Spoiler Warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “The Walking Dead” season five, episode two, titled “Strangers.”
After the adrenaline rush of last week’s season premiere, “Strangers” gives our newly expanded group some much-needed breathing room, but as Abraham presciently points out during the hour, whenever our survivors get a chance to slow down, “shit inevitably goes down.”
In the aftermath of the escape from Terminus, forgiveness is in the air; Rick and Maggie officially welcome Tara into the group despite her previous association with the Governor — an especially poignant act of grace for Maggie, given what the Governor did to Hershel — and Tyreese insists that the rest of the gang must forgive Carol for her actions back at the prison. Rick also shares another meaningful moment with Carol (during which she finally returns his long-lost watch), telling her that he owes her everything for helping to bring Judith back safely. Carol gives Tyreese most of the credit, but Rick recognizes the lengths she’s gone to for the safety of her companions, simply offering her a “thank you” that contains multitudes.
Tyreese and Carol are reluctant to talk about their experiences on the road — both uttering the same line, “I just need to forget it,” over the course of the episode. In typically monosyllabic fashion, Carol conveys this desire to Daryl, who insists that everyone in the group needs to leave the past in the past and start over. They’re clearly stronger as a united front, and since they’ve all done their share of terrible things in order to survive, there certainly doesn’t seem to be any benefit in keeping score of their misdeeds. The mood among the survivors is about as upbeat as it can get in the episode’s opening minutes, with Sasha and Bob trading kisses and playing a lighthearted game of “Find the Good in the Bad,” which Bob — the eternal optimist — seems particularly adept at.
Just to ensure that none of us missed the hour’s redemptive theme, the survivors soon hear someone desperately screaming for help. While Rick hesitates, clearly content to leave the unlucky stranger to their fate, Carl once again proves to be his father’s moral compass, urging the others to help the victim, who turns out to be a priest by the name of Gabriel.
Gabriel seems an innocuous sort, but after the betrayal at Terminus, Rick is clearly done giving any stranger the benefit of the doubt, treating the priest with unconcealed mistrust (and a fair amount of contempt), and clearly not believing Gabriel for a moment when he tells the group that he’s never killed a human or a walker.
“What have you done? We’ve all done something,” Rick insists, to which Gabriel replies, “I’m a sinner, I sin almost every day. But those sins, I confess them to God, not strangers.” He’s apparently spent the intervening months since the dead rose holed up alone in his church, noting that “people are just as dangerous as the dead.”
“No,” Rick says, “people are worse.”
But does Rick’s contempt spring from a general sense of mistrust, or is he resentful of the Father’s resilient faithfulness in the face of such a hellish world and everything they’ve lost? Rick and Gabriel might be reluctant to trust each other, but given the wolves lurking right outside their door, they’d be wise to give each other the benefit of the doubt, because the devil Rick knows — humanity itself — is far more damaging than the God who has been conspicuous in His absence over the last four seasons.
Rick may be prepared to believe the worst (“once bitten, twice shy” seems a particularly appropriate adage for this show) but Gabriel’s church, at the very least, is real and remarkably untouched, given the hordes of walkers on the loose. Its inner walls are adorned with both cruelly ironic and morally salient Biblical verses, including “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up,” and “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”
While Gabriel protests his innocence and insists he’s kept to himself for all these months, surviving on cans donated for the local food drive, Carl later finds unnerving knife scratches by the door outside and a note carved into the outer wall of the church that ominously reads, “You’ll burn for this.” Perhaps the good Father kept to himself a little too zealously, locking his doors and forsaking his flock instead of offering sanctuary when all hell broke loose?
Rick is eager for Gabriel to prove himself, so drags the holy man along on a scavenging expedition to the local food bank, where a dozen waterlogged zombies wait in a flooded basement — including what’s left of a woman who was apparently close to Gabriel, if the intimate photo in his desk is any indication. Upon seeing her, the priest panics and tries to bolt, requiring the rest of the group to emerge from behind their shield of shelves to save him. This allows Michonne to dispatch one of the sloppy walkers with a whisk in typically spectacular fashion (since her katana was left back at Terminus), while Bob gets dragged underwater by a submerged biter. A little teamwork and some blunt force trauma dispatches the disintegrating zombie and the rest, and the gang makes it out with boxes full of supplies and no fatalities, although Bob seems undeniably shaken by the encounter. On the walk back, Rick asks if Michonne misses her sword, but she admits it wasn’t really hers in the first place. While she concedes that she misses the people they’ve lost — Andrea and Hershel in particular — she doesn’t miss “what was before.”
The episode takes multiple opportunities to challenge the survivors to think about the past and the future — at one point, Bob notes to Rick that he believes Abraham will succeed in getting Eugene to Washington and fixing things, and that they need to think about who they’ll be when that day comes. “We push ourselves to let things go… pretty soon there’s things we can’t get back,” he observes, telling Rick that someday he’ll be back in the real world. Rick insists that this is the real world, but Bob persists, “This is a nightmare, and nightmares end.” How they treat each other, and whether they can continue to trust people in the face of so much betrayal, will help keep them human, unlike the misanthropic Terminans.
It’s a lesson Carl also tries to teach his father this week, after Rick makes his son promise to never let his guard down. “We’re strong enough that we can still help people — we don’t have to be afraid, we don’t have to hide,” Carl says. While Rick has embraced his cynicism after the fall of the prison and the horrors of Terminus, it’s telling that Bob, Glenn, Carl and Tyreese are determined to hold on to their faith in humanity, despite the many horrors that they’ve endured. Bob and Glenn were tied up in front of those troughs last week just the same as Rick was, and yet that encounter has only seemed to strengthen their resolve to save lives and give people the benefit of the doubt. Will this season punish them for their naivete, or reward them for exercising compassion?
While many members of the team are in a forgiving mood this week, Carol is struggling with being forgiven — she continually avoids talking about her time away with Daryl, and near the end of the hour, he catches her preparing a car they found on the road to take off alone again, clearly still not ready to be among a big group again with Lizzie and Mika still weighing on her conscience. Luckily, they’re distracted from Carol’s escape attempt by the sight of a car with a white cross taped on the back window — Daryl believes it’s the same car that disappeared with Beth, and the duo sets off after the mysterious vehicle.
After seeking refuge in the church after a mission well accomplished, Abraham finally makes his pitch to the rest of the group, noting that they’re all survivors, but have the potential to be so much more if they help him take Eugene to Washington: “He will make the dead die and the living will have this world again,” he insists. “Save the world for that little one, save it for yourselves. Save it for the people out there who ain’t got nothing left to do except survive.” As Abraham points out, “surviving” isn’t the same as living, and unlike the meek and helpless Father Gabriel, these people are fully equipped to make a difference — to be heroes. They could stand to save many more lives than just their own, and perhaps Carl, Glenn and Bob’s words of wisdom have finally made an impact on Rick.
The gang looks to their leader for an answer, but it’s Judith’s happy burble that apparently makes the decision: “She’s in. If she’s in, I’m in,” Rick laughs. It’s the right call, and everyone looks happy to have a purpose — all except Bob, who seems subdued, asking Sasha for one more kiss before he slips outside alone and begins to weep. Did that underwater walker take a bite out of him after all? Before we can tell for sure, he’s hit over the head and dragged off — waking up to a worse fate… surrounded by the surviving Terminans, including Gareth and Martin, the guy that Tyreese told Carol he’d killed back at the shack in the premiere after the thug threatened Judith’s life. Oops.
Being Gareth’s captive for a second time is clearly a bad position for Bob to be in, but we discover that it’s even worse than it first appears as Gareth — in typical Bond villain fashion — monologues about his evil plan: “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 that we want to do. They’re things we gotta do. You and your people took away our home. That’s fair play. Now we’re out here like everybody else, trying to survive. And in order to do that, we have to hunt. Didn’t start that way, eating people. It evolved into that, we evolved. We had to. And now, we’ve devolved into hunters. I told you, I said it, you can’t go back, Bob. I just hope you understand that nothing happening to you now is personal. Yeah, you put us in this situation and it’s almost a kind of cosmic justice for it to be you, but we would’ve done this to anybody. And we will. But at the end of the day, no matter how much we hate this ugly business, a man’s gotta eat… If it makes you feel any better, you taste much better than we thought you would.”
It’s a horrifying scene, made all the more chilling by the Terminans’ utter remorselessness, the matter-of-fact way in which Gareth compliments Bob on the way he tastes, and Bob’s complete helplessness as he realizes what’s happened to him, surrounded by strangers cheerily chewing on his flesh. Just to twist the knife, the eerie scene is intercut with the rest of the survivors obliviously celebrating at the church, not noticing his absence. The one silver lining is, if he was indeed bitten at the food bank, at least he stands a good chance of taking the “hunters” down with him when his tasty leg meat infects them too. You might even say it’s cosmic justice.
Do you think Bob was bitten by the underwater walker? What kind of sins do you think Father Gabriel is hiding? Share your predictions and reactions in the comments.