Seriously. Last night's episode of The Walking Dead — a show that's about the dead reanimating and trying to eat the living — was entirely about a cocktail party. And I'll be damned if it wasn't somehow a damned good episode, too.

Part of the reason "Forget" works is that Rick and the others are even more freaked out to be at a cocktail party than viewers likely were seeing them try to make chitchat over beers with their new neighbors in Alexandria. But the reason I really like this episode is because it continues the group's gradual acclimation to the town. Last week, for instance, when Rick and the others first entered the town, they were constantly waiting for the Alexandrians to drop their façade and try to murder them. In last night's episode, they're pretty sure the Alexandrians are legit — but Rick is still solely thinking in terms of Us and Them. It's an improvement, but just barely, and I like how TWD is taking its time with this momentous change in the group's life.

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Even though Rick is carrying a gun as Alexandria's new constable, he also wants to be prepared to take over the town if need be. So he, Daryl and Carol sneak out in order to figure out a plan to steal a few guns. The Alexandrians basically have them in a storage room with a window; all Carol needs to do in get in there during the day, flip the latch, and sneak in at night to get a few guns from the pile — they won't be missed.

But while Rick, Carol and Daryl remain skeptical of Alexandria, the town is driving Sasha insane. She gets out some aggression by using the family photos hanging in her new home for target practice, but it's not enough. When she hears Deanna admit that there's no one in the tower as a lookout — there's just a rifle meant to make people think someone's up there — and Rick angrily demand they need someone up there and watching the walls, 24/7, Sasha volunteers to be lookout as much as they'll let her. Anything where she can avoid all the townspeople. Deanna agrees, but only if Sasha comes to the welcome/cocktail party she's throwing that evening to welcome Alexandria's newest residents.

Oh, and meanwhile, Daryl comes across Aaron while out hunting and also avoiding Alexandria, and they connect while chasing a horse named Buttons. Aaron of course does most of the talking, and Buttons is unfortunately eaten by zombies, but Aaron's likeability even wins over Daryl, who was looking like he was going to burn Alexandria down last episode. The symbolism of the wild horse running free only to be killed is obvious, but the scene's real payoff is later.

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But now it's cocktail party time! There's beer! Booze! Carol made cookies! Rick, like pretty much everyone in the group who shows up, looks massively uncomfortable at this ostensible normalcy, the complete opposite of how they've lived their lives for the past several years. Hell, it's not just jarring for the characters, it's jarring for us — to see the group among so many unknown people, for Carol to play suburban wonder-mom, to see Michonne in a dress. But eventually, with the help of some booze, even Rick is able to relax a bit and smile and… uh, kiss his haircutting neighbor Jessie, secretly, even after he was introduced to her husband Pete a few hours ago. (Jessie seemed to be more pleased with the kiss than offended, so this is probably not going to work out for ol' Pete).

But not everyone enjoys the party as much as Rick. For instance, Carol uses the party to sneak away and grab some guns. Unfortunately she's followed by Jessie's kid Sam, resulting the creepiest moment in the episode. Carol, still in her mom voice and with kindness in her eyes, tells this child if he tells anyone about her grabbing the guns, one day he'll wake up tied to a tree, outside the walls, too far for anyone to hear, and zombies will eat him alive. She promises to give him plenty of cookies if he stays quiet, too, but holy shit — Carol's threat is horrifying, mostly because she's uttered it to a child, but without mitigating the threat for his age at all. And there is no doubt in my mind that Carol wasn't threatening as much as making a promise — a promise to kill this kid if he rats on her. We've seen Carol go to some dark places before, but this is something different. This is cruel. But man, it's a hell of a scene.

In a significantly happier storyline, Daryl also doesn't make it to the party — he gets close, but turns away at the last minute— only for Aaron to spot him and invite him in for dinner with him and Eric. After they finish, Aaron takes Daryl into his garage, where he shows him a pile of motorcycle parts. He wants Daryl to have them and make a bike — not just to be nice, but so Daryl can take it as Alexandria's newest scout, replacing Eric. Daryl is suspicious at first, but Aaron explains it so simply and effectively even he is convinced. Daryl can't stay in Alexandria permanently; it's just not in his nature. Plus, Daryl is incredibly good at tracking and staying alive. But most importantly, as Aaron points out Daryl also has the ability to tell good people from bad people. Honestly, it's the perfect job for him, and Aaron makes it feel like a compliment, too.

In fact, Daryl is so won over by Aaron's argument — and Aaron himself — that the next morning, when Carol's handing out the guns she stole, Daryl turns his down. He wants to try to make Alexandria work, and that requires him to trust that he won't need it. So even Daryl is coming around on the town, although both Rick and Carol have no compunction about taking guns for themselves. Will they too come around? Will they be able to accept Alexandria as their home? Or will their distrust ruin it, not just for themselves, but for everybody in the group? It seems hard to imagine that if Rick is still basically a good person somewhere in there, that he won't eventually come to think of the Alexandrians as people he needs to protect as fiercely as his group. But on the other hand, this is The Walking Dead. Rick's not getting a happy ending here. I guess the question is who's going to ruin Alexandria first — zombies, a new threat, or Rick himself?

Assorted Musings:

• I think the stupidity of the Alexandrians — not watching the wall, not having a lookout — is what finally convinces Rick that Deanna and the Alexandrians are for real. Rick can't believe how stupid and lucky they are to have not been murdered yet.

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• Rick, Carol and Daryl finally notice a zombie with a W carved in its forehead. Carol and Daryl don't think too much of it, but Rick looks unsettled. As he should be.

• So was anyone else deeply, deeply upset at the scene of the zombies killing the horse? I don't know what it is. I could watch zombies tear baby Judith apart like fresh bread, but I can't stand seeing an animal suffer, even a fictional one.

• Sasha flips out at the party. She can't accept any of it. What Deanna sees as the beginning of normal life and what Rick sees as a potential opportunity, Sasha can only see as a lie.

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• Carol is bordering on outright evil with the kid-threatening this episode, but watching her play suburban housewife is consistently hilarious.

• So Aaron is my new favorite character on the show. He's a completely good guy, but he's not haunted by the past like Rick and Michonne and Tyreese, he's not preachy like Herschel was, he's not naïve like Beth. He's just a smart, likeable, good dude. And it's possible he may be the last one on Earth.

• At the end of the episode, Rick starts his patrol of the neighborhood, but gets distracted and walks to the wall. A zombie is pawing at the other side, and Rick gets a weird smile on his face while putting his palm on the wall. It's a very strange, surreal scene, and I have no idea what the hell it means. Is he happy? Is he plotting something awful? Is he merely shocked to be in something resembling his pre-apocalypse life? No clue! But frankly, given how much TWD still tends to spell stuff out, I am completely fine with this enigmatic ending.


Contact the author at rob@io9.com.