8.8

The Walking Dead Review: “Strangers”

(Episode 5.02)

TV Reviews The Walking Dead
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<i>The Walking Dead</i> Review: &#8220;Strangers&#8221;

Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters.

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Josh,

EMO HIPSTER DOUCHE IS BACK AND HE EATS PEOPLE!

Well, I guess we know the secret of Terminus now. Beyond the weird symbology, and candles, and capturing people in cattle cars, anyway; they’re all cannibals. Somewhere along the line, after they escaped the bad dudes who basically tortured and terrorized them—and realized they needed to chuck the idealism and become fierce, armed lunatics—dining on human flesh got thrown into the mix. Which is fair enough, I guess—a lot of religions on earth have some strange bylaws that don’t necessarily make sense in the context of the broader mission, so why wouldn’t a post-apocalyptic group of wackos fetishize cannibalism?

I can already tell this is the main thing everyone will be talking about, and the funny thing there is it all went down in the final two minutes of last night’s episode, “Strangers.” Before that, we were introduced to Father Gabriel, a priest with dark secrets, which don’t include murdering zombies or humans. He’s played by Seth Gilliam, aka Ellis Carver from The Wire, and his appearance on screen should have been our first clue that somebody was either about to die, or get seriously messed up. You can’t have three Wire alums functioning at the same time, Josh! Carver is on the scene now, and Cutty is too valuable and badass, so D’Angelo Barksdale, poor bastard, has to go. Or at least his leg has to go. For now. Further body parts to be negotiated next week.

And there we are again, back at the emo hipster douche cannibal. I would sum up his little monologue like so: “It’s nothing personal, except you can tell by my smug tone that it’s super personal, and I really enjoy this, and if you delivered me a truck full of baked venison, I’d still choose to dine on your testicles.”

Sorry for that imagery. But he seems like the kind of dude who would eat those, right? Am I going too far? My computer died earlier today, Josh, and my whole world is out of order. I don’t want to get too far off track here, since my wife is yelling at me to get off her Macbook Air, but I’m worried about my overall funk this afternoon. All my data is backed up, so it’s not a big deal—but why am I so depressed? Are we so screwed up by technology that my computer has become like a beloved pet? Am I in some kind of personal Walking Dead-like apocalypse until I get a new computer? Would I start eating a stranger’s leg if I had to go without Internet for a week? The implications are too much for me, which is why you got that odd little tangent above.

Focusing up: What is Father Gabriel’s secret? Is “you’ll burn for this” just the angry last threat of a dying man he wouldn’t let into the sanctuary of the church because he was too scared of the zombies? Or does it go deeper? Why is Carol running errands in the dark… or was she planning to drive off? Are the people who kidnapped Beth on some kind of permanent, drunken joyride where they just drive really fast at night, with no particular aim?

And most of all—what the hell did Abraham Ford mean when he told Rosita they were just “waiting for their chance”? Have they pulled the wool this whole time? Are they faking this whole DC salvation trip for some ulterior motive? Do you agree that Eugene seems less and less competent all the time, to the point where he’s now essentially an idiot?

These are my questions Josh, and as I head to the other room to make a little shrine for my computer, along with a list of human body parts from “tasty” to “really tasty,” I know I can turn to you for answers. Please don’t keep me waiting… my sanity is holding on by a thin thread, and just when I thought I might be able to make it through the night, emo hipster douche had to show up and send me into a dark spiral.

—Shane

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Shane,

Thank you for not simply opening your first salvo with, “Ha, Josh! I was right about the emo hipster douche still being alive! I was right that Tyreese didn’t kill the football-watching bro! You were wrong about both, Josh! What else have I trusted you on?!? Is that even Judith, or did they just find some other random baby in a post-apocalyptic switched at birth?”

Okay, I was wrong. Like, really wrong. Rick should have gone back and finished the job. They don’t get to live, Shane! They ate Bob’s leg!

And I shouldn’t have missed that there was more drama to come from Gareth. The TV show had veered far enough away from the comic that I didn’t think to equate the Terminus gang with a group Rick comes across in the comics. There are always enough twists in the show so that you don’t know who will die next, but throughout this episode, I kept thinking, the cast is getting really big. Somebody is about to get their goodbye episode on The Talking Dead. Now that Bob is Kabob, comics readers know what’s coming next, and there were plenty of clues dropped tonight.

Just as surprising to me, though, was how deftly the issue of redemption was handled. Robert Kirkman wrote the episode and could have easily been heavy-handed with scenes set in a church. But that “We’ve all done things,” idea was addressed without melodrama throughout. Tara tells Maggie that she was with the Governor when they attacked the prison and killed Herschel. Maggie forgives her with a hug: “You’re with us now.” Rick absolves Carol for her actions at the prison, but she has a tougher time accepting forgiveness or letting go of the past. Daryl tells her it’s time for a fresh start, but it looks like she’s ready to run off on her own again. And then there’s Father Gabriel. He may have asked God for forgiveness, but he’s not willing to confess his sins to man, and so they’re still eating away at him. He’s yet to be redeemed.

To answer your questions, I think Abraham was looking to find some vehicles, and steal the group away from Rick. But his rousing speech at the church—great rhetorical device to get them to toast themselves for being survivors before asking “Is that all you are?”—made a secession from the union unnecessary. Time to march on the capital, and put the future of humanity into the hands of… Eugene! And yes, I think Beth’s kidnapper is Matthew McConaughey’s character from Dazed and Confused, picking up chicks, speeding down the road, getting high, listening to some Zeppelin and maybe stopping for a burger at the Drive-In. Or, at least a leg at the campfire. Alright, alright, alright.

Also, I know you’ve never been particularly pro-Carl. How would you rate Rick’s “Never let your guard down” pep talk vs. Carl’s “We’re strong enough to help those who aren’t” response? Now that we know Tyreese has secretly pardoned the would be baby-killer, and that Bob is on the menu, there’s a job opening for Keeper of the Moral Compass. Could that be Carl going forward?

—Josh

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Josh,

Somehow, I missed that the baby-killer was still alive. I looked again and saw him among the cannibals in the final scene, and I guess I was too addled by the appearance of EHDtC (emo hipster douche the cannibal, whose actual name I refuse to type) to even notice. But rest assured that if I had, I would’ve rubbed it in at some point during that first email. I KNEW IT, JOSH! I’M SUCH AN AWESOME TV WATCHER! I’M GOING TO COME DOWN TO ATLANTA TO BRAG IN PERSON! AND ALSO TO STEAL ONE OF PASTE’S COMPUTERS!

Since I’m on a roll here, here’s one more prediction: After they got all the canned food from that repository, I thought for sure that Bob got secretly bit by that one zombie underwater. I thought the show was broadcasting it the entire time, from his immediate response (“are you okay?” “I am now”) to the party scene in the church, where he asked (a little melodramatically?) for one more kiss from Sasha before he went outside and broke down crying, just before he was clocked by EHDtC and his merry band of people-eaters. I kept telling anyone who would listen (my wife, who wasn’t listening) that he was zombie-bit, I knew it, and was just trying to enjoy his last night among people before he went outside and offed himself. So I’m going to stick with that prediction—why else was he breaking down?

Back to your point, though, I love the way the show is exploring the ambiguity of different worldviews this season. Last week, even though I agreed with Rick, that they should go finish the job and take down the remaining Terminites, it was hard not to get on board with the popular feeling among the others that they’d done what they set out to do, and anything else would be overkill. They were wrong, at least in terms of practical outcomes, but Rick’s instinct to kill can still be seen as “wrong” in some way. This week, the dynamic between Rick and Carl explores that theme even further—when they heard Father Gabriel screaming for help, Carl’s first instinct was to rush in and help, while Rick’s face betrayed the fact that his first thought was “trap!” Again, the practical outcome favored one side (Carl), but that doesn’t mean the other side was wrong. That little battle carried through their conversation, with Rick telling him to always expect the worst and keep his guard up, and Carl arguing that they can still help people, and don’t have to completely descend into selfish survival mode. As usual, the show implies that there’s an ideal middle way that, though nobody will ever reach, the perfect survivor will always strive for.

We saw it again with Maggie—she correctly judged that there’s really no reason to hate or punish Tara at this point, the prison being water under the bridge, so she forgave her. We’ll see if the rest of the group responds in a similar way when the secret gets out, but I get the feeling that was the show’s way of dealing with Tara’s past, and being done with it.

So, as we head to next week, what do you think will happen with Daryl & Carol (which is a spinoff I’d love to see)? The “scenes from next week” gave away the fact that they’re split off from the group for the time being, so is this going to turn into a Smokey & The Bandit road caper? I’d love that. Also, is Bob doomed, or is he going to be the next Hershel, limping around and dispensing advice? Finally, I’d like to put you on the spot and ask this: If you HAD to eat five people on The Walking Dead, and there was no way around it, who would you pick and why?

—Shane

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Shane,

The Daryl and Carol dynamic is one that I’ve missed seeing on the show. A spinoff would be fun, but I’d settle for a whole, uninterrupted episode, even if it means saving Beth. It seems like so long ago that Carol helped Daryl reclaim his own humanity, teaching him to trust others, and depend on others, and drop the whole lone wolf charade.

Last week the character development was all action, but this week slowed down for reconciliation and reflection, while still giving us a dank basement full of walkers. Rick and Carol’s moment was particularly satisfying.

And Michonne! How have we not talked about Michonne? Just as I was starting to lament Michonne’s loss of the katana (I loved seeing her reach for it and give that wistful smile), she reminds Rick that she’s no longer just a killing machine. She misses her friends, not the sword. And she’ll always be a badass—even with an egg beater!

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So you’re suggesting Bob got bit? Would that make Bob’s burgers infected? Maybe Gareth should have stuck with the veggie option. I just wish they’d cast Idris Elba as the Terminus leader. “Where’s my leg at, Gareth? Where’s my leg? That’s all I want to know. Where the f@%$ is my leg, String—I mean Gareth?”

If pressed, I’d like to think I’d just let myself die, but I’m pretty cranky when I’m hungry so, since you asked, here’s who I’d eat:

5. Tyreese – He could feed my whole team for weeks. If Gareth had taken him instead, Tyreese would have only lost half a leg. No need to cook the whole thing for one meal.

4. Eugene – I’d want some good fat in the muscle. And I wouldn’t have to hear him talk about his crack team of scientists saving the world.

3. Beth – If we just needed to sacrifice the least useful team member.

2. Judith – JUST KIDDING! DON’T SEND ME HATE MAIL.

1. Bob – Sorry, but Gareth just made him look so tasty.

By the way, last night I tweeted, “I think someone finally found a situation that Bob couldn’t find a bright side for.” @spiderstumbled offered this response: “Handicapped Parking Decal.”

Please don’t die Daryl Dixon,
Josh

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Follow Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson on Twitter.