What The Walking Dead?
Is the ultimate battle the one being fought within? While all our heroes have their own personal demons they must face during the war, Daryl, Aaron, and Morgan are particularly tested in episode three. How will their internal conflicts affect their external conflicts with the Saviors as well as among themselves?
Daryl: A New Kind Of Fighter
While Daryl's tough and guarded persona might indicate otherwise, he is one of the most emotionally complex characters on the show, and the way he expresses and copes with his emotions has fluctuated dramatically over the course of the series. Though we generally have seen Daryl tend to wear his heart on his sleeve in recent seasons, in episode three, Daryl seems to have built an emotional fortress around him. This impenetrable stoicism combined with his surprisingly brutal, Terminator-esque rampage leaves the viewer wondering what inner turmoil must be motivating his actions at this point in time. His callousness is shocking and even disturbing, but considering not only his recent traumas but also the traumas that stem all the way back to his childhood, viewers might begin to understand why Daryl has reached this ruthless point.
Being the victim of abuse and neglect in both his childhood and adulthood, he has been forced to fight since day one. He's also had to learn how to fend for himself and do what is necessary to survive and cope with trauma, and he has had to learn how to do this largely on his own (it's probably safe to say there was never any therapy going on for the Dixons). His recent experiences leading up to this all out war must be triggering a ferment of agonizing past memories and emotions within him. Whether it's trauma caused by his father, his brother Merle, or countless other experiences, it has hardened and prepared him for what he needs to do and who he needs to be to fight Negan and make the "the world" right again. And, while Daryl has claimed that "he ain't afraid of nothin'," we are witnessing moments of fear previously unseen in him. When he runs out of bullets while fighting the Saviors with Rick, we hear that fear in his voice. And, when Daryl get's scared, it might be time for everyone to begin panicking. How will this utterly calloused and vicious mode he has entered change Daryl? Are we watching a man on an uncompromising mission, or are we watching this hero give in to a darker side fueled by rage, fear, and trauma?
His actions in this episode are jarring, and they are rattling even to Rick, but are they ultimately justified? When he kills Morales, Rick reacts with horror while Daryl just simply could not be bothered by it. Rick seems to quickly realize that what Daryl did was necessary because it snapped Rick out of the emotional trap he was in with Morales and refocused him on their mission. When he kills the Savior whom Rick promised not to kill at the end of the episode, Daryl essentially makes a liar out of Rick but shooting him in the middle of surrendering. Rick is visibly conflicted and possibly a little repelled by what Daryl has done. But, they continue on. Perhaps Daryl's unyielding and unapologetic determination balances out Rick's tendency to be swayed by his ideas about justice. Maybe this symbiosis is essential, and, without the other, neither one's tactics are as effective. Is Daryl's inner conflict what will win the war but ultimately further damage himself? And, could that symbiosis devolve into a conflict between these deeply bonded characters? How will they progress together through tonight's new episode?
Aaron: To Lose And To Gain
Aaron might be the only Alexandrian who has not experienced a profound personal loss similar to the ones Rick's group has endured. He has remained strong, hopeful and with a smile throughout the darkest of times. He doesn't seem the carry the heaviness with him that Rick, Daryl, and Morgan do, for example. We know nothing about his family, and the closest person to him in the world has been Eric whom has been his rock since the characters were introduced. Helplessly watching Eric die and then not being able to put him down once he has turned echoes Morgan's fateful experience with his wife. For a character such as Aaron to finally lose something so dear to him is heartbreaking, and this loss could open a door to darkness for him.
While this traumatic loss could weaken Aaron with grief and anger, it could also contribute some much needed gravitas to this character and provide him with new wisdom and determination to win. Despite this personal tragedy, hope remains alive for him to come out of this experience not only intact but improved. Rick's handing off of the baby to Aaron is overwhelmingly symbolic. Ross Marquand has referred to the baby as an anchor for him during this tumultuous emotional time and a reason to keep moving forward when the despair within him might be otherwise paralyzing. What will this catalyzing event bring to this character and to the war?
Morgan: The Mind Has Mountains
Morgan has been at philosophical battle with himself and has flirted with madness since the first episode of the series, but has he finally gone off of the deep end? So far, we've seen him enter ruthless killing modes similar to Daryl's, except with Morgan, their is an obvious and dangerous confusion he's also experiencing. He loses control of himself, experiencing irrational and violent episodes, some of which he doesn't even remember having. Are his conflicting ideas, his mental disorientation, and his apparently uncontrollable behavior culminating into full blown madness? Is Morgan actually losing it for good?
Several times we have seen Morgan come back from some crazy periods in his character arc, so will he bounce back again? His mental journey has involved truly extreme ups and downs. His violent outbursts against his own allies as well as his eerie disappearance into the woods as he walks away from the battle don't seem to bode well. And, Morgan explicitly states to Jesus that he realizes something is awry: "I'm not right. I know that. I'm not right. But that doesn't make me wrong." The last part of his statement provides a small glimmer of hope for him. He appears to know who has to win and what must be done for this victory to happen. But, can Morgan's actions and thoughts be trusted at this point? Does he even know where he is going when he walks away. Most importantly, can he still trust himself?
The title of episode three could be referring to not only the walkers and Saviors but also the Alexandrians themselves. Are the real monsters the ones they must fight in their minds? How will they battle all these kinds of monsters at once and win?
Other Lingering Questions
- What will become of baby Gracie in the hands of Aaron and the Alexandrians? What will this mean to the Saviors?
- What are Rick's plans for his Polaroids? Will he create an ironic scrapbook of horrors especially for Negan?
Ciara Cerrato was a projectionist and curator at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, and she currently is a poet and freelance writer in New York.
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