The Walking Dead has a large cast that is ever-changing as characters die, new survivors come into the fold, and we learn about new bands of people that have managed to live on. Last week’s episode, “Slabtown,” introduced a new group of survivors at Grady Hospital where Beth is being held captive. The Walking Dead writers do a good job of getting us quickly invested and interested in the storylines involving new characters. This week’s episode, “Self-Help,” provides a chance to better know Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene, who television viewers were introduced to in Season Four. Readers of the comic book are more familiar with these three characters and their mission to get to DC. “Self-Help” gives television viewers a chance to catch up a bit. Though we weren’t looking forward to this storyline, seeing it as a distraction from the story of Rick and the other characters we are more familiar with, we found it quite compelling.
We have seen from the last several episodes that Eugene may play a pivotal role in the world to come, but that he needs others to protect and help him. He hasn’t shown himself to be particularly brave, which seems like a serious deficiency in the apocalypse. A good lesson for Eugene is “How to Be Brave.”
Step 1. Admit that you’re scared.
“Bravery doesn’t mean that you’re never afraid — it means that you’re afraid, but you move forward anyway. Try these tips for acknowledging your fear. Say it out loud. Verbalizing what you’re afraid of can bring it out into the open and make it seem more ordinary. You don’t have to say it to anyone else, just to yourself. Accept that everything is a risk. All the things you do in a day — from getting out of bed to eating dinner — carry some level of risk. But that doesn’t stop you from living your life. Why should what you’re afraid of stop you, either? Focus on what you can control. You can’t help being afraid of something — it’s an emotional response you can’t change. However, you can control what you do about it. Keep your attention focused on your actions, not your involuntary responses.” –wikiHow
On the bus there seems to be good morale and everyone’s being friendly, as Tara, Glenn, and Maggie get to know the mission-driven Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene a bit more. Rosita teases Abraham that that he needs to cut his hair. We think we know where this is going—you can’t really have a discussion about hair on The Walking Dead without it leading to a discussion about the mullet. Tara is trying to be friendly with Eugene. She suggests that maybe Eugene could use a trim as well, “Party’s getting a little long in the back. Or is it your source of power?” Tara, who knew you had a sense of humor? Eugene responds that he won’t be slaying any lions. Tara asks him if he is thinking about last night (we are confused for a moment as we have no idea what this means in the timelessness of the apocalypse). He says he is thinking about Father Gabriel and what he did. He appears quite pensive.
It seems that Maggie and Glenn left their hearts back in the church with Rick. Maggie says to Glenn, “Maybe they’re just behind us.” Glenn and Maggie seem hopeful that they will catch up. Maggie begins asking Eugene about what he will need to do once they get to DC. Eugene answers with a lot of science talk that is hard to understand. Glenn responds, “Why the hair?” Apparently Eugene is quite partial to his hair and says his old boss, the Director of the Human Genome Project, T. Brooks Ellis, said it made him look like a fun guy. He claims that while he is no Samson, he is a fun guy. He doesn’t really seem like a Samson or like a fun guy, but perhaps he was before. Suddenly the bus crashes, though it’s not clear why.
In a flashback we see Abraham kill a man with a rock, then he calls out for someone named “Ellen.”
Rosita says that the engine’s on fire so they must get out. Do engines really catch on fire in real life as much as they do on TV? Glenn quickly comes upwith a plan, with he and Abraham leaving the bus first to clear the way. It’s clear why Abraham wanted Glenn. Glenn is awesome. They get out of the crashed bus and start to fight the walkers, with Tara covering Eugene. Tara has to encourage Eugene to come out of the bus. She gives him a knife. Eugene ends up helping Tara to kill a walker. Eugene gets what might be first his first walker execution. Later, when he stops to spit on the walker before they move on, it seems to confirm that this is his first walker kill.
Eugene suggests that they go back to the church, which is only 15 miles back (we like this plan). Abraham goes a little crazy: “No. We don’t stop. We don’t go back. We’re at war, and retreat means we lose.” What’s up with Abraham? We’re thinking, why not go back to the church and regroup and then head back out? Perhaps it our separation anxiety. Glenn comes over to calm him down, telling Abraham, “We are going with you. You are calling this thing. I just need to know you’re good.” Glenn’s intervention seems to have calmed Abraham down and the group makes plans to move on. Glenn has been led by a crazy-train leader in the past, so he must have learned some good lessons when Rick lost it after Lori died. It’s pretty great to see Glenn come out of Rick’s shadow and show his leadership. Though we would still prefer he and Maggie were with Rick. Tara suggests they get some bikes, saying bakes don’t burn. Really?
We see Abraham in the flashback calling Ellen. The woman Ellen comes out of hiding with two kids. One’s a ginger kid. They must be Abraham’s family.
Step 2. Find a Role Model
“If you’re having a hard time seeing your way out of a situation, try modeling your behavior after someone else who’s faced adversity. Not only can this give you a good dose of perspective (“Wow, at least my problem isn’t as bad as ‘that), it might inspire you to be more courageous. Look for a role model among people you already know. If you feel comfortable enough, consider asking them how they dealt with situations that required bravery.” –wikiHow
After losing the bus, the group finds a town and makes camp at a bookstore. Everyone works together to prepare for the evening, using all the materials they can find in the bookshop. They use the books to make a fire for cooking, the bookshelves to create walls for safety, and fiber from the books to sew up Abraham’s wound on his hand.
Glenn is keeping watch in front of the bookstore. Abraham comes over and thanks Glenn for following through on his commitment to join their mission, saying that Glenn gets what they are trying to do. Abraham talks about how things are in the world now:
“Gotten to the point where everyone alive is strong now. We have to be. You’re either strong and they can help you so you can help them or you’re strong and they can kill you. So you gotta kill them and… I want to say it’s never easy. That’s not the truth. It’s the easiest thing in the world now.”
Abraham is “getting some ass” with Rosita in the bookstore. Rosita complains that Eugene is watching, “Over there in the self-help section,” which they have a good laugh about. Tara comes along to the self-help section and finds Eugene watching Abraham and Rosita. They have an awkward exchange, but then Tara tells him that she came over to thank him for saving her life. Eugene acknowledges that is was her encouragement that helped him. Tara tells him, “You have this. Even if you didn’t before, you do. Look, I’m—I’m the same way. You know you can do this.” This act of human kindness and reassurance triggers Eugene’s stunning admission that he put crushed glass in the gas line of the bus, causing the crash.
Eugene: “I appreciate the positive affirmations and looking the other ways on the perversion, but I know empirically and definitively I cannot survive on my own. I cannot.”
Tara: “So you killed the bus?”
Eugene: “If I don’t’ cure the disease, if I don’t save the world, I have no value. That’s how it works. If I don’t fix things, there’s no way you people would keep me around, share resources, even protect me.
Tara: “Of course we would. We’re friends. We have each other’s backs. That’s it. That’s how it works. Don’t tell anyone else what you did. I’ll keep your secret and we’ll keep going. You know you messed up. You’re trying, but, dude, you can’t do something like that again.”
It seems that Eugene would have preferred the safety of a large group too.
Glenn and Maggie are in another part of the bookstore talking in “bed.” Maggie talks about feeling guilty for leaving their friends back at the church. She also says that things feel good right now because they are all about what’s going to be. It seems that having a better future to focus on brings members of the group hope and peace. Glenn and Maggie seem like a very stable and calm married couple, and they bring those elements to those around them. They provide a sense of normalcy in a tumultuous world.
We return to Abraham’s backstory. He tells the woman Ellen, “We’re safe now. I stopped ‘em.” Yet his family is clearly terrified after witnessing him in action. The show interrupts the music of the flashback, creating a jarring transition back to the present.
Rosita suggests to Abraham that maybe they should wait in the town for a day. Abraham gets all angry again and starts arguing with Rosita. When Glenn, Maggie, Tara, and Eugene walk over to Abraham and Rosita, Maggie suggests they stay for another day. Rosita is quick to say they should get going. Though she may voice her opinions to Abraham privately, she presents a united front when with the others.
Step 3. Make a Decision
“If you’re facing a situation that might mean making a brave but difficult decision, take some time to think it over. If you feel strongly about what needs to be done, you can use that to help boost your courage in the moment. Ask yourself: Is this the right thing to do? The right thing isn’t always the easiest, nor the most popular. Rely on your conscience to help you decide. Is this the only way to resolve the situation? Consider whether there’s a way to get around your problem that’s less dramatic. Is there a workaround you haven’t thought of yet? Are you prepared to face the consequences? If the action you’re about to do has huge consequences, take an extra second to think about it. If the worst-case scenario happened, would you be able to handle it?” –wikiHow
Abraham suggests they take the fire engine, which is full of water. Sure, fire engines are cool, particularly when you are five, but it’s not clear if this is the best call. It seems like it could easily get through a group of walkers if needed, but it wouldn’t allow for much flexibility in driving. Not to mention, it must get like 5 miles per gallon and you would think gas would be a bigger issue than water. They go to the fire hall to check out the fire engine. After some attempts it starts and moves a few feet, but then stalls out. When it pulls away, we see that a door to the firehouse has been opened. Rosita gives Abe some mechanical tips, women’s lib in the apocalypse, telling him the engine intake is on the roof. Then all the walkers that had been held back in the fire house emerge though the open door. The group starts to fight them, but it looks like they are going to get overwhelmed. Eugene starts hosing down the walkers with the fire hose and the high pressure of the hose kills them. By now the walkers that died a while ago must have very soft noggins. Right on, Eugene. His bravery, or at least his willingness to help, seems to be on the rise. When Glenn suggests going to Goodwill to get some clothes and other supplies, Abraham quickly says he will get the truck going, so no need to get supplies. Why Abraham is in such a hurry is not clear. Perhaps he is concerned things are on their way to falling apart. He goes on top of the fire engine and sees a sign that they didn’t notice before on the ground outside of the firehouse that says, “Sick inside. Let them die.” He starts to laugh, a little crazily perhaps. Then he starts pulling human remains out of the engine intake outlet—it’s super gross.
We return to Abraham’s past. He wakes up and finds no one with him at the store, but a message saying, “Don’t try to find us.” These individual stories, of what families experienced after the world fell apart, are sometimes the most heartbreaking.
We are jarred back into the present. The fire engine has stopped on a country road, and Abraham is trying to fix it while the others are standing around keeping guard. Eugene is reading H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come, a science fiction novel written as a history of the world from a futuristic perspective. Maggie comes over and tells Eugene she likes his haircut and that she thinks he likes it because, “You’re not the person people think you are.” She declares that he didn’t want to look like everyone else in the labs because he wasn’t like everybody else. She tells him that a lot of people in his position probably would have given up, but he didn’t. Maggie also tells him, “And you’re not like Samson; he was kind of a mess.” She tells the story of Samson and how she never understood how others could answer the riddle Samson proposed, because the answer was based on his own experience.
Step 4. Don’t Think – Act
“After a certain point, it’s better if you stop dwelling on what you’re about to do and just do it. Take a deep breath, try to clear your mind, and go forward with what you’ve already decided on. Try not to hesitate, and focus on just getting through it. Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is having enough strength to get up and try again. Remember, courage is not the absence of fear, but the strength to confront that fear. Tell yourself “I think I can” over and over. Have confidence in yourself. Think what could be the worst thing that could happen, why are you scared? Honestly, if it’s a matter of life and death, just do the right thing. Never hide yourself or let yourself. When you need to summon up courage, remember other challenges you overcame. Everyone has been brave at some time (learning to ride a bike for example). You can be brave again.” –wikiHow
The wind brings a terrible smell to the group. When Maggie expresses concern, Abraham says, “We’re not stoppin’,” in his dictatorial way. Tara counters, “Uh, we’re stopped,” in her blasé way. The group walks up the road towards the terrible smell, which honestly seems a bit counter-intuitive. Much to their dismay, they see a huge, virtually impassable herd of walkers in the distance. Maggie, the ever-rational one, quickly points out, “We gotta go.” Abraham, in his stubbornness and mild insanity, says they are not leaving. When Glenn suggests it doesn’t mean going back, but finding a detour around the herd, Abraham becomes increasingly unreasonable.
Abraham: “I’m not doing it. We detoured and detoured and detoured from Houston to Georgia. I’m not playing that game anymore.”
Glenn: “We are not going through this, okay? It isn’t gonna happen.”
Abraham: “You got a shitstorm behind Door A and a storm of shit behind Door B. If you’re lucky, it’s walkers or a shot-up truck. But sooner or later you get cornered. You wind up stayin’ and you wind up killin’. We don’t go back. We can’t go back.”
Despite his soldier training, it seems like Abraham may be traumatized by what he has had to do to keep himself and others alive in the apocalypse, and it’s all coming to the surface now. Eugene tries to provide a rational justification for retreat based on the air filter on the truck already being compromised by innards (eughhh!). Everyone in the group starts arguing with him. Finally Rosita breaks her pattern of always agreeing with Abraham in public and says, “No. They’re right.” Abraham is silent for a few seconds, then grabs Eugene and starts dragging him back to the fire engine, ostensibly to force him to carry on with the mission right through the herd of walkers. Everyone tries to stop Abraham, but let’s face it, he’s a big dude. Glenn gets into Abraham’s face and it looks like the situation is about to turn even uglier, but then suddenly Eugene shouts out:
“I’m not a scientist. I’m not a scientist. I lied. I’m not a scientist. I don’t know how to stop it.”
This confession stops everyone in their tracks. A whole nation gasped out loud at this moment. The only thing that may be more surprising than Eugene’s confession is that the walkers didn’t hear all the commotion and attack them.
Everyone is stunned into silence, as their hopes and dreams for the future fade away. When Rosita protests that Eugene must be a scientist based on the things she’s seen he can do, he points out that he is just smarter than most people and can lie. He tells them that he thought DC would be the safest place and he needed help to get there. Rosita points out all the people that died to help him get where he is. Eugene appears genuinely sorrowful when he acknowledges the truth of what she says, listing all those who died along the way. He explains:
“You see, I lost my nerve as we grew closer, for I am a coward… and the reality of getting to our destination and disclosing the truth of the matter became some truly frightening shit. I took it upon myself to slow our roll. Find time to finesse things so that when we got there… But at this moment, I fully realize there are no longer any agreeable options. I was screwed either way. I also lied about T. Brooks Ellis liking my hair. I do not know T. Brooks Ellis. But I did read one of his books and he seems like the type of guy that wouldn’t blink an eye at a Tennessee Top Hat.”
Everyone remains stunned and silent, but Eugene goes a step too far when he says, “I am smarter than you.” No one wants to hear that, but especially those who were willing to sacrifice their lives to protect him, for what turns out to be a lie. Abraham jumps up and starts hitting Eugene. This man has a powerful punch—he knocks Eugene out cold. Cold or dead, we aren’t sure which. Glenn pulls Abraham away and then Rosita stands in between Abraham and the unconscious/dead Eugene, with her hand on her gun. Abraham walks away and falls to his knees crying. Life is pretty much sucking for everyone right now, even more than usual.
We return to Abraham’s flashback. He finds his family killed by walkers. He pulls off his dog tags and puts his gun in his mouth, when suddenly Eugene comes running along being chased by three walkers and shouting for help. Abraham angrily kills the three walkers and then walks off. When Eugene tries to stop him from leaving, Abraham ignores him.
Eugene: “You can’t leave.”
[Eugene pauses and appears to assess Abraham.]
Abraham: “I have a very important mission.”
Abraham turns around. For someone so socially unskilled, Eugene sure does know how to read people.
What is bravery in the dystopian future of The Walking Dead? It’s appeared that Eugene was either building his courage throughout the episode, both in terms of fighting walkers and opening up to others. Either he realized there were no options left, or he realized that there were more options available for his survival that he had originally thought, once the others joined with his group. Is Abraham brave for his commitment to the mission of getting Eugene to DC to find a cure, or is true bravery about helping others no matter what, like Tara seems wont to do? Should Eugene be demonized for being deceptive, or lionized for using the skills that he does have—wit and manipulation—to stay alive? It’s not clear that deception is any less legitimate of a strategy than brute force. By the end of this episode, when push came to shove and it became clear everyone was at risk, Eugene chose another way. Being honest and taking a new path takes both strength and bravery, even if it takes the threat of a herd of walkers to make it happen.