Is there a main character on the show we have spent less time with than Beth? I’d like to say it’s a surprise that WD could go almost three years without a single episode focused on one of their main characters, but to be fair, they’ve been really shit about developing their women until this season. It’s obvious that season 4 has largely been about redressing the issues that fans and critics have loudly complained about and many of those issues involve just how shafted the women have been. Look at both Carol and Michonne, two characters who have grown leaps and bounds in the twelve episodes that have aired. As soon as Beth was paired off with Daryl, it was clear that we were finally going to get some time with Beth.
Or they’re planning on killing her. Could go either way.
I think that WD can do really great character focused episodes – “Clear” and “Inmates” both show this. “Still” is a good episode. It makes sense in the aftermath of the prison destruction. But I’m a bit worried about pacing. We’re four episodes past the mid-season break, and tonally they’ve all been very similar. Sure, at the end of each of them we get the sense that the gang is circling near each other and several of the groups are actively headed in the same direction. But this is the same hole that the show fell into in season 2, dragging out the time on the farm by inserting a lot of (vastly inferior) episodes into the story arc to stretch things out. And unfortunately, “Still” feels like a way to put off having everyone run into each other. Next week’s episode “Alone” focuses on Maggie, Bob, and Sasha, but at least promises more in the way of zombie walker and potential death threats.
But this week was “Still,” so let’s talk about what happened on Beth and Daryl’s Not-So-Excellent Adventure.
We last left Beth and Daryl running away from a herd of zombies, which is right where this picks up, with them spending a tense night hiding in the trunk of a ruined car while the herd stumbles on by. When the coast is clear, they scavenge some interesting items from the wreck and head on down the road til they find a campsite. And then the weird salvage choices make sense – the broken side mirror and piece of glass become a focus for starting a fire. The hubcaps are strung between some trees as an early warning system. We see Beth doing these things – lighting a fire, setting up camp – without any instruction from Daryl, and this is the first important thing we learn about Beth. She’s competent. We had no reason to think she’d be so capable outside the protection of the prison. Most of our exposure to her had been as Judith’s caretaker. On the farm, she was suicidal, but even that plot point was mostly about Andrea, not Beth. Earlier this year, her biggest scene focused on her shrugging off her boyfriend’s death, but nothing ever came of it. That weird dissociation didn’t even put her in the running for Mystery Prison Rat Killer and Budding Sociopath.
Beth drives all of the action of this episode. Daryl barely speaks for the first half, completely incapable of keeping up a lively dinner conversation with a chatty teenager. They leave their camp because Beth insists that she should have her first ‘adult’ drink – her father had always forbidden it, but he’s dead now, and Beth thinks that’s reason enough to find out what the mystery is. It seems like a left field turn of events, but I got it. It’s not like they’ve got other plans, other things to do. They’re not holed up in a house with doors and reading material, like Carl and Rick. Their other option is to sit on the ground and stare paranoidly at the woods, which, frankly, they’ll be doing for the bulk of their remaining years, so why not get a good walk in?
The alcohol runs leads them to a country club with suspiciously tended greens and a club house that feels like a video game level. The club is packed with bodies – it’s obvious that people decided to actively hide at the club – the windows are covered up, there are sleeping areas that are clearly set up for the “haves” and the “have nots,” even though everyone ends up the same shambling corpse after they kick it. The building is just packed with walkers, which gives Beth a couple of chances to prove that she can “take care of herself” as she had angrily assured Daryl. It’s also provides some class commentary on both characters – Daryl scoops up jewelry and piles of money into a fancy backpack when given the chance even though those items no longer have any apparent value. He tries to open an electronic cash register. He shoots darts at photos of dead rich guys and doesn’t even blink at the site of a dead walker who had been obviously murdered, since she had a sign saying “Rich Bitch” driven into her chest. Beth exchanges her dirty prison clothes for a crisp white sweater and a yuppie polo shirt and is deeply upset when they come across the “Rich Bitch” corpse, trying to give the body some dignity even though it’s unlikely anyone would ever see it again.
When they finally clear the level and make it to the bar, all that’s left to drink is peach schnapps. Beth putters around trying to find a clean glass to drink out of before starting to cry – anyone who thought this escapade was actually about her having a drink and not about her dealing with her father’s death wasn’t paying attention. If she has the drink, she has to face the reality that Hershel is dead. Even Daryl, not the world’s most enlightened individual, understands what Beth is really getting at, so he smashes the bottle and takes her out to get a “real” drink at a moonshiner’s shed he’d discovered on some unfilmed outing with Michonne.
And by going to the moonshiner’s house, we switch the focus from Beth’s story to Daryl’s. We knew a lot of what Daryl repeats in this episode – he grew up in a really wretched household, his brother used to drag him along to hang out with tweakers, he’s a mean drunk. Everyone in the survivor group always makes a big deal about how mysterious Daryl’s past is because he won’t say what he did for a living, but they ignore that they already know the most important things about him. Daryl thinks he’s not worth shit because he was treated like that his entire life. But he’s a decent person with a capacity for fierce loyalty and deep emotional connections to people who care for him. Carol saw it in him when she told him that he was worth as much as Shane or Rick. And Beth comes to understand this about him after a really disastrous game of “Never Have I Ever.” Beth doesn’t understand how Daryl can pretend that he’s not hurt after losing everyone from the prison and why he’s not ready to start tracking them down. It’s because he feels tremendously guilty about everything that happens. He should have kept tracking the Governor down. He should have, somehow, been able to stop the massacre. He finally found a decent family, and they got ripped away from him.
After Daryl cries – and Beth holds him! – the pair seem to be on easier emotional footing. Beth confesses that she had a whole fantasy life built up around the idea of the prison, that they could still have a normal, pre-zombie existence that somehow included vacations and picnics and her father dying peacefully of old age. But just because she realizes that it was a fantasy doesn’t mean she’s given up hope of something better and seeing her sister and the others again. She’s driven by hope. She may be the last person in the group who is.
As one final kindness to Daryl, Beth suggests that they burn down the cabin as a way of killing off Daryl’s old life. And despite the generally poor idea of traipsing out into the walker infested woods in the middle of the night, he agrees to do so. And they both raise a middle finger to the past.
- I would love, love to see a story about the rich people camp out in the country club. The bits and pieces of story that Daryl and Beth find were really compelling.
- For people constantly scrabbling for supplies and shelter, these survivors are so goddamn wasteful. They burn down a perfectly fine shelter! Someone could have used that! Someone might have wanted to have some moonshine! See also: Bob destroying a massive display of unopened wine bottles, Lori taking all of the world’s existing morning after pills and then vomiting them up, and Glenn not bringing back the tampons on his run into town. Yes, I’m still pissed about that. There aren’t any more tampon makers, Glenn. Who’s gonna be making morning after pills, Lori?
- Who the hell has been mowing the golf course?
All images courtesy AMC