Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Walking Dead 5.02: Strangers

Nikki: After last week’s barnburner of a season opener, this week slowed things down a tad as the group tries to figure out their new dynamic together, after having been apart for so long. Split up into groups, they had various adventures, tragedies, and traumas, all of which are difficult to talk about. Back together, there’s some reticence in the group, some confessions, and a lot of mystery hanging in the air — are they different people now? Do they still work as a unit or will they ultimately realize they’re better off apart?

This week’s episode introduces us to Ellis Carver Father Gabriel Stokes, bringing yet another alumnus of The Wire into the fold. I couldn’t help but expect Carver to slap some cuffs on D’Angelo as soon as he saw him, but I very quickly dropped that notion when Stokes became a mystery unto himself. Why are there scratch marks all over his parish, which appears to be clean and ordered on the inside? Why weren’t all the stained-glass windows shattered? Were they too high for the walkers to reach from the outside? I’m assuming this is a priest who locked out his flock, leaving them to the walkers and watching them die, and the reason he didn’t want to go to that supermarket with the walkers in the watery basement is because they were all his parishioners and former friends. But I’m hoping the revelation will be a little more complicated than just that.

What were your thoughts, Josh? Did Father Stokes lie when he was answering Rick’s three questions, or cleverly work around them?

Josh: As a former reader of the comic series on which the show is based, I often wonder how different it would feel to watch The Walking Dead if I didn't find myself constantly comparing it to the source material — not in terms of quality (as I believe the mediums too disparate to evaluate in parallel) but strictly regarding the content. The show and the origin comics are certainly distinct, but it's inarguable that storylines and plot points from the source material are frequently pulled into the show. And any time the action hews closely to an existing sequence of events from the comics, it becomes very difficult not only to view the proceedings objectively but also to discuss them in this forum without feeling somewhat disingenuous. This week's episode is a great example of that, as both the character of Father Gabriel and the transplanted Terminites/Hunters story seem fairly exact in their replication of the comic's material.

For example, the episode's final line is a word-for-word quote from the last panel of issue #39:

This kind of thing makes it practically impossible for me to answer your question about Father Gabriel, because all I can seem to picture is what the comics have told me is coming next. Perhaps I'm not trying hard enough to break away from that foreknowledge and imagine other scenarios; there is certainly plenty of room for the writers and producers to take the story in new directions rather than simply replicate what Kirkman has already done, and they've done a serviceable job of that in the past. However, at the moment all signs point to a rather direct adaptation, maybe more so than ever before.

That being the case, I am left at somewhat of a loss as to the best way to discuss it. I hate spoilers as much as anyone, and the last thing I want to do is compromise our readers' (or your) enjoyment of what's to come by saying too much. What I will say is that your one-sentence assessment of the clues' implications strikes me as a perfectly simple and reasonable explanation, albeit somewhat obvious, as you pointed out. Then again, oftentimes that kind of restraint serves to lend needed authenticity to fiction. I suppose we'll have to wait and see.

Now on to what I feel perfectly comfortable discussing, which is most everything else. 'Strangers' offered up a lot of conversation, but all of it came across as very natural to me, stepping nimbly from issue to issue and gradually clearing the air of conflict to re-set the stage for the season, nicely bonding this expanded group into something more like what it had come to be before the Governor's final attack on the prison splintered it into pieces again. In particular, the early exchange between Carol and Rick was perfectly pitched and beautifully written, culminating in the idea that he now needed to ask Carol's permission to join her group. I also loved the way Tara chose to level with Maggie about her role in the Governor's militia, and how easily came Maggie's forgiveness — testament to the way her father raised her, I'd say.

Much like last week, however, I think my favorite aspect of this installment was Carol and her ongoing struggle to reconcile what happened with Lizzie. In each discussion she had throughout the episode – with Tyrese, with Rick, with Daryl – she says little, but Melissa McBride's remarkable performance offered up a depth of emotion and internal strife that radiated from every small look and word and action. Her character continues to surprise and impress me, and I long to see what they have in store for her next.

Because, of course, at the end of the episode, Carol and Daryl take off together with the gas and supplies she had planned to use for her departure from the group, chasing after another car that bore the same distinctive cross in its window as the one that kidnapped Beth. I'm thinking this will be one of those times when the next episode will abandon RickCo. and the Bob-B-Q storyline entirely in favor of giving us a window into what's been going on with Maggie's long-lost little sister since last we saw her.

What do you think?

Nikki: Bob-B-Q, haha!! I am calling him that from now on. :) Carol continued to be the highlight of the show for me, as you say, and I think it’s that almost eerie calm from her I like so much. As someone pointed out in the comments last week, there’s something almost sad about it, as if after a life of being abused by the man she once loved, of watching people die, of watching her own daughter suffer at the hands of walkers, of having to watch both of her surrogate girls die (one by her own hand), something in her has just snapped and she’s become distanced. When Sophia walked out of the barn she was screaming and crying and pleading with Rick, but we haven’t seen that side of her since. She doesn’t show any emotions: she didn’t rail and argue and scream against Rick when he left her in the suburb. She didn’t flinch once as she was covering herself in zombie goo. She didn’t look scared when she walking amongst them. She didn’t jump or show any fear when Tasha Yar was suddenly in the room. She didn’t hop up and down and leap into Daryl’s arms, just quietly smiled. She gives a small smile when Rick acknowledges Carol as their new de facto leader in this one. She can’t talk to Daryl the way she once did, and her dialogue has become as reticent and terse as Daryl’s usually is.

I’m working on a book on Sherlock right now, and one aspect of the character of the great detective is his dire fear of being bored. He will do almost anything to avoid being bored, and when he is, then everyone around him needs to look out. I find with Carol there’s a similar thing happening here: she’s filled with so much pain and anguish that she cannot let out that she needs to keep herself busy just to stop the emotions from entering in. Why was she getting that car ready? When Daryl asked her, she just said, “I don’t know,” and almost looked frustrated, as if she genuinely didn’t know why she was doing this. But I think she needed to separate herself from the others and get back on the road so she could drive into more zombie packs and continue to fight, blow up, plot, scheme, do ANYTHING except just sit and relax and try to enjoy the company of others. The moment she stops acting, she starts thinking. And she will do almost anything to avoid doing that.

I think these early episodes are leading up to one hell of a moment for Carol; this could be Melissa McBride’s Emmy season (if, you know, the Emmys could actually look at anything other than the fucking obvious... this is the same awards show that overlooked Tatiana frickin’ Maslany, so I use “Emmy” as a metaphor for “one’s talents being recognized,” even though that’s no longer in the Emmy handbook... okay, rant over). I think she’s going to have a nervous breakdown of some kind, and I hope it won’t be the undoing of her. Let’s hope it’s less Jungle Hair Claire from Lost and more of a catharsis that allows her to put this pain behind her and move forward to a happier future. She deserves it more than just about anyone.

Back to the Bob-B-Q and Father Stokes, my friend Colleen (who often comments here) messaged me and asked if perhaps the guilt of Father Stokes lies in the fact that it was HE who introduced the idea of cannibalism to the group. Is it possible that the Terminites are in fact part of Stokes’s flock? Could he have been the misguided shepherd who provoked it? This could tie in with what I was saying: he could have locked them out of the parish, then watched out the window as they sat below it, eating one another and glaring at him as if to blame him for what they were forced to do. Either way, it was an utterly hideous and creepy way to end the episode. A friend of mine watched the episode late at night, and then had to go outside to walk her dog and the streetlights were out. She’s braver than I am!

Any final thoughts, Josh?

Josh: You just had to bring up the squirrel baby, didn't you?

AAAAHHHH!!!! Still scarier than anything on Walking Dead.

It's true that things look exceedingly dire for poor Bob Stookey, but I thought they were looking pretty dire for him already. And no, I'm not just talking about he and Sasha's happiness as they played their Half Empty, Half Full game and made kissy faces at each other (though it's true that sort of thing rarely bodes well in this universe). More specifically, his peculiar behavior after Abraham's 'Save the World' speech and the banquet that followed – when he kissed Sasha and then went outside and stood staring back at the church, first smiling, then crying, and generally looking for all the world like he was about to leave for good – had me totally convinced that he'd been bitten when the zombie pulled him under the water at the food bank. And if that was the case, then what does that mean for the freaks we last saw gnawing on his shinbone? I'm holding out hope for something a lot worse than indigestion.

Bits & Bobs:

• “People are just as dangerous as the dead, don't you think?” “No. People are worse.”

• The church, by the way? Unmistakably Methodist, in spite of Father Gabriel's collar and title. I'd recognize an old southern Methodist church anywhere, and white clapboard with a tin roof and the big square steeple? Might as well be a flashing neon sign. I'd almost guarantee it.

• Rick's speech to Carl, and Carl's response. “We're strong enough that we don't have to be afraid, and we don't have to hide.” Oh, Carl. Hide anyway.

• “Rule #1 of scavenging: there's nothing left in this world that isn't hidden.”

• The waterlogged walkers looked amazing – super creepy, and very Italian style, I thought. So much slime.

• Rick and Michonne's discussion of the now-missing sword (which is bound to pop back up sometime, don't you think?): “I miss Andrea. I miss Hershel. I don't miss what was before. Don't miss that sword.” Well, I DO.

• Per Abraham, I vote that walkers should hitherto be referred to only as 'the undead pricks.'

Until next week, sleep well, you guys. Two eyes open.

Nikki: I just had to pop back in here (because yes, I love having the final word) and say that YES YES YES I agree with you on Michonne’s sword!! Someone mentioned last week (I thought it was in the comments, but I must have seen it elsewhere...) that someone needs to start a Kickstarter campaign for Michonne’s sword, and I completely agree.

And I also agree that it looked like Bobby got bit when he went under the water.

And speaking of squirrels, what if Carol snaps and fashions one of Daryl’s squirrel carcasses into a squirrel baby?! :::shudder:::

Until next week!


Colleen/redeem147 said...

The reason I wondered about cannibalism and the church - in Talking Dead they showed shots of the set, including the archway that said that if you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will have eternal life. I also thought that Bob had been bit and wondered what that would mean for him as a dinner item, though he could have left because they were all drinking wine and he can't go back to that.

Penny Porter said...

I loved this episode and physically jumped off the sofa when Bob got knocked out. Something that is massively bugging me (and I have read the comics AND Kirkman's books) is what is in Bob's box? Does he still have it on him? I wondered once if he was immune which would explain why he was the only survivor and had a solitary loneliness about him, but if we are going down the tainted meat route that wouldnt work. The books, incidentally, shine a whole new light on The Governor and on Bob, and are a great read. But I am still none the wiser on the box....

Efthymia said...

I don't trust father Gabriel, he looks shifty (and I trust him even less precisely because he's a priest, which would make him seem trustworthy to a great number of people).

"Oh, look at Bob, being all silver lining and lovey-dovey, this does not mean that something bad is about to happen to him, like, at all!" -Come on, Walking Dead, I expect better from you.
By the way, I, too, am sure that Bob was bitten at the food bank. I hope the cannibals get zombie diarrhea, which I have no idea what it might be, but sounds horrible and I want it to happen to them.
Speaking of the cannibals, we were discussing the show with a friend yesterday and I got to thinking: (a) with everything they'd seen zombie-wise (sorry, walker-wise), they thought human meat was a good idea? I'd trust animal poop more than human meat if I lived in their world! (I apologise for being so scatological today). Even if they didn't get the info about everyone becoming a zombie after death despite not having been bitten like Rick did, they must have realised it some way by now, someone must have died without having been bitten. (b) I still don't get the "Then" part of the previous episode. Is it supposed to make us understand how they ended up being cannibals? I mean, them being decent people in the past and, after facing rape and torture and looting and all kinds of violence, becoming equally violent people because they've come to believe that this is what it takes to survive, I would understand that. But how is the connection between being treated horribly and eating people made?

I hated the part where everyone said that they agreed with Abraham and wanted to go to Washington with them but they will do whatever Rick says. WTF, people?! Why is Rick the boss of you? Why can't you say "Hey, we think going to Washington is the best idea and we're going to do that, and we'd love for you to join us, but if you don't want to, that's OK, stay here with your annoying kid and keep killing dangerous people". It's LOST all over again -"Come on, Jack, tell us what to do -you were wrong, Jack, what you told us to do was stupid and you're stupid".
Ugh, frustration.

'"Don't miss that sword." Well, I DO.' -my thoughts EXACTLY.
Yep, we should get that petition going. It doesn't even have to be the same katana, it can be another, brand new katana. Maybe a Hattori Hanzo.

P.S. Every time, everyone else writes these 3-line comments and I write these essays, and I feel very bad about it, and I apologise.

yourblindspot said...

Efthymia: We like your essays! Please don't stop.

Like you, I don't think nearly enough of a case was made with last week's 'THEN' flashbacks to remotely justify what became of the Terminites. Nikki & I both mentioned how we hope there will be more to the story than merely what we've seen so far, but even still, I think it's a huge leap from cattle to butcher, and even moreso if you're implying the manipulation of an entire community into willing accomplices. Still hoping we get the story in more detail, because I'm far from sold.

Rebecca T. said...

You guys covered pretty much anything I had to say except one thing.

Carl's comment about being strong enough to help others struck a chord with me, particularly with the thoughts I had last week about this group walking the line between being butchers/cattle. Because almost everyone else we've met that hasn't joined this group has been either too weak to survive or has used their strength in all the wrong ways (a la Governer/Terminus/guys in the house when Rick had to hide under the bed/etc.).

And it's quite a step for Carl to say that they are obligated to help people when they can.

Which makes me wonder if he's doomed.

And I too vote for the katana to return. Michonne just isn't Michonne without them!

Page48 said...

I'm firmly in the Bob got bit camp. I thought he had that look on his face while he was still in the basement, but when he wandered off and started crying like a Leaf's fan in April, that surely confirmed my suspicion (I think). Sure, he could have been crying over Michonne's lost katana like the rest of us were, but it probably had more to do with the fact that he was soon going to dial down the dialogue and get his shuffle-walk on.

This week's "Bits & Bobs" could easily be re-branded "Bits of Bob". I bet some of that Communion wine would have gone great with Bob.

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