What Happened and What’s Going On Plot Summary:
To honor Beth’s (Emily Kinney) final wish, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) gathers a small group and brings Noah (Tyler James Williams) to find his family. What they find instead is infinitely more than they bargained for.
“Don’t you want one more day with a chance?”
After several years of surviving insurmountable odds, it’s unsurprising that The Walking Dead’s characters are exhausted by their lifestyle. They’re all alive, sure, but being in constant fear of death is no way to live. Running around and rummaging through abandoned towns with no particular place to call home is a short term solution at best. It simply cannot last. The events in “What Happened and What’s Going On,” along with the above quote emphatically delivered by Michonne (Danai Gurira) is proof that we’re witnessing a tidal shift. These constant trials are too much now, and it’s time to find a place to legitimately settle down and rebuild. This change in attitude, combined with a powerful performance and gorgeous cinematography, made this one incredible hour of dramatic television.
Before I dive into what everyone is freaking out about, I want to address how well “What Happened and What’s Going On” established this second half. I for one began to wonder how exactly the writers were going to put our characters back onto a path with a singular focus after the winter finale. Expecting at least an episode of aimless wandering, trying to figure out what to do next, is not unreasonable. The Walking Dead has even done this before with a couple filler episodes. Yet before this premiere is over, the direction of the next eight episodes was perfectly established. Rick and his crew are going up to Washington DC because Eugene (Josh McDermitt) might not be wrong about people being there. Is this a hopeful fantasy? Absolutely. However, at this stage of the show, it’s a fantasy that is worth following. If these people are going to travel anyway, they might as well hit a place relatively close by if safety is even remotely possible. It’s a smart gamble.
There’s also the structure of this episode. It opens up with a series of random images along with a few flashbacks of places like The Prison and Woodbury. Certain characters like Mika (Kyla Kenedy) and Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) pop in as well. What we’re seeing is difficult to establish at first, but as the hour goes on the gaps are filled. The pictures are of Noah’s siblings. The blood on the picture was from a walker hit by Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman). Mika and Lizzie are actually hallucinations from a dying man. Even though the shots of Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Noah sobbing are presumably about Beth’s recent death, we’re also lead to believe that the group is burying her body this entire time. It’s not until the puzzles fit in that we learn the tragic truth, and see just how well the show has mislead us.
I’m not surprised Tyreese has died. The writing has been on the wall for him the moment he left Martin (Chris Coy) alive. He’s tough, but his mind was too shattered to keep him going for very long. He was bitten simply because he lost his focus too easily. Yet it still sucks that he’s gone because Tyreese was an incredible character. He was that gentle giant who could care and kick ass in equal measure. Had he been at the top of his game, you can bet he would have made it out alive. All the credit goes to Coleman too for giving the performance of a lifetime. Coleman absolutely tore up every scene as he brought Tyreese through all the stages of impending death. Fear, sadness, anger, and eventually quiet acceptance. It’s a shame that people write off The Walking Dead as violent zombie fiction because it’s moments like this that show it’s actually a very compelling drama.
How Tyreese’s death played out was equal parts terrifying and comforting. “What Happened and What’s Going On” was a grab bag of cameo appearances, with Martin, Mika, Lizzie, Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), The Governor (David Morrissey), and Beth (Emily Kinney) all coming back as hallucinations. It makes sense that this happened too. Tyeese has dealt with a lot of people in the past, and having him come to terms with his regrets was the only way to have peace. Why Karen (Melissa Ponzio) wasn’t there is beyond me. Despite forgiving Carol (Melissa McBride), you’d think he would see his former love interest before moving on. For who we saw though, The Governor had a lot to say considering how Tyreese joined him for a while. Watching Tyreese finally stand up to the madman was amazing, despite being short lived. Few moments in this series are as tender as the last shot of Tyreese in the car too. Sitting there, surrounded by his departed friends, Tyreese finally finds the comfort they have, with “it’s better” standing as a mantra that living is worse than death. Truthfully, this is the first time The Walking Dead has ever shown us exactly how a death is played out from the person actually going.
People craving some quality walker killing got some great moments here too. Watching Michonne hack away a few stragglers, albeit visibly exhausted by the whole idea, was cool to watch. What really took the cake though was that final brawl at the locked gate. That entire scene was so wonderfully shot and edited and it made the regular act of violence an actual work of art. It’s not often that the production people get recognition on this show, that mainly goes to makeup and hairstyling, but it’s events like this that remind me of the talented people behind the camera. I can’t even imagine how much work went into putting that scene together but seeing it all play out was incredible.
The Walking Dead always does a great job with premieres and “What Happened and What’s Going On” is no exception. This was an awesome hour of television that succeeded by focusing heavily on a fan favorite character while also providing a little bit of flair. Tyreese will sorely be missed, and his death honestly doesn’t help with the theory that only a few black men can live at one time, but Coleman gave a performance unlike any other. This was by far his best episode and now there is a massive void that will never get filled. But like every other death on this show, the characters will have to move on. Society needs to come back and it’s time to ensure a future that’s not random hunting and gathering. Eugene may have lied before, but it’s very possible that Washington DC is still the salvation everyone needs.
The Walking Dead airs every Sunday night on AMC.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.