There are countless things in life that I love. But right now, I want to focus on just two: The Walking Dead and hugs.
That may not seem like a reasonable combination, but man, there were some good hugs in the season five premiere.
Don’t get me wrong, there was more to the episode than hugs. Zombies, for example. But the hugs are what stuck with me long after I watched the episode, even after the second episode of the season.
For anyone who has managed to avoid TWD, the show is based on a series of graphic novels of the same name and follows a group of people trying to survive among walkers – re-animated corpses who attack and eat anything living. Along the way, they also must deal with the living, who more often than not are even more dangerous.
It’s one of the most popular shows on TV. The season five premiere broke its previous ratings and Twitter records, bringing in an estimated 17.3 million viewers, 1.32 million tweets and dominating all 10 trending topics on Twitter in the United States according to Entertainment Weekly.
After spending the past few weeks re-watching all the seasons, I was more than ready for the premiere. After a season on the farm and another at the prison, I, like many others, expected most of the season to focus on Terminus. But Carol made short work of that.
Remember when Carol was the weak, meek, battered housewife? I barely do. She’s come a long way.
Which brings us to our first hug of the episode: Carol and Daryl. There may or may not have been tears at our house when that hug happened. It was the culmination of four seasons of waiting and watching the characters grow, both individually and together, seeing them ripped apart and then finally, FINALLY, getting confirmation that no matter how broken two people can be, they still can find a way to make each other complete.
They put everything into that hug. From the way Daryl’s expression slips into shock and the way he runs to Carol, as if he can’t quite get to her fast enough, to the smile on her face and the way he grips the back of her head – the emotion is overwhelming. The impact is even bigger when you remember just how much Daryl always has balked at displaying affection or touching other people.
Regardless of any criticisms you have about the show, you can’t deny the talent of these actors. Anybody can read a script and follow directions. But rarely does a performance make me feel that tightness in my chest, that lump in my throat, and make me really believe that these characters, not the actors, but the actual characters, exist. They’re no longer Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride. They ARE Daryl Dixon and Carol Peletier.
It didn’t stop there. Hug number two happens seconds later after Rick (Andrew Lincoln) asks Carol if she’s the reason they escaped.
I already knew Lincoln could act, especially after season one when Rick unexpectedly finds his family and then again in season three when his wife dies. The way he hugs Carol makes you realize all is forgiven and our group is (maybe) going to be OK.
His skills are again evident in the third hug, this time when he embraces his infant daughter whom he believed to be dead. He runs with the same abandon and disbelief Daryl did. You can tell there is nothing he wants more than his arms around Judith.
With that, we get to our final hug: the one between Tyreese (Chad Coleman) and his sister, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green). While their hug is not as dramatic or drawn out, it’s the laugh-sob that comes from Sasha that gets me, along with the realization that I’d react the exact same way if it were my brother or sister and me.
That right there is why I think the show resonates so much with people and why it’s been a huge success. The story always has been about the people, the living ones.
The dead are just another obstacle they face in their attempt to survive. The story is about the people who do so, the relationships they forge and the choices they have to make to avoid death (whether it be their actual death or even worse, their emotional death). Combine this with a group of actors who so phenomenally breathe life into the characters, and it’s no wonder people can’t help but tune in each Sunday.
They force the viewer to ask themselves how THEY would react if thrust into a wrecked world. Would they hold on to their humanity despite seeing the worst in people who relish the lack of rules? What would they sacrifice to keep their parents, their siblings, their children, safe from those who would do the worst to them?
When everything else is gone, all that’s left are the relationships we’ve built and the impact we’ve made on the people around us. That’s what TWD has shown me. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season will bring.