[This is a review of The Walking Dead season 5, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS]
What immediately stands out about The Walking Dead in season 5 is the swiftness and purpose of its storytelling. Sure, outside of Abraham trucking off to Washington, D.C., there’s not much of an overlying story that goes much beyond the concept of survive, rinse, repeat, but it’s not exactly lingering on any one spot for too long either. This season, the characters have been quick to deal with threats and by doing so has given the show an unexpected sense of vitality that sheds a new light on Rick and the other survivors’ penchant for brutality.
That doesn’t mean pit stops like Father Gabriel’s relatively untouched church or even the season 4-season 5 bridge of Terminus don’t still send a chill up viewers’ spines at the thought of having to grind through another series of episodes as everyone tries to make the first viable shelter a new home. But so far that hasn’t happened. If the premiere, and now ‘Four Walls and a Roof’, are any indication, the fifth season is all about keeping things moving.
After the promise of Terminus was proven false at the end of season 4 and its threat effectively neutralized just two episodes ago, it seems Rick & Co. have resigned themselves (at least temporarily) to the idea that near constant motion equals survival. But it’s not fear that keeps them on the move; the group has become such an efficient and deadly force, capable of tearing down a threat as big and as organized as the Terminans in the span of a television hour. It’s a level of efficiency mirroring that of their enemy that also makes people like Rick seemingly impervious to the concept of humanity – especially when he’s dealing with other humans.
Thankfully, not all humans, though, as we learn when Bob spends the hour slowly dying, but not before giving Gareth and his fellow cannibals reason to seek a refund on that leg they’d been enjoying over an open fire. “Tainted meat!” Bob yells at his captors in a way that helps make up for the unintentionally hilarious way the scenario played out at the end of ‘Strangers‘. But upon Bob’s return, the writers manage to demonstrate how the characters have grown along with the show. Rick, Sasha, and especially Bob take his situation with a kind of quiet resignation that’s neither reactionary nor indifferent. Life is more precious than ever and sometimes death matters, even if the walkers have largely redefined its sting and significance.
In that sense, it can be hard for a show like The Walking Dead to place the proper kind of weight in a character’s demise. Despite what the producers have recently said, the show does feel like “the character death show” most of the time. And the inevitability of that has an effect of the way these moments are perceived and especially how they’re valued. Still, ‘Four Walls and a Roof’ manages to find a few angles worth exploring on that front by having Tyreese step in for his sister when it comes time to make sure Bob doesn’t come back, and in the way the show treats the Terminans after they’ve been dealt with. One glimpse at Gareth’s mutilated corpse and it’s clear that Rick (and a few others) have become butchers in their own right.
Rick hasn’t lost his humanity, at least not yet. He’s still fiercely loyal to members of his cohort. So much so that he’s willing to fight Abraham to keep him from heading out before the situation can be resolved. Although the segment teeters on the brink of becoming something too familiar, thanks to Glenn, it never does. What’s more, it at least fuels the reason behind splitting the group in two at the end.
While dividing the characters makes some sense from a storytelling standpoint – there’s just not enough space in any given scene to afford everyone a chance at having an impact – there are concerns over how The Walking Dead handles smaller character stories. Perhaps keeping it in two tight-knit groups of those heading to D.C. and the others searching for Beth – and dealing with whatever else Daryl brought back with him – will manage to yield a few surprises, like this episode did.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with ‘Slabtown’ @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Gene Page/AMC
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