One of the things that seems to happen with each successive season of The Walking Dead is that after a couple of strong opening episodes, the cracks start to appear. The third episode of this season, “Four Walls And A Roof” was another solid episode, but for the first time this season, some obvious flaws revealed themselves. They weren’t dealbreakers by any means, but they’re niggling sources of frustration that mar an otherwise very good sixty minutes.
One thing I will say is that I’m glad that the Gareth and the Cannibals storyline didn’t get dragged out any longer than it did. While the story itself was a compelling and well-written one, there’s something to be said for having tightly-plotted, smaller, isolated threats for them to deal with rather than every single episode being a part of a larger arc. With so much else now going on, tying that thread off felt quite satisfying. It worked doubly well as a means of creating some new issues, chemistry-wise, within the group (there was always a sense of inevitability when it came to Rick and Abraham, as if they were never meant to occupy the same space for too long), while also propelling the story forward. As for Gareth himself, the character’s arc ended just in time, as he was veering dangerously close to caricature, becoming more and more villainous. That villainy was almost disappointing — there was something fascinating about him when he was simply a broken, damaged man driven to cannibalistic madness by past events. Yet he was about to become something more cartoonish, as evidenced by his relentless monologuing, both at the legless Bob and then again in the church — something that was so ridiculously overdone that it was painful. The idea of patiently waiting under cover of darkness, then silently sneaking in, and then yelling to try to find people? It was a moment that abandoned all logic and took us out of the experience.
However, that moment was salvaged by the brutal aftermath with Rick and Sasha, even if their return was as clearly and obviously telegraphed as the Hunters’ trap itself. There was something so primal, so visceral about it that it almost went beyond vengeance. Yes, there was a cold pragmatism to it — Rick’s line about wanting to save the bullets was an icy wind blowing through that church. But also, it was a moment where we saw that the people that we’ve become attached to are capable of surprising savagery, even if that savagery was being returned in kind.
There was also an interesting dichotomy, character-wise, as I realized anew which characters are working and which ones are not. Father Gabriel actually became a far more well-realized character after the broken-down admission of his horrific guilt by inaction. There was something so hideously, awfully, terribly human about it, something that made him feel more real than his previous combination of sanctimony and obsequiousness. On the other hand, I realized that the trio of Abraham, Rosita and Eugene are simply not working for me anymore. They’re all just so expressly comic-booky, and it’s a glaring contrast to the realistic characters around them. They hold up so poorly compared to the likes of Michonne, who started out as practically a superhero, but evolved into a more fully fleshed out and appealing character. Yet they remain bound by the stereotypes and comic book cliches that they were born of, and as such they lack the emotional resonance reflected in the other cast members. Perhaps this will change. It needs to change.
Of course, the saddest development was the loss of Bob Stookey. Lawrence Gilliard, Jr. really brought it with that role, and it surprised many of us when he turned out to be one of the more complex and nuanced characters in the show. He was so many things — the sole survivor, the drunken screw up, the sad, terrified, lonely coward who would go on to become an emotional touchstone for the group, to become its conscience, to become Sasha’s salvation and Rick’s friend. At first, when he’s returned to them like a piece of meat, their reaction to him seemed strange. For a moment, I didn’t understand why they would miss him so, until he started to pass, and his impact was so harshly felt by Sasha, and then I realized — I’ll likely miss him too. Bob had all of the kindness and positivity of Hershel, but without the ho-hum folksy preachiness, and he’ll be fondly remembered.
Of course, not all loose ends are tied up. This was an episode of great change, and not just because they lost one of their own. The group has splintered once again, with Glenn, Maggie and Tara departing for Washington with Abraham and company. That parting actually works for me — it felt, even if just for a moment, like Glenn was growing into more of a leader, and it seems like he needs to leave Rick for that to come to fruition. But more importantly was the final reveal, of Daryl coming out of the darkness, arriving with an all-new mystery. Their destinations have suddenly changed now, and who knows what new hells await them?