The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 14 – Spend

“You wanted a future. You need us for that.”

(SPOILER WARNING!)

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After a slowish (but still interesting) couple of weeks to ease Rick and the gang (and the audience) into its new setting, this week The Walking Dead went back to full throttle. The uneasy relationship between the newcomers and the established Alexandrians shows no sign of getting any better, with the suspicion now coming from the other side. Meanwhile, we got back to some meaty Walker action with two expeditions outside the wall that didn’t go entirely as planned, leading to some dramatic consequences.

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That’s a lot to pack into one ep, but Matthew Negrete’s script managed to strike a balance between the intrigue and the action, leaning more heavily towards the latter than in recent weeks. On directing duties for the first time in this show, Jennifer Lynch showed a sure hand, and certainly knows how to handle gory action and suspense; on this basis, she’d be up there with Greg Nicotero, and I hope she gets more gigs on the show.

With the focus so heavily on Rick, Carol and Daryl last week, the rest of the gang got somewhat short shrift. That balance was redressed this week, with those three very much in the background while we caught up with those we didn’t see last time. Eugene, Tara, and Gabriel (who I admit I hadn’t noticed was missing last week) took centre stage along with Abraham, Glenn and Noah for the ill-fated expeditions beyond the wall. Daryl was barely seen, riding off on his newly assembled bike on a recruiting mission with Aaron, and Rick was briefly seen dealing with his first investigation – Jessie’s smashed owl statue.

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Of the three of them, only Carol got much to do this week, but after last time, even her few brief scenes were hugely significant. Her unwilling thawing towards little Sam is plainly being painted as a parallel to her thawing to Alexandria in general; and it was obvious, given her own background, that the domestic abuse she suspected in his family would win her sympathies. The trouble was, her first response to it was what should have been the last resort – she went Maximum Carol with her affirmation that the only way to deal with the suspected abuser was for Rick to kill him.

It’s an obvious response to a threat for one used to the crumbling world outside the walls; but I imagine it won’t be looked at too fondly by the more civilised community inside. There’s a very important practical theme implicit in this subplot – what use is it to have a police force without a justice system to act on its findings? The show touched on this back in season two, with the impassioned debate over whether to kill or exile a captured raider. I have a feeling it may raise its head in an even more serious way in the next few weeks.

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The Alexandrians are already showing misgivings about their new arrivals, which was stoked when the increasingly unhinged Gabriel turned up to warn Deanna that Rick and the gang were actually Satan in disguise. Or something. “They’ve done things… unspeakable things,” he tremulously informed her, unaware of Maggie listening quietly round a corner.

The reason I didn’t miss Gabriel last week is that, up until now, the character has failed to make much of an impact. While he was faithfully imported from the comics, the TV show didn’t seem to know what to do with him after the few eps in his church. It now seems clear that the writers were playing a long game, as he turns potential Judas for his saviours. But his perspective, even if couched in the language of a fundamentalist, is valid. From his point of view, he’s never properly bonded with a group who he’s seen little of but unrelenting brutality (albeit in the name of survival). Plainly his PTSD and guilt-raddled brain are leading him to see Rick’s group as ‘the baddies’ – just as it seems they’re turning away from that path. There could be trouble brewing there.

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It was telling that, paranoid as Gabriel might be, Deanna still gave him a hearing. She’s certainly a shrewd politician, and she has pointedly referenced the fact that the newcomers are (without actually planning to) coming to occupy most of the positions of power in Alexandria. It looks like Rick, Daryl and Carol won’t have to take the place by force; very soon they’ll probably be running it, a fact that hadn’t escaped Deanna’s notice.

The latest to step up was Abraham, whose furious defence of a construction crew beset by Walkers was enough to make its current chief resign, finding himself nowhere near as up to life in the wild. This was a gripping sequence tautly directed by Lynch, who seemed almost to revel in the show’s possibilities for thrills and gore. The usual head pulping was turned up to eleven as Abraham machine gunned the tenacious Walkers before turning some kind of chained, mace-like implement on them with reckless glee while bellowing the rather curious expletive, “motherdick!”.

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Tobin’s willingness to just abandon the injured Francine to the Walkers seemed to prove the earlier worries Rick and Carol had about the Alexandrians’ ‘weakness’ – specifically that they had in effect grown too soft and pampered to make it outside the wall. That point was further hammered home in the even more gripping supply run being undertaken by Glenn, Noah, Tara and those two hapless idiots from Alexandria, Aiden and Nicholas. Dragging an unwilling Eugene with them for his scientific expertise, their mission was to raid a nearby electronics warehouse for parts needed to keep Alexandria’s failing solar power system working.

With hordes of Walkers outside the building, and Aiden displaying the brash incompetence that made him so easy to hate when we met him, this was obviously not going to go too well. And so it proved, as after a promising start just about everything went wrong – and it was all the fault of Aiden and Nicholas.

Again, this was a well-directed sequence, the pace steadily increasing as the quiet search of the warehouse’s shelves escalated into an invasion of Walkers which the Alexandrians plainly had no clue how to deal with. Their incompetence ended up (eventually) getting Aiden killed, and in a shock moment that reminded us what show we were watching, the likeable Noah too.

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Eugene at least got a redemption of sorts after his earlier protestations of cowardice, single-handedly carrying the injured Tara out to their van and using it to lure the Walkers away from Glenn, Noah and Nicholas. That sequence, of the three of them trapped on opposite sides of a revolving door with hungry Walkers packed into the other compartments, was heart in mouth tense, but it was at that point I guessed we were going to lose one of the regulars.

After his forward-looking conversation with Reg earlier, it wasn’t hard to figure out it would be Noah – like soldiers in a war movie, anyone in this show who starts talking about a brighter future is basically sealing his own death warrant. Still, I shall miss Tyler James Williams, who has made the character easy to like and sympathetic from the first – it’s a shame we won’t get to see more of him, but that’s The Walking Dead for you.

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Gore of the week

After the relative scarcity of grue in recent weeks, this ep made up for that in spades. Abraham’s rampage at the construction site was an adrenaline-pumping set piece that took the usual head-pulping to exciting new levels, both with machine gun and what appeared to be a mace:

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But for once, the gore wasn’t all about mashing up the Walkers – for the first time in a while, they got to munch on some tasty survivors. First – and most satisfying – to go was Aiden, and Jennifer Lynch held the camera on his shrieking, agonising disembowelment for an uncomfortably long time, achieving a level of shock fans may have become previously desensitised to:

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But the worst – and most upsetting – was reserved for last, as poor old Noah got dragged out of that revolving door and pretty thoroughly torn to pieces. It made a heck of an impact, not just because it was a character we liked but because of the sheer nastiness of it – Glenn pinned in the door, unable to help, while on the other side of the glass the Walkers quite literally tore his friend’s face off in excruciating detail:

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With only two eps to go of this season, and the new setting already causing trouble for both its inhabitants and our ‘heroes’, the show is plainly ramping up for a big finale, as brewing plots come to a head. Carol is still stockpiling guns, and wants Rick to summarily execute a member of the community based on proof-free suspicion, while Gabriel pours poison into Deanna’s ear, and Glenn has just returned from an ill-fated expedition during which her son was killed (even though it was hardly Glenn’s fault).

None of this is going to endear the newcomers to the increasingly suspicious Alexandrians, while Rick’s group, for their part, are getting proof that the pampered community is ill-equipped to survive in its present form. A big confrontation is brewing – and this fast-paced, exciting ep felt like somebody lighting the fuse on a tinderbox.