The Walking Dead left us in suspense with the appearance of the mysterious Aaron in “Them.” The big questions this week in “The Distance” center around Aaron—who he is, where is he from, and if can he can be trusted. The presence of Aaron creates a possible turning point for everyone involved. You never know what’s around the next herd of walkers on The Walking Dead.
Who is Aaron?
Sasha and Maggie have brought Aaron back to the barn so he can talk to Rick. When Rick asks what he wants, Sasha says, “He has a camp nearby. He wants us to audition for membership.” Aaron explains that he is from a safe community—not a camp, but a well-protected community. Aaron is aware that they’ll be wary and untrusting, but his goal is to help them understand why it would be beneficial to join the community. He tells them he brought photographs, and Rick begins looking through the images. Aaron says they have walls, but that people are the most important resource, saying, “Together we’re strong. You can make us even stronger.” Suddenly Rick walks towards Aaron and punches him in the face. Whoa! Does Aaron really want Rick as part of his community? Rick presents with a calm demeanor, but you get the impression he’s all bristles and nerves inside. What’s also interesting about this is how no one seems surprised by Rick’s action and quickly follow his lead, tying up the unconscious Aaron. Perhaps it was obvious to all of them what was going to happen once Rick started striding purposefully towards Aaron.
After Aaron is knocked out, Michonne, and then Maggie, tell Rick it seemed unnecessary, but Rick says they needed to secure him. Carl finds a flare gun in Aaron’s bag. When Aaron regains consciousness, Rick asks how many people he is working with, and Daryl asks how long Aaron has been followed them. Aaron acknowledges he has been watching their group, “I’ve seen you practically ignore a pack of roamers on your trail. You never turned on each other, despite the lack of food. You’re people. And I hope you won’t punch me for saying it again, but that is the most important resource in the world.” Aaron asks what he needs to do to convince them. He suggests they drive with him to his community, telling them that he has vehicles packed nearby. Rick does not seem to believe Aaron, saying that there aren’t any cars. Michonne counters Rick saying he may be sure of what he knows, but she isn’t. Maggie agrees. Michonne tells Rick giving up the possibility of a safe place where Judith could be raised—that’s dangerous. Once Michonne tells Rick that they are going to go check out the cars, Rick assigns everyone tasks. Michonne, Maggie, Glenn, Rosita, and Abraham leave the barn to walk up the road to see if what Aaron is saying is true. The others take positions around the barn in groups of two, while Rick stays in the barn with a bound Aaron and a hungry Judith.
Is Aaron’s Offer For Real?
As the five of them walk down the road, Glenn directs the group to fire if they see someone. Michonne questions this, and Maggie echos her. The womenfolk are being so rebellious today. Glenn points out that they are five people walking down the street with guns—no one innocent will approach them, adding, “If it’s someone like us, we should be afraid of them.” Glenn can’t understand why Aaron would want them to join his camp if he really has been observing them, saying, “After everything we’ve done, why would he want us to join his group?” Michonne points out they are good people that have done good things: “People like us saved a priest … saved a girl who rolled up to the prison with the Governor … saved a crazy lady with a sword. He saw that.” Glenn is still skeptical, saying, “I don’t know what he saw.” Glenn seems to be drinking the Rick Kool-Aid.
Aaron tells Rick that pre-apocalypse, he worked in the Niger river delta for an NGO delivering food and medicine, explaining that bad people put guns in his face all the time. He says he can see that Rick and the others are not bad people, and Rick responds, “Just because we’re good people doesn’t mean we won’t kill you.” A very interesting point, as in The Walking Dead world certainly good people do bad things, including letting people die or killing people. This Rick is a very different person than the Rick we saw in Season 2, who was conflicted about letting interloper Randall go after the secrecy of the farm is compromised. That was clear in “Coda,” when he ran down Officer Lawson rather than risking him returning to the hospital and exposing their plan.
Judith is crying. She must really be hungry, because that baby never ever cries. Aaron tells RIck he has applesauce. Rick tries to get him to eat the applesauce before he gives it to Judith in case it’s poisoned. Aaron doesn’t want to, explaining, “My mom used to make me eat foods I didn’t like to make me more manly.” Like Aaron’s mom, Rick gives him the applesauce anyways. Seems like Aaron isn’t used to people being quite as untrusting as Rick. He should probably get used to that if he plans to recruit others, as things seem to only be getting worse in this world.
Choosing Safety or Hope
They come up the road and see the vehicles Aaron was talking about—a car and an RV. They hear a noise in the bushes but are very relieved to see it’s only a walker, not a human. It’s a reflection of how violent and dangerous the world has become—that it’s better to run into a flesh-eating zombie than a living human who might torture and kill you. Abraham and Rosita go after the walker and then talk briefly. It appears there has been some strain on their relationship since Abraham went a little nuts in “Self-Help.” Perhaps Abraham has been keeping to himself since then, because his conversation with Rosita seems to relieve the tension between them.
They bring the food from the RV back. Rick tells Aaron that they are keeping the food whether they go with him or not. Carl asks why they wouldn’t go. Michonne says, “If he were lying or if he wanted to hurt us … but he isn’t, and he doesn’t. We need this. So we’re going, all of us.” Michonne is taking charge and Rick is falling in line. We suspect the others are secretly relieved someone is willing to go against Rick. He keeps them safe, but at what cost?
Aaron refuses to tell them where his camp is because he’s not willing to put his own people at risk. Michonne tells him that he’s not driving, so if he wants to get home, he’d better tell them where they’re going. Instead of taking the route suggested by Aaron, Rick says they will take another road and they’re going at night. Aaron tells Rick that way hasn’t been cleared, pointing out, “You’re trying to protect your group, but you’re putting them in danger.”
Michonne follows Rick outside. She asks him is he really means it or if he just wants to find out where Aaron’s camp is. She seems pretty desperate to go. Perhaps she’s worried that Rick will end up killing Aaron, and they will lose their chance. Rick reminds her that looking at the walls of Woodbury and Terminus, you couldn’t tell whether it was safe inside or not. Rick explains that he will go to this community, and he will be looking at the walls, trying to decide whether or not he should bring him family in. He tells her, “The truth is, I’m not sure that anything could convince me to go in there. But I’m gonna see. I’m gonna see.”
Rick, Glenn, and Michonne are in the car with Aaron. Michonne becomes suspicious when she notices that there are no people in his pictures. She asks Rick if he already asked Aaron the three questions. Rick did not, so Michonne begins. She asks Aaron how many walkers he’s killed and he says, “I don’t know—a lot.” When she asks how many people he killed and why, Aaron says he killed two people because they were trying to kill him.
Suddenly the car starts hitting walkers as they drive into a herd. Aaron is freaking out. He doesn’t seem very villainous, more terrified. They get through the walkers and realize that the RV is no longer behind them, but they believe the others got to safety. Oh no! We’re having separation anxiety. Glenn can’t get the car started. Aaron is freaking out more: “We gotta get out of here. … They’re coming right for us. … We need to leave now.” Suddenly a red flare goes up in the distance and Aaron seems absolutely terrified, saying, “I need to leave. This is over. Let me out.” He manages to get out of the car and run into the woods. As they all start to run from the walkers, Rick tells Michonne to forget about Aaron, but she points out they need Aaron, because their own people will have seen the flare and will travel towards it. Again, Michonne is making sense and taking the lead.
Glenn sees Aaron being attacked by a walker and, after considering leaving him for a moment, he walks over and kills the walker, then unties Aaron’s hands. Glenn is about to leave, but Aaron reminds him what he had said to Daryl, “We can make it together. But we can only make it together. You said that. I was listening.” Meanwhile, Rick and Michonne are under attack by a group of walkers. Glenn and Aaron arrive to help them. Aaron tells Rick, “If you really want to tie me up again, go ahead, but hurry up,” to which Rick responds, “No time. We’re goin’ that way.”
They arrive at the place the flare came from, and Maggie, Carl, and the others come out to greet Michonne, Glenn, and Rick. There are hugs all around. Aaron begins calling out, “Eric!” whom he finds inside with a broken ankle. Aaron is incredibly relieved and kisses Eric. Eric was the one person that he had told Rick he was working with. They have an emotional reunion. Eric tells Aaron that he was trapped by some walkers under a car, and a tire rolled over his ankle, so he fired the flare gun. Eric sees Rick standing there watching them and says in a friendly voice, “Hey I’m Eric.” Rick’s responds with a guttural sound, “Rick.”
Aaron goes back out to the others and tells the group that he owes them for saving Eric and he will make sure that debt is paid in full when they get to Alexandria. They’re going to stay for the night and head to Aaron and Eric’s community, in Alexandria, the next day. When Rick tells Aaron he needs to be separated from Eric, Maggie asks, “You really think we gotta do that?” Aaron tells Rick that he will have to shoot him to keep him away from Eric. Aaron is about to try to walk past Rick, but Glenn stops him and walks up to Rick. Glenn has traveled with Rick long enough to know that challenging Rick is never a good idea. Glenn tells Rick, “I want us to be safe too. I can’t give up everything else. I know what I said, but it does matter,” and Rick concedes.
The next day they are all traveling towards the Alexandria safe-zone. In the RV, Noah brings water and aspirin to Aaron who is watching over a sleeping Eric. When Aaron asks him about his leg, Noah looks back as though he’s not sure if it’s OK for him to tell Aaron, but explains it happened in a car accident with his dad. Aaron tells Noah that they have a surgeon in Alexandria that may be able to help him. Tara and Eugene are playing cards while Abraham is driving. Rosita sees the Washington Monument in the distance and points it out to Abraham. Abraham sees a warning light on the dashboard but says, “We can make it.” But the RV dies. Abraham is upset because they need another battery. Glenn shows him the RV has a whole set of batteries. When Abraham asks him, how did you know that, Glenn just smiles, an allusion to Dale teaching Glenn about taking care of the RV they had in seasons 1 and 2.
A Leap of Faith
Michonne: “The fight’s over. You gotta let it go. I know it’s hard after it’s kept you warm and fed, alive. But the fight, it turns on you. You gotta let it go.”
Rick: “That’s what Bob was trying to tell me back at the church–what to risk, when it’s safe, when to let someone in. The rules keep changing.
Michonne: “They did for me.”
He tells her that he needs to take a moment before they leave. Rick goes to a nearby house in the woods and hides a gun in a container. He may be going to the safe zone, but it doesn’t mean he believes it will keep them safe because Rick knows, “You are not safe. No matter how many people are around, or how clear the area looks. No matter what anyone says, no matter what you think. You are not safe”
They drive up to the gate. As Rick looks at the walls of the Alexandria safe zone, he can hear the sound of children playing. They get to the gate and Michonne asks him if he’s ready, and he agrees. He gets Judith out of the back seat and Carol walks up to him, saying, “Even though you were wrong, you’re still right.” The writers made sure almost everybody had something to say this episode, perhaps to help us get a better idea of where each of them stand as they face this potentially radical change.
In “The Distance” it’s clear that Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is the leader of the group. It’s obvious to Aaron (Ross Marquand), who has been observing them, as he asks to speak to their leader Rick. Rick has a military-like control on the group, which often serves them well, when everyone stays in line. Though Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Glenn (Steven Yeun) influence Rick, the group follows Rick’s lead. They follow the orders they are given, but in this episode we see others begin to question the direction Rick is taking them.
Michonne (Danai Gurira) is taking the lead in challenging Rick’s stance of entrenched mistrust and suspicion, and pushes for a new path. Michonne, who is very close to Rick and Carl (Chandler Riggs), begins to want something more than their bleak existence as she finally sheds the layers of emotional protection she has been wearing since losing her family. Rick and Carl have helped her to open up, and she is trying to help Rick to lower some of his defenses as well. Though he may be going with the group to Alexandria, it doesn’t mean he believes it is safe, or that the people there can be trusted. It must be hard to be Rick.
When Michonne openly disagrees with the philosophy of trusting no one, when espoused by either Rick or Glenn, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) is quick to join in. In “Crossed” Maggie appeared resigned to the belief that “It’s never gonna get any better than this.” Yet, in “The Distance” she is grasping for something more. Perhaps Maggie’s circumstances have changed in some way and she needs to have hope for a better future for mankind.
The perspectives of Maggie and Glenn seem at odds until the end of the episode, when Glenn tells Rick he can’t give up everything else. Glenn was a standout in this episode in many ways. Glenn appears to be Rick’s lieutenant just as much as Daryl. He clearly has a leadership role in the group, as when Rick or Daryl aren’t around, he is in charge. The influence that Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) has had on Glenn is alluded to in this episode because it is the part of Glenn nurtured by Dale, focusing on doing what is right and believing in people, that emerges by the end of the episode.
What will the Alexandria Safe Zone bring for the group? Will it sustain their hope and bring them the better future they so desperately want? Will it keep them together or drive them apart? We hope to find out soon.