“That,” of course, was the smoke from the illusion that was Sanctuary, left burning in their wake. For Maggie (Lauren Cohan) & Glenn (Steven Yeun), “this” was canoodling, the classic biological fallback survival instinct (it’s a thing – look it up). For non-breeder, Tara (Alanna Masterson), that wasn’t an option; so “this” was settling for a fist-pound of acceptance from Rick (Andrew Lincoln). At first, anyway; “this” eventually meaning closure, of a more personal variety, that she could only get from Maggie. For Ford (Michael Cudlitz) & Rosita (Christian Serratos), “this” meant acknowledging the need to bide their time, regarding the Washington mission. For Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), “this” meant addressing coming clean, about the events back at the prison, and on the road. For Carol (Melissa McBride), however, “this” meant keeping her two worlds – that of the team player, and that of the road warrior – as far apart as possible. Rick only complicated matters. He was more than grateful for her help, he acknowledged having come around to her way of things. He didn’t just want her forgiveness, for casting her into the wild, he wanted her permission to join her there. That might have been a bit much for her to process, all at once. Carol had just come off the stellar run of her tenure. The possibility of this amounting to a severance package left me a bit uneasy, and total absolution didn’t help.
In the case of Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) & Sascha (Sonequa Martin-Green), “this” meant a resumption of their signature game – the one where Bob finds the upside to any downside Sascha can think of. That was the attitude that allowed me to actually grow fond of Bob, in the first place (or at least accept his budding romance with Sascha). So why did the highlighting of this dynamic also leave me feeling uneasy?
When Carl (Chandler Riggs) seized an opportunity to save a man in Walker distress (making up for his & Rick’s failure to save a man, on the way to Terminus), the group was introduced to Father Gabriel Stokes (Seth Gilliam). The fact that he was so much happier to be surrounded by an armed band of hardcases, than they were, in the presence of an unarmed supposed holy man, should be a snapshot of where the group now stood, in its evolution.
For Rick, it was mistrust from first sight, as God fearing pacifism didn’t seem to entirely account for Father Gabriel’s jitteriness. He was alone, as far as anyone could tell, but it seems some importance was placed on the story of Moses – references to Exodus were everywhere. Were we meant to consider Father Gabriel as a future deliverer of the group, or a previous deliverer of his parishioners? In either case, the question would be delivered to whom/ for what purpose.
There were other clues, that seemed to implicate the priest in some kind of shady business; but the group needed to focus on the basics. That focus was settled upon after Ford was dressed down, when he pushed for an immediate turn to Washington. An active service man, commanding a mission of absolute priority, is not one to dressed down by anyone outside the chain of command – least of all a civilian. As Ford is also a man of swift & violent action, I was worried that a real crisis was in the making, from within the group. Turns out, Ford also knows how & when to pick his battles. After a supply run involving a flooded basement, full of extra nasty things (including Walkers), that made for a close call for both Father Gabriel, and Bob, the group settled into Father Gabriel’s church (which looked like it was just built by a stage crew). After a backhanded salute, to Rick’s survivors, Ford made a more inspirational pitch, and the now familiar promise, centered on Eugene (Josh McDermitt). Somewhere between a lot of wine, baby talk, and an uptick in spirits, since the righteous ass-kicking of the Terminans, he won unanimous approval. Maybe.
Daryl (Norman Reedus) found Carol doing a walk-around on a car the pair had come across earlier (that Carol insisted be left as a backup/ bugout asset). From where I sat, it looked like Carol was getting ready to bail on the group. Maybe she had acquired a taste for being a lone wolf; maybe she had, in turn, acknowledged Rick’s season four assessment of her, as no longer being cut out for communal living. Conjectures that will have to wait – a black car, bearing a white cross, zipped past, prompting Daryl to call for a high speed pursuit.
It was around this point where I had some trouble with the episode. Given the heights of the group’s morale, a souring of Bob’s mood was impossible to miss. Why would the most upbeat, optimistic character of the series suddenly go somber – even as he did his best to keep up appearances, for Sascha’s sake? Probably for the same reason that his role, as human silver lining, was highlighted, in the first place. I mean, in addition to the one more kiss thing, Bob might as well have declared impending retirement, winning the lottery, and a baby on the way, after just losing his virginity. From the very start, the episode seemed to put a target on his back, and now he was going through the motions of a dead man walking.
The only reason I could think of justifying this, was Bob being bit, back at the flooded cellar. He was briefly dragged under by a Water Walker, after all. Even if he wasn’t bit, there was my standing concern over secondary infection (blood splatter, for the most part; but here, Walker water, mixed with sewage, left me feeling the need to drink hand sanitizer – while showering in the stuff).
As it turned out, the source of Bob’s lament took a backseat to his sudden abduction – something concerning what I had mentioned before, about the group regretting not taking Rick up on his desire to wipe out the Terminans. I suppose waking up to Gareth (Andrew J. West), doing his “I’m not evil, I’m an administrator” schtick, would cause anyone to reconsider their fortunes.
The point is, Bob was a marked man, one way, or another; and the show really shouldn’t telegraph such things. Leaving clues (like tree blazes) for the audience to look back on, and say “oh, yeah – that’s right,” is one thing. Conspicuous horn-rimmed glasses on a Water Walker, that seemed determined to get to Father Gabriel, was another. Last I checked, Walkers don’t do selective revenge feeding. Okay, it may have been more about the Padre’s reaction to this one standout Walker, presenting it with the opportunity to single him out; but it was still an obvious setup.
Hopefully, this is the most no-duh thing that I say for a while, but there’s something really wrong with Gareth. Yes, he was still bureaucratic tool of a villain, but either h constantly feels the need to schmooze his victims, or he actually believes that there is no personal component to what he, and his, does. Rick & co. were responsible for the deaths of his mother & brother, and destroyed Terminus, but he went out of his way to convince Bob that his treatment, under captivity, was just business as usual. Was this practiced detachment, or is there something to virally affected Human flesh that distinguishes living cannibals from Walkers only by their ability to rationalize their feeding impulse?
Unfortunately for Bob, being a captive audience, for such rationalization, can cost you an arm & a leg. Well, maybe just a leg, to start. Nothing like a slow boiled frog of ending, to shift viewer focus away from what might have seemed off, about this episode, to what the next one could possibly have in store.
I’ve been wondering: since no one in Rick’s group has been shown carving blazes into tree trunks, was Morgan (last seen following blazes similar to the one Bob was beaned next to) tracking Team Rick, or the Terminans? If Carol does bail, will Morgan be her taking up her role, as resident super survivalist? The Walking Dead has made a habit of not just adding/ subtracting characters, but replacing them. Even with Bob practically as meat on the table, there were now three survivors unaccounted for; any number of them scheduled for replacing.
‘Strangers’ could have been a bridge episode, getting on with the business of establishing a new arc, for the new season; but it continued the resolution of the Terminus arc. That may prove to be the right choice. Not only does it keep the momentum of a series highlight going, but it spares us from any future filler episodes. Filler likely to take away from the next arc, in order to tie up loose ends.
Both Team Rick, and Team Gareth (despite his spiel to the contrary), are better served by striking while the iron is still hot. Tossing up Bob’s future, as either a hot meal, or a cold cut, only helps to keep the Terminus fire burning.