Can I tell you how much I loved this episode of The Walking Dead? "Still" was a lot like last season's stand-out episode "Clear," in that it's about focusing on just a few characters. It was about learning more of Daryl's life. But most of all, it was about Beth's need to have a goddamn drink.
I can relate, and I don't even live in the zombie apocalypse nor have I watched my father get beheaded by an asshole with a katana. After a great cold open, in which Daryl and Beth barely avoid a herd of Walkers by hiding in the truck of an abandoned car — one that was made tense just by the excellent staging and camera work — Beth has had enough of Daryl's defeated, bitter, survival-as-opposed-to-living numbness, and decides it's high time to have her first-ever drink, since Herschel forbade it and Herschel is no longer with them.
Daryl is not happy (although he's not happy about anything at the moment) and more or less follows Beth to a golf course and its club house, where their quest begins. After an altercation at the pro shop, they make their way to the bar where Beth discovers the only bottle remaining is peach schnapps. "Is it good," Beth asks Daryl. "No," replies Daryl, accurately. As she works up the courage to open the bottle and have her first sip of booze, the crushing weight of her father's death comes down upon her.
And here's where Daryl kicks into action: He grabs the bottle of schnapps, and throws it to the floor. He refuses to let Beth's first drink be goddamn peach schnapps, because Daryl is a hero.
Daryl leads Beth to a horrible, rundown house he apparently found earlier with Michonne, which has a still and moonshine. And thus the drinking begins.
With the drinking comes the talking, and we get to learn about Beth, who's never been particularly fleshed out, and Daryl, who is badass, but rarely has much to do beyond being badass. They play a game of "I never," where Beth makes the assumption that Daryl went to jail. This is where we learn, to absolutely no one's surprise, that Daryl is a mean drunk.
Daryl goes on an ever-increasing rampage, which begins with him pissing inside the shack, then screaming about his horrible childhood growing up in a dump almost exactly like the one they're in, and ending with him running outside and trying to "teach" Beth to fire a crossbow, much against her will, against a Walker that Daryl pins to the wall. It's awful and uncomfortable, but it almost imperceptibly becomes Daryl's anguish at losing the prison, Herschel and the others, and his self-loathing at his failure to find the Governor and prevent the attack in the first place. Norman Reedus is simply phenomenal in this scene, his slowly building rage, his willingness to put Beth in danger to make a point, and above all his recriminations.
Once he calms down, he and Beth have another conversation, where Emily Kinney knocks it out of the park, which a lot more understated performance, but one that's just as heart-breaking in it's way. Beth reveals her fondest dream was more or less for her father Herschel to grow old and die of natural causes, which is such a simple, but impossible thing in the new world, that it underlines everything the survivors have lost. And then Beth gets bleaker, with her completely matter-of-fact admission that she knows she's not equipped to survive the new world like Daryl, and expects to die sooner rather than later. She's not screaming, and she's not crying, but Beth's acceptance of this horrible truth is just as hard to watch as Daryl's rampage.
But despite her certainty about her doom, it's Beth that pushes forward, telling Daryl to leave his horrible childhood, his shitty father, his days following Merle behind. And what better way to do that than by burning they shithole they're in, the one that symbolizes everything awful about Daryl's pre-zombie past? Daryl and Beth pour the rest of the moonshine out, Daryl lights a match, and then Beth gives the cabin the middle finger. And Daryl joins in.
It's a little hokey, yes, but it works. In fact the whole premise could be hokey (although I for one always see the value in having a drink, especially with the shit Beth's recently gone through), but it works. It works because Norman Reedus and Emily Kinney make this whole episode work. it's a simple story, one that doesn't advance the overall plot, but one that shows us parts of both these characters that we haven't seen before, organically, powerfully, and most of all entertainingly. There were no major plot developments, just one hour of surprisingly satisfying TV, one that still indicates that The Walking Dead is still on the right track.
I can understand why some people may not care for the episode, since it didn't really advance the season, or because drinking is a tremendously stupid idea during the zombie apocalypse. But Beth's quest is one of those moments where the characters don't just want to survive, but live, and I can understand both the desire to experience what was once a normal experience when things are no longer close to normal, and the symbol gesture in having a drink now that Herschel is dead, as a way to process the grief.
My love for the episode also probably stemmed a bit from remembering about half-way through that Norman Reedus and Emily Kinney were appearing on The Talking Dead, which has a habit of bringing in actors right after the episode where their characters are killed. I didn't think it was particularly likely that either Daryl or Beth would die (fans would riot if Daryl died, and if Beth died after her quest to have a simple drink, it would be the saddest thing ever), but you can never rule it out on TWD, and I love that tension of literally having no idea if a main character could be offed.
Also, I really like drinking, so there's that. Cheers, everybody!
• What the fuck was going on in the golf pro shop? Did someone hang zombies there to help hide, kind of like Michonne does with her pets?
• And is the person who hung the sign on the lady titled "RICH BITCH" the same one who left similar signs on victims from last season? Is this person going to be a major character? It's freaky.
• Beth trying to find a glass with blood in it to drink the schnapps is a small but powerful moment, too.
• Daryl's story about nearly getting killed by a tweaker because he insulted a cartoon with a talking dog in it was perfect. Everything you needed to know about Daryl's pre-apocalypse elite was summed up there.
• "I'm a dick when I'm drunk." Yes you are, Daryl, and we love you anyways.
• Beth understands why Herschel banned booze from the house, because being drunk is awesome and she would do it all the time. Preach on, sister.
• Beth tells Daryl he's going to be the "last man standing" after she and everyone else are dead. DON'T JINX HIM, BETH, GODDAMMIT
• Anyone else think that was a super-weird music choice at the end?