be a comment on the perception of some bloggers and recappers that her standing as the group’s only woman over 35 makes her a default matriarch. She’s terrible to Jessie and Pete’s son, Sam, threatening him once again before realizing that even a tiny glimpse into his psychology can speak volumes about what goes on under Pete’s roof. Her solution—that Pete must die—is arrived at without so much as a shrug, and though spousal abuse is no small matter (especially to Carol), I wonder if she’s becoming too reactionary and militaristic even for the Grimes group. It’s as if Carol intends to send a message to the next phase of humankind that any sort of household abuse will not be tolerated in the new world.

The more reasonable (though less narratively satisfying) solution for dealing with criminals in Alexandria might just be to cast them out, weaponless and alone. That certainly seems like a fitting punishment for Nicholas, who could’ve survived with some moral integrity intact if he’d only given Glenn a few seconds to break the revolving door window (one of the show’s most effective images of claustrophobia). If Nicholas had his way, both Glenn and poor Noah would be dead; if Glenn hadn’t survived, it’s entirely plausible that Nicholas would have killed Eugene to complete the cover-up. But of course, that’s “what we do” in Alexandria, and it’s hard to imagine Deanna will have much sympathy for Rick’s crew when she finds out her son was killed on a micro inverter run, of all things. She won’t believe that Aiden’s death was the result of his own actions, and she certainly won’t believe that Glenn tried to save him—not after Father Total Son of a Bitch Traitor Gabriel compared Rick to the devil himself and his crew to demonic disciples. (Is it worth noting that, excluding Gabriel and the departed Noah, there are now twelve Rick disciples? Does a bear send a fax to Cleveland in the woods?)

The growing power of our group was so obvious that Deanna even mentioned it out loud, after naming Abraham the new construction crew chief at the insistence of former crew chief Tobin. Now, with Aiden dead and Nicholas incapable of playing well with others, she’ll probably have no choice but to draw up a supply-run unit made up entirely of Rick’s people. Rick’s endorsement of the broken windows theory suggests that he’s interested in keeping order in Alexandria from the ground up—meaning he’ll investigate the shit out of every busted owl sculpture within a five mile radius, micromanaging every surface aspect of this improvised hamlet as he goes. It isn’t hard to imagine a coup on the horizon.

Noah’s last meaningful words in the series found him asking Reg to teach him about building, so that he can be part of the team that keeps Alexandria’s walls secure. Reg agreed, and gave Noah a notebook to start keeping a log of important stuff, including but not limited to the ins and outs of post-apocalyptic architecture. “This is the beginning,” said Reg, and lo and behold, it was the end of Noah. Noah would have been the one to create, to build, to fortify, to keep the historical record of a progressive new state, a new start for mankind. That his death was shot up-close, in some of the most gruesome images manufactured heretofore by the series, suggest that we are a long way from a new beginning. This might just be yet another episode in a long, slow, suffocating end.

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