The Music of Walking Dead Season 5: Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Somewhat Damaged’

Had Trent Reznor somehow seen this episode before he released this song in 1999?

By Brian Ives 

Over the course of four-plus seasons, ‘The Walking Dead’ has used a wide range of music from artists that span nearly every genre and era including Bob Dylan, Motörhead, the Stanley Brothers, Sharon Van Etten, Wang Chung and Tom Waits, whose song “Hold On” was sung by cast member Emily Kinney. During the show’s fifth season, we’ll be talking with Thomas Golubic of SuperMusicVision, who helps choose the show’s music, to get the scoop on what you heard on the latest episode.

So, it turns out that Aiden didn’t only listen to dubstep. Tonight’s The Walking Dead began with his bereaved parents, Deanna and and Reg Monroe, the leader of Alexandria and her husband, popping in their son’s mix CD, “Run Mix.” They’re mourning Aiden’s death at the jaws of walkers, as seen in last week’s episode.

The creepy, eerie opening baseline to Nine Inch Nails‘ “Somewhat Damaged” starts playing. The song’s title probably describes the Monroes at this point: for so long, they enjoyed a sense of security behind the walls of Alexandria, walls that Reg had designed. Now, their son is dead, and the new citizens of their town may be as much a threat as the walkers that the walls have so far kept out.

“So impressed with all you do,” Trent Reznor sings. “Tried so hard to be like you.” It’s almost as if Team Rick wrote the lyrics for this moment.

Thomas Golubic tells Radio.com that the song was perfect for the opening montage. “We start with Deanna and Reg mourning the loss of Aiden by playing his ‘Run’ mix. Probably not a good idea. Carol is playing home-maker, cooking a ‘sorry for your loss’ casserole, and giving shelter to Sam, the abused child of Pete and Jesse. Sasha is still struggling through her PTSD and nobody in Alexandria is doing particularly well since our ‘heroes’ have arrived.”

Indeed, ignorance may have been bliss; the more civilized long-time residents of Alexandria have been unnerved by Team Rick, who are sort of like that feral cat you try to acclimate to your house. If you have other cats, you may have a problem getting everyone to coexist; hard as you try, it may never work. You have to decide who to keep and who to get rid of, which is something that Deanna is now thinking about. But the more honest Alexandrians know that Team Rick are survivors; if the town’s walls don’t hold up, these people know how to survive in the wild. Meanwhile, the more honest members of Team Rick know that they may not be able to live in “civilization” anymore; the idea of civilization in the zombie apocalypse is a lie.

“Flew too high and burnt the wing/Lost my faith in everything,” Reznor sings later in “Somewhat Damaged.” That may describe Glenn, who is reeling and raging from the particularly brutal death of Noah last week, and who has grown into a formidable fighter and a solid leader, but he’s also slowly becoming more brutal. Still, he’s determined to try and fit in with Alexandria. Rick doesn’t feel the same way; when the two of them discuss the deaths of Aiden and Noah, Rick speaks in terms of “us” and “them.” Glenn counters “We are them!”

Further into the song, Reznor, now more intense, sings “Shedding skin, succumb defeat/This machine is obsolete.” Alexandria, with their pride in their preserved civilization, has ignored the cracks in their existence: as Glenn pointed out, they’ve been lucky to have built walls around their town to keep them safe, but how long will those walls keep out the walkers? And, we now know they’ve been ignoring the fact that Pete has been abusing his wife Jessie. He’s a surgeon, he’s not expendable.

“Made the choice to go away!” Reznor bellows.  That’s all Reg could take of the song, and they turned it off. Their son has gone away, but not by anyone’s choice.

Trent Renzor has always been very ahead of his time; but did he somehow get a copy of tonight’s episode back in 1999 when he released “Somewhat Damaged” on the misunderstood classic The Fragile? The choice of the song was so on-point, it hurt. Golubic says, “Trent Reznor’s music has been a running influence on The Walking Dead and our team was thrilled to feature one of his songs.” Might we suggest How To Destroy Angels’ “Keep It Together” for next season?

Had the Monroes let the song keep playing, we would have heard Reznor screaming “Poisoned to my rotten core/Too f***ed up to care anymore!” Rick’s one-time partner/friend/enemy, Shane, had taunted Rick about not being able to keep their group safe. One wonders what Shane might think of Rick now; would he even recognize him? But is Rick’s main concern keeping his people safe? Or is it just about power? Power over Team Rick, power over Alexandria, or just the power to save Jessie from her husband? Is Season Five’s Rick more like Shane now? Or, worse, is he more like the Governor? Perhaps we’ll find out next week, during the 90 minute season finale.

 

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