Continuing in the vein of last week’s “Home, Sweet Home“, episode eighteen of The Walking Dead‘s tenth season “Find Me” delivers more compelling small-scale and intimate drama. Light on zombies, this is instead a completely absorbing study of the nature of human resilience and interconnectedness in an impossible world overrun by endless undead.
It’s hardly a new theme for the series, and in fact is one that the show has visited many times before. Yet there’s much added frisson here because this episode throws fresh light on the pivotal relationship between Daryl and Carol (file under “it’s complicated”). In doing so, “Find Me” also fills in the missing back-story of Daryl during the many years that he chose to live the solitary life of the hermit, alone in the woods.
Time to breathe
Only three human characters feature in this episode, a ‘limitation’ that writer Nicole Mirante-Matthews makes the most of. Hers is an intelligent and articulate script in which each of the trio are given space and time to breathe (more than a decade, in fact). That’s because, unusually for The Walking Dead, the non-linear timeline of “Find Me” unfolds through a series of flashbacks.
Such time-shifts are not unheard of in the franchise. In recent times on the show, viewers have followed the six year time jump in “What Comes After” (season nine) and Michone’s alternative timeline in “What We Become” (season ten). But it is rarer for a storyline to move back and forward months and years within a single character’s arc, with screen captions confirming the “current now” of the latest leap. Given how atypical such a device is on the show, it works surprisingly well.
Events begin when Carol invites herself on a hunting trip with Daryl, an outing which gives them the chance to reflect both past and future. Passing through some of his old haunts, Daryl is drawn back to the time when he spent years living alone in the woods, searching for the long-missing Rick Grimes. Rick’s disappearance robbed Daryl of a close friend and a leader to whom he was fiercely loyal. Daryl feels the loss acutely, and is unable to move on.
From his shack in the woods, and using his increasingly scrappy map, he scours the riverbanks in the hope of finding either evidence of Rick’s miraculous escape or confirmation of his demise. Torn up with grief, regret and self-recrimination, Daryl seeks the kind of solace and sense of redemption that might enable to him return to Hilltop or to Alexandria to live amongst others again. Throughout his self-imposed banishment, Carol has continued to visit him, albeit infrequently, hoping to ensure that the embers of their relationship don’t burn out completely.
When Carol and Daryl find an abandoned and dilapidated homestead, Daryl privately recalls the life events that led him years before to spend time within its walls. It’s a memory trigger that turns back narrative time to Daryl’s encounter with Leah, a young woman just as independent and wilful as himself. The episode then jumps between the present day and a series of fast-forwards through Daryl’s slowly simmering relationship with Leah (file under “it’s just as complicated”). It starts with hostility at gunpoint, before moving through wariness and distrust, towards the gently shared sense of intimacy which both of them crave.
Without wanting to give away any further elements of the plot (except to say that this is also an “origins story” for Daryl’s dog named Dog), the resolution of these relationship dynamics is heart-rending. In fact, these fifty minutes are awash with the experience of sorrow, sadness and loss. All of which is a lot more engaging to watch than it might sound.
The whole episode rests on just those three human characters – two of whom never meet. Norman Reedus (Daryl) and Melissa McBride (Carol) demonstrate once again their ability to carry the weight of the show unaided. Most screen time is spent in the company of a lonesome Daryl. With Reedus able to inhabit his role with such a commanding sense of presence, these dialogue-free sequences have real substance to them. Lynn Collins (Leah) shows herself undaunted by an especially demanding guest star role, and turns in an accomplished and textured performance.
The flashback storyline of “Find Me” occurs in parallel to the established series’ canon. So there’s no advance in the wider plot concerns of season ten. Those eager to revel in wholesale zombie stomping are likely to find the emotional and psychological preoccupations of this episode trying. But “Find Me” should be acclaimed as a thoughtful and richly melancholic study of a triangle of individuals, stuck in a terrible new world, who are desperate to stop feeling lost but fearful of being found. Amongst the stench of animated cadavers, The Walking Dead once again finds a way to keep the drama fresh.
The Walking Dead, series 10, episode 18, “Find Me” is available now on the Fox network.