After The Walking Dead’s midseason finale in December, showrunner Scott Gimple promised that things would get darker and weirder when it returned.
And holy 112-oz fudge pudding, he was NOT kidding.
The opening minutes of “What Happened and What’s Going On,” or “The One Where You Scream at Your TV a Lot,” had flashbacks, flash-forwards, hallucinations, and dead little girls. We saw a shovel dig up a grave and heard Father Gabriel read from the Bible during a burial service, which we all presumed was for Beth. Since, you know, Maggie’s sister got shot through the head in a deranged hospital accident just one episode ago. One. Episode. Ago.
The funeral wasn’t Beth’s—it was for Tyreese. Tyreese. Our heroic, conflicted, dear beanie aficionado, who refused to kill unless absolutely necessary (and sometimes not even then—hello again, Martin) and never deserved any of this. Slick move, Scott Gimple and friends: Lull us into a false sense of security after Beth’s death, then hack our hearts into a thousand pieces with the show’s most gorgeous, unsettling episode since “The Grove.” Well played! Jerks.
The madness starts when Michonne, Rick, Glenn, and Tyreese gallantly act out Beth’s final wish and accompany Noah back to his old gated community—not the Alexandria Safe-Zone—in the hopes of finding his mother and little twin brothers alive. Michonne has high hopes for the area, pitching it as a fixer-upper refuge even after they discover it’s been devastated by walkers. Glenn is basically dead inside at this point and tells anyone who will listen that “it doesn’t matter” anyway. Rick tactfully translates this into “We can’t stay here because we’d be blocked in by trees.” Meanwhile, Noah has collapsed onto the floor crying, so Tyreese stays behind with him while the others search for supplies.
Then our hero offers Noah his second monologue of the hour. In retrospect, this was a red flag (this show loves making you feel for characters the most just as they’re about to die). Tyreese tells Noah about a time when he almost gave up hope, but forced himself to go on living. “Then later, I was there for Judith when she needed me. I saved her and brought her back to her dad,” he says. “That wouldn’t have happened if I had just given up. If I hadn’t chosen to live.” The pep talk seems to work, since Noah stops crying and gets up—but then he runs off to his old house like a LUNATIC and Tyreese follows to make sure he’s safe.
Of course, there’s no one left alive in Noah’s house. They encounter the zombified corpse of Noah’s mother and Tyreese finds the disemboweled body of one of Noah’s twin brothers in a bedroom. He becomes fixated on photos of the little boys on the wall, which show them sitting together smiling, or with their big brother at a game. Juxtaposed with the tiny, gruesome corpse still in his twin-sized bed, the photos are almost too much to bear for Tyreese. We dwell in the tragedy for a moment, glimpse a dark figure behind Tyreese, wait, oh my god, what is happening, TURN AROUND TURN AROUND WAIT NO NO NOOO!
You know what happens next. Blood sprays everywhere as a lurking walker tears the flesh off Tyreese’s arm. You find yourself screaming “AMPUTATE! AMPUTATE!” as Noah panics and runs to find help. Tyreese drops to the floor, slowly dying, and then a strange little thing happens: a radio switches on.
It’s a hallucination, of course; a callback to what Tyreese told Noah in the car about his father always making him keep up with the news as a kid, to teach him the “high cost of living.” A posh English voice relays a grisly report about cannibals with machetes running through the countryside hacking people’s limbs off and setting them on fire.
And then things get amazingly, gloriously weird.
The ghost radio triggers a fascinating series of scenes in which dead characters, including the Governor, Lizzie, Mika, Bob, Martin, and even Beth, come back to voice thoughts in Tyreese’s foggy mind as he sits dying in a little boy’s bedroom. He struggles between blaming his own softness (Martin, whose life Tyreese once spared, embodies this feeling by taunting him, “I tried to tell you, man. It was gonna be you. You’re the kind of man who saves babies.”) and understanding that everything only “went the way it had to. The way it was always going to,” as Bob says.
Images flash across the screen as old memories bubble back up. Tyreese re-watches his younger sister Sasha hack a man to death inside Father Gabriel’s church; he remembers baby Judith’s smile, the photos of Noah’s brother, and a female walker he saw trapped inside a car earlier. Beth sings about a struggling man who’s “gotta move on,” and Lizzie and Mika try luring him into the Great Beyond, assuring him, “It’s better now.”
It all leads to a magnificent crowning moment for actor Chad Coleman, who kills it in a final confrontation against Tyreese’s ex-boss, the Governor. He rages, “I know who I am. I know what happened and what’s going on. I know. You didn’t show me shit. You? You dead. Everything that you were is dead.” He breaks down at the thought of forgiving Carol, who killed his onetime-girlfriend, Karen, then rallies his strength, pounds his chest and roars, “I didn’t turn away. I kept listening to the news so I could do what I could to help! I’m not giving up! You hear me?”
Eventually, Rick, Michonne, and Glenn show up, hack off Tyreese’s arm and try desperately to lug him back to the car to go…somewhere. A maddening getaway sequence ensues: Noah actually drops Tyreese, a zombie lunges at him, Rick’s gun almost misses the thing’s head, his foot gets caught in a fence, the car’s wheels spin uselessly in the dirt—it’s a wonder no one vomited or had an ill-timed stroke. But in the end, Tyreese passes away peacefully in the car, surrounded by images of his dead friends Bob, Beth, Lizzie, and Mika.
The question of whether someone like Tyreese ever had a hope of making it in a brutal world is left somewhat open-ended. In a way, Martin was right: Tyreese’s big ol’ heart did him in after all. If he had made Noah just suck it up and stick with the group, or if he wasn’t so susceptible to tragic photos of little twin boys, he might still be alive. But his last speech reads as a giant “F U” to anyone who ever thought he was too soft to survive. He acknowledges his own humanity, makes peace with it, and decides “it’s better this way.”
This was a jaw-droppingly beautiful episode—a perfect example of the creative heights The Walking Dead can achieve at its very best. Still, what a waste to launch into real, meaty character exploration just an hour before said character is killed off. Why couldn’t we have spent this much time learning about Tyreese before he got bit? A similar sore spot from Season 3 comes to mind, when Merle suddenly went from evil redneck stereotype to three-dimensional anti-hero in the span of one episode—then promptly died. We did get one character deep-dive that didn’t result in immediate death this season (Abraham Ford’s unforgettable backstory). It’d be great to see more of that, please.
In other news, we have a new goal destination: Washington D.C., here we come! This means a meetup with Morgan is coming up fast, since we know he found Abraham’s map—on which “Come to Washington, the new world’s gonna need Rick Grimes” was scribbled—back at Father Gabriel’s church. Another happy indicator? The walkie-talkie Rick used to radio Carol was not unlike the one he used to stay in touch with Morgan back in Season 1. It’s happy news all around: Season 5 has been a hell of a comeback so far; add Morgan to the mix and we’re in for a memorable ride.