The Walking Dead Season 5 Episode 9 “What Happened and What’s Going on” Review

Five and a half seasons in, The Walking Dead shows us something new in its visual style and in handling the death of another major character in as many episodes.  Described by Director Greg Nicotero as Terrence Malick-esque, the mid-season premiere in certain scenes had a hallucinogenic, dream-like quality with a character straddling the afterlife and the living world.  “What Happened and What’s Going on” is a confident episode that marries an introspective reflection from a person facing death and the survival horror thrills the show is known for.

Everything after the break will contain full spoilers and a discussion of The Walking Dead Season 5 Episode 9.

That Opening & Ending Montage

The first two minutes of the mid-season premiere were made available earlier in the week and I admit I had some reservations how it would fit visually and tonally into the episode. Having seen it within it’s proper context, essentially book ending the episode, it turned out to be an effective device and a nice piece of misdirection.

The montage is a super efficient way of dealing with Beth’s death without the characters having to talk about it. Pretty clever sleight of hand how it is actually the beginning of an hour long farewell to Tyreese. By placing the montage in the opening it could be viewed like a predetermined flash forward, referencing one of Tyreese’s internal conflicts expressed in his fevered dream: Did all of Tyreese’s choices lead up to this particular event? Or is Tyreese powerless to do anything other than what he actually does?

It’s Better Now

The Walking Dead is no stranger to handling the death of its characters, but the depiction of Tyreeses’s death is the show at it’s most artistic and introspective.  Usually, it’s the survivors reacting and coping with their friend’s demise. Here, the perspective is from the mind of the dying character. 

Tyreese is not as problematic of a character as Andrea but he certainly is a conflicted one. For the character himself and for viewers, it hasn’t always been easy to reconcile the choices he has made. He’s a bit of paradox in that he’s a gentle, merciful soul in the body of a beast.

In contrast to what Tyreese would do, there’s a brief scene where both Rick and Glenn admit they’d blow the brains out of Officer Dawn after she killed Beth, if Daryl didn’t do it first. As Chad Coleman mentioned on the Talking Dead, for Tyreese it’s not a question of ‘To Kill Or Not To Kill’, it’s about placing value on human life and under the right circumstances he’d kill to protect the people he loves.

Turn It Off

The old radio news broadcasts, the kind Tyreese used to listen to as a kid, brought up the value of staying in tune with the world and reminded us of the horrors the group have committed in the name of survival.  As morally grounded and physically capable as Tyreese is, he was not in tune with this post-apocalyptic world and he no longer had the will to endure it if these are the kind of choices he has to make. This is a fitting of an end for Tyreese as we could have hoped for. Writer Scott Gimple did a good job of putting in perspective the highly questionable choices Tyreese has made and at the end of the day Tyreese had to answer for them.

They say we all die alone and that our life flashes before our eyes at the moment of death.  The former is not true in Tyreese’s case. It was a poignant scene when Tyreese is forced to confront his guilt and regrets in form of the Governor and Martin because I think most of us wonder when it’s our turn to knock on death’s door, what will we wish we have done differently in our lives? Basically second guessing ourselves when all we could do in that moment is to try to make peace with it all. I thought it was comforting seeing Tyreese’s deceased friends and familiar faces in the car, a good way as any to briefly bring back characters that have died on the show.

Shirewilt Estates

This was Tyreese’s episode yet the genesis of it was in honor of Beth. Rick decided to go to Noah’s home in the first place because it was what Beth wanted to do. As Michonne pointed out and Rick later agreed to, “living out there” is forging the survivors into something they’d rather not be. Beyond the basic need for food and shelter, the group really needs a place to call home. But Shirewilt Estates is not that place. It’s pretty evident that something suspicious happened. For starters, how did the lower half of those walkers’ bodies end up near the forest perimeter while their upper torso ended up in the car that Rick drove into? Who attacked Shirewilt Estates and how soon will it be until Rick’s group crosses path with them?

“What Happened and What’s Going on” is a good, solid start to the final half of Season 5 but not an immediate personal favorite.  This may be an episode that gets better over time after allowing everything to sink in. From the moment Tyreese’s arm got bit I sensed his number was up, so the last minute amputation didn’t get me thinking “he might just make it”.  However, it wasn’t a concern for me that there has been two major deaths in a row. The long break in between episodes gave me time to process Beth’s death, the good and the bad parts of how it was handled.  Though some of the repetitive dialogue like “Pay The Bill” and “It went the way it had to” was driven a bit hard, this episode had something to say about Tyreese and his place in this world, making for one of the better handled deaths on the show.

What do you think about the way Tyreese was characterized on the show? What do you like or dislike about the mid-season premiere?

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Posted on February 9, 2015, in Television, The Walking Dead and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. I liked the episode because of what you said, because of the different way it handled a major death from the soon to be dead person’s POV. It was nice that his friends were there but I could have done without his enemies being there too but it was still cool. The show makes me nervous whenever someone is about to die and the others are carrying them around with the dying persons face nestled sweetly into their necks. That freaks me out so much.The other scare was when Michonne didn’t notice the metal bar sticking out of the walker’s neck when she tries to behead him and nearly gets bit. But in all honesty, Tyreese was my least favorite regular. I’m sick and tired of the gentle giant cliche character. I also get the feeling that they’re starting to push the theme, that the fully dead have it better than than the non-dead (or the half dead). There’s no hope. Try to survive until you die. And that’s it. Kind of bleak. But I think it may turn into sort of a Left Behind scenario where everyone left alive is either evil or guilty. And trying to redeem themselves.

    • I like the approach with the POV of the dying person too, it brings something different to the table. It’s pretty cool that the show can still feel fresh in some ways after so many episodes. In a previous write up, I mentioned that I hoped the show didn’t brush under the carpet Tyreese letting Martin go so I’m glad they addressed it here. It was a really tense moment when MIchonne almost got bit. A couple of times earlier in the episode she said she’ll take care of it ie beheading walkers, so I thought it was going to be a routine kill.

      Tyreese wasn’t my in top list of characters but it was a little sad to see him go. I don’t think the show every fully utilized him to his true potential. In loosing Beth they lost an optimistic character and in Tyreese someone who wasn’t willing to do evil things. I agree it’s pretty bleak stuff and those left standing will have lots of blood on their hands. If I remember correctly and I only watched it once or twice, the trailer for this half of the season mentioned something about hope so maybe they’ll be something for the group to look forward to that won’t turn out to be the next terminus or woodbury?

  2. Sad to see Tyreese leave, but I loved the direction the episode took in executing his death. Also, is it just me or does TWD have a pattern of sorts when killing off major colored characters? T-Dog died and he was temporarily replaced by one of the freed prison inmates, and when the inmate died, Tyreese joined. This was followed by Bob joining the cast. And when Gabriel showed up, he would replace Bob. Now that Noah is part of the pack, Tyreese kicks the bucket. And when Gabriel and Noah eventually die, I’m guessing the cycle will occur again. Its kind of jarring.

    The only other pattern similar to this I’ve noticed is when the old sage-of-sorts Dale died, and he was then replaced by the older and better sage, Hershel. But we’ve yet to get a new old, lovable voice of reason.

    • I also thought the direction was well done and I felt a little bit sad to see Tyreese go, but I wasn’t as invested in him as other characters. When T-dog was the lone African American regular character on the show it stood out when he died and got replaced. In the last couple of seasons the show has become a lot more diverse. It’ll be interesting to know if the producers are conscious of this pattern or it’s just how the story turns out. I think the writers do take out the morally conscious characters, leaving the others to figure things out for themselves. I really liked how Hershel turned out to be the voice of reason, initially he was some older fellow keeping walkers locked in the barn.

  3. It was a very sad episode, but it was also one of the more beautiful ones, too. Not just in what it talked about, but in how it looked and felt. As if Terence Malick decided to step behind the camera for some odd reason. Good review.

    • At first I wasn’t sure about the more artsy approach but I ended up liking it. It was beautifully shot in certain places, a lot of thought went into filming it. I liked the nod to Malick, very different for the show. Thanks Dan!

  4. Yes dude, glad to see your review of this episode is online. I thought this episode was a good one for sure, very heartfelt and lovely send-off for Tyrese. Seeing Tyrese pretty much in his twlight moments was quite odd, terrifying and trippy, but also very pretty and interesting to see death from the inner perpespective of the person who is dying. I may get a little hate for what I’m about to say, but I was never that keen on Tyrese to begin with. I can understand his character’s personality and the choices that he makes, however, I never got emotionally attached to the character and because of his gentle nature I sort of knew his time was coming, so when he got bit, I sort of knew he was going to kick the bucket. That’s not to say his death wasn’t meaningful, but when you turn your back and let your guard you’re gonna pay for it in that kind of zombie-filled world.

    • Thanks man, I tried to write this post the same night as watching the episode but I had trouble putting my thoughts into words so I ended up doing it the next day. I might go for a more casual / fun type of recap next time, maybe it’ll be easier to write and more people will read it? I was a bit unsettled seeing Tyreese in his twilight moments, I get stressed imagining how it’ll actually be. I never grew to be a big fan of Tyreese either. I think it hurt his character that he never developed a brotherly bond to Rick like in the comics. The show didn’t ever give us a great reason to connect with him. He was in the Grove episode, but it was Carol that we loved in it. You’re so right about when he let down his guard and turned his back. He knew beforehand and saw in the photo, that Noah had twin brothers. At least one was in the other room behind the door, so he should have suspected the other twin could be loose somewhere.

      • Mate, I’ve been there, putting off reviews until later because the construction part proves to be a little difficult. That’s why I’ve started trying to doing smaller reviews so I can concise my stuff without getting lost and frustrated in my thoughts.

        Yeah those twilight moments do make you wonder if things do play out like that before death comes for you. It is a super creepy thought. That Tyrese, he was good guy, but his gentle nature and close calls with death without someone there to bail him out was only got to last for so long.

        • That’s a good idea, I might start doing more concise recaps just as conversation starters.

          It is a super creepy thought, I guess that’s why the way they handled it was interesting. That’s another good point that there wasn’t someone there to bail him out. Not the best idea to be on his own with his back turned while scoping out a new place. Maybe he got lost in his thoughts.

  5. At first I was kind of confused at to what was going on in this episode. After I realized it was a kind of internal dialogue from Tyrese’s POV it made more sense. While it was sad to see Tyrese go, I was Okay with it since his character was one who wasn’t willing to change, even just a little bit, in order to live in the walker world. I did like that he stayed true to his values and beliefs, but that won’t get you very far when walkers are killing everything around you.
    It was interesting how they twisted the episode to be about Tyrese when most would have thought it would have been all about the ramifications of Beth’s death. It was a bit refreshing that the viewing break acted as a way to get over her death and allowed the show to move on without dwelling on everything that just happened. Everyone was sad but they were dealing with it while moving ahead. The last few minutes were what I consider “beautifully sad.” Very moving and sad but also very respectful of the person who is gone. They didn’t even show who took care of stabbing Tyrese in the head to be sure he wouldn’t become a walker. The show just let it seem as though he died a normal death.
    Overall a good episode, not excellent, but a mid-season premiere that offered just enough to get you back into the show after a seemingly long break.

    • I was also okay with saying goodbye to the gentle giant. I was surprised though, I assumed he would have lasted another season or two because I thought he had more potential for future story lines. It’s noble of Tyreese to hold onto to his values, the thing is, as you’ve mentioned, the rules changed when the dead come back to eat the living and other survivors are potentially even more dangerous.
      The “previously on’ segment recapped Beth’s death so I thought the first part of the episode was going to be about characters reacting to the loss of Beth. For viewers, it’s been a couple of months since she died so I’m glad they didn’t dwell on it. I liked how the show handled it in a minimal fashion.
      The way the direction, editing, music etc came to together .. “beautifully sad” is a perfect way to describe the ending. I also liked that they were respectful of Tyreese, stabbing his head off screen or maybe from the back of the head which we couldn’t see. They allowed him to rest in peace.
      This episode had a different feeling and look from previous episodes. I wonder if other episodes in this 8 episode run will also have their own vibe. Story wise, I think this episode hinted at things to come and confirmed the group will make their way to Washington.

  6. Been trying to sort my thoughts on this one since watching it. There were things I liked about it and things I didn’t. I guess I’m sad to see Tyreese go. As much because I liked him as because as you mentioned here that I don’t feel he fulfilled his potential and could have been used better in the future if he stuck around. But his death was handled pretty well. They gave a lot of time to it and seeing his side of things really helped make it a nice farewell. As weird as it might sound, certain characters in the vision stuff worked for me, while others didn’t. So I sort of liked and disliked that portion. I also wasn’t the biggest fan of how he got bit, but that is probably a nitpick.

    In the end, I think I come down in the middle on this one somewhere, but after thinking on it I am definitely on the good side of things. Still I didn’t quite love it I guess.

    Great review. You always bring us some ideas I hadn’t really thought about while watching it.

    • My typical reaction after any episode is an emotional one, something like … it was okay or pretty cool stuff. At the end of this episode, I can’t say it’s a favorite or that I loved it, After sleeping on it, I can see better what the writers are trying to do. I only watched it the one time though so my feelings about it could change again.

      Tyreese was a good addition to compliment the skills and beliefs of the group but he could have been characterized more favorably. Some of the vision stuff that didn’t work for me was the dialogue with certain characters in the room. I liked the visions in the car at the end.

      Thanks a lot, I also enjoy getting your thoughts on each episode. I like to think of these episodes recaps as conversation starters. 🙂

  7. Great recap and review!

    I actually always liked Tyrese a lot and was very sad to see him go, but when your number is up on this show, nothing can save you.

    They did this episode really well, and when he got bit and they cut off his arm, I had hoped he’d survive, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be

    RIP Tyrese!

    • Thanks Rob! 🙂

      There are a lot of fans of Tyreese and he was popular in the comics too. In an interview, the actor said that just when he thought was safe … he wasn’t. The cast was surprised to see him go too.

      It was unfortunate but like you said his number was up.

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