So, what's the deal, folks? Did you watch the Oscars live and catch up with The Walking Dead after? Makes sense. Some of us were, though, actually glad to be spending the evening watching the fight for survival in the postapocalyptic rural splendor of Georgia instead of the fight for little gold men in Downtown L.A. Even with marauding walkers, The Walking Dead is more soothing and there are no musical numbers (well, except for Emily Kinney's welcome vocal performances). Also, this was a damn good episode.
Bugs, broken arrows, and snake meat, as Beth and Daryl are learning, isn't any way to live. More so than any other characters at any other time in the whole of the series, they've regressed to cavemen. At the moment Beth asks for her first drink, the two are barely satisfying Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Daryl isn't even providing decent conversation. Beth's yearning for hootch and that big middle finger she gives Daryl should be taken as a hope for adulthood, civility, and, indeed, civilization itself — things that at that moment seem to have gone away forever. Even crossing her father's no-booze rules is a way of becoming the rebellious teenager the apocalypse never gave her a chance to be. What could look like brattiness is a cocktail of hope, frustration, and humanity. Plus, anyone who's seen most of their family and friends be eaten alive and/or beheaded by a katana does technically deserve a drink.
Naturally, their quest for the perks of a civilized society takes them to a country club. We mean, where else would you go? Interestingly, in a place that, in its ruin, symbolizes the extent to which a return to pre-zombie society is almost impossible, Daryl goes scooping up cash and jewels, as if the banking system and pawn shops could come back tomorrow. Old habits die hard, right? The use of the country club, the bright shirts, the grandfather clock ("tempus fugit," guys), and the "Rich Bitch" corpse are great ways of showing how the plague has been a great equalizer and reminds us of something.
As the limits of humanity have been tested, it's a handful of truckers, cops, veterans, redneck bikers, and members of the lower and middle classes who've managed to survive. We could be wrong, but we can't remember a single character on this show who's identifiably a member of the 1%. We don't quite know what the point of that message is for sure, but it's certainly there.
It gets hammered home with Daryl's alcohol of choice and the name of the episode, "Still." He stops Beth from sipping down peach schnapps — something a country-club teen might experiment with — so she can kick off her alcoholic career with moonshine in a redneck shack like the one he grew up in. Even though the ruling class has, quite literally, eaten itself, Daryl can't stand them. Society may be gone, but the scars of social stratification remain.
We get a close-up look at Daryl's scars — he's never been out of Georgia, never been on vacation, spent time in prison, and "never relied on anyone for everything." Beth is learning that just because someone sticks to their roots doesn't mean those roots aren't rotten.
Interestingly, in all of Daryl's superhuman behavior over the last season, we haven't really looked at how much he's been through — the loss of his brother, the girl he tried to save, the woman he (might have) loved, and all his friends. The man who, as this episode makes clear, never had anything before the apocalypse, has lost so much after it. Finally, for the first time since he killed Merle, he breaks.
After that, Beth says exactly what we've all been saying: Daryl will be "the last man standing." Thing is, in admitting that she probably won't make it, Beth actually comes out of it looking like the stronger person. We learn why she sings, why she still dreams, even if she doesn't dream about surviving. It's about other people. In fact, it's on her suggestion that they burn that hillbilly shack (a.k.a. Daryl's awful past) to the ground to the lilting strains of the Mountain Goats. As always, good night of drinking, arson, and running from zombies can be cathartic. Sure beats the Oscars.