At its best, The Walking Dead is an engaging ensemble cast drama that balances deeply relatable characters between fragile hope and overwhelming despair in a struggle for survival. Over the past three years the show has lost sight of that from time to time. As we approach the mid-season finale, a wonderful balance is reintroduced in “Crossed”. Instead of spending this episode focusing on one splinter of the group, the narrative switches between all four: 1) Rick, Daryl, Tyreese, and Sasha take Noah on their quest to retrieve Beth and Carol from the hospital 2) Beth strives to find a way to save Carol’s life in the hospital 3) Team GREATM, coined by Tara, scavenge for resources while waiting for Eugene to recover 4) Carl and Michonne hold down the church with Gabriel. That’s a lot of different things happening at once, and the hour juggles each one without a missed beat.
Team Rick returns to Atlanta to stake out the Grady Hospital, and while forming their plan everyone is feeling kind of uncomfortable with Rick’s (warranted) brutality. He wants to get in and out without a struggle, and that may include deadly force, as Tyreese worries. Tyreese’s abstinence from human v. human violence is almost as annoying as Gabriel’s panicky cowardice (we’ll get to that) but in this situation it’s probably a good thing. Which is why Daryl sides with Tyreese. Two of their people are inside that hospital and any escalation of conflict could put Beth and Carol in danger. For Daryl the mission is undoubtedly personal. Both Beth and Carol were traveling with Daryl when they were captured by the Grady workers, so there could very well be an element of guilt driving him. In any case, they want to make sure this operation is smooth and fast.
Well, it’s not. When is it ever? (Setting fire to Terminus, but Carol is unconscious at the moment.) Rick and the group capture two Grady cops, good ones, as Noah claims. They see reason and put down their guns, allowing themselves to be tied up. The plan is to make an exchange – two of theirs for two of ours. I’ll refer to the one as Good Cop and the other cops as cops, because they don’t really matter too much. Good Cop claims that he knows Dawn, the leader of the hospital, and that the plan won’t work. She’s a shrewd, power-hungry tyrant, and she already hates the few cops Rick has in custody. Good Cop tries to get them to realize that they are not valuable hostages, and that if they go forward with the plan they’ll all die. Rick agrees to let Good Cop help him come up with a plan that will work, because all he wants is for no one to die, and to go to bed peacefully that night. Meanwhile, Sasha deals with Bob’s death in a way that still seems like a huge overreaction. Like yes, it’s sad that Bob died, but? Not to be harsh – get over it, Sasha. The two of them weren’t an item for a very long time in the show, not even a full season. Sasha should be sad about it, devastated even, but to be on such a rage-fueled, blood-thirsty violence quest? Chill out. Beth said it best when she lost her boyfriend in the season 4 premiere. No use destroying yourself over it, because it’s just what happens now. People come and go. Be thankful for the time you get. After the group heads out to approach Grady, Sasha learns Good Cop’s name is Bob, and that makes her vulnerable to what happens at the end of the episode. Good Cop Bob says there was a walker outside in the street that he recognized and told a sob story over it, and Sasha offered to use her rifle to put it to rest. While she is aiming, Good Cop Bob bashes her head into the window and runs away, probably heading to ruin Rick’s plan.
Switching to the Washington D.C. road crew, Eugene is still unconscious, Abraham is still on his knees, and Maggie, Glenn, Tara, and Rosita are trying to figure out what to do about fresh water. Maggie stays behind to take care of Eugene and try to talk Abraham out of his stupor. Glenn, Tara, and Rosita hunt for water. Either subplot could easily be boring, but thanks to heartwarming humor moments between characters, these scenes are really interesting to watch. Between all the gritty drama, moments of human levity are necessary for getting us attached to the characters. Before this episode, the thought of Tara dying in the next episode didn’t scare me. Now, it does. Because I like Tara. It’s all about building the relationship between the audience and the characters. Maggie confronts Abraham about his weak-willed desire for death, and Abraham realizes he doesn’t actually want to die. He finally takes a bottle of water, and that’s the moment Eugene wakes up. When the other three return with water and a new team name, Team GREATM (Glenn, Rosita, Eugene, Abraham, Tara, Maggie) there’s a unique sense of unity between these characters and the rest. Super ironic seeing as they’re the group that has had the most extreme internal conflict. The family that fights together stays together it seems.
Back at the church, Gabriel is acting weirder than usual. Carl tries to get him to learn how to fight and Gabriel reluctantly takes a machete as his weapon of choice. He then locks himself in his room and pries up the floorboards to escape without being noticed. Is he that scared of violence that he wants to separate himself from the protection of a tough-as-nails survival group and run into a world of death? Man of God or not, he’s a fool to rush into the arms of danger. He proves that he cannot even bring himself to crush a zombie’s head with a rock when he sees a cross around its neck. He’s incapable of realizing, it seems, that zombies do not have religious beliefs. That daughter of God is dead now, and what remains is not a human life. Gabriel needs to get over it or get dead soon.
Lastly, Beth faces the prospect of Carol’s death when Dawn is pressured by the other Grady workers to stop wasting resources on her. While Dawn allows Carol’s machines to be turned off, she secretly gives Beth the key to the drug cabinet and lets her treat Carol. She actually explicitly tells Beth to save Carol’s life. This seems like it would contradict what we know about Dawn. We know we hate her. Now, we don’t know what to think. Dr. Edwards warns Beth that Dawn is playing some kind of game and did not give Beth the key out of the kindness of her heart. Whatever motivations lay beneath Carol, Dawn, and Edwards, it sure is setting the stage for an interesting showdown in the mid-season finale as Rick comes a knockin’.
Some final thoughts: The zombie action in this episode was great. Daryl used a zombie’s head as a weapon. He poked it in its eyes and swung it like a bowling ball. And at this point, I feel like no one even remembers Maggie and Beth are sisters. That’s really, really disappointing. Why hasn’t Maggie been looking for Beth with Daryl? Why hasn’t she even MENTIONED Beth’s name? Why are the writers overlooking their relationship and pretending it doesn’t exist? It doesn’t make any sense. And if Beth bites the dust in the mid-season finale I’m going to be pretty pissed.