When last we left off, Maggie and Sasha were quietly, non-violently ambushed by a soft-spoken, suspiciously fresh-showered young man who casually introduced himself as Aaron - the way I might introduce myself to a stranger next to whom I have been stuck sitting in a doctor's waiting room after having a 30 minute conversation since it's "only polite."
Tonight's episode, "The Distance" opens with Maggie and Sasha bringing him into the barn where he is immediately greeted Grimes style with a dozen guns pointed at his eerily calm face.
Like a real estate agent preparing for an open house, Aaron shows them all grainy photos of the community (oasis!) he and his people live in and he extends an invitation to the gang to come "audition" for inclusion. He is so relentlessly chipper that he hasn't even finished showing off the second photo ("We have high walls with steel beams! And just look at the newly updated granite counter tops!") that Rick, who will have none of it, punches him in the face so hard, it peels the chipper right off. (WELCOME, AARON.)
While Aaron is enjoying the hospitality of the barn floor he has been knocked onto, Rick ransacks his bag, which, among other goods, contains a flare gun which is bad news bears because that seems like a very Woodbury/Terminus thing to have on hand. Carrying a flare gun means you have intentions of signaling others as to your whereabouts. Which brings us to the most important question of all - how many others are there???
I don't know about you but I held my breath when Aaron, still stinging from being served a slice of the Grimes special, gave a sarcastic multiple choice answer about how many people accompanied him (8, 32, 444, 0.) I really felt like he was going to immediately be executed. Nobody likes a smartass especially weathered survivors who haven't had a bath in a year. Even if the purpose of his smartass answer was to point out whatever number he gave Rick didn't matter since Rick wasn't going to believe him. In my favorite dialogue of the night, Rick delivers this real talk to Aaron, "It's hard to trust someone who smiles after being punched in the face." Words to live by, INDEED.
For the record, Aaron claims he is only traveling with one companion. We will see about that.
Aaron's whole platform is that he knows from tracking Rick's group that they are good people with true survival skills and in today's world, those kind of people are the most precious resource. He alleges that his travel companion is waiting a couple miles away with two vehicles and he would love to pile everyone in and drive them to the Shangri La of the apocalypse.
Michonne offers to check out the cars since lately she is super hellbent on getting anywhere that even provides a modicum of safety and stability. Glenn quickly agrees and it's decided the group will split up. While Rick and Judith and Carl (and assumedly the useless Eugene and hapless Gabriel) stay behind with Aaron, one half will check out the cars while the remainder shadow them to strike in case there's an attack.
Aaron ignores Rick's pure, immediate hatred of him and attempts to befriend him by telling him how he used to work for an NGO delivering meds and food in the Niger River Delta. He says bad people pointed guns in his face all the time but he can tell Rick's group isn't made of bad people to which Rick coolly replies, "Just because we're good people doesn't mean we won't kill you. If they aren't back in an hour, I will put a knife in the base of your skull." (Get with the program, Aaron!)
Still persisting in trying to win Rick over, Aaron offers the applesauce in his bag to Judith as he sees her only lunch is crushed acorns. Naturally, Rick makes him taste test it. Aaron, in his continual quest to make things more awkward than they have to be by being too eager to share anecdotes from his life, refuses at first to taste it. This isn't because it's poison, you guys, but because he associates applesauce with his Mommy Dearest who used to force feed it to him along with onions "to make him more manly."
Alrighty then. We now have learned more personal things about Aaron in twenty minutes than we know about Daryl Dixon after five seasons.
The group out canvassing for Aaron's two cars finds one car and a camper but they don't see the lone figure spying on them. And somehow the security group shadowing them also doesn't see him? Come on, Walking Dead, you can do better than that!
They hear another noise that turns out to be a couple walkers. While they are able to quickly take them down, I am again struck by both how much more aggressive and crazy strong the walkers have become over this past season, as if they are on some walker steroids.
Abraham and Rosita clear the camper. Abraham finds a can of Spaghetti Rings and even though there's a brief moment that attempts to be heartwarming where Rosita assures Abraham she wasn't scared of him when they met, anyone can see Abraham has checked out of the conversation and the possibility that Aaron might be a danger to the group and is leading them into a trap. Instead, Abraham is all like WHICH WAY TO ALL THE FREE CANS OF SPAGHETTI RINGS?
The group brings the canned goods back to Rick who declares them his group's property even if the group elects not to go back with Aaron to his community.
Michonne remembers she is Michonne and while she doesn't want to defy Rick, she believes Aaron is telling the truth and decides they are all going. People start agreeing with her and even Rick finally gives in.
Aaron wants to drive. (HA, TELL US ANOTHER FUNNY, AARON!) They refuse to let him. He gives directions for just the first leg of the trip since he doesn't want to give the address out. Rick is all, hey guess what, we are going to take a completely different road there and basically do the opposite of everything that would be ideal for you, Aaron. Which means driving in the dead of night.
Michonne goes out to talk to Rick. She asks him if he is really going along with going or is this sudden agreement just a ploy to get Aaron to tell the where his camp is? Rick says he is being sincere but after Woodbury and Terminus even when they arrive at the gates, he still isn't 100% sure they will actually go in. Which seems fair since the golden rule of the apocalypse is if it looks too good to be true than not only is it not true but people are waiting to murder you and/or barbecue your body parts over a campfire.
So there's that. And Rick has every right to be hesitant.
During the pitch black car ride, Aaron attempts to become Michonne's new bff. She enjoys looking at the pictures of his community but then makes the harrowing discovery that photos of the residents who live there are blatantly missing. Aaron delivers some mumbo jumbo about them not developing (sure, OK, we totally all believe you.) This not only snaps the ever-softening Michonne back into being a skeptical hardass (whew) but it also reminds her to ask Rick if he's asked The Questions they ask every interloper they encounter.
How many walkers has Aaron killed? "I don't know. A lot." Not exactly delivered convincingly.
How many people has he killed? "Two." Seems improbably low for a guy who was sent off to track and pursue new members to join his community.
Why? Because they tried to kill him. Well, that's definitely the right answer as that's how these things tend to play out however the low number two still seems pretty hard to believe and could justify Rick's wariness.
The next thing we know Rick realizes Aaron is recording them after he discovers what looks to be some sort of mini victrola. Ok, actually in the darkness that is a pitch black scene from The Walking Dead it is more likely a video camera or some other device. In that moment Rick decides it isn't safe and to abort their mission altogether.
Too late! There's crowd of walkers in the road that Glenn is forced to run down which naturally causes them to spin off the road and lose track of the camper behind them that is transporting everyone else.
Not surprising to anyone who has ever watched a scene of this show that involved a car needing to start up in order to escape from a throng of walkers, the car does not start back up. Michonne gets out and casually takes severed limbs out from under the hood the way a road tripper might check to see that there's enough wiper fluid.
A flare gun spans the night sky only a short distance away. Rick demands that Aaron tell him who set it off. Aaron all of a sudden has an urge to break free from his new recruits and he makes a run for it. Glenn and Michonne and Rick race into the darkness behind him.
As tends to happen on this show, complete and utter bedlam ensues. Walkers are attacking from every angle. Glenn saves Aaron from one chomping down on his clean neck because that's just who Glenn is (and why Maggie married him!) Aaron suggests they make a run for it together.
Rick and Michonne are looking for Glenn and shit's just a little too real at the moment for Rick to throw an I Told You So in Michonne's direction.
In the most visually stunning moment of the week, Rick uses his newly acquired flare gun to shoot a walker right in the eye, turning him into an impromptu pyrotechnic display as his eye socket fizzles and (lucky bonus) lights up the area to let them gauge their surroundings.
Just as it becomes apparent how outnumbered they are, shots ring out from Glenn and Aaron (who suddenly has a gun?) and the all the walkers are taken out. The group runs and Rick doesn't miss one stride as he sneers at Aaron that,"If this is a trap to get us back where you wanted us, your people are going to die tonight."
The entire group reunites outside what looks to be a weird, old-timey garage.
Aaron runs at breakneck speed to see if his traveling companion (who also happens to be his super cute and seemingly very sweet boyfriend) Eric is ok. Turns out Eric got a broken ankle when a car ran over his foot in the melee. Eric and Maggie, who helped save him, have become fast friends and even the most cynical viewers can agree it's impossible for this endearing couple to be bloodthirsty killers with a secret agenda a la The Governor or Gareth. Awwww! Now Maggie and Glenn have couple friends to double with!
Aaron thanks the group for saving Eric and says he owes all of them and will make sure he pays the debt in full when they get to Alexandria which is where their fabulous retreat is located.
They agree to hit the road the next morning. During the trip, Noah who was largely not seen on camera for most of this episode, brings Aaron aspirin as he watches over Eric. Aaron asks him about his leg injury. When Noah explains how it happened and how he feels lucky he can even walk on it, Aaron says they have a gifted surgeon in Alexandria named Pete who may be able to help. A surgeon! Who is gifted! And can help! This place already sounds too good to be.... uh-oh. (Uh-oh???)
As Eugene plays cards, Rosita stares out the window and excitedly points out the Washington monument to Abraham who is driving the camper like he's the new Papa Bear, having taken over that role from Tyreese.
The camper does break down because of course it does. But it's nothing Glenn can't quickly resolve thanks to his days as Dale's mechanical apprentice in the gang's original camper.
Michonne can see despite the group's general merriment that Rick still has his own gears in a grind. "The fight's over," she reminds him. "You've got to let it go."
"The rules keep changing," Rick realizes out loud, which comes as a huge epiphany and is a nugget of wisdom sure to set the tone of the remaining episodes.
They pull up to the gates and an intense close-up of Rick's eyes which with his grizzled beard and look of a man who has seen things speaks thousands of words at once and also presents a striking paradox to the squeaky clean, fresh-faced Aaron who dislikes applesauce and maybe only killed two people.
As Rick retrieves Judith from the car, Carol softly intones that, "Even though you were wrong, you're still right."
They stand at the gates in the quiet sunlight just waiting for something to go right or something to go wrong. The rules may have changed, but those options being the only two possible outcomes to every new scenario they encounter, will always stay the same.
Now it's your turn. What and who do you think is waiting for them behind those gates? Did you think the sound of the children playing behind those gates was real or a manufactured recording?