“It’s a dog eat dog world.”
You have to imagine the old catch-phrase is stuck in the head of at least one of the fourteen members of the Rick Grimes Traveling Circus, as each and every one of them chews on feral dog meat. That’s if any of them have any sense of humor left, that is. Even gallows humor appears to be at an all-time low, given the desperate situation these men, women, and children find themselves in. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and in this case, desperate measures means huge hunks of barbecued dogs.
Where did it all go wrong? Close your eyes, point at any event from the last few weeks of these miserable lives, and take your pick.
For Maggie Greene, look no further than her sister Beth’s death; she barely batted an eyelash the entire time she was separated from her sister, but once she learned there was a chance Beth was still alive, and once that chance was shot in the head, Maggie’s heart finally broke, leaving her empty and unsure of her ability to keep on keeping on.
Beth’s death weighs heavily on Daryl Dixon as well, as he wanders with his fellow nomads looking for food, water, and shelter. He comes up empty at almost every turn, a reflection of the emptiness he feels now that the light known as Beth Greene has been extinguished. Speaking of extinguished, Daryl is so desperate to feel something that he puts out a lit cigarette on his own hand. It seems to move something deep inside of him, but is it enough?
While Daryl and Maggie mourn Beth, Sasha is busy reeling from the sudden loss of her brother Tyreese. The hammering hero died just days after her boyfriend Bob Stookey succumbed to a walker bite. The double-whammy hits Sasha like a ton of bricks, leaving her furious and friendless as she seeks to take her anger out on anything that moves — whether it’s a walker, or even Abraham, who she accidentally slices with a knife in the heat of the moment.
Indeed, it’s Sasha who unloads her sniper rifle into the pack of rabid dogs that emerges from the woods, barking and growling at our starved and struggling survivors. Suddenly, there’s food on the table again, but some folks like Noah can hardly stomach the meat. He tells Sasha he’s not sure if he’s going to make it in this world. “Then you won’t,” she shoots back, no emotion in her voice, not a trace of life in her eyes. “Don’t think; just eat.”
Rick’s group consumes the dog meat without thinking, but the mysterious stash of water they find in the middle of the road the next day is another story. According to an accompanying note, the water is from a “friend.” But by now, we know Rick Grimes does not play well with others. The group debates whether or not to drink the water; if it’s not from a friend, then it could be poisoned. Eugene tries to taste-test, but Abraham slaps the jug out of his hand. Still no love lost between these two former friends; besides, Abraham’s nursing a flask of whiskey, so he has plenty to drink.
As luck would have it, a rainstorm strikes just as Rick’s group decides not to drink the strange water. They welcome the downpour with open arms, opening bottles and stocking as much as they can. And then comes the thunder and lightning. Flanked on all sides by trees, it appears there’s nowhere for these people to go — nowhere, except for a nearby barn that Daryl was fortunate enough to find on his latest scout.
“This is how we survive: We tell ourselves that we are the walking dead.”
“That’s the trick of it,” he says. “This is how we survive: We tell ourselves that we are the walking dead.”
Just as Rick evokes the title of the show, the actual walking dead show up at the barn’s doorstep. A herd of walkers threaten to break through the walls, forcing every single member of the group (minus baby Judith) to lean up against the door and prevent the rotters from plowing through. As they struggle to keep the creatures at bay, the lightning storm rages on outside, the desperation and danger more palpable than ever before.
And somehow, they make it. The storm passes, but before it does, it strikes down several trees, crushing and trapping the walkers. Call it magic, call it divine intervention, call it dumb luck; whatever you want to call it, it’s nothing short of a miracle for the survivors, who were all but doomed before getting their lives saved by something akin to an act of God.
In the morning, Maggie and Sasha leave the barn. They walk past the walkers, nailed into the mud by the fallen forest. They step out into a clearing and watch as the sun rises. Sasha finally owns the fear and grief beneath her cold exterior: Like Noah, she just doesn’t know if she’s going to make it.
“You’re going to make it. Both of us will,” Maggie says. “That’s the hard part.”
As Maggie and Sasha share a moment of empowerment, a new and unexpected obstacle emerges in the form of a well-dressed, smooth-talking stranger. Hands in the air and smile on his face, the self-identified Aaron approaches Maggie and Sasha cautiously, promising that he poses no threat.
“I’m a friend,” he says. “I’d like to talk to the person in charge — Rick, right?”
Maggie asks the obvious question: “How do you know his name?” Aaron smiles and offers nothing more than a simple reply: “I have good news.” Lord knows this group needs some, but can they trust this guy? Given what’s happened and what’s going on, they might not have a choice. In any event, it can’t get much worse. After all, these people still have dog meat on their breath.