Big Things Are Coming: A Review of The Walking Dead Season 5, Episode 14 “Spend”

Posted: March 17, 2015 in Reviews, The Walking Dead, TV
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Season_5_cast_banner

Episode: 514
Airdate: March 15, 2015
Directed by: Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Matthew Negrete (episode); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels); Frank Darabont (creator)

As the group attempts to settle into their new “normal,” we just know that things can’t possibly be as smooth as they seem. There have been a few hints of underlying issues with the Alexandria community since the very beginning; in fact, Aaron and his presentation seem just about the smoothest part of the whole place (then again, that’s what you usually get from brochures advertising retirement communities). So, with the inevitable entropy that is the hallmark of The Walking Dead, tonight, three shows to the end of the season, seems like just about the right time to throw the monkey wrench (spanner for my British readers) into the works. And while we do, indeed, get some of this, it all happens in what is, for my money, the best paced and edited episode of the season so far.

<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead S05E14, “Spend” – read more at your own risk.>>

One of the issues that has been growing (literally) all season long is cast creep. Although we’ve lost Bob, Beth, and Tyreese coming into tonight’s episode, with the addition of the Alexandria crew we’ve now got a core group of fifteen, with seven or eight Alexandrians also taking up airtime – Deanna, Reg, Jesse, Pete, Sam, Aiden, Nicholas, Spencer, Aaron, Eric – okay, more like ten plus if we throw in the Olivia, Ron, and Enid. Serious cast bloat. So, in a world full of hungry walkers, what better way to deal with this problem than to lay out a few tasty snacks?

That does happen tonight, with one main group member (at least – more on this later), and one Alexandrian biting it, and to be fair, the episode does an excellent job of touching on numerous storylines that also manage to connect to one central theme: the gradual, and so far peaceful, takeover of Alexandria by Rick and the core group.

There are three main storylines running relatively concurrently: Abraham with the construction crew; Glen, Tara, Noah and Eugene on a run with Aiden and Nicholas; and Rick, Carol, and Maggie holding down the fort in their various roles. We get a brief glimpse of Daryl as he heads out with Aaron on a recruitment mission, rocking his new bike, and two important scenes with Father Gabriel. We get a glimpse of a sleeping Rosita, and little or nothing at all of Carl, Judith, Michonne, or Sasha. I hope they enjoyed their holiday, because I suspect they’re going to be around next week.

Taking Care of Business

Abraham helping Francine

Abraham helping Francine

Abraham’s story has the earliest resolution, so we’ll begin there. We see him in the morning, looking himself in the mirror as he splashes water on his face. He looks unsure of himself, almost frightened. This might be to reflect a little on the drinking at the party (presumably the night before), or just the dread of starting a new job in a life that still seems surreal to the group after having survived so long on the road.

We skip to about twenty minutes into the episode. We focus in on a construction site, with a billboard stating, “Big Things Are Coming” in bold letters. Several men and women are loading construction supplies onto flatbeds, while one woman – we find out her name is Francine [Dahlia Legault] – keeps watch from a perch atop a raised tractor scoop. Abraham is one of many workers here, just doing his best to fit in, while the foreman calls the shots. This works until one of the workers tells Abraham, in the best euphemism of the episode, that he needs “to send a fax to Cleveland,” as he walks off with a newspaper to relieve himself.

Here, we begin to see Abraham’s survival experience kick into gear. He notices a small group of birds flying overhead, startled from the bushes; everything around him gets quiet as he tunes out the other workers’ conversations; he looks at the ground, concentrating, his hands flexing. He reaches for his gun, and moments later, the “Cleveland” guy comes running back, walkers on his tail.

The proverbial crap hits the fan (except for the guy who went off to the woods – he didn’t have enough time), and everyone grabs a weapon to start taking the small herd down. The foreman, displaying marksmanship skills right up there with Eugene back in Episode 410 “Inmates” – he manages to shoot out the hydraulic line holding the tractor scoop up, flinging Francine to the ground in the midst of the walkers. The foreman panics, and tells everyone to pull out. Abraham is shocked – “What about Francine” he shouts – but the foreman isn’t hearing it, saying, “We have a system.” If this phrase sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same load of bull Aiden told Glen, Noah, and Tara a couple of weeks ago, when he explained that the four scavengers they’d lost the previous month hadn’t been “following the system.”

Seems to me the system’s a load of crap.

Abraham runs to Francine’s side, and helps her up and into the tractor’s cab. He crawls under the tractor, keeping the walkers off his feet, and blowing a few away from beneath. He hands the gun up to Francine, and grabbing a cement block on a chain, proceeds to lay the righteous flail into a series of walker’s heads. The foreman insists the rest of them leave still but, encouraged by Abraham’s heroics, the others soon ignore the foreman and help Abraham and Francine out.

In the aftermath, Abraham tells the foreman exactly what he thinks of their “system,” and Francine knocks the foreman on his butt. In his defense, however, we next see him at Deanna’s house – not, as you might expect, to complain about Abraham, but rather to give up his job as foreman in favor of Abraham. Deanna does so, although she expresses worry to Maggie, admitting that she’s giving an awful lot of power to the newcomers. Maggie reminds her that that is, in fact, why they were invited inside.

This resolution is relatively peaceful, and shows the best of possibilities with regard to how a transition of power might go. However, the other two storylines don’t hold out as much hope.


Cookie / Monster

Broken things are never symbolic

Broken things are never symbolic

The Carol and Rick storyline begins with Rick on his daily rounds, finding Jessie looking over the trashed remains of one of her owl sculptures. She doesn’t want him to make anything of it – she’s very hesitant, although not as uncomfortable as you might expect given the creepy kiss from the party – but Rick insists that he needs something to do. He heads off.

Meanwhile, Carol hears some noises under the stairs at her house, and goes to investigate. It’s Sam, looking for cookies. Can anyone say Stockholm Syndrome? The kid nearly fawns over her, asking for cookies and seeking her approval, if not her friendship. Carol’s dialogue is primarily a series of “no”s, until she finally gets him out of the house by telling that, if he wants cookies, he has to go steal more chocolate. This does two things: gets Sam out her hair, and if he chooses to follow through, ties him more closely to her in her web of secrecy.

Sure enough, the kid does come back with the chocolate, and he asks her to teach her how to bake (this mirrors a scene earlier in the episode with Noah, which we’ll discuss below). She still resists his attempts to engage, but she does seem to warm to him a bit as they work together. He wants to trade secrets with her, telling her that he broke the owl statue his mother was working on, and asks Carol why she stole the guns. Carol tells him that, “sometimes you need to protect yourself,” and he asks if he can have one. He won’t say why, but Carol’s alarm bells go off – she’s pretty sure she knows what monsters Sam needs protection from, and they aren’t outside the walls.

No cookies for you, Pete!

No cookies for you, Pete!

She heads over to the Anderson house. Pete answers the door, and stands in the jam, clearly blocking Carol from looking past or going inside. She asks to speak with Jessie, but he tells Carol that it’s a bad time, and closes the door on her. She goes to speak to Rick, but first lets check out what he was up to while Carol was baking.

Rick has had his own encounter with Pete earlier in the day. He shows up at Rick’s house, drinking a beer and offering one to Rick, who declines. Pete’s obviously inebriated, aggressive, and just an all-round jackwagon. He encourages, in his slurring voice, Rick to bring the kids around for a check-up, and then tells him that, “At Deanna’s party, I saw you.” He pauses here – it’s pretty clear that the elided ending to his comment is “kissing my wife,” but instead he says he saw Rick having a drink. Misery loves company and all that, and Pete seems to think that if he can get Rick drinking in the early daytime as well, maybe they’ll like each other better.

It's beer-o-clock!

It’s beer-o-clock!

He gets right up in Rick’s face, and considering that Rick almost pulled his 9mm on Pete in last week’s episode, he shows a considerable level of control here. Pete says, “Let’s be friends, man. We kinda have to be.” He then walks past and out the door. His entire delivery is at turns slurred and dripping with sarcasm and aggression. Rick is going to have to deal with this guy at some point, and if the lessons learned from the Shane debacle are worth anything, he knows it’s got to be sooner.

This is reaffirmed at the very end of the episode. Although there are several cuts between storylines in the last couple of minutes of the episode, we finish on Carol telling Rick about what she’s learned, finishing by telling Rick that “You’re going to have to kill him.” She’s very matter of fact, and her situation with Ed informs her, but in this world, where trust is such a huge factor in surviving, her words are accurate. There may be other ways around a death sentence, and look for Rick to try to find them (despite his obvious interest in Jessie), because after all, abusive drunk or not, Pete’s the town’s doctor. But don’t be surprised if things go the way Carol is predicting.


Noah’s Arc

This brings us finally to the major storyline of the episode – the hunt for new micro-inverters to repair the solar power array in Alexandria. Four main group members – Glen, Eugene, Tara, and Noah – are along for the ride, along with the douche brothers, Aiden and Nicholas. Before we even know about the run, however, we get a nice quiet moment with Noah in the morning. He’s sitting in a garden, and is joined by Deanna’s husband, Reg. He’s brought Noah some breakfast, and explains he’s a little late because the “power’s out again.” This foreshadows the run, of course, but Noah’s reason for meeting Reg foreshadows what happens on that run as well. He tells Reg that he wants to learn how to build – more walls, houses, other buildings – and he wants Reg to teach him. The music is uplifting, the lighting is beautiful as the sun shines on them, everything is perfect and idyllic. So, of course, Noah has to die.

We go to the storage building, where Noah is offering Eugene a gun. Eugene refuses, and he is very hesitant to go along for the ride, but the group insists, as he knows exactly what they’re looking for better than any of them. Aiden drives up in an early 1980s era van, and as soon as everyone is inside, dub-step starts vibrating its windows and side-panels.

While the dub-step addition could be read as more idiocy on Aiden’s part – and it is pure idiocy to draw attention to yourself when surrounded by walkers – Glen just kind of shakes his head when the music gets turned up, not saying anything to Aiden about the lunacy of playing loud music. Of course, this is a directorial/scripting choice, as the loud music plays a pretty important role later in the episode.

They get to the solar energy warehouse, and Aiden is all gung-ho let’s go in right away, while Glen points out to him that they really need to scout out the building, checking for walkers and potential escape routes. Nicholas makes his first dick-move of the episode, saying “I’ve already got my escape route – right out the front door.” Aiden just laughs along with him – hey, they’re just here for the shits and giggles. However, he does agree to scouting the surroundings – first bright move we’ve seen Aiden make.

Eugene and Tara pair up, and he – for about the umpteenth time – explains to her that he’s a coward, and is averse to violence. She tells him he needs to start pulling his weight, but he figures he has, in getting them to DC. She disagrees, pointing out that they got him to DC, not the other way around. Still, he feels none of them would have had the foresight to head this way, and he thinks that should count for something. Meanwhile, Glen and Noah head to the front of the building. The parking lot is full of shambling walkers, showing again that Nicholas is an idiot.

They meet up again at the back of the building, and head inside. Glen really starts calling the shots here, and Aiden lets him do it – it’s very similar to the Abraham storyline we’ve discussed earlier. As they explore, they can hear a large number of walkers somewhere inside. Fortunately, they find that they’re all locked up inside a chain link cage. Feeling a bit safer, the group separates (always a bad idea), with Eugene and Tara finding the inverters on one side of an aisle, Glen and Noah in another spot, and Aiden with Nicholas in a third. Although they though the building was clear, a walker does approach Aiden. Problem is, he’s armored, so Glen tells Aiden to wait until it’s closer. Aiden still fires away, basically ignoring Glen. When Glen realizes that the walker has a grenade on its front, his warning is too late – Aiden hits the grenade, blowing it and the walker up.

In the aftermath, Tara is down with a grievous head wound, Eugene doing his best to stanch the bleeding. Glen and Noah get up and brush themselves off. Aiden, however, is impaled on a busted pallet, sharp-edged boards protruding from his left shoulder and his lower right abdomen. Nicholas tells Glen that Aiden’s dead, and they need to get out; the blast also opened the cage holding the walkers, and they’re coming to investigate.

I neeeeeeed your love

I neee-ee-eeeed your love

Before they can take off, however, Aiden groans and shakes his head clear – Nicholas just assumed he was dead, but didn’t bother actually checking. Eugene and Tara hole up in an office, while Glen, Noah, and Nicholas go to try to save Aiden. In the office, Eugene is distressed, explaining to the unconscious Tara that she knew who he was, that he can’t change himself. He starts getting worked up, almost as though her silence is reproof. We cut to Eugene coming out of the office in a close shot – at first it looks as though he’s abandoned Tara. However, he starts to shoot walkers, not entirely accurately, but effectively, and we see that Tara is on his left shoulder. He sees the door to the outside, and makes a stumble-run Eugene style for it.

Meanwhile, Glen and Nicholas are trying to pull Aiden off his impalements, while Noah holds off the walkers with well-aimed head shots. Nicholas keeps trying to call off the rescue, but Glen talks him back. Finally, as the walkers close in, Nicholas leans in beside Aiden and says, “You left them. We both did. That’s who we are. I’m sorry…I’m sorry…I’m sorry.” He runs off, leaving the others to fend for themselves. Glen gives it one more try, but can’t dislodge Aiden. Aiden pulls him toward him, telling him,”It was us. They didn’t panic. We did.” The walkers on them, Glen and Noah are forced to leave Aiden and go after Nicholas. Aiden is surrounded, and the walkers start digging into his body as blood comes out his mouth. The shot lingers on him, looking down from above, and the viscera and gore are about as graphic as anything we’ve seen since Terminus.

Don't let go!

Don’t let go!

They chase Nicholas down the hall, following him to the building’s foyer. He runs right through a set of revolving doors, right into the horde of walkers Glen and Noah scouted out earlier. He runs back in, just as Noah and Glen are coming through from the other direction. They stop midway through, Nicholas on one side and Glen with Noah on the other, safe for the moment but with walkers on both sides of them. Things look pretty grim. And then, dub-step.

Yes, dub-step, in the form of the suddenly heroic Eugene driving the van slowly through the parking lot, music blasting out the windows. He yells at the walkers, getting them to move away from the entrance, and pied-piper style leads them off a ways. Glen tells Nicholas that they’ll try to break the glass, so that they can all get out safely while leaving the walkers inside the building.

Group hug

Group hug

Nicholas, however, shows his true colors again. Getting his foot in the door, he forces his way out so that he can get to the van, forcing in turn a gap large enough on Noah and Glen’s side that Noah gets his foot grabbed by the hungry walkers. He’s dragged partially through the door, Glen striving to pull him back but unable to against the combined strength of the horde. Noah looks at him, and says “Don’t let go,” but then does so himself, as he gets dragged through completely.

What follows can only be described as death porn. Noah is torn apart, including a graphic shot of one walkers ripping his cheek through from the mouth, as Glen looks on, only a thin pane of glass between him and Noah. The shot is extended, even longer (at least it seemed so) than the top-down shot of Aiden’s guts being torn out. One walker chews on Noah’s shoulder, another on his ribs, and Noah screams through the whole ordeal. Glen, traumatized, sits there helplessly, alternatively trying to look away and chewing on his own fist as his inability to do anything eats at him.

At the van, Nicholas catches up and tells Eugene to move over, they’re getting out. Eugene looks around and, not seeing Glen or Noah, turns off the engine and steps out. Nicholas tries to take the keys, and Eugene – in a move that shows just how big a step he’s taken here – tries to pull his gun on the coward. Nicholas tackles him to the ground, but before he can leave, Glen shows up, knocking him out with a couple of Abraham-esque blows to the face. We cut from this storyline at this point, although we get one more moment with Glen at the very end of the episode, when they’ve pulled back into Alexandria and we can hear him shouting for help.


Judas Priest

John 8:7

John 8:7

The episode actually begins on Father Gabriel. He’s in his new church, and is looking around, taking it all in. He’s found a priest’s collar somewhere, so symbolically he’s taken a step back from where we saw him a few weeks ago, burning it on the road. But is his step one back toward beatitude and sanctity, or is it back into his cowardly survive-at-all-costs self? We get a hint when he looks over at a bowl of fresh strawberries, a note beside them telling him the town is blessed to have him, and he gets a pained expression on his face. He opens a bible on his lectern. He rips a page out, then a second. Soon, he’s grabbing handfuls, tearing them out and discarding them. Looking skyward, he looks more lost than ever.

We don’t see Gabriel again until the very end of the episode. He knocks at Deanna’s door, and she lets him in. He’s nervous, but tells her that she’s made a terrible mistake in letting Rick’s group into Alexandria. “They’re dangerous” he tells her, and uses a bunch of Satanic imagery to convince her that she’s let the devil in. But who is the devil here? And what door has she let him in by? An argument could be made that Gabriel himself, here, is the devil (the father of lies, after all), and that the door she’s let him in by is her front door, not the Alexandria gates. If Deanna is as good a judge of character as she claims, she should be able to see through Gabriel and realize something else is at work here; after all, he came with Rick’s group as well, and obviously they kept him alive. The mitigating factor here will, of course, be Aiden’s death.

One important thing to note is that Maggie overhears this entire conversation, as she stands around the corner on the staircase. Will she talk to Deanna, or go straight to Rick? I guess we’ll find out next week.


In Conclusion

There are a few important take-aways from this episode. First, we see once again a person becoming hopeful, only to be killed in gruesome fashion. Noah had decided that he wanted to make a life of it at Alexandria, that he’d found a place to belong, so inevitably that all gets torn down (or torn up, in his case). Secondly, and only because he didn’t die, we see a huge character beat for Eugene. He shows heroics worthy of an Abraham or a Carol or a Rick, all the while claiming his own cowardice as some sort of protective badge. Here, actions truly speak louder than words, as he saves Tara (granted, she may not survive her head wound), takes out walkers, acts as bait to try to save Glen and Noah (not to mention Nicholas), and then, when confronted, tries to pull a gun on Nicholas to save his friends. Kudos, Eugene.

The hopeful nature of the beginning of Noah’s arc is echoed by the hopeful direction Abraham took as well. While it isn’t that his character is suddenly hopeful, he does give hope to a bunch of Alexandrians that are used to running away and, most likely, occasionally deserting their own when trouble arises. The fact that he takes power in his area peacefully bodes well initially; it is only when we take that next step of Aiden and then Noah dying, that we get a hint of how much harder a transition is likely to be in the grander scheme of things.

As for Aiden and Nicholas: Aiden’s deathbed confession, combined with giving Glen control of the run, speaks well to Aiden’s potential recuperability, were he to have survived the run. As it stands, he still got himself killed, and others to boot. Nicholas. Wow, just wow. This guy has to go. The fact that Glen didn’t just shoot him on the spot means that we’re in for a tension-filled confrontation next week. Think about it – he’s coming back to tell Deanna that her son is dead and that his best friend is a coward that got Noah killed; not only that, but the whole thing went pear-shaped because of Aiden’s complete ineptitude. She’s not going to take this well. Combine this with Nicholas’s strong sense of self-preservation, and things could get very difficult for Glen in the short-term. You know that Nicholas is going to lie his ass off, and who is Deanna more likely to believe?

The last thing that needs to be addressed is the graphic nature of the deaths tonight. Yes, we’ve seen plenty of gore when it comes to walkers, and when Tyreese died we saw a lot of blood. For that matter, seeing Bob’s leg on the barbecue wasn’t particularly pleasant, either. But here we had two lingering shots on extremely gory deaths, the camera almost stuck in such a way as to make the deaths that much more than they already were. Why? In the case of Aiden, I suspect the choice was to give a little bit of catharsis – we know it was his fault the mission went snafu, and it’s a form of justice that he should die for his mistakes – Hammurabic code and all that, an eye for eye.

What seems more difficult to justify is Noah’s graphic death, which I called death porn above. At the time I watched it, it made me very uncomfortable – it was very similar to the reaction I had watching episode 408 “The Mountain and the Viper” of Game of Thrones last year – I won’t give away any spoilers, other than to say there was a particularly horrific and graphic death that felt almost gratuitous at the time (if you’re interested, my review of the episode is here). I am, however, going to make an attempt at justification. The important thing to note is Glen’s reaction. By having Noah die so graphically, with Glen forced to watch every gory moment, we’re going to have a solid understanding of what I suspect is a new approach from Glen going forward. Yes – I’m suggesting that Noah’s death is in fact to service Glen’s character arc. Truth will tell when we see what happens in Alexandria next week, but I believe that we’re going to see a Glen on edge, a Glen ready to go on the rampage. This will likely distract enough from what Rick may or may not have to do with Pete, that whatever actions taken in that arena will be somewhat mitigated. Either way, things are going down next week. As if Aiden’s death and the other issues aren’t enough, Father Gabriel has ensured that things will hit the boiling point.

Next week, three things are going to bring things to a head: Deanna’s reaction to Aiden’s death; her reaction to Father Gabriel’s “confession”; and Rick’s method of dealing with Pete. These three things can either bring Alexandria down from the inside, or make it stronger if and when Rick’s group takes control. And you have to wonder: will Daryl show up at some crucial moment, and wish he’d taken that gun from Carol?


Cool Stuff

  • The director of tonight’s episode is Jennifer Lynch – David Lynch’s daughter. Her directorial debut was in 1993’sBoxing Helena, otherwise known as the film that bankrupted Kim Basinger.
  • One of the books on the shelf in Deanna’s house is Shaq Uncut – does this mean anything? Probably not – but who wouldn’t love to see Shaq make a cameo as a massive walker? In fact, he’d be a walker, a dribbler, and a dunker.
  • As many of you know, the owl is symbolic of wisdom. Why? It is the symbol of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. Guess Sam’s act of anger shows that there is a distinct lack of wisdom in the Anderson home.

 

Steve’s Grade: A
A strong, well-paced episode that ups the stakes heading into the last two episodes of the season. How will Glen react to events? Deanna? Rick? Great set-up, with hopes for a strong follow-through.

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Comments
  1. dave says:

    ”It was us. They didn’t panic. We did.” I rewound that four times trying to figure out what the heck he said. Thanks for the review! That was the best show this half of the season.

    • I agree – absolutely solid, great pacing, tons of character beats. Noah served a purpose, albeit a gory one, which does answer the question: why Noah? I’m really looking forward to next week!

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