The Walking Dead Recap: “Strangers” (Season 5, Episode 2)

My copy of last week’s season premiere was missing a crucial post-credits element: a masked man on the tracks follows an X carved into a tree just after Rick and crew pass; he takes off the mask to better see his surroundings, and it’s none other than Morgan. A blast form the past, looking considerably less nuts than last time we saw him. So far in season five, it appears everything’s coming full circle.

In this week’s edition, our newly reunited crew of misfits look on from a “safe” distance as the fire burns at Terminus; billowing smoke fills the sky. From the opening moments, the pacing feels a little off. The cameraman trains his focus on the Good Guys as they walk – always walking – and then slows everything down. While this could be used to indicate the repetiveness, the monotony, of their lives on the road, it’s not terribly effective. Tara’s breasts bounce in slow-mo, and the expression we’ve all come to associate with Rick, his stone-faced, hollow-eyed stare, carries our crew forward through the woods. Exciting it is not.

The opening minutes of the episode feature people talking and not talking; they’re not yet revealing the things hidden beneath the surface. Tara hasn’t told Maggie she was with the Governor at the prison, and it’s eating away at her. Rick admits he shouldn’t have banished Carol “to this,” and now they’re joining her in it. Carol gives a tiny smile and nod at his genuine apology and gratitude. She saved their lives, and her actions have redeemed her…to everyone but herself, it seems.

Tyreese, who now considers Carol an ally and confidante despite what she did to his lover, tells them he’ll talk to the crew and make sure everyone accepts her. “They don’t have to,” says Carol. But Tyreese insists they do have to accept her. Unity is important, understanding and respect even moreso, in the new world. However, he doesn’t want to tell anyone about the girls – about what happened to Lizzie and Mika. “I just need to forget it,” he sighs.

Carol repeats this assertion to Daryl as they stand watch in the night. He’s eyeing her, waiting for her to speak. “I can’t. I just need to forget,” she tells him. Daryl hears something (or feels it), and leaps to his feet to check it out. Even though his skin is crawling, he decides it’s nothing – but a silhouette passes in the darkness.

On the road the next morning, Bob and Sasha play a word game: she names off the hardships of their new lives, and Bob counters with the sunny side of it. “No privacy,” Sasha says with a sly grin, and Bob replies, “A captive audience!” and kisses her. Bob’s constant optimism is getting threadbare, though. He was only a minor part of the last season, but we know from his early behavior – from the way he risked everyone’s lives in order to chug some booze – that he’s no angel despite what he portrays to everybody else.

Jesus can't help you here, bud. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Jesus can’t help you here, bud. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Suddenly, screams for help pour from the woods. The crew follows them at Carl’s insistence and saves a priest, perched on a boulder surrounded by walkers. The last time we caught sight of any religious iconography was before Beth disappeared, and that’s no coincidence. The priest’s name is Gabriel, and he vomits everywhere to show his gratitude. After checking him for weapons (despite Gabriel’s protests that “the word of God is the only protection I need,” to which Daryl murmurs, “Sure didn’t look like it”) Rick asks him the three key questions:

“How many walkers have you killed?” None.
“How many humans have you killed?” None.
“Why?” “Because the Lord abhors violence.”

Gabriel leads them to his church, St. Sarah’s Episcopal, and tells them he’s been living there alone for months. After he gives Rick the key, they enter with weapons raised. Amidst neatly arranged empty cans of food behind the altar (remnants from the church’s annual canned food drive), Gabriel has been keeping house in the house of God, studying his books and writing in journals. On the clapboard walls are hand-drawn pictures of smiling faces, child-like strokes of people burning in hell.

Abraham discovered a shortbus behind the church and implores them all to immediately head toward D.C. Glenn and Tara confirm that they are not splitting up, that whatever Rick decides is what they do. Rick, in turn, decides they’ve got to get food and supplies; Gabriel reluctantly leads them to the only place he hasn’t raided yet. Before he goes, Carl asks why Rick doesn’t trust Gabriel. “Everybody can’t be bad,” he says, and while he may be right, he sounds so naive. Clearly this occurs to Rick, who tells him, “You are not safe no matter what you think.” Carl, in a gentle push against his father’s overbearing (though probably correct) cynicism, tells him they are strong enough to help people, to handle themselves, and not to hide anymore.

Always looking on the bright side, on the supply run Bob tells Rick, “No, this is a nightmare, and nightmares end. I’m callin’ it. Washing’s happening. You’re gonna say yes.” And he continues down the road, smiling his beatific smile. Meanwhile Tara, Glenn, and Maggie scout nearby, discovering three silencers in a mini-fridge. “The number one rule of scavenging,” Glenn tells the ladies, is that “there’s nothing left in this world that isn’t hidden.” Tara, whose face crumbles at his half-humorous adage, is tired of hiding her perceived sin from Maggie.

Gabriel may insist that he confesses his sins to God and not to strangers, but the rest of our band of survivors feel the need to confess to each other. Daryl wants to start over, and Carol says she wants to but she can’t. He drops a 2-liter of water (I think this was an actual blooper; Melissa McBride’s and Norman Reedus’s faces were a little too amused), and Glenn trips over a mop and a pile of boxes. Even as it slows the pace and eases us into the series’ proclivity for a slow burn, the writers insert a few funny moments to lighten the mood.

The slime zombies are a whole new level of gross for TWD. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

The slime zombies are a whole new level of gross for TWD. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

When Rick, Sasha, Bob, and Gabriel arrive at the abandoned store, they approach a massive hole in the floor, into which walkers have stumbled and become trapped. The rainwater, now three feet deep, has accelerated their decay until they look truly like the stuff of nightmares; they are Things from the Black Lagoon, and I don’t even want to think about how they’d smell. (Bob says, “If a sewer could puke this is what it would smell like.”

All four of them jump into the fray, blocking their bodies from the slime monsters with shelves, spraying blue and green goo everywhere as they stab walkers through the face. Gabriel, recognizing a bespectacled walker he knew in life, loses his shit and tries to escape the pit. Rick gets the walker just before she can take out the religious man. One of them grabs Bob from below, but he comes up unharmed with Sasha’s assistance.

Olives, green beans, and nacho cheese: delicious and worth the slime. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Olives, green beans, and nacho cheese: delicious and worth the slime. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

On the way back to St. Sarah’s, wheeling carts full of supplies, Michonne tells Rick she doesn’t really miss the katana (though she still reaches for it automatically). It wasn’t hers in the first place. She says she misses Andrea and Hershel, but she doesn’t miss what was before. This, I think, touches on the reason we find zombie horror so endlessly fascinating. For many of us (myself included), the new world order presents opportunities to prove our worth, to start anew, to overturn the status quo. No more boring desk jobs. No more bills to pay. No more student loan debt. Survival of the fittest, a new brutality. It suits Michonne, as many of us hope it would suit us.

At St. Sarah’s, Carl points out some observations to Rick: deep knife marks outside a window, and a message carved in block letters: YOU’LL BURN FOR THIS. “It doesn’t mean Gabriel’s a bad guy,” Carl says, “but it means something.”

Inside, we have a rare moment of calm and content: by candlelight, Rick & co. eat their newly acquired food, drink the communion wine (“It’s just wine until it’s been blessed,” Gabriel says, taking a resigned swig), and laughing among themselves. Rick tells Gabriel he knows something is amiss; he knows the priest is hiding something. “These people are my family, and if what you’re hiding somehow hurts them in any way, I’ll kill you,” he warns.

Meanwhile, Carol, not much for celebrating, returns to the car she found on the road before – and Daryl has followed, guessing she may be searching for an escape vehicle. She’s started the car, and they’re preparing to head back to the church when another car races by – a white car with a cross in the back window. The same vehicle that took Beth. Daryl smashes the taillights of the dusty green castoff and they hop in to follow.

Abraham stands and announces his wish to make a toast “to survivors.” He then implores everyone to be more than just survivors – to help save the world! Spurred by wine, laughter, coos from Judith, Rick agrees. They’ll all go to Washington, D.C. with Abraham and Eugene. They’ll do their part to put the world back in order. Tara, who’s been hiding something for too long herself, confesses to Maggie that she was part and parcel to Hershel’s death, but that she didn’t know what the Gov was. Maggie forgives her her trespass. Meanwhile, Bob kisses Sasha gently and wanders out back.

His beatific smile, his upbeat games, his constant optimism, are wearing him down. Watching everyone rejoice inside, he privately breaks down, tears spilling from his eyes. He pays for his vulnerability: someone clocks him upside the head, and Bob knows no more, collapsing next to a symbol carved into a tree: a crooked X.

YARK. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

YARK. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

He awakens to a roaring fire, a bleary scene he can’t quite take in. When he focuses his eyes, it’s Gareth, the leader of Terminus, who’s bent down to speak to him, his creepy eyes wide. “We didn’t want to hurt you before. We didn’t want to pull you away from your group or scare you. These aren’t things we want to do, they’re things we gotta do,” Gareth says, a grotesque parody of logic. They took away his home, Gareth says, “and now we’re out here trying to survive like everybody else, and in order to do that we have to hunt.” Knowing what we know about the population of Terminus, this is bloody ominous. “At the end of the day,” Gareth finishes, “no matter how much we all hate this ugly business, a man’s gotta eat.” And then Gareth takes a bite of Bob’s newly missing left leg. It has been amputated above the knee, a bloodied stump in its place.

Bob gazes around the fire, watching people eat his flesh…and it is honestly one of the series’ most horrifying moments. “If it makes you feel any better, you taste much better than we thought you would,” Gareth tells him with a smile, and the camera focuses briefly on a dark-skinned foot roasting on the fire.

We knew the folks of Terminus would be back, and I had a sinking feeling the gent from the shack, the one Tyreese told Carol was dead, would also return to bite us in the end. I just didn’t realize it would be quite like this. After a slow start, the episode definitely ended on a high note. I guess Hershel survived – for awhile – without a leg, but do you think Bob can?

Every season, these characters act in ways of which they are deeply ashamed, ways that come back to haunt them in the end. In this case, Rick is surely going to regret running instead of killing the survivors of Terminus. Tyreese is absolutely going to lament not killing the guy who nearly murdered Judith. Carl may never forgive himself for trusting Gabriel.

And Eugene. Do you think Eugene’s D.C. goose chase will lead to answers, or only more questions? Will it even come to pass, or shall we remain in stasis until the Terminus folk are exterminated? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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