After two weak episodes in a row, The Walking Dead returns to try it again. There’s no way we’ll get a dud hat trick, right? It’s never happened before that I can think of in the series … so, is this one good?

Welcome to Earth!

Remember the clean cut looking guy who showed up at the end of the last episode? Well, his name is Aaron and he thinks Rick & Co. might be a great fit for their wonderful (sounding) community. Unfortunately, the response he gets is anything but receptive. For starters, Rick’s ‘I’m angry and wary’ stare looks infinitely more intimidating with that glorious beard he’s grown. And when Aaron tries to be nice and throw a few jokes into his presentation, Rick promptly punches him in the face.

After waking up, Aaron still tries to be nice and civil, but Rick isn’t buying it. To be fair, however, Mr. Grimes has some pretty good reasons to be wary:

– His group doesn’t have a very good track record with other people. I know it seems like a long time to us as television viewers, but it was only a few weeks ago that they encountered a group of cannibals who’d seemed friendly at first, too.

– Aaron admits that he’s been watching them, observing what they were like and how they behave. There’s another word for that, and it’s called ‘stalking.’ If you’re Rick and/or anyone else who’s just deal with people trying to turn you into food, that sounds a whole lot more like ‘hunting.’

– He never tells them if his name is spelled with one or two A’s… or if it’s even spelled with an E!

Michonne of all people finally steps in to add a little humanity, which either shows you how much she’s opened up or how hardened the group’s collective heart has become. She convinces Rick to let her and a scouting party check out Aaron’s story about two vehicles being parked a short distance away.

I saw a lot of folks on Twitter referring to this moment as a ‘mutiny’, but it felt more like a debate between two leaders. She and Rick are by far the characters most fixated on survival by any means necessary. They’re also cautious (remember Michonne’s misgivings about Woodbury?) If she thinks Aaron’s story is worth checking out, then so be it.

Apple sauce is kind of gross

While Michonne & Co. are discovering that Aaron’s story completely checks out, Aaron incriminates himself to Rick with what seems like a little too much goodwill. For starters, he claims to have once worked for an NGO and even brought applesauce for little baby Judith (who has now decided to cry since I guess there was no soothing automatic gunfire or zombie killing to keep her asleep).

When Rick tries to make Aaron taste the applesauce himself, however, he refuses on the grounds of it being icky. So yeah… either this guy is a fraud or that was a terribly contrived scene by the show’s writers for the sake of dramatic tension.

Flare Up

The group returns, decides to travel at night (against Aaron’s advice) on a different route (against Aaron’s advice) and predictably run into some trouble (i.e. lots of zombies and crappy windshield wipers). The group gets split up, but Aaron manages to help them retreat (with an assist by a really cool flare gun zombie headshot from Rick) and meet up with everyone else.

Aaron is overjoyed to find his partner Eric still safe and relatively unharmed. The two men share a kiss, causing Fox News to completely reshuffle its entertainment review spots for tomorrow while humanizing Aaron much more than his goofy sense of humor or his repeated pleas to be trusted. When Glenn shoots down Rick’s plan to make Aaron and Eric sleep apart so they can’t plot anything, it’s clear that the group might finally be opening their hearts and minds a bit to the idea that all people aren’t terrible.

Welcome to Alexandria

As Eugene deals out the cards for a game of poker (which involves quite a bit of bluffing), Abraham and Rosita smile as the sight of Washington D.C. on the horizon (and the stench of overwhelming irony filling the RV).

the-walking-dead-episode-511-abraham-cudlitz

After a short pit stop to change a battery (and a heart breaking reminder of Daryl), the group arrives at Aaron’s sanctuary. Rick warns Michonne that at Woodbury and Terminus, there had been no sound at the gates. Here, however, the sound of children playing could be heard. They might be playing with the dead remains of a walker or something, but they’re still playing.

As Rick’s group prepared to enter Alexandria, Carol reminds Rick that even though he was wrong this time, he was still right. No matter how good or perfect something looks, they’d seen too much to let their guard down now.

Verdict

First of all, thank goodness we had a good episode this week. Three clunkers in a row would have been troubling.

It was also good to see Rick’s leadership questioned. Not in a mutinous way, but in a strong and forceful manner that could only come from Michonne. If anyone has been through as much hell as him, it’s her. She’s also the group’s best fighter. Those two things give her plenty of authority to debate decisions without it seeming like the group is splintering.

As far as Aaron goes, those of us who read the comics knew pretty much everything that was revealed about him this episode …including the “shocking” revelation that gay people still exist in the post-zombie apocalypse world.

:: Rant Interruption ::

Look, I’m not usually a huge fan of watching guys kiss, but that moment between Aaron and Eric was incredibly poignant and very important to letting us know about his character. Unfortunately, some of the homophobic reactions I saw on Twitter about it were pretty disheartening. About the only vulgar sentiment I didn’t see was someone declaring “IT WAS ALL THAT GAY MARRIAGE THAT CAUSED THE ZOMBIES TO SHOW UP IN THE FIRST PLACE!”

I won’t link/post the tweets here (I’ll leave that type of shaming to Gawker/Jezebel), but seriously people, get over it. If you can’t accept that gay people might actually exist on the show, but can accept that people continue to biologically function as flesh eating monsters after death, then your suspension of disbelief while watching television is pretty bigoted (not you of course, just your sensibilities).

And besides, did you really think the first clean cut and well-dressed man we’ve seen in the post-zombie apocalypse world wouldn’t be gay?

:: End Rant ::

Before reaching Alexandria, the group’s interactions with Aaron felt very similar to the first time Benjamin Linus/Henry Gale showed up on Lost. He just seemed a little too eager to please and his story had a few too many holes in it. Some were clever (why were there no other people in his pictures?) while others were dumb (JUST EAT THE DAMN APPLESAUCE, AARON). But overall, it helped make the story a lot more interesting.

Combine that with some great zombie action, Rick looking like a deranged lumberjack, and Michonne taking on a greater leadership role, and this was definitely a return to form for the series. Next week’s episode promises to be even better as we see how Rick’s group interacts with the closest thing they’ve seen to ‘civilized’ society in a very long time.

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 11 "The Distance" Review
Echoes of Benjamin Linus/Henry Gale from lost--the writers (mostly) do a good job keeping the group and the audience on their toes about whether or not Aaron is a good guy.Some really cool character moments, particularly for Michonne, who begins to take on a much stronger co-leadership role with Rick.Rick shoots a zombie in the head with a flare gun
Seriously dude, just eat the damn applesauce.They finally reached D.C. and Eugene is just sitting there playing poker? Good for irony, but he probably should have a bigger reaction.
8.5Overall Score
Reader Rating 4 Votes
8.8