I’m continuously floored by the speed at which The Walking Dead chews through its source material this season. While the show’s second season painfully managed to stretch out a six issue storyline into thirteen episodes, the fifth season has more or less adapted the same amount of issues into three episodes. This probably doesn’t mean much to anyone who hasn’t read the comics, but take it as a good sign. There’s a lot of good stuff coming up, and the show is charging full-speed ahead, forcing Rick and the gang to tackle the Terminus survivors (or as we’ll be calling them in this review, the Hunters.)
Last week we left off with Bob at the mercy of Gareth’s cannibals cooking and eating his severed leg. That’s where we pick up, and dive into what’s sure to be a memorable scene. Before getting captured, Bob wandered off into the woods looking pretty bummed out – to say the least. When Bob interrupts Gareth’s trademark “casual monstrosity” demeanor with hysterical laughing, he reveals that the reason he wandered off was because he had been bitten by a walker. He starts shouting “TAINTED MEAT!” repeatedly as the Hunters gag and vomit in an attempt to reject their ingested Bob-B-Q. Gareth assures them all that they cooked the meat safely, but Bob is still cackling like a manic hyena. The scene served as a quick and heavy intro for the episode.
Gabriel’s secret is satisfyingly resolved early on, and it’s no surprise. He locked the doors to the church so that no one could get in, and his congregation dies cursing his name and screaming as they’re torn apart by walkers. But hey – try, try again. Gabriel let Rick and the group find shelter, faring better than his now undead flock. Bob is left for Gabriel’s new congregation to find outside the church. They learn what Bob knows about the Hunters and where they are, along with the fact that he’s bitten. The big thing to note here though, is the big red “A” the Hunters wrote in blood on the wall. That’s a foreboding message the Hunters are sending that’s never uttered once out loud, but left for the viewers to connect on their own. In the season 4 finale, “A” the group was kept in train car A. By writing the letter on the wall, the Hunters are saying that it doesn’t matter whether Rick and the group are in a train car or a church – they’re still on the menu. This brings so much to the table in terms of the depth of conflict. These Hunters could have been just a passing threat, a random group of aggressors like they were in the comics, or like Joe and his “claimers” were in the last season. The conflict with Terminus set the stage for this showdown, it put blood between them and started an engaging feud.
One of the highlights of the episode for me was a challenging moment between Rick and Abraham. With the Hunters posing a clear threat, Abraham insists on shoving off and getting Eugene out of the church and on his way safely to Washington, D.C. Rick, however, refuses to leave without Carol and Daryl, who have gone missing to pursue Beth. The argument escalates into a truly frightening confrontation. Rick tells Abraham, “You’re not taking the bus.” A few breaths later, Abraham growls, “Try to stop me.” The following pause is a veritable freeze in the fabric of space-time. Complete silence, utter lack of movement, causing a stillness of heart in the viewer. This show has done a phenomenal job of educating us about these characters. We spectate this tense face-off along with the characters, we become one of them. So when Rick finally walks toward a stiffening Abraham, there’s no doubt that a bloody brawl is about to erupt. Thankfully, Glenn gets his first real moment to shine in the season as he gets between them and talks Abraham down. The group comes to a compromise: Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene will stay to help the rest of them against the Hunters, and in the morning, Glenn, Maggie, and Tara will split with their friends who wait for Carol and Daryl, and join the quest to D.C. I’m delighted that the rivalry between Abraham and Rick hasn’t been overplayed. The two men simply have different priorities, and they’re sticking to what they believe in. Their rocky friendship is beautifully illustrated near the end of the episode. When Abraham parts ways, he gives Rick a map of their route to D.C. and at the bottom, he writes, “Sorry I was an asshole. Come to D.C. The new world is gonna need Rick Grimes.”
Tyreese continues to be an intriguing character as well. His no-kill rule is rather inconvenient in a post-apocalyptic setting, but it comes with good reason. He tries to turn Sasha away from the violent revenge he himself was so prone to, and he kept it real. He doesn’t want Sasha to miss her last moments with Bob because she’s so bent on hunting down the Hunters and being there for their collective demise. Tyreese is a character I’ve been enjoying. His comic book counterpart never lived through the prison days, so all of his development is unfolding with no guidelines, no inspiration. It’s completely new territory for the writers.
Rick takes about half of the crew out to find the Hunters at their hideout nearby, and while they’re gone, the Hunters arrive at the church. The Hunters’ entrance into the dark church is beautifully filmed, and Gareth’s relaxed, chilling threats rattle around in your skull as the killers stalk the aisles. Gareth attempts to bargain with them, reason with them, anything to get them to come out instead of making this whole inevitable process such a hassle. Though no one answers, not even Gabriel, easier when the pitfalls of being a baby in the zombie apocalypse become woefully apparent. Judith starts crying, giving away which room the group is hiding in. And before they can shoot the hinges off the doors, a silenced gun neatly spatters the brain juice of two hunters onto the wall. Rick advances beyond the shadows, cornering the Hunters as Abraham, Sasha, and others creep out of the darkness. Gareth’s fingers are shot off, and the Hunters lower their guns. In this moment, I realized I didn’t want to see Gareth go. I did feel a smudge of pity for him. He’s smart, he’s witty, and he has the killer instinct that allows one to survive in this bleary new world. It’s not really worth mentioning that he didn’t start out this way, as he explains to Rick. They still dropped to this level, and as Rick points out, they’re not about to stop. Gareth’s plea to let them go, and subsequent promise to never cross paths again falls flat when Rick takes issue with the fact that the Hunters will just find someone else. “Besides, I already made you a promise,” Rick says, revealing the machete that he told Gareth he’d use to kill him.
And wow did he really kill the hell out of him.
The remaining Hunters are slaughtered. Rick hacks into Gareth’s head with the machete, Abraham pummels another’s face with his rifle, and Sasha stabs Martin in the neck about twenty times. We’re used to this level of graphic violence by now, but the characters seem disturbed afterwards. They’re the good guys, right? They’re fighting to survive. And the bad guys were cannibals. They beat the bad guys and won. So why didn’t it feel like a victory? Maybe it’s because Gareth was a really entertaining character to watch and I’m sad that he’s gone already, but it’s probably more to do with the fact that there’s a bunch of mutilated dead bodies on the floor. This is the first time the group has ever killed other people in cold blood. Yes, if it wasn’t the Hunters, it would have been them. But that doesn’t make anyone feel any better. It’s an unpleasant reminder of the reality of their situation. In order to survive, sometimes they have become something worse than what they want to be. It’s an upsetting similarity to the path the Hunters chose. They became something worse than they wanted to be by killing and eating other human beings, other survivors. The only silver lining they can take away from this scarring ordeal is that they only fight when they’re threatened, and they killed in order to save themselves and others. It’s a harsh compromise.
The falling action of the episode shows Michonne reunited with her sword (YES!) and a farewell to Bob. It’s nice to have as much closure with Bob’s death as we did, it’s a very rare thing. Most beloved characters are ripped away from us in an instant, but we had an entire episode to process Bob’s death. He died among friends and the woman he loves. It’s not a bad way to go. When Bob takes his last breath, Tyreese takes the knife away from Sasha and takes care of him. Though he left a relatively small footprint in the show’s history, Bob will be missed dearly. The group splits again, and I’m upset about that. They just got back together, and now the writers are driving them apart once again. Even worse, Abraham, Rosita, Eugene, Glenn, Maggie, Tara – that’s a combination we’ve already seen from last season. Now these characters are deprived of any shared moments with the group they left behind, and that’s really disappointing. Though, it’s likely that the writers are doing this so that they can continue the path to D.C. while leaving stragglers behind to wrap up the mystery surrounding Beth’s kidnapping next week. Let’s hope everyone gets back together soon.