by David Cameo
|Hand-drawn by SQUAWKING DEAD host|
We open the episode with a sharp contrast of dark and light: the near pitch blackness of a hallway leading to the bright cubes of light framing the front door window of what was once a family's home. There is no background music: only the slightly muffled sounds of 40 Mph winds and debris hitting the house. As the camera pulls ever-so-slowly away from the door and further into the shadow-engulfed hallway (assisted by the visual direction of Michael Satrazemis), we see Alicia slowly do the same, ambling towards the door from the outside in a way most resembling a walker. She's taking refuge far away from where she left Morgan, wanting to be alone in the middle of an extremely severe hurricane. Between the lack of the usual mood-establishing score (take 5, Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans), the ever-present danger of mother nature, the cinematically deliberate high contrast of the light on the outside and darkness on the inside (courtesy of Adam Suschitzky), and the distinct sound the door makes when Alicia uses her sword to pry the door from its lockset, there's a sense of creepy, pre-heated suspense already baking into this episode.
As she carefully makes her way through the home, she quickly puts down an infected in the kitchen. Carefully moving through the living room entry, she deftly puts down two more: the one to her right, using the sword in her right hand, and the other, to her left, with a souvenir of The Washington Monument she quickly grabs with her left. It was an impressive sequence that easily makes it into the Top-10 walker-kills in The Walking Dead universe.
|Again, we have to ask, Who wore it better?|
As she lays out the bodies of the formerly undead on the lawn - side-by-side, on display, and exposed to the elements - it's clear that these are the long dead remnants of the family that must've lived in this house as the screen quickly flickers from an overhead view of their bodies to a similarly depicted photo of them when they were alive, on the mantle. Just as we, the viewers, and Alicia both start to feel a human connection to these poor souls, she quickly takes it upon herself to dispose of these feelings by removing all the photographic reminders, placing them in a laundry basket, and frantically tosses them next to the still-exposed bodies. As if the irony wasn't thick enough - the reminders of the family members she's lost along the way, her inability to save them or even the man trapped in the office of AGL Lumber Company - she is forced to nail the front door of the house shut after ruining the lockset; opening a door - or a wound - that can never properly close. As she descends the basement stairs to get a hammer and nails, she's startled by the rapid flooding that is occurring in the basement.
Alicia then hears a noise upstairs and moves to investigate. As the semi-visible, silhouette of her profile moves into the foreground of the camera's view - framing the walls behind her in such a way that makes it feel as though the walls of the house are closing in on her - she enters a bedroom and spies, through its far window, a walker impaled onto a thick tree limb, gingerly swaying around in the intense winds of the hurricane. After hearing another sound, she calls out, threateningly, to whomever is out there that she will kill them if they are found. As if out of a horror film, the blurred image of a small figure scurries past Alicia across the floor - triggering every suspenseful Child's Play/Hitchcockian/The Twilight Zonesque memory in the span of milliseconds - making its way to another bedroom. We, after wiping up the water we just knocked over, and Alicia barely recognize that figure to be Charlie, and Alicia, with flecks of futility in her voice (yet another brick in the the heavy bag of painful memory bricks), but in an attempt to assert herself (nearly unsuccessfully) pleads, "Why are you here?"
She faux-rallies and tells her that she can't be here.
Charlie breaks free and makes it to the other bedroom, locking the door behind her. Charlie remains silent. She hasn't spoken a word to anyone since she was discovered with June and The Vultures.
Wanting no part of this house-of-constantly-emerging-painful-reminders, Alicia rushes to the kitchen, quickly grabs some provisions and a set of car keys, pries open the front door she had only just nailed shut, and makes a bee-line to the car outside. With the storm raging, she frantically attempts to pull the stuck driver's side door that just won't give. As she finally frees the door, simultaneously, a violent gust of wind wildly flings the door wide open, knocking Alicia off her feet and rendering her unconscious.
Suspending our disbelief over Charlie, a 12-year-old, being able to drag around an adult twice her age, Alicia wakes up in the living room of the house. Alicia sprints up the stairs, figuring out what Charlie has done, and confronts Charlie behind the very same door she left her, earlier...
If you were to sum up the one element that flows through all the episodes of this season, the main recurring theme would be admitting the truth, out loud (if only once): Althea's touchstone. As characters on this show own up to their fears, admit their faults and failures, and openly reveal their vulnerabilities, it creates enough of a gap in the universe for healing to rush in or send a message out to the universe that finds its way to the right person in the right moment.
...Alicia's voice/words to Charlie go from almost trembling and being afraid of killing her if she stays to sneering and calling her garbage for taking the life of her brother - someone Charlie knew cared for her. She resolves to split the difference in her tone - almost appearing to solve this dilemma in her head and trying it out - telling her that she hopes she lives to a ripe old age with the ever-present knowledge of how much of an awful garbage person she is and will always be. As Charlie cries, she reaches into her bag and brandishes a handgun - perhaps the very weapon Charlie used to kill Nick after he ended Ennis' life. We're left wondering whether she plans on using it against Alicia, herself, or both.
Alicia attempts to start a fire by breaking some furniture for firewood. In the process, she hears a banging shutter and attempts, but fails, to nail it closed. She looks away in frustration towards the front lawn where she notices the bodies she dragged out, earlier, are now covered with a sheet: undoubtedly by Charlie, while she was knocked out. As she pulls back the sheet covering one of the bodies, revealing a close-up of the face of a girl most likely around her age, the scene cuts to a photo of the same girl, alive, being wiped down by Charlie. Alicia pops in and asks why she bothered covering the bodies and wiping-down the photos.
Charlie, again, doesn't say a word.
Feeling stupid for even expecting an answer, Alicia quickly shifts subject to asking her for help nailing the shutters shut and Charlie agrees to help by way of nodding. I guess resolving to keep Charlie alive - if only to live a full life of guilt over Nick's death and accessory murder of all the stadium dwellers - has its perks. Besides, it's an excellent team-building exercise but, also, in an unsuspecting way, it's a little like a Trojan Horse from beyond the grave, unsuspectingly allowing her to try things out the Madison way.
While trying to nail the shutters closed, successfully nailing down one set, they notice that the sound of their banging is quickly attracting walkers and they decide to head inside and, again, nail the front door shut. Alicia notices the way Charlie's jacket is hanging suspiciously, especially from the pockets, and offers to dry her soaked jacket by the fire, once she has the fire going.
Charlie is frozen.
Alicia bellows, "GIVE ME YOUR JACKET!"
Charlie sees no choice but to slowly peel off her jacket and start to hand it over when Alicia snatches it. Alicia's justifiable anger over her discovery melts into horror over the realization that this might very well be the same gun that was used to kill Nick. Aiming the pistol at Charlie's head, she asks her if she was planning to kill her.
Charlie shakes her head.
Resisting the urge to end her, she puts the gun down and tells her to go, and Charlie races upstairs and locks the door to her room behind her.
|"I'm sorry... I'm trying"|
Cold, wet, and with her nerves frayed, Alicia attempts to open the flue to finally get a fire going in the house. Struggling with the flue, she notices the incredible amount of soot on the mantle and realizes that it's blocked. Knocking the chimney obstruction loose by poking around, a large bird carcass and debris lands on the firewood. All at once, she understands how this family perished - smoke inhalation - and the symbolism of the what the bird represents: the one she saved as a child - the good Madison saw in her. She can no longer bear the struggle against feeling something for this family, her inability to escape this house house that forces her to confront Charlie and all these painful memories, or her failure in living up to her mother's vision of her best self. Still staring at the bird, she weeps and says to it/her, "I'm sorry... I'm trying."
Charlie is sorting through the photos, now dry, and spots the same walker stuck on the tree limb that Alicia had, earlier. With the chimney unblocked, Alicia attempts to start a fire. As Charlie walks out onto the balcony, in the intense rain and wind, the starter fire Alicia attempts to use to get the fire going goes out in a wild gust of wind. Concerned, she runs upstairs to find the source of the wind to find Charlie's neck nearly in the maw of the impaled walker. Just as the walker grabs Charlie, Alicia is able to pull Charlie back before anything bad can happen to her.
At the dinner table, Alicia explains how she finally understands what Charlie meant to do with her brother's murder weapon. With it confiscated, she had no choice but use the dead to end her life and Alicia refuses to let her get away with taking the easy way out.
In that moment, between Alicia saving her life from a brutal demise and knowing - full well - the kind of garbage person she is for being responsible for so many deaths, including her brother's, Charlie utters her first words in months and it's a question. It's the same question June asks of Strand at the FEMA center and Strand asks Madison at The Stadium (bonus: it's the same question Rick asks of Morgan, after killing the refugee Saviors attempting to flee The Hilltop), "Why did you save me?"
Alicia, hesitating at first, explains that it's not because she forgives her or that she's anything special or worth saving. It's because everyone has to live with the things they've done because, at the end of the day, tallying the sum total of your existence, you still end up as one of the infected when it's over. Living has more value.
As they finally sit down to a hot meal, provided by the fire, Charlie breaks the silence and asks Alicia about her life in California. Alicia gives her a curt response. Charlie, pressing her lightly, asks her specifically about what the beaches in California are like, since she really never got to go. Alicia finds this unusual. Charlie explains that she and her parents had always meant to go the beach in Galveston and, after so long, the day finally arrived. As it happens, it was the same day people started turning. Alicia, not completely reacting to this, clears the table and tells Charlie to get some sleep.
Alicia wakes up to find Charlie isn't on the couch nearby, where she left her, sleeping. She runs upstairs to find her scrambling to gather all the photos she's sorted and tries to stop her by telling her that anyone that ever cared about this family is now dead. Not giving Charlie a chance to actually respond, Alicia tells her to do what she wants, "it won't make you feel better," and storms off downstairs.
Charlie bounds after her, Alicia already trying to start another fire, and asks, "Why do you care," but before Alicia can even respond, a powerful gust of wind puts out what little fire she managed to start while walkers are already stumbling through a nearby window, assisted by the gale-forces outside.
Thinking quickly, Alicia grabs Charlie and takes her to the basement only to realize, far too late, that the ankle deep flood from yesterday was now a deep pool of high water. Before they both can even properly register their predicament, the ceiling near the basement entrance collapses, taking out the stairs beneath them, forcing them into the pool of water, and blocking the door behind them. Failing to find an exit, with the water around them continuing to rise, they rush to find something to stand on. Even if they could manage it, they can no longer break through the ceiling, as the dead have spilled into the house and continue to roam above them. Charlie lets Alicia know that, faced with the present situation and even knowing that she will forever be garbage, she doesn't want to die anymore but, now trapped and succumbing to her fate, begs Alicia to kill her. Seeing that Alicia isn't even able to process Charlie's request, she proceeds to explain that the only image of her parents she's been able to conjure, no matter how many books she's read, is the one of them changing and she doesn't want to end up like "one of them". It's why she was gathering up the photos of the people that used to live in this house: the slimmest chance that someone they love makes it means they won't be robbed of the way they remembered and loved them while they were alive. Alicia resists, but Charlie is desperate and tells her to try and think of all the ways that she hurt her. Alicia, not knowing what to do and the water continuing to rise, slowly raises the gun to meet Charlie's forehead. Charlie closes her eyes. As Alicia closes hers, she immediately flashes to the memory of Nick dying in her arms, his chest and mouth so full of blood, he could barely breathe let alone say goodbye; Strand, burning himself attempting to save Alicia from the flaming walkers outside The Stadium walls; the march of oily walkers descending on the the stadium, it's dwellers already dead attempting to flee the chaos; Good memories of Nick and her, making a life for themselves in the stadium; Madison, waving a flare and saying goodbye while guiding the undead armada into the stadium walls and locking them in with her, sacrificing her life to save her and the others.
All of these memories - but especially Madison's sacrifice - helps Alicia realize why she's still alive and refuses to waste that sacrifice. She lowers her gun and tells Charlie that she won't do it (because, and this isn't necessarily spoken, no one's gone til they're gone).
Just as Alicia grabs Charlie's hands, they hear a loud crash on the cellar door and discover that it no longer shut. As they emerge, they quickly spot the walker nearby, now free of the limb it was dangling from, near the balcony. Alicia quickly ends the infected by shooting it in the head. The very things that Charlie planned to use in order to end her life - the handgun and the walker - were the very things that, in the end, saved her.
It's only now that the sound of the background score starts up, again, as we see Alicia finish burying the deceased family and placing the jar of photos Charlie collected on one of their graves. Charlie arrives behind her as Alicia finishes up. Alicia tells her that she buried them for the people that could come back. This, in some ways, is kind of a double entendre: earlier, Alicia smashes through the front door with little thought to being able to close it again - a door/wound that can no longer be closed - but now she realizes that every moment is a chance to do right and work at healing. Charlie presents Alicia with the sword she had lost when the wind knocked her off her feet, earlier. Holding it only for a moment, she gives it back to Charlie: she's going to continue trying to live up to her mother's vision of her highest ideal.
As they drive back, Alicia says to Charlie, "Close Your Eyes"
Charlie hesitates, but does so. Alicia begins to describe the smell of the salty air as they near the beach in her mind's eye. We start to see what Charlie sees and the dull, blue-grey cinematic backdrop colors we've grown accustomed to has been replaced with vibrant yellows and blues as we see Charlie imaging her toes in sand, sparkling ocean water lapping at her feet. Back in the car, Charlie lets out a whimper. Through closed eyes, tears flowing between them and down her cheeks, she is able to see her parents.
Charlie calls out "Luci"(ana's) name as she and Alicia search hers and Strand's mansion for signs of life but come up empty. Arriving at what used to be Morgan's covered wagon, the cover has completely torn off. Their final attempt at rejoining their friends at John & June's school bus, on the bridge, is the most devastating: the storm has flipped it over on its side with no one responding to their calls. Instead of finding either of them, a walker with a mangled arm squeezes through a space between the flipped over bus and the bridge. Before Alicia gently takes her sword back to dispose of it, knowing who she needs to be in the here and now, she shows Charlie her cards, "...things don't get better, and they're not going to. They're only going to get worse til we're not around to see how bad they can get."