*Reunited and it feels so good* The wait is over, it’s ‘The Walking Dead’ premiere day!
In my final spotlight for this series, for now (expect other characters from other series), I thought long and hard about how to herald in the new season. I considered doing an analysis of Abraham, our ginger savior. But to be completely honest I don’t think I have anything to say that hasn’t been said already, and short of coming up with something that was pure hero worship, I sought other options. It’s why I’ve avoided the more prominent and better understood characters like Rick, Michonne and Daryl. Of course that didn’t leave me without characters. The options are quite varied and all equally interesting. Then I started to wonder: who would be worthy of such an important post on such an important day?
And that lead me to decide not to focus on one character but my favorite scene, and the characters involved instead. It felt fitting to choose the reunion scene from season five not just because it’s a premiere episode, but because I’m pretty sure I know a lot of people who want to run and hug their TV’s for the return of the show!
A lot has been written about this scene since it aired last year. In numerous polls and slideshows among our own Hidden Remote community, and across the Internet it’s widely considered the best scene of season five and one of the best scenes of the entire series. I know I’ve managed to mention it in three separate character analyses because everything leads up to this moment! And while that’s a tremendous amount of material to stack myself up against, I’m going to try. There are a lot of literally beautiful angles to take this scene from that make it special, and with a new premiere episode about to overshadow it, it’s a good opportunity to delve in one more time.
The scene itself takes some setup. My own feelings heading into season five were of utter terror. Between everything that had occurred in season four, including Carol’s banishment, I was not ready for what season five might have in store. I was considerably upset enough that to talk me down a friend teased me by saying, “But it makes the reunion later so much better.” If I ever find that text, I’ll gladly share it, but for now it’s among the 8 billion others that were sent as a running commentary as she and I navigated season 5.
In a show about zombies you don’t get too many touchy-feely moments. Especially in a premiere episode when the whole goal is to to hook viewers right back in. Premieres are usually anxiety riddled, edge of your seat, game changers that put as many characters into play as possible in a race for the finish line. But this moment is rare. It comes in the last few minutes of a high-octane episode and yet it somehow manages to maintain the adrenaline rush while also simultaneously allowing for us to take an immense sigh of relief. Or in my case, sob a lot and then spend two days looking for the perfect angle to use for my Facebook cover photo.
The scene gives us three different types of reunions. But it all boils down to family, the different ways that can be defined and the “I love you’s” that get lost in the melee of simply existing in the zombie apocalypse.
Andrew Lincoln & Chandler Riggs as Rick & Carl Grimes in The Walking Dead Photo: AMC
The Carl, Rick, Judith Reunion
Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies & Chandler Riggs as Rick, Lori & Carl Grimes in The Walking Dead Photo: AMC
Much like Rick’s first reunion with his family, there is an emotional gravitas here that feels so earned. Back in season one we don’t have to wait too long for Rick to find Lori and Carl. We learn they’re alive before he does, but when they’re finally reunited it starts to feel like this world might not be so bleak. Of course the next four seasons do everything in their power to disprove that assumption, and they almost succeed.
When Rick and Carl discover Judith’s bloody car-seat it’s not shocking. It’s actually kind of a wonder that a baby could last so long in the zombie apocalypse, but it’s a serious blow to Rick’s family unit. Judith represented a lot of things: hope, new beginnings, love but of all those points and more she is part Lori.
Rick missed the early days of Judith’s life. He checked out emotionally and didn’t check on her, the reasons for this are well-known but I think he always regrets that. He was emotionally detached because Judith caused Lori’s death and in some way it was hard to reconcile with the loss of his wife and the birth of his daughter. While we know he felt like everything was okay as long as Carl was alive the minute they realize Judith didn’t make it, that they both failed to protect her, both Rick and Carl find themselves on a different emotional journey.
Carl had to make such a tough decision to even help bring Judith into the world, and then he got to name her. Losing her was hard because it came as a sacrifice again. He and his father were too busy trying to fight back, and trying to protect themselves that they didn’t think to see if Judith was safe. They relied on the hope that someone was looking after her, and when that didn’t happen the blame fell on both of them.
Andrew Lincoln & Chandler Riggs as Rick & Carl Grimes Photo: AMC
We never see Rick mourn Judith. He seems incapable at this point to let himself feel so emotionally vulnerable, because the risk of being vulnerable at all is too great. And Carl is so angry that he just pushes all his angst on his father. And yet, this loss ends up helping Michonne open up to Carl, deepening their bond. Her healing has started. Talking about her son out loud helps both of them. And when she gets protective over Carl when she discovers the room with the family he doesn’t fight her. They both deal with it together.
Which is why after everything they go through in Terminus, when Tyreese walks out of the cabin with Judith it’s not like that first time when Rick is reunited with his family. It’s better. Rick runs to her. He’s already had to imagine what his life would look like without Carl, in those early days, not just after he found him but after Carl was shot. And Rick makes it very clear that that’s not a world he can live in. But the two of them, together accept what they think happened to Judith.
It doesn’t matter that we saw this coming the moment Carol made her way into Terminus. In some ways it makes the scene that much better. It was enough that they escaped. It was enough that Carol saved them. But it really wasn’t enough until Rick and Carl see Judith. Then it’s enough.
Andrew Lincoln & Chad L Coleman as Rick Grimes and Tyreese Williams in The Walking Dead Photo: AMC
Rick can’t get her in his arms fast enough and Carl is right behind him. If you weren’t already crying before this, surely there were some tears (but really don’t lie, everyone cried, even Daryl! Embrace your tears!) if not more. They say her name and the awe of being able to say it without sadness is so miraculous. Carl’s reaction is even better than Rick’s. He absolutely amazed and he can’t get close enough because Rick is hogging her all to himself.
They can’t stop touching her head. Rick kisses her. To Judith’s credit she seems kind of terrified of the bearded man holding her. And it’s wonderful. Rick can’t even stand up straight he’s so excited. And the fact that we get to see everyone else’s reaction to the moment makes it even more special. It’s not just watching a family reunite, it’s everything that you get deprived of in a world where you’re constantly watching your back.
Danai Gurira & Melissa McBride as Michonne & Carol Peletier in The Walking Dead Photo: AMC
Michonne and Carol get to enjoy the reunion from afar, the two women who have both lost children but don’t know that fact about one another, united in a moment of absolute perfection. Rick and Carl got something they didn’t and they don’t resent them for it. They enjoy the moment as well. Especially since both of them played a role in making this possible. Michonne helped Carl heal. Carol made the hard choices in order to protect Judith. Even Abraham and Rosita, keeping vigilant watch, can’t help but take it all in.
Rick and Carl’s body language is especially telling. Rick holds Judith because he never thought that would ever be a possibility again and Carl can’t stop leaning close and putting his hand on her. There’s a fear that if they stop for one moment this might not be real. That this is a dream and they could wake up anytime and feel all that awful hurt new and fresh again. But it’s real. She’s real.
There’s a nice pause when Rick puts his hand on Tyreese’s shoulder and the two share a look that says everything and nothing. Rick doesn’t need to thank Tyreese. There’s nothing to thank, the feeling is that anyone else would have done the same. And then Rick brings Carl into the hug and holds his two children. It’s a rare moment of wholeness when everyone appears to be coming apart at the seams. And I can’t get enough of it.
So much gets taken advantage of in this world. So much gets unsaid. But when it counts, where it counts, these people learn that you can’t take anything for granted. That it’s enough to to just accept the way things have to be. For everything we have gone through with these characters this moment puts us right where we belong. Together.
For viewers we catch a break when we discover that Tyreese actually had Judith from the time he left the prison. This opens up the possibility for a reunion later but it’s not easy to hope for something even remotely magical as we learn each characters’ situation.
Sonequa Martin-Green & Chad L Coleman as Sasha & Tyreese Williams in The Walking Dead. Photo: AMC
Which is exactly why when Tyreese, once again exits that cabin he hands Judith to Rick and in the same movement reaches for his sister the whole experience is just an all consuming genuine compilation of reactions. I’ve gone into depth about Sasha’s state of mind in this scene. But Tyreese needs it just as much.
After what happened in “The Grove” he saw two siblings who couldn’t cope with this world for different reasons. He learned the truth about Karen’s death and his greatest mistake was hoping that they could live there. That they could stop running. He thought the place was a safe haven. That the world beyond would cease to exist if they just never left.
Of course none of that was true and while he didn’t have to actually do what Carol did, the experience ended the sweet little dreamland he’d concocted and it brought the harshness of the world with it. He’d rather hold Judith and protect her than kill walkers but when he was forced to protect her himself he acted quickly. He’s not as systematic as his sister and he doesn’t want the world to be the way it is but the reunion is significant for the both of them. Sonequa Martin-Green & Chad L Coleman as Sasha & Tyreese Williams in The Walking Dead. Photo: AMC
Sasha earns it because she couldn’t believe it was an option. And to be honest it was hard to really consider it too. Sure, everyone was heading on the same road to Terminus but we didn’t know where that road really lead. The only option to her was her survival. But as she hugs her brother she cries because a part of her could not imagine he wouldn’t survive and that she would one day get to see him again. And for Tyreese, he needs Sasha. Carol couldn’t offer any comfort after what the two of them had to deal with because she was arguably dealing with more. But Sasha could. She couldn’t change what had happened and Tyreese later, makes it very clear that he has no intention of telling anyone, even her. But seeing her made this world a little more okay.
Their experiences had unmoored them and finding each other was more than just a life line. While Sasha was learning that there was more to life than just survival, Tyreese was learning the choices that need to be made in order to survive and he was going to actively resist becoming that person at all costs. The two kept each other from being overwhelmed by the precariousness of their circumstances. He lifts her up and she cries and it’s probably the most emotional we ever see Sasha. They need each other because they balance out their emotional states.
And while the reunion between a family and siblings was truly something special, we get three very different reunions in this scene. The Walking Dead enjoys showing us how these people bond. How they find each other in their greatest moments of need and how they deal with being separated. However, nothing and I mean nothing, compares to the reunion of two people who have watched the world burn over and over, who have accepted that they don’t get what they want in this lifetime and who have been so greatly changed by the zombie apocalypse that it doesn’t matter who they were before because now they’re who they always were supposed to be.
Melissa McBride & Norman Reedus as Carol Peletier & Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead Photo: AMC
I’m going to be very direct here and say that I am a no holds barred Caryler. They are my OTP. So I’m not beating around the bush. It’s why I saved discussing this reunion for the end. This is the reunion of lovers.
It’s not platonic. It’s not ambiguous. It’s two people who may or may not know that they have incredibly deep feelings for one another and it’s the romantic forever kind. It’s the Maggie and Glenn, real deal, all or nothing love and while the Caryl ship itself is not yet officially canon (for the record that would be when they outright acknowledge their feelings without interpretation) this was a pretty solid indication of the very real emotional attachment fans have seen growing since Carol took that ax from Daryl and took care of her husband herself.
I can’t even tell you who this scene is for more. For fans it’s better than anything we could have anticipated. I certainly didn’t see it playing out that way. And then when it did I had some suggestions on how to make it better.
I hope you all appreciate how long it took me to find this you have no idea how far back in my texts I had to go!
The reunion means both the same and different things to each of them. It puts all the hurt from the season before behind us for one glorious moment. I avoided talking about this scene when I analyzed Carol for several reasons, one is that I didn’t trust myself to articulate my point and keep my feelings out of it and the other is that I wasn’t sure how to approach it in a way that the plethora of entertainment sites and bloggers haven’t already. But that’s not going to stop me from finding a new angle.
I could sit here and argue that siblings don’t hug like that. But we actually see that. I could argue that a parent child relationship doesn’t hug like that. But we see that too. So there’s nothing to argue here, which is good because experiencing a hug that is both one hundred percent comforting and also simultaneously earth shattering should only happen between two people who love each other.
It’s reminiscent of romantic comedy tropes like running through the airport scenes. Except this scene is completely silent. The whole moment relies on the facial expressions of the characters.
For the better part of season four, Carol and Daryl run circles around each other. He never knows how sad she is that he left with Merle in season three. She’ll never know that he tried to convince Rick he made the wrong choice in banishing her. Daryl ends up tracking Carol and the girls when everyone first gets separated and she sees the fire from the cabin with Mika. They can’t help it. The gravitational pull toward each other is so great, it’s always there even when they’re not together. They don’t just find each other in that moment. They find everything they have been missing their entire lives. Melissa McBride & Norman Reedus as Carol Peletier & Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead Photo: AMC
Daryl looks up and hears her approach and it’s the weary look of someone who is not yet ready for the next assault. But it only takes a moment for her footsteps to register with the person they belong to and he doesn’t waste a second. Much like a puppy who fears you’ve left them forever, whether it’s been a second or a day the reaction is the same. They can’t control themselves. But it goes beyond that for Daryl. He’s not emotionally open like puppies are, he picks and chooses who he shows emotions to and how he shows those emotions.
No one is around when he gives the Cherokee Rose to Carol. And he’s by himself again when he places one on what’s supposed to be her grave. No one is there when he goes back to the tombs either and ultimately rescues her. He doesn’t fully understand himself and so he doesn’t fully understand his feelings for Carol but in full view of the entire group and even some newcomers he runs to her.
He takes her into his arms and they cry. This is the epicenter of the whole episode. No, not their relationship, but this hug. They could have dragged out Terminus. But they didn’t. They could have waited several episodes, opened with it instead of ended with it. Everything happens fast, there are several climaxes throughout the entire 40 some odd minutes, but this is more important than the instant gratification of the take down of Terminus. Because this wasn’t instant. This is outright emotion, and when you strip the scene of everything else this is the point that everyone keeps coming back to because when they hug, it feels like no time has passed. It’s tremendous emotional growth. It’s desperate unattainable affection and reassurance that both of them need, and the pain ebbs just a little.
It’s not just that they hug. It’s that they don’t want to stop. And when they do stop, it’s to stare at each other. To take in everything. To read on each others’ face everything that gets lost in translation because neither one is capable of articulating themselves yet. And just when it seems like it’s done Daryl goes for one last moment of contact. His headbutt isn’t submissive. It’s gratitude, it’s an affectionate nuzzle not because of what she just did but because he’s grateful she’s here and Carol reacts to that. I’m pretty sure the moment would have continued if Rick didn’t intrude, but that’s fine.
Melissa McBride & Norman Reedus as Carol Peletier & Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead Photo: AMC
The scene doesn’t fix anything. It doesn’t change anything that we already didn’t know. It just reaffirms why, while people have proven to be the greatest threat in this new world, they have also proven to be our greatest comfort. Carol and Daryl have felt the loss of each other several times and while the apocalypse has robbed them of everything and blurred the lines of their humanity and made them feel like monsters these two unlikely people found each other and themselves and in finding both those things they found a place to belong.
As the episode ends we don’t wonder, what horrors are awaiting our group of survivors because we’re content that group is whole again. All in all the reunion for everyone says “Welcome home!” which is exactly what a premiere night should feel like. Welcome back The Walking Dead can’t wait to see you top yourselves in season six! Melissa McBride interview for The Walking Dead season 6 Photo: AMC
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.