“Nightmares end. They shouldn’t end who you are.”
Seemingly already sure on its feet three eps into the new season, this week’s Walking Dead was a solid story that advanced the plot nicely while providing some thrills, scares and action. After the pyrotechnic spectacle of the season opener and the more thoughtful tone of last week, this was effectively a low key but tense real-time siege thriller along the lines of Assault on Precinct 13 or Rio Bravo, contained within bookend scenes that continued to explore the theme of where the characters are going, and how far they’ve become removed from the people they used to be.
The bulk of the ep was spent dealing economically with the threat of the ever-greedy Terminus survivors. Again, I’d worried this might get dragged out over several eps of people arguing in the church then realising some of their number had gone missing, so kudos to regular writer Angela Kang for wrapping it up so quickly. Like last week, it stuck pretty close to the original comic plot, with Bob’s (not unexpected) revelation that he’d been bitten opening the show. “You’re eating tainted meat!” he cried hysterically, the exact line used in the comic by Dale in this situation.
Actually, in the comic, that fact was an undeveloped red herring; there, as here, Rick and co killed off the cannibals before any consequences from the “tainted meat” could develop. That’s a shame – one of the few good bits in George Romero’s generally dull Survival of the Dead involved a soldier biting off a zombie finger, then realising he was starting to turn. In this TV version of Walking Dead, though, everyone is infected already; so it’s hard to see why eating infected meat (thoroughly cooked too) would cause a problem.
Substituting Bob for the now-dead (in the show) Dale was an interesting choice. Just like Dale, he’s been the voice of civilised decency in the face of his ever more savage fellow survivors. And just like Dale, his death implies that, in this new world, civilised decency will get you nowhere and might get you killed. It’s a bleak message, but then this is not a show renowned for its optimism.
We learned a bit more about Reverend Gabriel this week, when Rick rounded on him as the obvious suspect in the disappearances of Bob, Carol and Daryl. Again thankfully, his Big Secret was revealed quickly, without being dragged out for week after week; and it was as obvious as I’d suspected last week. He was basically wracked with guilt for having left his parishioners locked outside the church to die at the hands of the Walkers, too afraid to unlock the doors and help them. It’s a powerful motivation, and Seth Gilliam conveyed the man’s wretched guilt very well. But it was too obvious to be the subject of much suspense, so I’m glad we’ve got it out of the way.
The lion’s share of the ep was spent dealing with Gareth’s cannibal group, who for reasons of seeming bravado had camped outside an elementary school crammed to the gills with confined Walkers. How they got locked in there wasn’t explored, and it was a trifle surprising that they didn’t ultimately get released to dispense the poetic justice of eating the cannibals; but then, as in the comic, Gareth’s gang’s ultimate fate was meant to show just what level of violence Rick and our heroes have become capable of.
Admittedly, Rick’s plan to make it seem like the most capable of the gang were leaving the church to hunt for their tormentors, then to circle back and catch them from behind, was so startlingly obvious that Gareth would have to have been a complete imbecile not to have suspected it. After all, dumping the still alive Bob presumably in the hope of luring Rick to the campground while they actually moved in on the church was a pretty obvious move in itself – clearly Gareth had never played chess.
Still, the scene was tensely played out in the dimly lit hall of the church, and even though (for me anyway) the outcome was a foregone conclusion, director Jeffrey January managed to wring some tension out of Gareth’s search for those inside. Of course, it was inevitable that Rick would follow through on his promise from the season opener and hack Gareth to death with the red-handled machete. But despite Gabriel’s obvious shock (he doesn’t know these guys very well yet), the savagery of our heroes killing the cannibals was played out in such dim lighting it was hard to see exactly what was happening. The camera instead revealingly lingered on what we could see – the savagery on Rick’s face as he chopped and chopped and chopped. I think by this stage even I’m starting to get frightened of Andrew Lincoln. Oh, and as he chopped, the arch behind him displayed the most apposite verse from the Gospels – “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”
This was contrasted nicely with the dying Bob’s plea for them to remember who they were. Unlike Dale, he got a lingering death scene to put his case once again; but while Rick plainly listened, I didn’t get the faintest impression that he agreed. More pertinently, after the events of the night, Tyreese managed to get over his aversion to offing Walkers, and spared his sister Sasha the distress of putting Bob down before he could return. Touching, yes, but yet an indication that even the formerly mild Tyreese has realised that civilised decency has no place if you want to survive.
Aside from the siege/cannibals plot, much of the ep was spent wrangling between Rick and Abraham as to who was Alpha Male – you could practically smell the testosterone. Michael Cudlitz as Abraham is a big guy; but then, we’ve already seen Rick tear a man’s throat out with his teeth, so he didn’t look that intimidated.
The wrangling was, predictably, about Abraham wanting to get Eugene to Washington without delay, while Rick wanted to stay and first deal with the cannibals, then find the missing Carol and Daryl. From the writers’ perspective though, it gave the perfect excuse to once more split up the now reunited group. And with good reason – there were now so many characters in each episode that some of them barely got to speak (shades of T-Dog in the early seasons). Splitting them up gives the opportunity to give them each a greater turn in the limelight, not to mention the possibility of more plotlines running parallel.
Speaking of which, the cliffhanger ending was a pretty good indication that we’re going to have a Carol/Daryl ep next week, that will fill us in on the details of what happened to them during the events of this ep. It’s a technique the show’s done several times before, but it works well for focusing on particular characters. Given that these are two of the fans’ absolute favourites, and we only know for sure that one of them has survived, that sets up some good jeopardy for next week’s ep. Unless they ruin it by showing us who’s with Daryl in the opening minutes, that is.
Gore of the week
Actually there was very, very little gore this week, for once, and what there was of it was quite indistinct in the dim lighting. Although there were a fair few Walkers on display, most of them were safely confined behind glass in the elementary school, leaving the only real gore this week to come courtesy of our heroes themselves. As noted earlier, the direction showed us the faces of the people meting it out, rather than its deserving victims; but a brief shot of the state of Gareth’s body gave some indication as to why Gabriel was so shocked at such violence in “the Lord’s House”.
He might have been more shocked, though, at Maggie’s (and, implicitly, the show’s) rejection of religion full stop – “No. It’s just four walls and a roof.”
This was a solid ep, with a satisfying end for the loathsome Gareth and his gang – kudos to actor Andrew J West for keeping the cannibal leader just this side of caricature. Minus points for the very, very obvious trap he and his cohorts fell into, but plus points for bringing the ensemble down to a more manageable size by splitting up the group. Of course it could be reduced still further by a main character’s shocking death, something that’s been conspicuously absent so far this season (I’m not counting Bob, who we didn’t know that well). I have a funny feeling that, still seeking atonement for what she’s had to do, it might be Carol next for the chop – let’s see what happens next week…