The Walking Dead
February 17, 2019
So, Lydia’s backstory. Look, this is a deliberately convoluted narrative so I’m going to try to simplify this as much as possible. Let’s hear her story first:
When the zombie apocalypse began, she was about five or six. She and her parents were in a shelter with a bunch of other people, and, as she remembers it, her father was grouchy and pessimistic about the whole situation, insisting that no one was coming to save them. But her mom was comforting and kind, and when Lydia would become scared, her mother would sing “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady to her,” while Lydia traced the “Lydia” tattoo on her mother’s arm. At one point, her grouchy and scary father announced that it was time to leave, they need to find supplies, and he begins cutting his beard off. The world’s over and he’s going to do what he wants now. Lydia’s mother, however, insists she is going to stay behind and protect their daughter. She seems nice!
Later, there’s some sort of kerfuffle outside of the shelter and this one guy starts freaking out. Lydia’s mom “accidentally” suffocates the man to death …
… while Lydia’s father sings “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady” to his daughter and she traces the “Lydia” tattoo on his arm.
That night, Dad’s beard is back, but Mom is cutting her hair really short. Lydia, curious about the dead guy who they have left lying in the middle of the shelter takes a peek at him in the middle of the night, and, of course, that’s when he reanimates. She screams, her father rushes to her aid and is bitten. And that’s how Lydia got her father killed.
Except that’s not at all what happened.
What really happened was a different man was bitten by the walker and everyone in the shelter began FREAKING OUT. In the chaos, Mom began prying boards from the window, announcing that she’s taking Lydia and getting the fuck out. Dad was reluctant to abandon their friends and after insisting that Lydia will be staying with him, Mom killed him while Lydia watched.
Sooo … what the fuck?
When Lydia begins telling her story to Henry, she insists that her father was a stupid man whose weakness got him killed and that her mother kept her alive. Henry offers her food, but she argues that hunger is a gift and that things will never get better — her dad told her so.
Henry, being a sweet and naive dodo, begins offering her information about the Kingdom as a means to tell her about himself. This is when Daryl, who had been eavesdropping on their conversations, literally bursts into the cellar and drags Henry out by the scruff of his neck. Daryl takes over the interrogation and offers Lydia some medicine for what is clearly an ear infection. In the process of trying to grab Daryl as he’s offering her a ladle of water, she reveals a number of scars on her arm, and Daryl’s like, “Wait, I thought you said your abusive dad was dead — you know, the guy who sang to his little girl when she was scared? Which isn’t a thing an abusive dad does in the first place? So, if he’s not around anymore, who is beating you now?” Lydia eventually admits that her mother gave her the scars but insists that her mother’s abuse makes her stronger.
Outside, Daryl and Henry have a long talk about abuse, and how awful people can be towards each other. In fact, Henry tells Daryl that he overheard Carol tell King Zeke that she cut her hair so short so that her abusive husband, that Ed guy, couldn’t grab her by it, which is an interesting insight and based on pictures I’ve seen about this season will prove to be insightful. Henry argues that Lydia’s people might be shitty, but Lydia isn’t, so Daryl allows Henry to prove it.
To this end, Henry releases Lydia from her cell and takes her on a walk, showing her Hilltop’s medical facility and tries to prove to her that they are good people who are working to change things back the way they used to be. In exchange, Lydia offers Henry a worm to eat. Thanks? Lydia also surreptitiously grabs a hammer with which she plans to beat Henry in his dodo head, but before she can get to that, she hears a baby crying. This triggers her actual childhood memories, the ones in which her mother wasn’t her kind protector but her father’s murderer, and she asks Henry to return her to her cell.
There, she accepts the medicine from Daryl and admits that she was trying to milk Henry for information so that her mother would take her back. Henry marvels that her mother wouldn’t just take back her daughter, but Lydia’s like, “Yeah, my mom’s a straight-up sociopath who has manipulated my entire reality including my memories and made me believe I was responsible for my dad’s death. Sorry I am such a fucked-up mess but honestly, this is as much a surprise to me as it is to you.” She also gives Daryl the location of her mother’s camp — at least where it was last. Mom doesn’t stay in one place for too long.
With that, Henry and Daryl talk again about how shitty parents can be. While Daryl can’t promise that Lydia will be allowed to stay in Hilltop, he does tell Henry to find her some clean clothes, so things are looking up for our new deeply troubled friend.
Over in the B storyline, Tara and Team Lady Gaga go out looking for Uncle Melvin and that Nice Savior. Instead of finding their friends, they find their horses being eaten by a bunch of walkers, the horses having been sliced open with knives. “WELL THIS IS CRAZY AND MAYBE WE SHOULD JUST GO HOME NOW OK LET’S GO,” says Tara.
This does not sit well with Team Lady Gaga who vote to go out in the MIDDLE OF THE DAMN NIGHT to go find their friends because that will end well.
They go out and immediately find a giant herd which makes Yumiko realize that maybe this wasn’t a great idea after all.
When the group decides to go back to Hilltop, Kelly — the teenager — bursts into tears, and insists on staying out, because Uncle Melvin saved her this one time. So these idiots, they decide that Lady Gaga and Yumiko will go back to Hilltop and leave THE TEENAGER and the DEAF LADY out in the WOODS in the DARK. Great plan, everyone!
When Yumiko and Lady Gaga return to Hilltop, Yumiko goes to the watchtower to apologize to Tara for disobeying her, and Tara is like, “No problem, I get it, but let’s work on our communication skills.”
And that’s when the guards see a bunch of Whisperers approaching. And apparently, Kelly and Connie, the deaf lady, they were right behind Yumiko and Lady Gaga? Despite saying they were going to stay out and look for Uncle Melvin? I don’t know. The point is, the guards grab Kelly and drag her inside, but Connie is forced to hide in the cornfields.
As for the Whisperers, they gather right outside the gate and an unmasked woman marches up to the front, introduces herself as “Alpha,” and says that she just wants her daughter back. OH NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT. NO MA’AM WITH YOUR FILTHY ASS SELF. GO WASH YOUR FACE, SAMANTHA MORTON.
True fact: this was the lowest-rated episode of The Walking Dead EVER, with only some 4.5 million people tuning in. And honestly? That’s a damn shame. I, for one, have not been shy with my criticisms of The Walking Dead in recent years, but this episode was one of the best in recent memory. The use of the unreliable narrator, the subtle untangling of Lydia’s memories and the slow realization that her mother is not some Carol-like figure — an admirable but troubled woman toughened by domestic abuse — but instead a sociopath whose dangerous nature is brought into full bloom by the zombie apocalypse … it made for a genuinely upsetting episode.
It is also a haunting exploration of how physical and emotional abuse can trap victims in vicious cycles of self-doubt that they begin to believe that they deserve the abuse, that they need it.
The performances here were all excellent, most especially from Norman Reedus who is stepping into his leading man role quite nicely this season. His ability to project anger, sympathy, and recognition was an important part of what made this episode work as well as it did. (Honestly: the scene where he points out to her that a daddy who sings to his little girl when she’s scared doesn’t jibe with an abuser was maybe for me the highlight of the episode.)
But it also underscores why the Whisperers are the scariest villains this show has shown to date. I was reading some site that argued this point before this half of the season began, and I don’t disagree with them: the Whisperers are creepy AS FUCK — anyone who is cool with wearing rotting human flesh as a mask is no one to be trifled with. That said, our heroes have gone up against CANNIBALS. I mean, it’s one thing to be up against weirdo zombie cosplayers, it’s another to know that the people you’re up against want to Hannibal Lecter you.
That said, this episode added to the dread associated with this particular Big Bad. This isn’t a group with a strict moral code of honor like the Saviors who genuinely believed what they were doing was for the greater good. They aren’t a Governor who was looking to rule with an iron fist in the midst of chaos. No, these are complete anarchists, who have no desire to return to any sense of order led by a psychopath who uses psychological manipulation to control her followers and her own family. It’s domestic abuse writ large, and that’s what makes them so terrifying.
The Walking Dead airs on AMC on Sundays at 8/9 p.m.