The Walking Dead: Bloodbaths and Barbecues
Dissecting "Four Walls and a Roof," the third episode of the fifth season
David Sims and Lenika Cruz discuss the latest episode of The Walking Dead.
Sims: I wrote last week that I was heartened by The Walking Dead’s quicker pace so far in this fifth season—rather than bogging our heroes down in the grim cannibal town of Terminus, they busted right out of there and set it on fire. The third episode gave me even more hope in that regard. It looked like Rick and company were going to get picked off by the Terminus survivors—who had already captured poor old Bob and eaten his leg—but the tables quickly turned and an increasingly cold-hearted Rick dispatched them all with ruthless efficiency. The show is clearly building on Rick's final words of the fourth season (“They’re screwing with the wrong people”) and what that means for the show’s evolution.
No longer is the main group a bunch of lost souls searching for sanctuary and running vulnerably into man’s darker impulses, over and over again. They may even have a purpose beyond survival—eradicating the zombies as Eugene claims he can do, or even just pushing back against organized examples of human-on-human tyranny like Terminus. My biggest problem with The Walking Dead over the years is that every season always repeated the same molasses-slow story arc. Are you as optimistic about this new season as I am, Lenika?
Cruz: Now that the show has sustained this newfound momentum for the past three weeks, I feel confident answering: Yes! Seeing the season terminate the Terminus thread in just three episodes has fanned the little spark of optimism I had into a fire as big as the one that razed the cannibals' sanctuary-cum-slaughterhouse. Sure Rick and the gang found asylum in a church, but as you pointed out David, the show has made it clear that the ambulatory group has ditched its naive hope for a permanent safe haven. In this world, shelter is shelter—just “four walls and a roof,” as Maggie points out. Though the show is nowhere near nihilistic (baby Judith surviving is indicator enough), it’s clear that little remains pure.
For all his paralyzing aversion to violence, the weepy Father Gabriel revealed somewhat predictably that he only survived because he left his entire congregation—his "flock"—to be ripped apart outside by walkers. As literally sheltered as Gabriel has been, even Rick and co. have never quite sunk to that level of depravity, as Bob says on his deathbed to Rick: “You took me in. You took people in.” Speaking of Bob, this episode may have been his finest hour; I think that brutal opening scene (“TAINTED MEAT!”) will go down as one of my favorite cold opens of the season. The thoughtful way the show played out his death—not as some cheap tearjerker, but as a way to add some dimension to Sasha and Tyreese—further buoys my optimism for what lies ahead.
Sims: I loved the “tainted meat” scene that led us off, about as much as I loved the closing leg-eating scene from last week’s episode. I’m pretty much always in favor of The Walking Dead embracing its Grand Guignol tendencies, which it is usually not wont to do. Obviously part of the show’s appeal is a realistic approach to the zombie apocalypse nightmare, but once in a while it’s good to have some dark, twisted fun with all the nastiness. I loved how the disturbing image of Gareth munching on Bob’s flesh came with a twist of dark, dark humor. There was something so distressingly but hilariously banal about Gareth’s leg-meal, down to his speech where he called himself a hunter and Bob his prey.
Seth Gilliam, who was the emotional and moral core of The Wire in its final seasons, did great work in the scene where Gabriel confesses his crimes. Two things I loved about that: one, we got it out of him pretty much right away (quick plot movement for the win every time). Two: It was a nice angle on what kind of sin a man of God might have committed in his own eyes, even if, as you noted, he is hardly a monster, simply human. The Walking Dead is so often about humanity’s tendency toward deplorable evil in a consequence-free world. Gabriel’s violation was only of his own moral code, and in turn affirming of his inherent humanity. More of that, please, and I want to see what he can draw out of the other characters if he sticks around. Good on The Walking Dead, by the way, for adding a Wire alum to the cast just as Larry Gilliard Jr. (who played Bob) departs. I’ll miss ya, Bob.
Cruz: The world after the zombie apocalypse may be lawless, but I’d argue it’s not necessarily consequence-free. To be sure, people are far more likely to get away with committing horrific acts and goodness isn’t always rewarded, but in a way The Walking Dead now occupies a space where virtually every action or failure to act can have dire consequences. In other words, what doesn’t kill you (or what you don’t kill) just might hunt you down and eat your leg. In the last episode, Rick warned Carl to never let his guard down, to never assume he’s safe, because vulnerability can kill.
After a legless and sputtering Bob is delivered to the front steps of St. Sarah’s, creepily tagged with a red letter “A,” Rick rallies the strongest fighters of the group to hit back at Terminus. In an utterly unnerving shot, Rick and the gang trudge off into the woods, and the camera holds still—patiently and almost predatorially—for several seconds before Gareth and his henchmen emerge from the trees. The standoff inside the church lasted just long enough to be tense (I loved how the guy Tyreese didn’t quite kill asks Gareth, “Are we done?”). Rick got to deliver some poetic justice when he hacked Gareth to pieces with the red-handled machete, as promised (I think I had some Red Wedding flashbacks).
And so now it seems the show is set to follow two diverging storylines: the group en route to D.C., and the church folks, who I (as a non-comic reader) speculate will likely be involved with figuring out what happened to Beth.
Sims: Yes, diverging plots seems to be the direction things are heading in, which is not unusual territory for The Walking Dead these last few seasons. I’m a little sad considering it was nice to get everyone back together, but the cast is a little unwieldy and watching all the alpha males fight can get a little tiring. What do you make of Abraham and his crew? I think I’m willing to believe anything Michael Cudlitz, who plays Abraham, says because I have a lot of respect for the actor (I loved him on Southland) but there’s a lot of faith to go on there.
The Eugene character is particularly compelling because of his unwavering certainty about everything, but I'm only buying the line he’s selling because he blurts out complicated science-y gibberish from time to time with a completely deadpan expression on his face. Are you more compelled by the trip to D.C. or the group staying behind? And what to make of that final moment with Carol and Daryl emerging from the woods? Was I to take that as a grudging confirmation for fans who are cheering for their romance? I have a lot of friends who were annoyed when Carol and Daryl’s budding relationship was split up through plot circumstance last year.
Cruz: I like Abraham, Eugene, Eugene’s mullet, Rosita, and Tara, but I’m way more invested in their collective survival now that they’ve got Glenn and Maggie in tow. Of course, I’d love nothing more than for them to make it to D.C. and find a cure, or as Eugene calls it, fighting “fire with fire.” But I’ve got a sneaky suspicion The Walking Dead isn’t going to make it that easy to give the world back to the living. Don’t ask why, I just do. I'm also very much in the anti-Daryl and Carol romance camp (I shudder to think what Brangelina-type nickname viewers would give them. Darol? Caryl?).
I’d love to have a bit more backstory for Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita—who they were before, who they lost—because, let’s be honest, only so much character development can come out of the one-on-one conversations The Walking Dead loves so much to fall lazily back on. I agree that the group splitting up now is a crucial move, however sad. Having the entire gang in the same place with no clear antagonist sounds like a recipe for a Season 2 farm-type situation (please, no), but the show also spread itself too thin during the last half of Season 4 trying to follow half a dozen stories. Thankfully, The Walking Dead, however bloody, is no Game of Thrones and so the characters have had immense luck in the past when it comes to happy if improbable reunions.
On a final note, I loved how Tyreese digging Bob’s grave also served as a callback to the time he dug Karen’s grave, reminding viewers of just how much has changed. Back then, at the prison, he attacked the dirt in a wild and desperate rage. Now, he's helped Sasha through her own loss and has completely forgiven Carol for killing Karen. Still haunted by the loss of Lizzie and Mika, he tells Rick of his journey from the prison, “It killed me.” To which Rick, rightly, responds: “No, it didn’t.”