Airdate: October 19, 2014
Directed by: David Boyd
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Robert Kirkman (episode); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels)
Last week’s season premiere was a fast paced adrenaline rush, bringing to a culmination all of the tension built up over the latter half of last season as the group, separated into smaller parts, converged on Terminus. Now, with the group back together and moving away from the cannibals, where are they going to go next? Abraham has a pretty clear idea where he thinks they should be going, but he’s not the only voice that will be heard. So what, if anything, have they decided to do?
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead S05E02, “Strangers” – read more at your own risk.>>
Tonight’s episode is titled “Strangers,” and it isn’t just the introduction of a new character (whom I’ll get to below), but the acquaintance of several members within the group who haven’t yet had a chance to really get to know each other. We begin with Rick and Tara, and she’s telling him that she was with the Governor, that she didn’t really know who he was. Rick forgives her, telling her that he heard she’d saved Glenn’s life, and that’s good enough for him. An awkward fist-bump later, and everything’s hunky-dory. But Tara is really still a stranger to most of the group, and she’s not the only one. Abraham looks, for the first time, somewhat out of his element. After watching Michonne take out a walker with the butt end of her gun, he whispers to Rosita, “Right there is why we’re waiting for our moment.” Our moment for what? Rosita, at least, seems a bit skeptical.
The opening is largely a tale of pairings: we see Abraham and Rosita, Rick and Tara, but also Bob and Sasha, Daryl and Carol (and some squirrels), and Glenn and Maggie. Bob and Sasha are playing a game, which we saw in the preview video. In a nutshell, she gives him some depressing fact about their existence, and he turns it into a positive. You just know this is not going to end well. After accepting Tara, Rick and Carol also have a moment. She’s hesitant – she’s not sure how well the team will accept her, based on her actions back at the prison – but Rick reassures her, telling her that, “I sent you away to this, and now we’re joining you.” He actually asks her permission to join her, which she gives; she is the expert on surviving on the road, and Rick is telling her that the team will need her knowledge and wisdom. But will she choose to stay with group in the long run?
As they walk through the woods, Daryl surprises the group. This becomes a recurring motif throughout the episode, as he surprises both the group and Carol alone several times. His relationship with Carol is just as close as before, but also seems to want to stall it a bit. They sit together on watch, silent, Carol looking increasingly uncomfortable until she says, “I don’t wanna talk about it. I can’t. I just need to forget about it.” Daryl doesn’t know about Mika and Lizzie – Carol’s talking about Karen and the other sick person she burned at the prison. Daryl replies, “Alright,” and then hears a twig snap. He later tells Rick that it wasn’t so much what he heard, as what he felt – someone was watching them.
At this point, it could be anyone – Morgan is as likely as Gareth, based on the end of last week’s episode. But before we can find out, the group hears someone calling for help. It’s a priest, Father Gabriel, and he’s suspiciously unprepared for the zombie apocalypse, seeing as how it’s been coming on two years since things went to hell. He’s so put off by the momentary violence of the group taking out the few walkers that have him scrambling atop a large boulder, that he actually empties his stomach before he can talk to Rick. When he doesn’t admit to killing any walkers or people, Rick asks him, “What have you done? We’ve all done something.” Gabriel looks very uncomfortable, but tells Rick that his sins are between him and God.
Rick’s new lack of trust is on full display – he won’t take Gabriel at his word on any level, threatening him, and making the priest take point. When he tells Rick that he knows where there’s a lot of food, but also a group of walkers, Rick makes him come with them. Gabriel doesn’t help himself much, either, making a poor joke that he might be leading Rick and the others into a trap. Oddly, no one laughs.
Inside the church, we see a rather ironic missive written over the chapel: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.” There is also a chapter and verse board, and naturally each and every verse deals with the idea of resurrection and the dead. They are as follows (I’m using the New International Version for the verses):
- Romans 6:4 “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
- Ezekiel 37:7 “So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.”
- Matthew 27:52 “The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.”
- Revelations 9:6 “During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.”
- Luke 24:5 “In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Pretty clear allusions throughout. In the sense of continuity, it wouldn’t be beyond a priest, who would theoretically know the Bible well, to place these particular chapters and verses on the board, due to what was happening in the world – it’s little touches like these that make this show as good as it is when it’s at its best.
Gabriel is out of food – he’s survived here for so long because his church had just finished a canned food drive, and the supplies were all in the church when things went bad. The place he knows with more food? The town’s food bank, which had just been taking in provisions, most likely from other churches in the area. Before they head out, Rick has a serious father-son chat with Carl, and we get to see a side of Carl we haven’t seen before. He agrees with Rick that things are dangerous, that he’s never truly safe, but he reminds his father that there are still good people in the world, despite Rick’s misgivings. What? Who? Where is the shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later Carl that we’ve all come to know, if not necessarily love? The fact that he is growing a conscience at this point is a net positive, although it is also the kind of development that could end up getting him hurt – just look at how much a conscience nearly cost Tyreese last episode.
The group breaks up into several work units. Carol and Daryl go for a walk to get water, and find a car – looks like with a battery pack in the trunk, they may be able to get it started, so Carol suggests leaving it there in case they need to make a quick exit. Glenn, Tara, and Maggie go searching for anything useful in a gun shop, with Glen finding three silencers – this is not a red herring; I’m betting they’ll come into play pretty quickly. Most of the others – Rick, Gabriel, Michonne, Sasha, and Bob all head to find food.
They arrive at the food bank, and find that there’s a hole in the roof. The flooded basement, where all the food is stored, also holds an assortment of water-logged walkers. Bob observes that “If a sewer could puke, it would smell like that.” Lovely image.
The group heads into the basement, and we learn a bit more about Father Gabriel. As Rick et al are dealing with the undead, one walker heads toward Gabriel. She’s very distinctive looking, with a pair of horn-rimmed glasses attached to her head by a chain. Gabriel obviously recognizes her, and backs away, horrified. He presses himself against a wall, arms spread in supplication, when Rick shows up and saves him – but he knows that she was familiar to Gabriel, and he’s going to find out why.
Just when it looks like they’ve cleared the basement, a walker that was beneath the water pulls Bob down. They struggle, and Sasha smashes its head open like a ripe melon. Bob looks shaken, almost ashen, but he tells Sasha that he’s fine. Personally, I think he’s been bitten, and there is evidence of this later in the episode that I’ll discuss below.
When Rick and the group get back to the church, Carl takes him aside. He’s been investigating while they were away, and he’s found a couple of interesting things. First, there are knife marks all around the exterior of the boarded up windows – somebody was clearly trying to get into the church. And around the corner, is something even more damning: etched into the wood of one of the siding slats are the words, “You’ll burn for this.” Looks like someone wasn’t too happy with Father Gabriel. We get a further clue as to what might have happened in the past, why Gabriel ended up in the church with all that food for himself, when we see him thumbing a photograph. In it, he’s standing in front of the church organ with a woman – a woman wearing the horn-rimmed glasses on a chain we saw the walker he was afraid of wearing earlier.
Well-provisioned, the group has a small celebration and gives thanks in the church that evening. Abraham gives a stirring speech, all about standing still versus moving forward, and the group, led by Rick, agrees that they will head to DC with Eugene. Meanwhile, Bob and Sasha are sitting quietly together. He looks nearly on the verge of crying – what’s happened to Mr. Optimism from earlier in the day? This is the second indicator to me that he’s been bitten. First, his ashen face and shock in the basement after dealing with the walker; now, his optimism is all dried up. Something is going on in Bob’s head.
As the group is celebrating, Daryl goes out to look for Carol, who has slipped away. He finds her at the car, which she’s managed to get started. Before he can ask her where she’s intending to go – it’s obvious that she feels she can’t be part of the group – a second car goes shooting by on the crossroad. In its rear window? A white cross, just like the vehicle that took Beth. Daryl leaps into action, smashing the lights on the car, and jumping in, telling Carol that they have to go get Beth.
Back at the church, Bob does one more thing that clinches my suspicions. He heads outside, not just looking sad – he actually starts to cry. He stands at a tree, looking back at the church, and he clearly looks prepared to leave – this is not the same man who earlier in the day told Rick that “This is a nightmare, and nightmares end.” He’s a man to whom something terrible has happened, and he’s leaving because of it – the only thing that makes sense is a bite that he’s hiding from the rest of the group. He’s so busy looking back at what he’s escaping from, that he doesn’t notice a notch that’s been carved into the tree right at eye-level, nor does he hear the man approaching him from behind. A figure in a gray hoody brutally hits Bob in the back of the head, knocking him out. Now, Morgan was wearing a hoody when last we saw him, so the initial suspicion is that it might be him – but we find out in the stinger that it is, in fact, Gareth.
Gareth, who has about a half dozen surviving Termites with him, including Martin, the Termite Tyreese told Carol he’d killed last week. Bob is very woozy, fading in and out of full consciousness, as Gareth explains the situation to him. He tells Bob that “You and your people took away our home,” but he isn’t angry – he understands that this is the way of the world now. Similarly, circumstances mean that he and his people have “devolved into hunters.” After all, he says, “a man’s got to eat.” As he says this, the camera pans back – Bob’s left leg is missing from above the knee, and we see a foot attached to a charred leg over the barbecue. Gareth pauses to take a bite, savoring it, as Bob tries to stifle his shock. Gareth says to him, “If it makes you feel any better, you taste much better than we thought you would.”
Well, we clearly have not seen the end of Gareth and his cannibalistic buddies. For those of you who have read the comics, this group will be very familiar. While some of the characters are different, and certainly the way they were introduced is not the same as it was in the book, it is definitely the same group. It won’t give any plot details away to say here that in the comics they’re referred to as the Hunters, a name that Gareth claims for himself and his companions while he’s talking to Bob.
I’m very glad to see them in this new, more sinister form. The end of Terminus last week seemed almost too abrupt, considering the long build-up that it had last season. The fact that Gareth and company are right here, and are actively eating one of the group, makes them a much more visceral – and ultimately dangerous – threat than any they have faced before. Yes, the Governor was clearly a sociopath, but one who lived by rules that others could generally abide by, if only for survival’s sake. Here, Gareth and his group have absolutely nothing redeeming about them, making jokes about the man whose leg they are eating, while the victim sits there and has to listen. This reminded me of the scene between Ray Liotta and Anthony Hopkins in Hannibal, where Hopkins’ Hannibal is frying pieces of Liotta’s frontal lobe, and offering them to the lobotomized man to eat.
While Gareth and his Hunters will obviously be the main focus going forward, I expect that Carol and Daryl will get their own episode in a couple or three weeks, as they chase after the car that may or may not lead them to Beth. The people holding her have no idea what hell they’ve unleashed upon themselves, as the twin furies descend upon them.
Father Gabriel is still somewhat of a closed book to the group, but with tensions escalating – especially with Bob missing (and don’t forget, no one else saw Daryl and Carol leave, so guess what the group’s immediate assumption is going to be?), expect Rick to stop playing coy with the man of the cloth. He may try to keep his sins between he and his God, but Rick is likely to try to beat a confession out of him if he isn’t more forthcoming.
There wasn’t nearly as much action tonight as in last week’s premiere, but that’s not a bad thing. We got a little character exposition, especially regarding Bob and Sasha, as well as Carl showing a new side, plus we got to know a little about our newest cast member, Gabriel. An old enemy has been transformed into an even more dangerous foe in Gareth’s turn from evil bureaucrat to actively hunting cannibal. And Daryl is on the warpath, taking arguably the most dangerous person in the zombie apocalypse with him, on a mission to retrieve Beth from the people with white crosses in their cars. We didn’t see any sign of Morgan – but the way the producers play with time (see the entire latter half of last season, as well as the two Governor episodes, numbers 406 and 407), it could be that he is a few days behind the group, at least if there hasn’t been any rain to wash the mud off the Terminus sign.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what next week brings us. I suspect the Gareth/Hunters arc will take more than one episode to play out. Now that Gimple has established him so well, it would be a shame to see the group move past him too quickly – and I suspect that there will be at least one or two more casualties in dealing with this group, as well. They got out of Terminus altogether too unscathed, putting both us, the fans, and the group itself, far too much at ease. And isn’t that just when a walker – or another danger – usually shows up?
Cool Facts and Moments:
- Robert Kirkman wrote this episode himself, which makes sense considering the importance of bringing in a well-known group such as the Hunters from the comics. Even if they don’t end up getting called that in the show, it was clear due to Gareth’s dialogue that Kirkman was cuing readers of the comics with a bit of an insider’s nudge.
- The Bible verses aren’t the only sign that Gabriel might have a disturbed mind; when examining the church, the group finds copious notebooks in which Gabriel has transliterated the Bible over and over again.
- Seeing Gareth and his group chowing down on Bob was almost as disturbing as the draining trough scene last week, but shows how events at Terminus have changed even Gareth – he’s no longer a bureaucratic cannibal doing what he deems needs to be done – he’s now a sadist as well.
- Daryl was almost creepy in his stealthiness tonight – and was ready to spring into action in an instant when he thought he might be able to find Beth.
- The walkers in the food bank were extremely well done, with flesh sloughing off and water-logged distortions aplenty.
Steve’s Grade: A-
A solid, if slightly slower-paced, follow-up to last week’s amazing premiere. It looks like Bob may be done…well-done, that is.