The Walking Dead, “Strangers”

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The Walking Dead follows up the explosive season premiere with a steady episode centering around uncertainty with strangers, family values, and the consequences of survival.

Rick and the group are back on the road again to tackle the wilderness. In a surprising moment with Carol, Rick shows humility and regret with his decision to send her away, telling her that now they’re coming to join her, rather than letting her come back into the fold. Rick’s simple request, “Will you have us?” is a firm testament that Rick has not lost his sensible leadership in the midst of his brutality. Moving forward, Rick is likely to accept that brutality will be necessary to protect his family. Not just Carl and Judith, but the whole group. He’s done being the farmer, done shirking his responsibility to keep his family safe using whatever means necessary. He tells his son that no matter what, to never believe he is safe.

That seems like an odd thing for a father to say to his son, isn’t it? Wouldn’t Rick want Carl to feel safe? When you think about it, no. He doesn’t want Carl to feel safe, he wants him to survive.

Several characters serve as foils for Rick’s new ideology. Carl knows to follow his father’s wisdom, but also tries to keep Rick from being too cynical. Primarily over the subject of this episode’s new character Father Gabriel Stokes. They come across Gabriel helplessly shrieking as walkers attempt to tear him to pieces, and save him. There’s several moments of tension as the group sizes him up, and tangible fear from Gabriel. It’s disarming to see Rick’s group as the terrifying unknown element that we’re used to seeing from the show’s baddies, but refreshing. Gabriel, in a show of generosity, leads them to his church for shelter. However, Rick is very suspicious of Gabriel, immediately asking “What have you done?” This man has no skills with violence, so Rick believes Gabriel is hiding the truth behind his survival. Considering that the Terminus group was eating people, and Rick’s group has primarily survived by killing when necessary, his suspicion is actually completely reasonable. However, Carl tries to see the best in people and reminds Rick that not everyone has to be hiding some terrible secret. Even so, when Carl finds knife marks and a message carved into the side of the church, “You will burn for this”, he wastes no time showing Rick. Carl may contribute to the heart of the group along with Glenn (if you remember Glenn’s insistence to help the Terminus prisoner) but that doesn’t mean he’s dumb.

Abraham provides another clashing viewpoint. He hasn’t been shy about his mission to escort Eugene to Washington D.C. and end the zombie apocalypse. After a successful supply run, the group has a feast bathed in warm light within the church. Everyone is happier than they’ve been since peaceful life at the prison. Sasha and Bob are cuddled up next to each other, baby Judith feeds a chuckling Rick, and Tara confesses to Maggie that she was part of the Governor’s group and they hug, much to Tara’s relief. It’s the perfect time for Abraham to remind them all that it could be like this all the time. He sees survivors in all of them but if they get to Washington they won’t have to just survive anymore. They could live again. Maybe it’s his reunion with Judith, maybe it’s just everything he’s been through, but Rick lets this spark of hope into his heart and agrees to bring the group with Abraham on the road to D.C. Rick is still the leader, but he’s far from the dictator he was in season 3. He sees that while everyone will ultimately follow his decision, everyone wants to save the world. So now we know where we’re going this season.

A smaller character arc that seemed kind of pointless was Carol and her past deeds. Tyreese assured her that the group is ready to accept her murder of Karen and David. Carol claims she doesn’t need them to, and gives a similar response to Daryl’s unspoken concern. But then she gets a car running and attempts to leave? That doesn’t seem to make sense. Carol just got done putting her life on the line for the only living people in the world she loves. Why would she feel like she still doesn’t belong and try to abandon them? Maybe this was just a scenario to get Daryl and Carol together to see Beth’s captor car fly by and pursue it. Hopefully. It’s time Carol becomes part of the group again, for real. Seeing her with Daryl again is great though. It’s like they’re only their true selves around each other.

One last thing to note before the episode’s thrilling end: this show is FUNNY! Rick’s fist bump with Tara, Gabriel puking, Glenn tripping over a mop and boxes and blaming it on walkers, Abraham’s “we don’t give two short and curlies,” Rick’s “we just want to hold onto our squirrels,” there were a couple of great laughs throughout the hour. It was really important to remind us that these characters are still human and are very close to each other, and can still find ways to stay light in such a heavy world.

And the world they’re in is heavy indeed. Someone is watching the group from the shadows, and it isn’t Morgan, who appeared in the last minutes of “No Sanctuary.” During the supply run, the group took on a ghastly pack of walkers who have been rotting in water for possibly months. The operation is going well, and the group is functioning as a well-oiled zombie killing machine, until Gabriel has a breakdown when he sees a walker he recognizes. In this moment, it’s clear that Gabriel has indeed sinned, and combining this with the scratch marks on the church doors, it’s not hard to figure out that Gabriel’s survival may have been due to selfish cowardice. In the struggle, Bob fights off a horrifying skeletal walker that emerged from the water. It’s the least human looking walker ever featured on the show, much more monster than man. Bob seems to win, but for the rest of the episode, he seems off. After dinner, he kisses Sasha and wanders outside to break down and cry. It’s not confirmed, but again, The Walking Dead doesn’t dumbly pander to its audience. They don’t have to state that Bob got bit for us to know that he’s on his way out.

But while Bob is sobbing, he’s captured by Gareth and the surviving Terminus settlers. Including Martin, the asshole in the hat that Tyreese claimed to have killed. Gareth quickly establishes what kind of antagonistic role he’s going to play for the coming episodes. He explains that what they’re doing isn’t personal. While there is a cosmic justice that they happened to find Bob’s group, they would have done the same thing to anyone. They’re hunters. They’re just doing what they need to survive, no matter how much they may hate it at the end of the day. That’s when Bob looks down, and the camera pulls out to show he’s missing a leg. The episode ends with a grinning Gareth as he and his group gnaws on grilled Bob, and his severed leg cooks on the barbecue.

Rick was right to want to kill everyone at Terminus. “It’s not over until they’re dead.” Now, they’re on the hunt, and if the preview is anything to go by, Bob won’t be the only one on the Hunters’ menu next week.

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