A review of tonight's “The Walking Dead” coming up just as soon as I send a fax to Cleveland…
AMC turned off the screener tap earlier than usual with this half-season, since ordinarily it's only the finales that critics don't get to see in advance. I wonder if here, someone was afraid that Noah's death would get spoiled. If so, “Spend” itself did a pretty good job of telegraphing that up front, as any character – particularly one who's still a guest star – who starts talking about long-term planning instantly turns into the cop who's a few days from retiring to sail around on his boat, the Live-4-Ever.
That said, the manner of Noah's death – and Aidan's, for that matter – was so prolonged and gory that it made up for pure visceral horror what it may have lacked in actual surprise. The whole warehouse sequence almost played out as if the show requires a certain balance between home and away. If the characters are going to live in increasing comfort – and boy, did it feel strange to cut from the warehouse fiasco to Carol wandering through her spotless new suburban home – then perhaps the way that people die has to become even more graphic and awful to compensate. The mess in the revolving door was already a fine arrangement for suspense – once Eugene lured away the walkers on the outside, you knew that someone was going to be chow for the walkers on the inside – and Glenn having to sit there and watch it was among the show's more harrowing sequences in a while.
On the whole, though, “Spend” felt uneven because it was trying to attend to a whole lot of characters and stories that had been underfed for a while. When Deanna wondered why crazy Father Gabriel hadn't come to her sooner with his objections to Rick's group, for instance, all I could think of was how little time Seth Gilliam has even been on-camera in these 2015 episodes. For this betrayal to be surprising, or even interesting, would first require him to have had at least one meaningful interaction with anyone in the group in recent memory, and he's barely been an afterthought until tonight. Abraham struggling to let go of his demons in peace time – and finally finding himself again in the heat of combat – played better because the show hadn't quite forgotten Michael Cudlitz exists, but even Eugene finding his reserves of courage to protect Tara suffered from how little he's had to do or say since Abraham nearly beat him to death.
Compare those people to, say, Carol, who has remained prominent throughout this season and had many opportunities to remind us of who she used to be, which made her realization that Pete is beating his wife (and possibly his son) all the more powerful. It's a big cast to deal with, especially when there has to be room for at least one or two zombie set pieces per episode, but “Spend” was a reminder of which characters the show has always treated as important (Rick, Carol, Glenn) and which ones are brought to the forefront only when convenient.
If not all the individual character beats worked, though, the episode's events at least should be bringing things to a head with the Alexandria leadership. Deanna will have to deal with a personal loss, Nicholas will likely tell a very different story about what happened than Glenn and Eugene will, and now Rick has to deal with a domestic violence scenario that often confounded lawmen even in the days gone bye. I expected things to turn sour between Rick's group and the pre-existing Alexandrians; I just didn't expect it to happen this soon, and I hope the show isn't going to abandon the setting so quickly. There remain various narrative bumps to be worked out, but the set-up on the whole is vastly more interesting than anything the creative team has tried in quite some time.
Before we go to the comments, it's time once again to explain how this blog's No Spoiler rule applies to this show:
1. No talking about the previews for the next episode.
2. No talking about anything else you know about upcoming episodes from other sources – and, yes, that includes anything Gimple and Kirkman have said in interviews.
3. No talking about anything that's happened in the comic that hasn't happened in the TV show yet. (Or anything that's been revealed, like character backstory and motivation.) As with “Game of Thrones,” the goal is to treat “The Walking Dead” TV show as exactly that, and not as an excuse for endless comparisons with the comics. If you want to talk about the comics, feel free to start up a discussion thread on our message boards.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org