Spoiler Warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “The Walking Dead” season 5, episode 14, titled “Spend.”
The relative peace of Alexandria lasted all of two episodes before “The Walking Dead” claimed its latest victim, sending Noah to the Safe Zone in the sky along with Bob, Beth and Tyreese and further upping the body count in a season that’s already proven particularly deadly for our embattled group. Sadly, as with Tyreese’s untimely end in episode nine, the emotional impact of the moment was blunted by the ubiquity of death in the “Walking Dead” universe, as well as the gruesomeness of Noah’s demise, which forced viewers to focus on Greg Nicotero’s elaborate makeup effects rather than the loss of the character. At this point, the show would have to kill Rick or Daryl to truly surprise me (and if they’re finally going to start killing white dudes again**, we know that Eugene and Abraham are far more expendable).
As the actors later joked on “Talking Dead,” Noah was seemingly doomed from the moment he expressed a hope for the future, asking Deanna’s husband Reg to start training him how to strengthen the walls around Alexandria. The only thing he had time to write in the notebook Reg gave him was a seemingly optimistic line: “This is the beginning,” a phrase that took on an ominous double meaning when juxtaposed with Carol and Rick’s discovery that Jessie’s husband Pete is abusing her (and potentially their son Sam), leading Carol to point out that Rick needs to kill him. Rick has been prepared to take over Alexandria at the expense of the residents from the moment his group set foot in the compound, and between Noah’s senseless death (brought about by Aidan and Nicholas’ carelessness) and Pete’s actions, Alexandria has become a powder keg waiting to explode.
Abraham encountered his own difference in ideology with the Alexandrians when out in the field gathering supplies. He’s been at loose ends since the group arrived at Alexandria, drinking and moping, but once again, the opportunity to inflict violence on a horde of walkers seemed to restore his joie de vivre, and after decapitating a string of zombies like he was Babe Ruth hitting home runs, he got his mojo back and took control of the team. Sadly, because Abraham was stuck with a bunch of Alexandrians that we couldn’t care less about (and because Abraham is a purposefully enigmatic character who tends to internalize his demons instead of allowing the audience to empathize with him), there was nothing engaging about his storyline this week, or the potential peril he and Francine found themselves in as the other workers threatened to abandon her to the walkers. One purpose it did serve was to hammer home just how ill-prepared the Alexandrians are to face the zombie apocalypse — between Aidan and Nicholas’ ineptitude on supply runs and the collective freakout at the building site, it’s clear that Deanna really does need Rick’s group as much as (if not more than) our survivors need Alexandria.
Elsewhere, Father Gabriel finally emerged from the periphery to remind us he’s still on the show — but unluckily for Rick and co. (or, more likely, unluckily for Father Gabriel) he reappeared only to warn Deanna that Rick’s group can’t be trusted… which isn’t entirely inaccurate, given the suspicion that’s been simmering under the surface for the past two weeks among some members of the gang. “The day will come when they’ll put their own lives before yours and everyone else’s, and they’ll destroy everything you have here,” Gabriel warned her, while Maggie lurked on the stairs, eavesdropping. But despite Rick’s itchy trigger finger, I’m more inclined to see Gabriel as the satanic influence trying to cause chaos by disguising himself as “an angel of light,” not Rick; the most convincing lies are those with a grain of truth in them, and Gabriel’s words — designed to convince Deanna that he’s pure and honest — are the spark that could light the powder keg and pit Rick’s group against the Alexandrians, if Deanna falls for them. She seems a little too savvy a poker player to be swept up by such obvious paranoia, but perhaps the loss of one of her sons will shorten her own fuse.
Following two of the most fascinating and well-constructed episodes in “The Walking Dead’s” run so far, “Spend” felt like a regression of sorts — both by returning to the overused well of killing a new and still underutilized character, and by spending much of the hour with part of our group trapped in an enclosed space full of zombies after some easily avoidable mishap, which seems to be the show’s preferred method of thinning the herd of regulars since it happens at least twice a season (it was the same setup for how Bob got bitten, lest we forget).
“TWD” established a new paradigm with Alexandria by actually introducing a refuge full of all-too human survivors (some good, some bad, all flawed, but none with the same Machiavellian leanings as the Governor or the Termites), so I’m currently far more fascinated by the political maneuvering and thorny character dynamics between Rick’s gang and the Alexandrians than in spending extended periods waiting for one of our characters to get ripped to shreds by walkers. I don’t expect the show to abandon its schlocky roots altogether (the series is called “The Walking Dead,” after all), but since the overarching theme of the season post-Terminus seemed to be that humans are a far greater threat than the walkers, that’s the arc I want to delve into, which is why “Remember” and “Forget” felt far more narratively effective, building tension without needing to rely on jump-scares and gore to pack a punch.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
**For the record, I don’t think “The Walking Dead” is racist, as the internet is wont to claim every time the show kills a non-white character — even with Noah, Bob and Tyreese gone, the series still has one of the most diverse casts on TV, and only four of the 13 surviving group members who came to Alexandria are white adult men (and let’s face it, they’re really not about to kill Rick or Daryl). But the fact that the three out of the four regulars killed this season have been black men certainly isn’t a great visual, so I understand the criticism and think the show needs to be less trigger-happy in general, but also more cognizant of the optics they’re presenting. What say you?