Survival is the name of the game in the world of the Walking Dead. Most of the time, it requires killing Walkers. Other times, it means killing humans. The show has given us many gruesome versions of that: From Rick ripping a man’s jugular with his teeth to the people of Terminus slitting people’s throats in front of a trough. In the case of Eugene, the writers give us another version of a person trying to survive. He manipulates and lies to live.
This episode seems to be centered on Abraham, but it is very much about Eugene too.
Both men find themselves with no one after the rise of the Walkers. Abraham had a family. The episode is not very clear about this, but it appeared that Abraham had a wife and children. They left him out of fear after they witnessed him brutally kill a group of men with his bare hands. He finds them, but they were killed off by Walkers. Actor Michael Cudlitz is brilliant in capturing Abraham’s loss as he comes upon the bodies of his wife and children. His despair is all in Cudlitz’s eyes. As he puts a gun into his mouth to end his life, he hears Eugene yelling for help.
The scene is strangely comical. Three Walkers are after Eugene. They are slow moving, and he can barely outrun them. Abraham does not even acknowledge Eugene as he walks right past him and kills all three walkers in a matter of seconds. The differences between the two men are strikingly made clear from the first time they meet. Eugene is no Abraham, Rick or Daryl. He does not have the physical ability to fight. He misfires when he uses a gun. He can’t muster the courage to use a knife on a Walker. What is most important is that Eugene is keenly aware of this.
It is not surprising that the writers titled this episode “Self-Help.” An important part of most self-help programs is to know oneself. Eugene knows himself well: he is not a warrior. However, he is intelligent, and he uses it to save himself. After Abraham saves Eugene’s life, he goes back to the bodies of his family and to commit suicide. Eugene quickly assesses Abraham’s situation. In a few seconds of observing Abraham, he knows exactly what to say to pull him out of his despair: “I have a very important mission.” He might as well have added to that, “for you.” Abraham comes to life after hearing those words from Eugene. He is a soldier and he needs a reason to live. He needs to be taken out of the mental hell that he is in. It’s a Deus ex machine moment for Abraham, but instead of one of the gods, it is Eugene who swoops down and takes Abraham out of an unwinnable situation.
No one can blame Abraham for pummeling Eugene with his fists after he learns that Eugene lied about having a cure for the plague. Nonetheless, that lie gave him a chance to continue with his life and save the lives others. It bought him time to distance himself from the death of his family. It gave him a chance to believe he can go on without them. Eugene will not be saving all of humanity, but he did save a life.