A Look at The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game- Poster

Sometimes, those people written off by society end up doing amazing things. That’s one of the running themes of The Imitation Game, the story about Alan Turing and his ragtag team of cryptologists banded together during World War II to do the impossible: break an unbreakable Nazi spy code and win the war. Sounds like a simple task. The film may not be as in-depth in regards to the science behind cryptology and some won’t like how little we get of Turing’s personal life, but to me, this is a well done drama all about cracking secrets all while holding onto your own.

The Imitation Game- Alan Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, imprisoned

The film begins in a prison cell in Manchester, England, 1951. Sitting in this cell is our protagonist and narrator, Alan Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Are you listening, he asks? If you’re not, you may miss things. So no questions during the movie! After all, we’re not in control right now- he is. He knows things. He doesn’t want any judging, either.

But let’s see what led us to this point. We cut back to a point prior to Turing’s imprisonment. Detective Robert Nock, played by Rory Kinnear, of the local police department receives a letter- Alan Turing was just robbed. The only thing is that nothing is actually missing. There’s also the question of why Turing is even in Manchester.

Detective Nock and another officer investigate the home and find Turing sweeping up cyanide. Turing isn’t looking for any help. In fact, he wants to be left alone. When the officers leave, Nock still finds Turing’s behavior suspicious and believes that he’s hiding something.

The Imitation Game- Alan meets with Commander Alastair Denniston, played by Charles Dance

After that cold opening, the movie starts proper in London, 1939. The country is in the midst of war with Germany. Alan Turing heads to Bletchley’s Radio Manufacturing and meets Commander Alastair Denniston, played by Sir Tywin Lannister himself, Charles Dance. After the two exchange pleasantries, Denniston looks over Turing’s qualifications: a mathematician from King’s College and became a Cambridge fellow at the age of 24. Turing doesn’t fancy himself as a prodigy, though. Denniston asks why Turing why he would want to work for Bletchley, but it turns out that he doesn’t. Turing is agnostic when it comes to violence and politics is not his expertise. Denniston is miffed. After all, Turing is rejecting a top secret position that many would love to take. It also doesn’t help that Turning doesn’t speak a lick of German. He is good at puzzles, though. As Denniston prepares to dismiss Turing altogether, Turing says one word that catches Denniston’s attention:

“Enigma.”

Denniston returns to his seat the two discuss Enigma: a top secret program designed to break the German encryption system. If the Allies can break this, they can win the war. Turing knows that Denniston and his team have made little to no progress and they will need his help. He knows how to solve problems. Denniston counters that cracking Enigma is impossible. No, Turing counters, the Allies call it impossible. That’s right. But the British? They can do it, no doubt.

So Denniston brings Turing not just to Enigma, but the rest of the assigned team: Keith, played by Ilan Goodman, Charles, played by Jack Tarlton, and a third member who I’ll get to in a second. The machine itself has been unable to crack the German encryption for one specific reason: the Germans reset the settings to their machines every day, rendering all cracking attempts from the previous day complete pointless. There are millions of possibilities. To be exact, there are 159 million million. This clarification comes from team member and chess extraordinaire Hugh Alexander, played by Matthew Goode.

Alan Turing, however, has no desire whatsoever to be on a team. He thinks the others will just slow him down. He’s already being a team player, you see. MI6 member Stewart Menzies, played by Mark Strong, tells Turing that, in the span of their conversation, three more Brits have died because of Enigma. Right now, the British are not winning the war, but if they can break Enigma, they may have a fighting chance.

So the team sets to work. Given the amount of possibilities, it would take about 20 million years to check these settings. The team hopes to accomplish such a task…in 20 minutes. One day, Hugh and the rest of the team prepare to get some lunch, but Alan is too busy working and isn’t interested in joining them. Also, he’s not interested in sandwiches. Why is Alan so into his work? Well, he has a greater vision for a machine that, when completed, will be able to break every message every day instantly.

Back in Manchester, Detective Nock continues digging into Turing’s background and has found that his military records are classified.

Turing, meanwhile, is furious at Commander Denniston for denying the 100,000 pounds needed for his machine. I mean, it’s a perfectly reasonable amount of money. But Turing has a theory: so far, they have only been using men to try and crack Enigma. This will become more important later. Denniston does not falter. After all, Turing has not won the war and he’s disregarding the chain of command. He’s just one cog in a much larger machine. So Turing asks who Denniston’s boss is. The answer is simple: Winston Churchill.

Like that, with one letter, Turing manages to get Churchill to put him in charge of the team. And Turing’s first order of business is to fire Keith and Charles. Turing must have been very popular in school.

The Imitation Game- Young Alan Turing, played by Alex Lawther

Actually, let’s see just what Turing was like in his youth. The film flashes back to 1928. A much younger Alan Turing, played by Alex Lawther, separates his orange carrots from his green peas. Someone comes buy and dumps food on him, causing his oranges to mix with his greens!

If that wasn’t enough, Turing is then put under the floorboards by some of his peers. He’s soon freed by a friend: Christopher, played by Jack Bannon. Christopher comforts Alan, telling him it’s the people who society writes off that end up doing the most unthinkable things.

Back in the present, Turing now needs a staff to replace Keith and Charles, so he creates a game: a crossword puzzle, to be exact. If you can complete it in less than seven minutes, you move onto the next step. Even as the war continues, various people manage to work on the puzzle.

The Imitation Game- Joan Clarke, played by Keira Knightley, speaks with Alan

In the aftermath of a recent bombing, the citizens begin to rebuild. Alan, meanwhile, meets with the select individuals who completed the puzzle in less than seven minutes. The next task is another puzzle. As Alan speaks with the group, another applicant arrives: Joan Clarke, played by Keira Knightley. The checker thinks that Clarke is there for a secretarial position and initially does not believe that she completed the puzzle on her own, but Alan lets her in, all while admonishing her just for being tardy. Clarke takes her seat. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time Knightley has appeared on-screen in this film, but we first saw her only in passing, so an introduction there would have been pointless.

Anyway, Clarke proves her worth by managing to complete the task in five minutes, 34 seconds. She’s brought on and briefed on what she and the rest of the team must do to stay on board: lie to their families, if necessary. There’s a chance they could be convicted of high treason and possibly even execution. Clarke isn’t going to be some secretary. She’s going to help break an unbreakable Nazi code and help win the war.

The year is 1940, Bletchley Park. New team member Jack Good, played by James Northcote, arrives, but Ms. Clarke is absent.

We then cut to the Clark residence as Joan finds Alan Turing talking with her parents about what ‘job’ she’ll be doing, all while avoiding the mention of her real objective. He asks Joan why she won’t join. She has the intellect, but despite that, she was never made a fellow. Alan then tells Joan that there are other women in clerical jobs at their site and she would be working with them. It will be quite decorous. Joan wants to know why Alan would even help her, and he repeats Christopher’s words about the people no one imagines anything of that do the things that no one can imagine.

Detective Nock is still trying to crack the mystery that is Alan Turing. It’s as if someone is trying to erase Turing from history. What if he’s a Soviet spy, though?

The Imitation Game- Rage at Alan

As war rages on, the team isn’t just at war with Germany, but also with the clock. Germans bombed American aid en route for London. Midnight strikes once again, meaning all progress made is now useless. Team member John Cairncross, played by Allen Leech, feels that their already impossible task is now even more impossible, if that makes any sense. It doesn’t help that Alan is spending all of his time focused on his machine. John rages at Alan. The soldiers on the battlefield are out making differences. The team, by contrast, is getting nothing done. When John threatens to destroy Alan’s machine, he’s stopped. Alan insists that the others let him continue his work. Another team member, Peter Hilton, played by Matthew Beard, is also skeptical, but Alan is adamant that the machine will work.

When the others leave, Alan stuffs some papers in his clothes and heads to Joan’s. She lets him in and he reveals that he brought her some Enigma messages for her to encrypt and decode. We also learn more about Alan’s machine, specifically its name: Christopher. Though Joan has not seen the machine for herself yet, she is familiar with it- a machine that solves problems, makes calculations, and then solves the next one. She read about it in one of Turing’s papers. A digital computer? That will never catch on.

The next day, Alan finds Denniston and a few soldiers at the work station with grim news for the team: the Navy thinks that one of them is a Soviet double agent. Denniston suspects Turing. After all, double agents tend to be lonely and arrogant. The soldiers look through Turing’s files, but find nothing out of the ordinary. Even still, Denniston is still suspicious and tells Turing that he could be hanged for treason. How sweet.

The Imitation Game- Joan convinces Alan to get along with the rest of the team

At the pub that night, Joan takes it upon herself to meet the rest of the team. They get along with her instantly. Part of that has to do with her being a woman, but a big part of it has to do with the fact that she’s not an arrogant ass. She tells Alan that the team will not help him if they don’t like him.

So Alan courts the team with…apples, of all things. Well, at least he gave them something healthy. He also has a joke: two people are about to be attacked by a bear. One of them plans to run away. The second person says that the first could never outrun a bear. The first responds that he doesn’t need to outrun a bear- he just needs to outrun the other person. Laugh, damn you! That was a joke!

Yeah, anyway, following a brief flashback of Chris and Alan passing coded messages in class, we return to the present in the year of 1941. Alan and Joan are working on codes, but Hugh may have found a way to quicken the process. Oh, and he takes Alan’s sandwich. Hey, Alan did say he doesn’t like them.

At long last, Alan’s machine is complete and ready to go. The problem is there’s no telling how long it will take for it to decode messages. The team waits and waits while war rages on. The Nazis continue their invasion throughout Europe while the group grows more frustrated.

The Imitation Game- Commander Denniston prepares to shut down Turing's project

Finally, Denniston arrives again to see what progress Alan has made. Alan flips out at Denniston for not understanding the magnitude of what he is creating. That said, Denniston is tired of waiting and has one of the soldiers unplug the machine. The funding has ended and Alan is fired.

However, the rest of the team won’t have that. If Alan is gone, so are they, so Alan’s machine better bloody work.

Yes, it better, and that’s where we’ll hold the plot.

Given Turing’s life, there’s a lot of ground to cover with The Imitation Game. Sure, the film does not cover every single aspect that some viewers would like. That would be impossible. This movie isn’t about Turing’s homosexuality, nor is it about the larger conflict at hand. This film is about a group of great minds coming together to do the impossible and tip World War II in favor of the Allied forces.

The Imitation Game- Joan and Alan dance

Director Morten Tyldum puts you square in the time period by looking at how society views those seen as different. We see this play out through Turing as a homosexual, but also Clarke as a woman. As this film takes place during the 1940s, women are viewed as second rate and fit for secretarial positions, while homosexuals are seen as deviants and perverts. If everyone had been accepting of people like Clarke and Turing, the two would have not have had much to prove to themselves. At least, within the context of this film, anyway.

THE IMITATION GAME

Throughout the film, characters remark that sometimes it’s the people that no one imagines doing anything or written off that end up doing the things that no one can imagine. Though I’m not a fan of how this line is repeated, it does highlight how this ragtag team of mathematicians ended up contributing much to the war effort. At one point, the team acknowledges the fact that they’re not on the frontlines. Soldiers are on the battlefields, giving everything they have and more in order to defeat the Axis Powers. By comparison, the Enigma team is a bunch of heads in a room, away from immediate danger, trying to crack a Nazi spy code. Sure, they still carry the burden of withholding top-secret information from their loved ones and risk both treason and execution if they compromise the mission, but they’re in safer conditions than most soldiers. At the same time, however, this goes hand in hand with the film’s message about great help coming from unlikely sources.

The Imitation Game- Attack Aftermath

A lot of talk about the war is told through brief scenes and exchanges between characters, Turing’s narration and archival footage. I don’t have as much of an issue with this as some reviewers I’ve read do because, again, the war is not the central focus of the film. I feel that the newsreel footage is there to remind us of the bigger picture and place the main storyline in a larger context. And it’s not just there to say ‘Hey, remember how there’s this war going on?’ We get scenes of citizens going into hiding and dealing with the aftermath when towns are damaged by warfare. So while some have found these scenes distracting and a tad bit unnecessary, I had no problem with them.

The Imitation Game- Alan hard at work

I also had no problem with the casting, though given the strength of the actors we have, I wish we’d gotten to see more of them. Alan Turing himself is an outcast by choice, both in his youth and adulthood. Humor goes over his head, he buries himself in his work, a tad bit rude and not really that likable of a guy. The man is all around complicated, yet interesting to watch nonetheless. Benedict Cumberbatch is well cast for this type of role, and if you need further proof of that, watch Sherlock. He can be cold and uncaring, but he doesn’t do it out of spite. He gives Turing enough sympathy where we want to see him realize how much of a cad he’s being and build bridges with his team, even when that just involves giving out apples and telling a bad joke.

Turing is methodical and very much a thinker. He’s always asking questions, but always seems to have an answer for anything, snarky or otherwise. For all of his dry wit, Turing is no moron and pours his heart into his machine, Christopher. After losing his one true friend when he was a young lad, Turing keeps Christopher’s spirit alive in his work. A bit of apparent symbolism there, but at least he never tried to kiss the machine…that we know of, anyway.

The Imitation Game- Alan with Joan

Just from the way Cumberbatch plays this role, it’s easy to see that, for being a great mastermind, Turing himself is always hiding something. His secret, of course, being his homosexuality, is buried deep where he hopes no one can find it. It’s the part of him that he does not fully embrace because there are indecency laws in place. Not to mention society wasn’t exactly open to the idea of men paying other men to touch their cocks. I don’t have a problem with the fact that Turing’s homosexuality isn’t center stage or given the attention that many feel it deserves. Yes, it’s what led to his decision to choose chemical castration and, eventually suicide, and it’s unfortunate that such a mention is limited to a footnote in the credits, but this is about the attempt to crack Enigma, not how Turing liked penises instead of vaginas. If you’re looking for the story about the closeted Alan Turing and how he struggled with who he was, this isn’t the movie for you, but then, this movie is about much more than that.

The Imitation Game- Joan Clarke

Keira Knightley is good in the role of Joan Clarke, though I wish she had more screen time than she does here. She’s mostly here as the token female of the group and to take on the role as Turing’s love interest. But what material Knightley is given, she plays very well. She’s intelligent, kind, has a way with words, and isn’t about to let herself be defined by society. Clarke grapples with ever-present sexism and is taken for a secretary when she first arrives. Hell, she’s even questioned as to whether she completed Turing’s first task on her own. Again, this was seen as pretty acceptable at the time. But Clarke proves the men of her time wrong by holding her own and proving she has something to contribute to the team. She has enough baggage on her shoulder from not being made a fellow or taken seriously, but she doesn’t use that as an excuse to just hate all men, as some films would have her do. Knightley and Cumberbatch do have very good chemistry together, but I do wish we got to see more of Clarke interacting with the rest of the team.

The Imitation Game- Watching work

The rest of the cast is well utilized, but not given a lot to do compared to Cumberbatch and Knightley. Matthew Goode is a good counter to Cumberbatch in that Hugh Alexander isn’t one to let himself get rolled over by Turing’s snark. Charles Dance has a powerful presence as Commander Denniston, but given the man’s work, particularly his tenure as Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones, the man has proven he can command a scene and be intimidating when necessary.

The Imitation Game- Team goes through files

I do have a few issues with the film. For a movie that’s all about mathematics, science and how computers will soon work, there is not a ton of math or science in the film. I sort of get that. This is a formulaic look at Turing’s life and having too much science or explanation may alienate those unfamiliar with the technical lingo. More than that, too much explanation or expository dialogue would take away from the film being able to simply show instead of tell. However, I think a little bit of dialogue regarding the science behind encryption would have been nice.

This film plays it safe when it comes to ethical dilemmas. We know what is at stake for the team, should they succeed, but they are given a great deal of responsibility. I won’t go into detail, but there’s a scene in the film where the team grapples with trying to save lives, but not let the Germans know that the British are onto them. It’s a good scene that shows how they are, in essence, taking control of life and death, and I wish we had more scenes like that.

The Imitation Game plays it safe. Not playing up Alan Turing’s homosexuality, constant reminders of World War II looming in the background, and not emphasizing the science behind encryption are examples of this movie being streamlined for a general audience as opposed to getting deep into Turing’s life and his work. What we get here is a good movie about a group of brilliant minds who came together to beat the unbeatable Nazi spy code. Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance builds off of what we’ve seen him do in Sherlock as he steps into the shoes of another genius. At the end of the day, it wasn’t the atomic bomb or war bonds or guns that won World War II. No. It was won thanks to a bunch of crossword puzzle enthusiasts.

And really, that’s all that matters. I give you World War II: The Untold Story of How the British Won the War.

A Look at The Walking Dead #135: “Face to Face”

The Walking Dead #135- Cover

One of the biggest strengths of The Walking Dead has been how it tackles moral ambiguity. At what point is it acceptable to kill? Is it even acceptable? Rick and company have been willing to kill many times before, whether to protect themselves, instinct or force of habit. However, as both the comic and show have pointed out, there comes a point when characters have to stop and question who they are and what they have allowed themselves to become. Having too much power, control and the ability to take a life can turn you into someone you’re not. Go too far and you become a monster. We’ve seen this with characters like Negan and the Governor. People like Rick and Carl teeter dangerously to crossing that line, but they manage to bring themselves back.

And though Kirkman has slowly given us more information regarding The Whisperers, Issue #135: “Face to Face” mostly deals with the aftermath of Carl and Sophia being attacked by two neighborhood boys. More than that, it gave a great deal of focus to Carl and Maggie as they deal with the Hilltop residents.

I was a bit surprised to read that both of the boys might live, despite their injuries. Not that I expected them both to die, but given how hard Carl went to town on those two boys, I thought one of them would bite it. Again, at least they know not to screw with Carl.

The Walking Dead #135- Parents react to Carl's actions and Maggie is blamed

That said, I’m not a fan of how the parents react to what Carl did. They have every reason to be upset at what Carl did, yes, but they’re overlooking what their boys did to Carl and Sophia. For Tammy to claim that Sophia brought it on herself, saying that Maggie cares more about her own child than the rest of the Hilltop and acting like Carl is the only one at fault already makes me dislike her. Carl is also in the wrong, to an extent, but I’ll get to that in a second. These parents seem like the type that would coddle their children and are convinced that their precious angels could do no wrong. Did she not see what they did to Carl and Sophia? The parents call Carl a menace and say that Sophia is out of control, never admonishing their own kids for what they did. These are not good parents. There’s no doubt that they care for their boys, but they are not saints. They cannot be shielded from harm forever. Hell, I wonder how many times these parents may have overlooked what their kids did.

The Walking Dead #135- Maggie clashes with parents

And they are overstepping their boundaries to suddenly demand compensation from Maggie. I assume Kirkman doesn’t want us to like these people because they take no responsibility for what their kids did to Carl and Sophia. They’re way too rash and quick to react without considering the possibility that their kids instigated the violence.

The Walking Dead #135- Maggie prevents a fight from breaking out

At the very least, Maggie is willing to see both sides, even if she is being bombarded. Maggie is not Rick. We know that. But at the same time, she doesn’t have to be. She’s being as assertive as possible, but also showing some diplomacy since, as pointed out, she wasn’t elected to this position. As much as I like Maggie, this is not a role that the residents of the Hilltop chose to give her as much as she just inherited it from Gregory, who did not want to stand up to Negan.

Yet, given how peaceful life has been in the Hilltop since the time skip, Maggie looks to have done a good job. No one has rebelled and society is productive again. Sure, her laughing off Gregory last time wasn’t exactly the best way to react, but she’s limiting resources for when they’re most needed. Regardless of how good of a job she may have done, Maggie’s abilities as a leader have now been called into question. And given Gregory’s plan at the end of the issue, whether serious or not, it looks to me that some folks in the Hilltop look to rise against Maggie now that they feel she’s not fit to be in charge.

The Walking Dead #135- Maggie admonishes Carl for his actions

Maggie is trying to put out as many small fires as possible because any mishap will ruin the vision she and Rick share: a return to civilized society. They are still a far ways from that, but the two are taking a daring stance by declaring that they will no longer kill anyone. Given the horrible things these people have done to survive, it’s strange that they suddenly want to take the high road. Maybe they had a change of heart after Negan bashed Glenn to death, but it’s a big shift, to say the least.

Or maybe I’m looking too deep into this. It could be that Rick and Maggie realize that having more people alive means more people can pull their weight and contribute to a thriving world. Perhaps Rick still wants to prove to Negan that people can thrive on working together, not fear. This sort of pacifist attitude is not one that I expect Maggie to stick to. Not in The Walking Dead. Her daughter almost died, yet she still sees the two attackers as becoming productive members of society when they grow up. A bold prediction to make, Maggie. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come back to bite you in the ass.

The Walking Dead #135- Carl says 'fuck' three times in one sentence

Carl Grimes is going to a very dark place. He’s showing shades of both Rick and Negan in his personality. He acknowledges that he went overboard, but he is not about to let these adults push him around. Carl is no pushover, but he has to realize that his brash actions have consequences. That’s why he could not fathom why Maggie would lock him away when all he did was defend Sophia. In his mind, he did the right thing. He took it too far, he admits, but he doesn’t regret it. The problem is that he did not stop when he could and should have. And telling the adults to go fuck themselves just paints him as a violent brat in their eyes.

The Walking Dead #135- Carl is called a monster

Still, his actions make sense, as crazy as that sounds. He cares for Sophia and he would not let any harm come to her or Maggie, if he can prevent it. Rick would be no different. Hell, Rick may have killed, if he wanted to. In my opinion, if Carl should apologize for anything, it’s for going too far. I don’t think he should have to apologize for what he did, though. Keep in mind that he and Sophia were ambushed and Carl still only has one good eye. He’s already at a disadvantage in a fight and taking him off guard from behind does not do him any more favors. He didn’t think straight in the situation- he just acted.

The Walking Dead #135- Jesus speaks with Lydia

As for The Whisperers storyline, which I don’t have a lot to say about, newcomer Lydia keeps Jesus in the dark, for the most part, by not giving him straight answers. The Whisperers live everywhere? That’s pretty vague. But I do think Lydia looks pretty clean for a teenager who had been wearing the skin of a roamer and lurking amongst them. Again, there’s still much more to learn about this group. Judging from Lydia’s smirk when she begins her conversation with Carl, I’m wondering whether she has honest motives by striking up a conversation with him. After all, Carl had talks with Negan as well.

So a good issue. Tension is building at the Hilltop due to Carl’s actions and some folks look ready to overthrow Maggie by any and all means.

A Look at Wild

Wild- Movie Poster

Wild is about one person’s journey to overcome the elements, to redeem herself and find some salvation.  Cheryl Strayed packs up her monster of a pack and prepares to walk the Pacific Crest Trail.  This is a well-made character piece that’s helped by a strong performance by Reese Witherspoon in a film that challenges us to hold onto our best self despite life’s many obstacles.  Let’s jump right in.

Wild- Cheryl struggles with her boots

The film begins in the mountains. Climbing to the top is Cheryl Strayed, played by Reese Witherspoon. Cheryl has been going at this for awhile and takes a moment to compose herself. She pulls off her boots and shoes to reveal very bloody and bruised feet. If that wasn’t enough do deter you from hiking, maybe the sight of Cheryl pulling off a big, bloody toenail will. However, she loses her footing a bit and one of her boots goes sailing down into the chasm. Enraged, Cheryl throws down the other boot and lets out a blood curling yell. Perhaps Reese Witherspoon could have another pair flown to her.

Anyway, the film then flashes back to Strayed being dropped off at a hotel. She pays the fee for the night, though the clerk leaves the door open for her to invite a partner. There will be none of that, though. Cheryl is planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. And since she’s unable to provide a license or address, she must provide another.

That address belongs to the man she then calls on the phone: her ex-husband, Paul, played by Thomas Sadoski. Paul is busy making dinner for a friend. He apologizes to Cheryl, though he’s not sure why he’s sorry. He hesitates when he tells Cheryl that he doesn’t understand why she’s walking 1,100 miles. Cheryl has provided Paul with a list of addresses for various stops she’ll be making, so he can send her packages that way. During this, we get a brief flashback of her sitting a friend, who tells her that she can quit anytime.

When Cheryl finishes her call with Paul, she considers her options on who she can ask to help her reach the first part of trek. After all, you don’t want to just entrust your life to anyone.

All right, time to head out. Cheryl is all packed and ready to go…she’s a bit too ready to go. Her pack has backpacks on backpacks. Combined, the entire pack looks like a roller suitcase stacked on top of another roller suitcase, but with bags jutting out of every corner. She fills one bag with water to keep herself hydrated. She tries to lug it out, with no success. The scene plays on for a while and is for comedic effect, but it does serve as a precursor to just how grueling this trip will be. Plus, if anything, it’s a chance to see Reese Witherspoon try out some sort of physical comedy, but I digress.

After getting her monster pack out of the hotel, Cheryl heads to the nearby gas station. She decides to hitch a ride with a couple. The husband plays a song that strikes a familiar chord with Cheryl, as the film flashes back to a younger Cheryl dancing with a woman. Problem is that the wife doesn’t like the music, so she turns it off. Sourpuss.

Wild- Cheryl coming up on Science Trail sign

So the couple drops off Cheryl and the trek begins with the Day One entry. She pulls out the journal in the available mailbox, jots down an entry and begins walking. Cheryl very soon wonders just what the fuck she’s done. The journey goes on and on with her growing more delirious with every step, not to mention that heavy fucking pack on her pack. And remember, folks, this is only the first day.

Wild- Cheryl writes in her journal

After walking for five miles, Cheryl makes camp…she eventually makes camp. She writes a note in her journal and hopes that the receiver would not be angry if she decided to quit.

The film then flashes back to Cheryl’s school days. Surprisingly, they just had Reese Witherspoon play Cheryl as a student in addition to an adult. Here, she looks like she did on Election or Pleasantville. I digress. Anyway, young Cheryl/Witherspoon is in class during a lesson on Marie Curie. Once the lesson ends, she runs into the woman from the previous flashback: her mother, Bobbi, played by Laura Dern.

The flashback continues to that evening with Cheryl apologizing to Bobbi for apparently slighting her earlier at school. Bobbi isn’t upset. In fact, she’s still proud of her daughter nonetheless. Then enters Bobbi’s other child, Leif, played by Keene McRae. Leif and his friend have come by for some food. Cheryl chastises Leif for wanting their mother to do everything for him.

In the present, after a night’s sleep, Day Two has arrived. With her handy-dandy portable stove, Cheryl cooks herself some mush. She gets a lot of mush in her life right now. Regular mush, mush with nuts, she has mush dreams and even shits mush. I’m serious, there’s a shot of it under some rocks, but I’m pretty sure Reese Witherspoon didn’t take that shit. Point is that Cheryl loves mush.

Wild- Cheryl's journey begins

Day Five arrives, 30 miles in, and Cheryl is still talking to herself. When we get to Day Eight, Cheryl notices that she’s running low on food. She can still give up this journey, if she wants to. She gets a break when she spots a farmer tending to the field on his tractor. She asks if there’s any place he can take her food, but according to man, Frank, played by W. Earl Brown, nothing would be open at the hour. Plus, he needs to finish his work, so for now, Cheryl can just wait in his truck.

Cheryl does just that and finds herself still waiting for Frank to finish as night falls. She snoops around in the car and finds a gun. When Frank finally finishes, he gets in and tells his companion that she can come back to his place for dinner and a shower. The two bond over alcohol from his flask. Cheryl hesitates, but she does give in and takes a sip. She tells Frank that her husband is traveling ahead of her and she will catch up with him eventually. Right. Anyway, Frank does have just one more thing he needs to share with Cheryl.

Licorice! That’s right. Cheryl’s new friend has a sweet tooth, but she must keep quiet about it. Frank doesn’t want his wife finding out that he eats candy.

At Frank’s, Cheryl meets his wife, Annette, played by Jan Hoag. Just for precautions, Annette actually places newspaper on Cheryl’s seat. Any potential tension is thrown out the window as Cheryl eats the first decent meal she’s had in days. Annette and Frank find it crazy that Cheryl and her so-called husband would go on this excursion. Actually, Annette and Frank themselves are pretty snarky and have good banter. Annette even suggests that she take off with Cheryl. I instantly like these two not just because of their chemistry, but because they showed no hesitation to letting a complete stranger into their home and showing her some real hospitality.

Wild- Flashback, Cheryl and Paul get tattoos

As Cheryl showers the filth from her body, she has memories of Paul. The film then flashes back to the two of them getting tattoos. When the tattoo artist, played by Art Alexakis, asks the two why they’re getting ink, Paul explains that they’re getting a divorce. Getting the tattoos binds them together. There are better ways to do that, you know. Cheryl goes a bit further with the explanation: she cheated on Paul. A lot.

The two receive their divorce papers and say their goodbyes after seven long and crazy years.

In the present, Frank drops Cheryl off at her next checkpoint. Before Cheryl leaves, Frank correctly guesses that Cheryl’s boyfriend isn’t on the trail with her. She just said it because she was afraid of Frank at first. She makes a big leap forward in technology when she’s able to get a fire started with her portable stove. It’s the little things in life that matter, you know. In fact, Cheryl is so happy that she even calls out to the wolves that night.

Day 10 arrives. Cheryl has been able to trek five to seven miles a day. At that rate, she figures she’ll be done in about 20 years. That’s plenty of time. She does get sidetracked by a snake in her path, though.

The film then briefly flashes back to Cheryl again meeting up with her friend, Aimee, played by Gaby Hoffmann. And following a terrifying encounter with a tiny bug that causes Cheryl to blow her rape whistle, we cut to Paul and Cheryl arguing in the past.

Cheryl reaches 80 miles and comes across something she probably didn’t expect to see on the trail: a man skinny-dipping. This is Greg, played by Kevin Rankin. He recognizes Cheryl not by face, but from her name in the registrar. Greg is making good ground so far. He’s been able to do 20 miles a day. That comes with heavy preparation. Greg suggests that Cheryl head to a nearby camp where she can plan her next move.

We then cut back to Cheryl and Aimee as the two talk over margaritas. Cheryl tells Aimee that she believes she is pregnant. She has an idea of who the father may be. Whoops.

Reese Witherspoon as "Cheryl Strayed" in WILD.

So the two head to a clinic. While waiting in line to take her test, Cheryl spots a book on a nearby shelf about the Pacific Crest Trail. After Cheryl receives the results, she leaves in a huff and begins to shovel the shit out of the snow covering her car. You make that snow pay, Cheryl! She tells Aimee that she has no intentions of having the baby. She was supposed to be strong, responsible and want things in life.

Wild- Cheryl arrives at rocky mountain

In the present, Cheryl comes face to face with a giant rock while scaling a mountain. She edges herself into the space between the mountain and the rock. Following this, she winds up at a camp on Kennedy Meadows. Greg and some other men welcome her in and help her get situated for the time being.

Wild- Cheryl talks to Amazing Ed, played by Cliff De Young, who calls her pack 'Monster'

One of the men, Ed- or Amazing Ed- played by Cliff De Young, offers to help her clear out some extra stuff from her pack, which he refers to as “Monster.” What can she part with? The saw, the deodorant, some of her books and an entire roll of condoms, just to start. He also suggests that as Cheryl reaches a new point on the trail, she tears out that portion from her book on the Pacific Crest Trail. If that wasn’t enough, Cheryl learns that she can call a shoe store and have them deliver her new boots at her next destination.

We then cut back to Cheryl asking her mother what she sees in the author James A. Michener. She doesn’t get it. Cheryl sees herself as more sophisticated than her mother was at her age. After this exchange, following a brief snippet of Cheryl and Bobbi with their horse, we then head to the doctor’s office. Bad news: Bobbi has a tumor in her spine.

Wild- Cheryl speaks with Jimmy Carter, played by Mo McRae, about not being a hobo

In the present, Cheryl arrives in Reno and calls Paul to let him know that she’s still alive. However, she now decides to hitchhike again. Most drivers pass by, but one does stop: a writer named Jimmy Carter, played by Mo McRae. Jimmy Carter here writes for The Hobo Times and he’s glad to finally meet another hobo. He knows these types, too. Trauma causes people to enter the hobo life. Cheryl insists that she’s not a hobo and women can’t just walk out of their lives, which likens her to a feminist in Carter’s mind. Rude. Regardless, she receives a nice hobo care package, but she does not a ride since Jimmy doesn’t have any room in his car.

Cheryl does eventually pick up a ride. The people inside, two men and one woman, are nice enough, though one of them does leer at Cheryl longer than necessary. Cheryl’s attention is drawn to the photo of a young boy, who was eight years old. He was killed when a truck struck him five years ago.

In the past, Cheryl tells her mother not to give up because they can fight this. In the present, Cheryl comes face to face with snow on Day 30. She suits up with her snow pants and continues on while two skiers pass by and let her know she’s in California. Dicks. Well, Cheryl at least isn’t lost. She’s just screwed. Then, the spots a fox…

We flash back to Cheryl arguing with the staff at the doctor’s office. Her mother had been given a year, but it’s only been a month and condition is deteriorating.

At home, still in the past, Cheryl chastises Leif for never visiting their mother. He has his reasons. He doesn’t want to accept the idea of her dying. He may have acted like she didn’t mean anything, but in reality, she meant everything to him.

On Day fucking 36, Cheryl remembers when she and her brother finally visited their mother together. One they arrive at the hospital…

…nah. You find out. Let’s hold it there.

When you take Wild at face value, the idea of someone simply walking around the country may not sound all that exciting or inviting of a premise. However, the film was made with a lot of care and shows respect to its source material, thanks to the performance of Reese Witherspoon- who also doubled as a producer- and the film’s director.

Jean-Marc Vallée, who recently directed Dallas Buyers Club, has an eye for the personal. In a way, Cheryl Strayed is similar to Ron Woodruff: she’s found herself in what looks to be an unwinnable position, but she pushes on, despite the risks. Of course, the difference is that Woodruff did eventually pass away, though years after his supposed death sentence. Strayed, as we know, lived to tell the tale. That’s not to take away from either journey, though.

Wild- Cheryl stares off

Wild works on many levels: here is a woman that wants to get away from the world and just be with herself by mounting a seemingly impossible task. Things aren’t explained right away, but told in pieces so we can pick up more bits of information about an earlier scene as we travel with Cheryl.

Wild- Cheryl Strayed, played by Reese Witherspoon, screams

This is not a linear film, evident from the film’s very opening. As the movie progresses, we’re treated to many flashbacks and, at times, flashbacks within flashbacks, to give us glimpses of Cheryl’s past, such as her childhood, relationship with her mother and brother, and her ties to Paul and Aimee. In addition, we see the slow self-destruction, ranging from drug use to having sex with the closest man she can find, that led her to embark on this journey. Even these moments aren’t presented in chronological order. For example, early on, we get a flashback of Paul and Cheryl arguing, but we don’t hear their conversation. Only later on, when we revisit the scene, do we learn why the two had a disagreement.

I’m not entirely a fan of how the flashbacks are edited. At times, flashbacks just pop on-screen during Cheryl’s journey. Sometimes there’s a trigger for them, and sometimes there isn’t. Some are fast, maybe half a second before we cut either back to Cheryl or to another flashback. Sure, if I wanted to stretch it, I could say that this represents the gaps in Cheryl’s mind, or maybe it’s due to her past, rampant drug use, or maybe the heat is making her delirious. These are all pretty ridiculous reasons to speculate on, but my point is I wish the flashbacks weren’t as frequent as they are in the movie. This is only an issue when the flashbacks appear in quick bursts, one after the other, but luckily, that doesn’t happen very often.

Wild- Bobbi with young Cheryl and Leif

The movie has many themes and messages, most of which relate to Cheryl’s journey and her relationship with her mother: discovery, detachment, self-preservation, eternal optimism, redemption, salvation and, above all, survival. Cheryl could never be the woman her mother way: full of sunshine and happiness, even when life threw everything at her. The two attended school at the same time and Bobbi is a survivor of domestic abuse from her previous husband. These two factors seem like things that would make a person very cynical about life and how they choose to live it. Despite that, Bobbi is a constant ray of sunshine, much to Cheryl’s annoyance.

Wild- Bobbi and Cheryl with their horse

At one point, Bobbi tells Cheryl that it’s important to find and hold onto your best self, despite life’s obstacles. The problem is that Cheryl, for the longest time, couldn’t even find her best self. She found solace in having sex with random strangers, using drugs and betraying a man who had true feelings for her. And yet, she tells Aimee during one flashback that it felt good to do bad things. We aspire to achieve what we feel is best in life for us, but for Cheryl, that happiness and joy she feels comes at a price when she alienates the people close to her. As a result, she walked away from it all in order to find herself. Some have argued that Cheryl’s tale is more about redemption than salvation, but I think there are shades of both. Cheryl doesn’t deny the horrible things she’s done and she isn’t looking for pity. She wants to get lost in the wilderness until she discovers who she is, regardless of the risks.

A lot of the tense situations come through what Cheryl expects to happen when she encounters random strangers, as opposed to what actually happens. Sure, there’s a lot to be said about a person who walks 1,000 miles on their own, but the film makes a point of highlighting the dangers of being a woman that could be raped. Cheryl isn’t dumb, though, and she treats most situations with caution. To her surprise, though, most of the men she runs into turn out to be harmless and have good intentions. There are two tense encounters, but Cheryl is able to work her way out of them.

I get that Cheryl is doing everything necessary to protect herself, and maybe this is because I’m not a woman, but the film almost makes it seem as if every man Cheryl encounters might have some underlying motive. Newsflash, people, not every man who does something nice for you is doing it just to worm his way into your pants, as hard as that may be for some of you to comprehend. More often than not, many of the men Cheryl meet offer their assistance. It’s a smart way to turn tense encounters on their head, such as when Frank tells Cheryl not to tell his wife about him eating licorice, when Cheryl had just been worrying about the gun Frank had in his car.

In fact, the encounter with Frank is just one of many light hearted examples. For a movie like this, Wild has plenty of humor to it. The sight of Cheryl struggling to get her pack on her back before her journey even begins, meeting Jimmy Carter of The Hobo Times, Cheryl blowing her very loud rape whistle at the sight of a bug and her calling out the wolves are just a few examples of the film slowing down and reminding us that you can still laugh, even when there’s so much seriousness going on around Cheryl.

Wild- Cheryl's drug use

What I admire most about the main protagonist is how flawed she is because she comes off as more complex. If she had no issues with this hike or any personal problems, it would be harder to relate to her. Cheryl is far from perfect. In fact, she’s not even that much of a likable or even relatable character. She lashes out at her mother’s optimism, she cheats on her husband and showed no remorse at the time, got deep in drugs and her solution was to walk away from it all. From an objective point of view, all of these factors and more would not give audience members any reason at all to root for Cheryl.

Wild- Young Cheryl with her therapist

But when we start digging deeper and learn about her abusive home life under her tyrant of a father, combined with her burning bridges with most of her connections, we see how she arrived at this point. Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch to go from sex and drugs to walking 1,100 miles with nothing but the pack on your back and I do wish we got more setup leading to this decision besides Cheryl just finding a book on the Pacific Crest Trail. She’s literally and figuratively weighed down by some serious psychological issues, but whatever task rests ahead of her, Cheryl does manage to find a way to conquer it. Some would say that Cheryl is literally just walking away from her problems and there’s some truth to that, but given her former, destructive ways, this is what she feels is the best decision for her. That’s not to excuse her behavior at all and no, I don’t fall into the camp who believes that Cheryl’s promiscuity would be viewed differently if the main character had been a man.

Wild- Cheryl in the water

Cheryl is a fighter. What we learn from the very first scene is that she’s sitting on a lot of rage: at the world, at her mother and herself. She channels that anger and frustration into her hike and we see on her face the frustration when she meets another setback. And yet, despite every urge to turn around, she keeps moving forward. Reese Witherspoon’s performance is very visceral and she has a great, commanding presence as the main, focal point of the film. It’s one of the best lead performances I have seen in 2014 thus far. I wouldn’t say it’s as layered as Cate Blanchett was with Blue Jasmine in 2013, but that’s not really a fair comparison since they’re playing two very different types of characters. Both are wandering through life to make something of themselves, but Jasmine came from wealth and had an air of pretentiousness about her, while Cheryl detested her lot in life and squandered it when she had the chance.

Wild- Cheryl

Witherspoon isn’t doing any mugging for the camera and the film never focuses on her too long just to show off her face. Each time we see her, there’s a multitude of emotions and thoughts going through her head. Some of that is obvious by sight alone, and other times the emotions come through her narration. This is both a positive and negative for the film. While Cheryl’s thoughts are both funny and revealing, some narration is unnecessary when we’re able to see what Cheryl is going through just based on her facial expressions. The film does a good job of showing what she’s going through and I just wish it did more of that as opposed to Cheryl flat out telling us her situation.

It’s a minor complaint, but when so much of the film emphasizes what Cheryl sees, hears and breathes in all around her, the directors and writers should have allowed Witherspoon more freedom to dictate what’s going on around her instead of somewhat forced narration.

Wild- Cheryl and Paul, played by Thomas Sadoski

Much like Obvious Child, Wild has a twist with the main character’s significant other. Paul is someone who could have cast Cheryl aside after her infidelity, but he still stays in touch with her and is even proud of what she sets out to do, even if he doesn’t fully approve of it. It shows that, despite how Cheryl wronged him, he will still not turn his back on her as a person. Speaking of Obvious Child, by the way, I wish this film had more Gaby Hoffmann.

Wild- Laura Dern as Bobbi

And while Witherspoon is a force in this film, the other bright star here is Laura Dern, who is happiness incarnate, even at her weakest moments. Like Cheryl, Bobbi has been through Hell, but unlike her daughter, Bobbi refuses to let anything get her down. She’s the kind of woman that Cheryl wishes she was and there’s not a mean bone in her body. This would be annoying if Bobbi flat out denied she had been through anything and just acted like her like she hadn’t endured any hardships. The difference is that Bobbi refuses to let any setbacks ruin her sunny disposition. She and Cheryl are so similar, but at opposite ends of the spectrum at the same time. Both women strived to make something of themselves and could have given up at any time, but Bobbi focused on the good in life, while Cheryl embraced the negative.

This is a very well made film that showcases some great direction from Vallée and an equally strong performance from Witherspoon. I’m not a betting man, but I do think she may at least get nominated for Best Actress based on this film. She commands each scene she’s in and is great from start to finish. Wild is about redemption and navigating through the darkness. While some of the themes and messages were a bit obvious and heavy handed, that did not take away from an enjoyable film about Reese Witherspoon’s journey to see how much she can fit on her back.

A Look at The Walking Dead #134: “From Whispers to Screams”

The Walking Dead #134- Cover

An issue of The Walking Dead without Rick Grimes in it? Blasphemy.

But on a serious note, I didn’t mind the lack of Rick in this issue of the series. Issue #134: “From Whispers to Screams” gave us only two storylines: Carl, Sophia and Maggie dealing with issues at The Hilltop, while Jesus deals with the new group threat, which now has an actual name.

The Walking Dead #134- They call them The Whisperers

I remember hearing a rumor after issue #133’s release that this group would be called The Whisperers, and now that’s their actual name. We still don’t know much about them, but I appreciate how Kirkman is spacing this out and slowly unraveling this group. With each issue, we get bits of information about them, but never enough to satisfy your taste. For example, do they claim territory? That could explain what one of them meant when they told Jesus that he was where he did not belong. Again, it’s all speculation, though.

The Walking Dead #134- Jesus battles with the Whisperers

Though Jesus’ portion of the issue was mostly action, I did like the Charlie Adlard’s penciling on the panels. And it wasn’t just nonstop slicing and dicing, as we did get some bits of dialogue. That’s gotta be some intense concentration Jesus has to talk with his team while still trying to comprehend what and who The Whisperers are.

The Walking Dead #134- Maggie and Gregory discuss what to do about Dante's group

So onto The Hilltop. Maggie’s moment is brief, but it illustrates an issue that also plagues the Alexandria Safe Zone: the group’s ability to lead. When Rick and company first arrived, people were aghast at his excessive use of violence. The people at The Hilltop were completely against the idea of violence and had to be coaxed into it, even before they’d even set eyes on Negan and The Saviors.

Yes, Dante still being missing could cause people to worry, but at the same time, Maggie doesn’t want to put even more people at risk by sending them out on a rescue mission. Maggie has no idea what’s out there, so she’s trusting in Dante to handle himself. She recognizes that she needs to keep people safe, but she won’t worry over him just yet. Gregory thinks otherwise and sees the need for immediate action. If there was ever a point where the people of The Hilltop would question Maggie’s leadership, based on what we’ve been given, I feel this would be the starting point.

The Walking Dead #134- Carl and Sophia ambushed

Then we have Carl and Sophia. After having a quiet moment to themselves, they come under attack by a pair of cowards. This actually reminded me of the issue where Rick, Carl and Abraham are attacked by the marauders when Rick snapped and gutted the men. We get that similar burst of outrage from Carl here as he goes to town on the boys with a shovel.

The Walking Dead #134- Carl Grimes goes to a dark place

Carl did not come to The Hilltop for this. He came to become an apprentice and develop into his own man without Rick by his side. Think back to when Carl attempted to become executioner when he considered killing Negan. Rick told him that there was a better way. Here, Carl’s only option was to fight back. The scene itself was very visceral and reminded me of the brutal way in which Negan murdered Glenn.

The Walking Dead #134- Carl attacks

This is Carl Grimes going down a very dark path and it could easily threaten the peaceful life he’s trying to set for himself at The Hilltop. And there’s no doubt in my mind that people will pin the blame for this on both Maggie and Rick for being the root of this violence. That said, it was a kick-ass moment for Carl. We’ve seen him hold his own in battle. For the most part, though, he’s been able to keep his anger in check, much more than Rick. Here, however, he and Sophia’s lives were put in grave danger and he reacted as I feel Rick probably would have. Hell, these guys had it coming. Even if Carl and Sophia claim that Carl fought in self-defense, this fight, combined with Gregory’s questioning Maggie’s leadership, will cause some real headaches for the people of The Hilltop.

At least now the kids in the neighborhood know never to screw with Carl Grimes.

A Look at The Walking Dead- Season 5, Episode 8: “Coda”

And so it was, “Coda” brings the first half of Season Five of The Walking Dead to a close. While this episode wasn’t as strong as it could have been and the writing could have been much better, “Coda” had a good amount of tension toward the latter half as the series bid farewell to another character. The question remains, though…did it have to go down like that? Let’s find out.

Coda- Bob runs from Rick

The episode begins with Bob making his escape. He tries to break through his restraints, but to no avail. Walkers approach the police cruiser. Rick returns to the cruiser and drives off while Bob continues to run, still cuffed. As fast as he runs, Rick catches up to him in no time at all. He calls out on the radio for Bob to stop. Bob doesn’t, so Rick hits the gas and slams right into Bob, throwing him to the ground.

Coda- Rick prepares to kill Bob

With Bob on the ground, Rick tells him that this could have ended peacefully if he just stopped. Bob asks to be taken back to the hospital, but no, he can’t go back after this. Bob hoped to smooth things out.   With his dying breath, Bob declares that everyone in Rick’s group will die. Rick pulls out his gun and fires.

Coda- Gabriel at the school where The Hunters ate Bob's leg

Gabriel is still on his own and comes upon the same school where The Hunters feasted on Bob’s leg. Walkers still remain locked behind the school door. Gabriel picks up a backpack and finds inside…a copy of the Bible. Really? What are the odds of that? Oh, and only then does he spot Bob’s decaying leg, complete with maggots and everything. He throws it aside in disgust just as the walkers break free from the school. Gabriel limps away as best as he can, but does the classic TV move of falling at least once. It wouldn’t be television if he didn’t trip one time. Luckily, he makes it back to the church, but he’s unable to find the entrance to the crawl space quick enough before he’s surrounded by walkers.

Coda- Gabriel begs to be let into the church

He moves around the barrier and begs for Carl and Michonne to let him in. Carl rushes to the door, though he’s unable to remove the wood. Michonne begins hacking away at it with an axe and Gabriel enters. Unfortunately, so do all of the walkers. Michonne cuts down as many as she can- with Judith strapped to her back, which is impressive- but there are just too many for them to kill. They enter Gabriel’s quarters and block the door. Gabriel motions for Carl, Michonne and Judith to enter the crawl space underneath the floor. The three escape first while Gabriel eventually catches up.

Now outside, they cut down what walkers they can before sealing the church shut. Well, at least Gabriel found a good use of the machete.

Coda- Rick's group downtown deals with how to handle Bob's actions and the deal with Dawn

Back downtown, things have changed due to Bob’s actions. It may be time to rethink things due to what he did, though not just yet. Shepherd says that the story should be that Bob had been attacked by walkers. She claims to know the good cops from the bad and wants to help. Rick asks Licari how much he wants to live. His response is that Dawn won’t want to look weak. That and she may think the trade is a rip off since Bob is dead, so in his mind, it’s a good thing that Bob got attacked by walkers. Well, looks like that’s the official version so far.

Coda- Dawn tries contacting the other officers via radio while also working out, Beth has a photo

At Grady, Dawn tries calling the officers, but gets no response. Good thing she can do this while working out. It’s important to multitask and look fit at the same time during the zombie apocalypse. But we learn that the officers sometimes don’t radio back. She tells Beth to put the photo next to the badges, not on her desk. The man in the photo is Captain Hansen, Dawn’s friend and mentor who she misses. People risk their lives by going out every day and that matters. Captain Hansen lost sight of that, apparently. In this world, Dawn says, you don’t need to have people like you, but they must respect you. Otherwise, one day you’ll call for backup and won’t get it. And when that happens, everyone goes down. Hansen lost sight of that. That’s what happened.

Coda- Michonne asks Gabriel where he went when he left the church

Michonne asks Gabriel were he went and he tells them that he needed to see and know what happened at the church. The church door begins to creak under pressure as the walkers are on the verge of escaping.

Coda- Mini reunion and return of Abraham's group

Luckily, Abraham and pals arrive in the fire engine. The groups reunite, with Glenn telling them that Eugene lied and Michonne informing Maggie that Beth is alive and the others are currently working to rescue her. Time to join them.  That’s right, Maggie, you do still have a sister.

Beth watches as Officer O’Donnell knocks Percy around. He calls for Beth, but Dawn has use of her.

Coda- Beth wants some alone time by the elevator, Dawn talks about Hansen

Beth tries to get some alone time at the elevator shaft, but Dawn just won’t allow that. Dawn tells Beth not to worry about Percy. He’ll be okay. Nothing is okay anymore, Beth says. All she wanted was some alone time, but neither she nor Dawn are going anywhere. Beth isn’t buying any of what Dawn is selling. Dawn keeps talking about doing what she has to do, but the world they live in is their reality until they die. Dawn counters by reminding Beth that the hospital saved her life twice. I’d argue it saved her more times, given the amount of times Dawn used Beth’s head as a target. Dawn continues. She saw the smashed jar in her office, but fixed it before anyone else saw it. She’s convinced that Beth is nothing but a cop killer. Things just happen a certain way.

Coda- O'Donnell hears everything Dawn tells Beth

The two realize they are not alone. O’Donnell is at the door and has heard the entire exchange. He’s ready to tell the other officers since they have a right to know who they really work for. Dawn doesn’t take kindly to this threat and draws her gun, but the others already think that she’s cracking under pressure. But Dawn is convinced that she’s fine. She’s also nothing like Hansen, even though she’s the one that killed him when no one else could or would go through it

Dawn doesn’t lower her weapon. All she’ll have to say is that O’Donnell came at her and had no other choice. O’Donnell speaks of their past: they were rookies together. That man, Dawn says, is long gone. The man O’Donnell is now likes to abuse patients and laughs with other officers about rape. O’Donnell defends himself, stating that they need to hold onto what they have. Besides, Dawn herself isn’t exactly innocent. O’Donnell feels that she’s changed after Hansen’s death.

All right, enough of this dialogue. A fight breaks out and O’Donnell temporarily gets the upper hand on Dawn and Beth, even managing to knock Dawn’s gun down the elevator shaft. But two is still better than one and two eventually force O’Donnell down the elevator shaft. Well, that happened.

Coda- Dawn and Beth regroup in Carol's room

So after this, Beth regroups in Carol’s room. And she just can’t get any sort of alone time because there’s Dawn again. Dawn tells Beth that it’s okay to cry, but Beth says that she doesn’t do that anymore. Oh, you are full of shit, Beth. Dawn admits that she cries, just not when other officers can see her. Beth now knows why Dawn covered for her- she only did it to save her own ass, not help Beth. Officers like Gorman and O’Donnell were problems, but Dawn just had to make them go away. That’s how she gets things done, Beth says- she uses people. Speaking of people, Dawn believes that Noah will return since the people who flee don’t get very far and always return. Beth thinks otherwise.

Dawn sees a lot of who she used to be in Beth: she didn’t take orders from anyone. Dawn is also one step ahead, as she knows that Beth has a connection Carol. It must mean something if they’re both at the hospital. Well, less so for Carol. She’s just there because she didn’t look both ways. Anyway, Dawn offers Beth the chance to be a part of something important. People like Gorman and O’Donnell hurt people. The world lost nothing from their deaths. She insists that she didn’t use Beth, too.

Coda- Tyreese tells Sasha not to beat herself up over Bob

On one of Atlanta’s many rooftops, Tyreese tries to get Sasha to stop beating herself up. He shares his own pain: the Hunter that she killed was Martin- the man who Tyreese and Carol ran into while everyone else had been imprisoned at Terminus. He told Carol that he killed him. He should and probably could have, but he didn’t. He keeps thinking about it. He remembers when the two were young and thinks that they could be the same as they were back then, but Sasha says she can’t be that way. Not anymore. As the group follows one of the cruisers through the scopes of their guns, they radio to Rick that the officers are headed to the vantage point.

Coda- Rick gives terms of trade to Officers McGinley and Franco

At said vantage point, Rick introducers himself to the two officers: Franco, played by Rico Ball, and McGinley, played by Kyle Russell Clements. Rick even goes as far as mentioning his past life as a deputy. He gives the terms of his proposal to the officers: Grady is holding two members of their group, which can be exchanged for the two officers they have captive. After that, they’ll part ways, no harm, no foul. They ask about Lamson’s whereabouts and Rick gives the same story that the officer gave him about Bob being attacked by walkers.

We then immediately head to Grady for the exchange.

Coda- Foreshadowing

Oh, and before this, it’s worth noting that we get a brief scene of Beth sticking some scissors inside of her cast. You know this scene is important. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be seeing it.

Coda- Standoff

So it’s time for the switch. Dawn tells Rick and the others to lower the weapons, while they do the same. Rick gives the same story about Lamson. Beth expresses her condolences and the exchange goes well…at first. They exchange their hostages one at a time. Once Beth and Shepherd are exchanged, Dawn tells Rick that she’s glad they could work things out.

Coda- Dawn needs Noah to seal the deal

…but she’s also gonna need Noah. After that, they can leave. Rick is pissed. Noah wasn’t part of the deal. True as that may be, Noah was Dawn’s ward. When he vanished, Beth took his place. Now that Noah is back, Dawn wants him. Plus, one of her officers is dead, so she feels that she’s owed this. Rick reminds Dawn that she doesn’t have a claim on Noah, so the deal is done. Noah, sensing a fight could break out, offers to return to Dawn of his own volition.

Before he can do so, he’s given a final hug from Beth. As Noah retreats, Beth stares down Dawn and tells her that she gets it now.

Coda- Beth and Dawn go down together

Then she stabs Dawn with the scissors. On instinct, Dawn fires her gun, the bullet ripping through Beth’s skull. In retaliation, Daryl shoots Dawn.

Coda- Shepherd tells the officers to hold their fire

But before any further fighting can break out, Shepherd orders everyone to hold their fire. The fighting is done. This was just about Dawn. The people of Grady offer Rick and his group a chance to stay with them and survive since they’re better off inside than out there. Rick shoots down the offer and instead tells anyone at Grady who wants to leave should step forward. No one does.

Coda- Maggie reacts to seeing Beth carried out

Abraham and company conveniently arrive, but of course, they’re far too late as the first half of The Walking Dead’s fifth season comes to a close.

“Coda” is a mixed bag for me. It does its job in bringing the entire group back together for the confrontation with the people at Grady and did have a sort of interesting twist that, I feel, will maintain viewer’s interest for the remaining half of the season in February.

In my opinion, if there was a constant question on the group’s mind after escaping Terminus, it was “What happens next?” That’s a constant of The Walking Dead, but these past few episodes have had our team of walker killers trying to figure out their next move. They escaped Terminus without any losses, took care of The Hunters in no time at all and found a temporary shelter in Gabriel’s church.

Once the group split up, we had a chance to have more focused episodes that dealt with one group of survivors. Much like Season Four, the final episode had to reunite everyone. This episode did that, but at a price.

There were a lot of themes and messages that the episode dealt with that helped characters overcome their personal problems: self-sacrifice, searching for clarity, preserving the past and, of course, survival of the fittest- a constant theme of this series.

Coda- O'Donnell faces off Dawn

This episode dealt with characters like O’Donnell and Tyreese acknowledging their pasts and wanting to hold onto what memories they had of their past lives. In this charged atmosphere, it’s easy to get swept up in the violent walker killings, trust betrayed and losing the people close to you. It’s not wrong to hold onto memories, but as Sasha pointed out, it’s impossible for some people to turn back. Some are just too far gone. Sure, officers like O’Donnell and Gorman were horrible people, but the atrocities they committed reminded them of who they once were. Mind you, this does not justify the rape and abuse at all. It just shows them trying to be the same people they once were before the world went to hell. They want to change the world more than they want the world to change them.

Coda- Dawn knows that Beth has a connection to Carol

That’s where people like Dawn come in. They want to save the world as much as possible and by any means, but, as Beth points in, the world they live in is their reality. In her mind, there’s no point in trying to hold onto the memories of a world that no longer exists. Instead, you make do with what you have. And because everyone doesn’t share the beliefs of someone like Dawn, the people of Grady had no big issue with her death. Like Noah and others said, she barely managed to hold onto control. The same could be said for leaders like Rick, Mary, or the Governor. You can only maintain so much control before everyone starts to crack or question the leader’s effectiveness. The leader wants to do what’s best for everyone, but it’s impossible to please everyone all of the time.

One question The Walking Dead constantly asks is “Do the ends justify the means?” There’s never a clear answer, which I like because it allows viewers to come to their own conclusions. Dawn tells Beth and O’Donnell that Hansen lost his way, which is why she had to kill him. She made a decision that no one else would make or have the fortitude to do. To Dawn, she saved lives by killing someone that was once respected. We don’t get a lot of clarity as to what led to Hansen’s supposed change in character, so for all we know, this could have been the first step in Dawn’s own downfall.

Coda- Dawn during the standoff

Actually, let’s talk about Dawn. First off, I think Christine Woods played the part well as an authoritative figure. Though not the most muscular or intimidating figure, I got the impression that she knew how to take charge. But Dawn isn’t someone who knew how to maintain control, as we learned from the others around her. She lost control of her officers, maintained the belief that the world could return to the way it once was and tried to save as many lives as possible.

Coda- Dawn aims her gun at O'Donnell

In fact, as I watched Dawn berate O’Donnell for his actions, I wondered why Dawn felt she was in a position to criticize. Sure, O’Donnell was a prick, but Dawn abused the hell out of Beth on several occasions. For the longest time, she turned a blind eye to the horrible things her officers did to patients. They ran amok while she tried to hold onto as much control as possible. And when they were killed, she acts as if the world is a better place without them, even though she’s the one who allowed them to commit atrocities in the first place.

Coda- Grady officers

Truth be told, I think the officers were just biding their time to get rid of Dawn. Few of them spoke highly of her, but all pointed out that she had problems and did not want to be perceived as weak. She told Beth that she used to stand up to authority figures and never let anyone tell her what to do. The same happens here, when she refuses to let other officers point out her flaws. I’m not saying that Dawn fancied herself as invincible, but she seemed unwilling to point out where she failed.

There are a few other moments in this episode that did not add up. So Tyreese told Sasha about leaving Martin alive while Carol went to Terminus. Sure, this shows how his guilt had been eating away at him and his attempt to get Sasha to stop beating herself up, but why not tell Carol this? She’s the one he ought to be talking to, especially since he told Carol that he had killed Martin. I just don’t think there was any payoff to it, considering it happened awhile ago. If Martin was still alive and out there, I’d understand the need to bring this up, but since The Hunters are long dead, this felt a bit unnecessary.

Coda- Gabriel sees Bob's leg

Gabriel. I’ll say it again: I’m not a fan of this version of him so far because of his extreme cowardice that nearly got Carl, Michonne and Judith killed. Why did he need to go to the school to see and know for himself about what The Hunters did? Was Bob missing a leg not enough? And how convenient that the one item he found in the backpack happened to be a copy of the Bible. That’s just as contrived as seeing the cross around that walker’s neck in the previous episode. I’m surprised at the restraint Michonne and Carl must have shown toward Gabriel, given that he never told them about his secret passageway and even brought the walkers with him to the church. And it is pretty well-timed that the walkers chose that moment to break free from the school, given how we’ve seen them there before. If Rick had been with this group, I wouldn’t be surprised if he just pistol-whipped Gabriel around for a bit.

Coda- Rick about to kill Bob

Speaking of Rick, let’s head downtown. First off, that sequence with him chasing down Bob showed that he’s still a violent man, but he gave Bob a chance quit running away. It’s interesting how much calmer Rick has been with the officers and that he was more willing to compromise. No, he didn’t like the story that Shepherd came up with for Bob’s death, but if it helped the trade-off go smoother, he was willing to accept that. Just as Tyreese and Daryl originally wanted, Rick chose to negotiate first. He still had the others on the rooftops as backup, but he chose to lower his weapon and speak to the other officers, rather than at them. It was a nice change of pace from the dictatorship that we’ve come to expect from Rick.

Coda- Rick hears new terms of the deal

At the same time, though, he wasn’t about to bend over backwards for Dawn. They made an arrangement and Rick planned to stick to that. He wasn’t about to go guns a-blazing when Dawn altered the terms, but he stood his ground without resorting to violence. After Rick’s past failed attempts at sorting out his differences with the Governor, I figured he would put aside any talk of negotiation. And yet, he put his pride aside if it meant the safe return of Beth and Carol.

All right, enough. Let’s get to the exchange. First off, I found it a bit strange that we went straight to the rooftop to Grady. Plus, Carol had awakened and reunited with Beth off-screen. That, I feel, was a real missed opportunity for a moment between the two. A small scene of the two talking or Rick’s group conversing with the officers would have been enough to have a bit of buildup to the confrontation. As is, it felt a bit rushed.

Coda- Trade off

I thought the change had a good amount of tension in it and I loved the use of Dutch angles in the hallway. At any point, Dawn or Rick’s groups could have pulled out their weapons and this exchange could have become bloody in no time. The standoff didn’t move too fast and I got the feeling that both sides just wanted to get the switch done as soon as possible with no violence. For a moment, it seemed like we would get just that.

Coda- Beth's foreshadowing

And here’s where we get an example of weak foreshadowing on The Walking Dead. Hell, I don’t even know if it should be called foreshadowing because it was so blatant. So we got a brief scene of Beth sticking a pair of scissors in her cast- the same pair of scissors we saw her grasping at the end of “Slabtown.” If you’re going to show this scene, it’s clear that it will be important later on. So when Beth stabbed Dawn, we know where she hid the scissors.

But why show us that? It saps some of the tension out of the scene because we know Beth has something planned during a relatively smooth exchange. I think that small scene should have been removed altogether. Beth pulling the scissors out of nowhere would have been a bigger surprise and made her death all the more shocking. But because the writers included this scene, there wasn’t as much shock as there could have been. Less is more in this instance. Don’t show that scene at all and let viewers be surprised when the big moment arrives.

Coda- Beth gets it

I also have to question why Beth chose this course of action. She cared for Noah and wanted what was best for him, yes. I understand that. What I don’t understand is why she stabbed Dawn. First off, Dawn is a police officer going into what could be a dangerous standoff. She’s not going to walk into this without some sort of armor or bulletproof vest, so I don’t see how effective Beth hoped to be with those scissors. Beth had nothing to gain from doing this, but she had everything to lose. “Slabtown” showed that she had the will to live, but her actions felt very irrational. Nothing good came out of this and she easily could have thrown both groups into a shootout, which is what almost happened. Dawn shooting her seemed almost on instinct and there was immediate remorse when she realized what she had done.

Coda- Daryl carries Beth's body out of the hospital

I just don’t feel that Beth’s death will have much of an impact to the characters aside from Maggie and Daryl. Speaking of, I don’t think Maggie even acknowledged Beth that much ever since everyone got separated at the prison. She spent the entire time trying to reunite with Glenn, but as far as I’m aware, she didn’t talk about Beth all that much. It seemed like only here did she even remember that she had a sister. Her reaction was brutal, though. She saw her father decapitated and now, after hearing that her sister was alive, she could only collapse in horror at seeing Daryl carrying Beth’s body. It was a strong moment for the series and bleak note to end on for the first half of the season.

“Coda” was an effective end the first half of Season Five, but some of the writing held it back from being great- Gabriel’s recklessness, Beth’s odd sacrifice, and Dawn’s motivations, just to name a few. And with the people at Grady now minus a leader, I have to wonder what will become of the hospital. While Beth was not my favorite character, I do think she slowly made a change to toughen up and become more aware of the reality around her. The group has been reunited with now two less people than when they escaped Terminus. And now that Eugene exposed as a liar, the question remains “What now?” Here’s to February.