“Nobody’s gotta die today.”
Even through the blood and muck of the zombie apocalypse, hammer-wielding hero Tyreese always sees light at the end of the tunnel. Like the late, great Bob Stookey, Tyreese is the type who feels there’s no stopping tomorrow; that he and his companions are better men and women than the monsters they became in the face of Gareth and the Terminus cannibals; that he does not have to live by the kill-or-be-killed rules that govern so many others.
But he’s wrong. If The Walking Dead accomplished nothing else in its midseason premiere, “What Happened and What’s Going On,” it plainly established that after the world has ended, there’s no happy endings for the optimists.
In the episode, Tyreese joins Rick, Glenn, and Michonne on a mission to scope out a possible new safe haven: Noah’s hometown. The liberated Grady Hospital ward told tales of the walled-in neighborhood protecting his family before he became trapped in Atlanta. But that was a long time ago. Now, Noah’s home is in ruins, every house ransacked, scattered arms and legs left loose in the streets, walkers wandering without any fresh meat to speak of.
As Rick, Michonne, and Glenn take the opportunity to find supplies, Tyreese elects to stay behind with the inconsolable Noah. But Noah has other plans. He breaks away from Tyreese in search of his own house, to see what’s happened to his family. And the sight is as expected: Noah’s mother rots on the ground, his brother rots in a nearby bedroom, and a reanimated corpse pounds and howls from behind some closed, locked door.
Tyreese wanders into Noah’s brother’s bedroom and takes stock of what’s left behind: a toy rocket here, some family photos there. As he stares at photos of Noah’s twin brothers, Tyreese loses himself in the moment, pondering the tragedy of what Noah lost, of what the world has lost… so lost is Tyreese that he doesn’t even hear the snarling sounds of death creeping up behind him.
When Tyreese finally senses an oncoming walker, it’s too late. The dead, hungry thing sinks its teeth into Tyreese’s forearm, ripping away a hunk of flesh. Noah kills the creature that was once his brother and runs off to find Rick, but the damage is done, and the look on Tyreese’s face says it all.
As he sits in the corner bleeding out, fever rushing to his brain, Tyreese sees reminders of who he is and what he’s become in the form of ghosts from the past: Martin of Terminus, the cabin-dwelling, gum-snapping goon Tyreese refused to kill not long ago; Bob Stookey and his severed leg, sitting comfortably on the nearby bed; Lizzie and Mika, innocent and at peace, unlike the last time Tyreese saw them in the grove; and Beth Greene, bullet-hole still fresh in her forehead, as she plays Tyreese one final song.
“Struggling man has got to move,” she sings. “Struggling man, no time to lose.”
The words wash over Tyreese, conflicting with the imagined sounds of a nearby radio, warning of a “campaign of random violence moving across the countryside unfettered.” Does the radio speak of the walkers? Does it speak of the men and women Tyreese calls his friends?
All of the ghosts have something to say. Martin reminds Tyreese that he warned him; the guy who saves babies does not survive in this world. Bob reassures that everything “went the way it had to; the way it was always going to.” Lizzie and Mika promise that “it’s better now” that they’re gone.
Another voice booms through the room: “The bill has to be paid.”
Tyreese, pale and half-gone, looks up to see the gaunt ghost of the Governor, stalking and shambling forward. In a flash, fantasy fades away, reality snaps back in, and the ghost becomes an all-too-real walker lunging at Tyreese’s face. In his weakened state, Tyreese can barely pick himself up off the ground, let alone fight back at the monster. But he’s not ready to go, at least not yet; he raises his bitten forearm, stuffs it into the walker’s mouth, turning himself into bait while he reaches out for a geode on a nearby shelf. Tyreese bashes the walker’s brains in, a second bite on his arm, but another few minutes of life under his belt.
In the aftermath of the attack, the Governor’s ghost returns to haunt and taunt Tyreese once more. “You told me you’d earn your keep,” he hisses, referring to Tyreese’s promises back in the Woodbury days. “Your eyes were open, but you didn’t wanna see, even though I made you see it.”
“You have to pay the bill,” he reminds him again.
“Nobody’s gotta die today.”
“I know who I am,” he continues. “I know what happened and what’s going on. I know. You didn’t show me s–t. You… you’re dead. Everything you were is dead. And it’s not over. … I’m not giving up. People like me can live. Nobody’s gotta die today.”
But he’s wrong, at least about the today part. Tyreese sinks back to the ground, and holds his hand out to find Lizzie and Mika. In reality, Rick has found Tyreese. He stretches Tyreese’s arm as far as it goes, and Michonne swings her sword down upon the limb in one smooth swoop.
Rick, Michonne, Glenn and Noah manage to bring the towering Tyreese all the way through the ravaged town and back to their vehicle, but as they drive off, Tyreese fades. He stares out at the window at the hot heat of the sun, once again hearing the faint hum of the radio in the background.
“Turn it off,” he whispers.
Ghost Bob, sitting in the passenger seat of Tyreese’s world, asks, “You sure?” In the driver’s seat, Beth turns around, looking kindly at Tyreese with her two good eyes and without the hole in her head. “It’s okay, Tyreese,” she assures him. “You gotta know that by now.”
“It isn’t just okay,” Lizzie and Mika say, sitting in the back with Tyreese. “It’s better now.”
With that, Tyreese slips away. Rick, Michonne, and the others reunite with the rest of the group and bury their fallen comrade. Tyreese’s shell-shocked sister Sasha shovels dirt on her brother’s fresh grave, but can hardly finish the job. Rick finishes for her. He shovels and shovels and shovels, Tyreese’s signature ski-cap resting on his makeshift headstone, his bill finally paid, his struggle at an end.
But what of the struggling men and women Tyreese leaves behind? What of Sasha, who now has lost her brother on top of losing her boyfriend some weeks earlier? What of Carol, who now loses the only person who was with her the day Lizzie and Mika died? What struggles lie ahead for this group?
The answer, it appears, lies in Washington, D.C., as Rick has finally determined that the fallen capital is the group’s best bet at survival. Until they arrive safely and soundly, the struggle continues.
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