A review of tonight's “The Walking Dead” coming up just as soon as I lead you into a trap so I can steal all your squirrels…
After last week's zombie action extravaganza, “Strangers” is unsurprisingly a much simpler, quieter affair, allowing the production team to catch its breath at the same time the characters are catching theirs. There's still the requisite fight sequence, with Rick's crew of scavengers wading through sludge to kill a bunch of waterlogged walkers, but even that was pretty tension-free until one of them jumped out of the water and nearly killed Bob(*). Father Gabriel freaks out and runs from the female walker he knew before she died, but even there, this seemed a situation where the mission's casualty-free success was a matter of when, not if.
(*) On Thursday, I had only finished watching half of this episode when I had to head into New York to moderate “The Wire” reunion at PaleyFest, which featured not only Lawrence Gilliard Jr., but new “Walking Dead” addition Seth Gilliam. (Whose Herc impression alone makes watching the video of the event worth it.) Before the panel began, I mentioned the basement fight scene to Gilliard and said, “I begin worrying about Bob when he gets too happy and optimistic,” but was glad he turned out okay. He gave me an amused look, because he knew what was still to come in the episode for poor Bob.
And that's okay. The show can't do something like “No Sanctuary” every week, nor should it. After all the explosions and flaming zombies and whatnot, it was time to slow it down and let people talk to each other, and “Strangers” had a lot of strong scenes where that happened. In particular, the pre-credits sequence was terrific, particularly Rick making the gesture of asking Carol if they could all join her group(**). He's still the leader, as discussed frequently later, while Abraham tries to convince everyone to go to Washington, but Carol saved everyone's life, and that deserved some acknowledgment.
(**) One thing about the Rick/Carol discussion: the watch is from the episode where he banishes her from the prison; Rick had given it to the couple they befriended and briefly considered taking in. I completely missed last week – until commenters passed on the explanation from that night's “Talking Dead” – that the male half of the couple (played by Robin Lord Taylor from “Gotham”) was one of the people butchered at Terminus in last week's opening scene. A nice idea for a callback, but Taylor's first appearance had been so long ago (nearly a year in our time), that I know I wasn't the only one who didn't remember him and just assumed he was another red shirt.
And all the talk expanded on last week's debate between Tyreese and Martin about being good guys and bad guys in this scary new world. Carl and Rick debate whether to trust Father Gabriel – whose sin, I'm assuming, involved barricading himself inside the church and not letting other people in during the early days of the apocalypse – and Carl argues not only that not all people they encounter can be bad, but affirms the point I was making last week about how their group is special: both good-hearted and tough enough to protect themselves and others. They are, essentially, superheroes of the post-zombie apocalypse, and now Abraham has convinced them that they can go and save the whole damn world. I remain deeply skeptical about Eugene – and not just because his success would bring an end to this enormously successful show – but it seems like the kind of idea they would be considering now after their latest feat of derring-do.
And any good superhero team needs some supervillains to battle, which is why Gareth and his surviving fellow cannibals are hot on Rick's trail. I'm not especially looking forward to watching them cut up and eat Bob piece by piece – and how in the world was Bob not screaming in unbelievable agony, given that they had only just chopped off his leg and put it in the fire, other than the desire to make that a surprise at the end of the scene? – as it trends too close to the scenario I was dreading at the start of “No Sanctuary.” But Gareth is himself an interesting bad guy for the show: not screaming or mustache-twirling like the Governor (or even Joe and his goons, to an extent), but someone who has had all his humanity stripped away until his current path seems the only sensible one, and with a smug but low-key demeanor that treats all this stuff like just another day at the office.
I like Bob. Gilliard is one of the best actors the show has, and it's a nice emotional contrast for the group to have one vocal optimist in its ranks – Hershel played that role once upon a time, and, come to think of it, he also lost a leg – even if his departure from the party to cry outside suggests that a lot of it is just acting. (That, or alcoholic Bob has a hard time being around communion wine.) If we're heading towards seeing him tortured until he's either dead or had all the joy sucked out of him, that'll feel like an unpleasant waste. But the larger conflict between the two groups seems a good one to stake this season on. Rick is learning to be a good guy again, but how long does that last when he's faced with the kind of badness the Terminus people represent?
Some other thoughts:
* Michonne is not particularly broken up about losing the samurai sword, but I still suspect she will either get the original back (maybe Morgan swung by Terminus while he was tracking Rick?), or find a suitable replacement. The creative team loves showing her wielding that thing too much to leave her permanently sword-less.
* Beth isn't forgotten, and I suppose we'll find out if the car Daryl saw is the exact one that took her, or if there are a bunch of cars with crosses in the rear window driving around these parts.
* Judith is very, very cute. That is all.
* The show has mostly forgotten about the idea of Glenn as the master scavenger who goes places where others fear to tread, even though that was about his only defining character trait pre-Maggie. We get at least a hint of that here when he discovers the three silencers – which will presumably come in very handy as his group goes to war with the cannibals.
* Carol isn't the only member of the group who has previously sinned against the group, as we see both Rick and Maggie – who, more than anyone, has a right to hold a grudge – forgive Tara and welcome her into the family.
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.
With that in mind, what did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com