[This is a review of The Walking Dead season 5, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]

After the wall-to-wall action of last week’s premiere, The Walking Dead begins to settle back into a slower pace, and a more routine storyline about distrust, secrets, and whether or not Rick & Co. have an obligation to help those in need, with ‘Strangers’. The more deliberate pacing means that the characters have an opportunity to talk with one another, which can sometimes spell trouble, since they have a tendency to use conversation to tell the audience precisely what they’re thinking. Rick’s speech to Carl about never being safe and Carl’s response about being strong enough to help is indicative of the show’s propensity to do that, and the whole thing feels derivative of seasons past.

But there’s some good in there, too, as Rick and Carol have a brief exchange that examines their troubled relationship. His attempt at a thank you and an apology comes across as both genuine and difficult, and it suggests Rick has undergone yet another change wherein he is more willing to accept the morally gray areas certain people are bound to walk in, rather than his strict one-strike-and-you’re-out policy that led to Carol’s temporary exile.

The episode even makes good use of the characters’ personalities (changed and otherwise) by giving Carol and Daryl a chance at a conversation that uses as few words as possible. Like Rick’s previous exchange with her, it manages to say something about these people without devolving into a discussion about the state of the world. Even though Daryl’s concern is about rebooting the group, or finding some way to start over, the matter-of-factness of it reads as genuine coming from his mouth.

But it also works to contrast how their individual experiences have shaped them, put them in roles familiar to one another. Carol is now the badass loner who yearns to leave the group behind, while Daryl has accepted the others as something more than a group of fellow survivors; they’re family. Of course, Carol’s reluctance to family-up again stems from the secrets she’s keeping from the rest of the group – both with and from Tyreese. No one has directly addressed the missing girls and it’s safe to say that, by now, they’ve learned to assume the worst without having to get direct confirmation. Tyreese seems willing to shoulder the burden of the secret, primarily as a means of self-preservation. Both those examples say more about the world they live in than Rick’s speech to his son.

Seth Gilliam in The Walking Dead Season 5 Episode 2 The Walking Dead: A Toast To Survivors

But Tyreese’s silence, along with Rick’s apology isn’t enough to keep Carol from feeling like she belongs elsewhere. And it’s a testament to the development of Carol’s character that she’s grown from a woman who suffered abuse at the hands of her husband to someone who not only believes she can survive, but survive better on her own. While it plays into the semi-detrimental ethos of the show, it’s nice to see a woman (and a woman who has endured what Carol has endured) live in that philosophy for a while.

But Carol’s desire to leave also gives her and Daryl a welcome opportunity to embark on an adventure together, after they spot the car that grabbed Beth. Frankly, Beth’s kidnapping feels like it happened eons ago, to the point it could have been accepted as the character’s creepy, ambiguous fate. To have it pop up again here gives audiences a nice idea of the timeline, making the events at Terminus feel even more swift and disorienting than they already had.

That’s one of two cliffhangers ‘Strangers’ ends on, the other being the arrival of the Terminus survivors and their capture and consumption of Bob. That character had been so gleefully in love with Sasha throughout the episode that he’d sealed his fate – to such a degree that he may as well have been telling the others he only had three days until retirement. Which may actually prove true, since his tearful exit from the church all but confirmed he’d been infected during the crew’s raid on the food bank and battle against the waterlogged walkers.

The silliness of watching Terminus’ efficiency expert munch on some Bob-e-que and tell him how he tastes is such a dramatic tonal shift from the heavy-handed tackiness of a priest (played by Seth Gilliam of The Wire) with secrets and sins he only confesses to God, the notion of cannibalism and the visceral repugnance of a man’s leg cooking over a fire very nearly becomes the preferred center of attention. But it demonstrates the two speeds the show is most comfortable traveling in, so perhaps the most dramatic shift in tone belongs to the one that took place between the season premiere and ‘Strangers’.

The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with ‘Four Walls and a Roof’ @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:

Photos: Gene Page/AMC

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