The Walking Dead has never been a show that embraced speed. Every unwieldy season, always broken into two parts so AMC can use its hit show year-round, has shambled around like its titular zombies, eventually granting viewers some satisfaction (the collapse of the farm, the slow downfall of the prison, the demise of the Governor) but only after stalling for as long as possible. So far—and we’re only two episodes in—the show’s fifth season seems much more propulsive, setting up new plots and then moving through them with surprising haste.
Given previous seasons’ pace, one could have expected the showdown at cannibal camp Terminus to last a good six episodes. Instead, the place got burned down within a week. Now, for the first time in years, the central gang is all together with a mission: to get to Washington D.C. so that relatively new recruit Eugene can carry out his stated aim of wiping out the living dead with some kind of pathogen. This show is never better than when it’s on the move. Every time the cast has settled into a homier situation, be it the farm, the prison, or Woodbury, it’s been dramatically stagnant.
Sunday’s episode, “Strangers,” keeps things moving with the introduction of new character Gabriel Stokes (Seth Gilliam), a priest who shrivels in fear at the sight of walkers and has been hiding out in his church. Rick’s interactions with him offer a nice re-settling the group dynamic as everyone gets to know one another again—since the survivors have been splintered for so long, there’s plenty of drama to be wrung from their reunion. Early seasons of The Walking Dead suffered from a lack of dynamic characters, outside of Rick, Michonne, and Daryl, but that’s not the case anymore. I’m particularly fond of this gun-toting badass version of Carol and newfound pacifist Tyreese, an intriguing pair who have re-grown some humanity since leaving Rick’s group.