“We all owe Carol.”
This week’s Walking Dead had a welcome return for Rick and the rest of the gang at the church, as the three narratives we’ve been following for the last four episodes finally came together, much as I’d expected, in readiness for the big mid-season finale. After three eps which focused very heavily on particular characters while gradually driving the plot forward, this week had a lot more action as Daryl and Noah led the increasingly hardass Rick on a rescue mission for the captive Beth and Carol.
Writer Seth Hoffman obviously respects his audience’s intelligence well enough not to have jumped back to the point some weeks ago when Daryl reappeared at the church, beckoning an unseen person to come forward. After last week, it was pretty clear that it was Noah he had with him, so this week opened with him already there and the gang making preparations to leave for Atlanta. Gabriel, Carl and Michonne were left at the church to look after Judith, while Abraham’s party were still stuck on the road with an unconscious Eugene and a catatonic Abraham. Meanwhile at the hospital, the increasingly crafty Beth was trying her damnedest to make sure Carol wasn’t written off as not worth saving, while keeping their acquaintance unrevealed.
That gave the ep four narrative threads to work with, which increased when Glenn, Tara and Rosita left their group in search of food and water. For a show that’s normally fairly focused on one plot thread at a time, that’s a lot of balls to juggle, and the ep could have felt pretty crowded as a result. But Hoffman’s script kept a good balance between them. While Rick’s rescue mission provided the action and Beth’s subterfuge the suspense, the other two threads were more focused on the characters, and were interspersed in such a way as to even out the script’s pacing. The result was a ramping up of the season’s overall pace without the often frenetic feel of so many eps from the first half of last year’s unevenly paced season.
Having given us deserted city fetishists so much coverage of post-apocalypse Atlanta last week, those vistas were this week abandoned in favour of action. But even with this thread the one most involved in driving forward the plot, there was still room to occasionally dwell on the characters’ feelings. Sasha was still torn up over Bob, which ultimately was a vital factor in the story, while the increasingly kill-happy Rick’s plan to raid the hospital and kill all the former cops was vetoed in favour of a less bloodthirsty solution proposed by Tyreese. It was a good indicator of how far Rick’s come from the ‘civilised’ man he used to be, especially when one of the hostages realised that he was once a cop, in the life before.
There wasn’t too much time to dwell on the characters here with so much to pack in though, and the story cut to the chase pretty quickly, with a heart-in-mouth set piece of a hand to hand struggle in a burnt out street littered with half-melted Walkers. I don’t usually get much impressed by fight scenes, but the genuine jeopardy as Daryl struggled with his violent assailant while trying to avoid the bites of the flambéed corpses was one of the best I’ve seen in this show. With the death of a major character surely overdue, I really wasn’t sure if he’d make it. Admit it, I bet you were holding your breath when his flailing fingers so nearly strayed into the mouth of that frantically biting Walker.
Back at the church, the focus was squarely on Gabriel, and how this man of God has reacted to having the savage new world brought so brutally home to him. It’s fair to say he hasn’t reacted well, as his frantic scraping at the bloodstains on the floor indicated. Carl, who’s not had a lot to do so far this year, was once again dispensing pragmatic survival advice – that seems to be his function at the moment. But I must admit, I wasn’t clear why those left behind were fortifying the church. Are they expecting the hospital gang to come after them? Or are they actually planning on setting up house at the place?
At the hospital, Carol looked in pretty bad shape, not even getting to open her eyes this week, much less speak a line of dialogue. Could she be the next major character to buy it? To be honest, even if Rick’s plan comes off, I’m unsure how they can spirit her away from what looks like vitally needed intensive care. With Dawn’s leadership of the former cops increasingly precarious, I find myself wondering if Rick and co will actually take over the hospital and stay there, at least if Carol lives and needs to recover. That could be an interesting change of scene for the show away from its recent rural forest settings.
At least the return to Atlanta has made up for my disappointment at not seeing the post-apocalyptic Washington DC, though I never seriously believed Abraham’s party were going to get there. Their thread had a curious lack of jeopardy, despite the distant vast herd of Walkers, feeling more like a camping trip as the various characters adjusted to the truth about Eugene and his ‘cure’. We finally learned at least something about Rosita (not before time), and Abraham, having spent most of the ep almost comatose, eventually seemed to pluck up the resolve to go on.
But has Eugene really recovered? That moan from under Maggie’s ramshackle sunshade sounded as much like a Walker as a dazed man waking up. It would be quite a departure from the comics to kill Eugene off at this point; but given the show’s history, I wouldn’t put it past them.
Gore of the week
While I initially thought this week might be very light on the gore, I was soon disabused of that notion. There were at least two cracking moments; honourable runner up has to go to the Walker who the unfortunate Gabriel was lucky enough to impale on a mighty convenient stump of wood:
But the most gruesome moment came in that set piece fight in Atlanta. It was a ghoulish enough spectacle to see a street full of half-melted, near-immobile Walkers practically disintegrating into mush:
Fortunately they were so fragile that Daryl actually managed to rip one of their heads off and use it (presumably still biting) as a handy bludgeon. Eww. I hope he washed that rotting eyesocket juice off his fingers before he went on.
So, a solid, well-paced ep this week, which gathered together the season’s increasingly disparate narratives ready for next week’s big mid-season finale. We’ve had curiously few deaths of major characters so far this year (only Bob, really), so I’m fully expecting a Big Dramatic Death to see us off into the break. Who will it be? Internet theories seem to favour Beth, and that’s possible. Or could it be Eugene, risen as a Walker and needing a good head-squishing? Actually my money’s on Carol – that truly would be a kicker for the show’s fans. One week from now, I guess we’ll find out…