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'The Walking Dead' - 'Spend': They're Gonna Set You Up So They Can Take You Down

By TK Burton | TV | March 16, 2015 |

By TK Burton | TV | March 16, 2015 |

Perhaps what’s been most interesting about the Alexandria storyline in the second half of season five has been the oft-circulated idea that amidst this bucolic-seeming community, Rick and his group would end up seeming like the antagonists for once. There have certainly been signs — Rick’s at-all-costs determination to keep his group safe, even stating brazenly that if they feel like Deanna and her people don’t know how to keep the city safe, that Rick would take it from them. Rick’s mini-cabal of himself, Daryl and Carol, planning for every eventuality. All signs are pointing to an inevitable confrontation, not because the people of Alexandria aren’t good, but rather because they’re weak.

It’s something of the next step of the evolution of these survivors — they’re now so tightly-knit, so interdependent, so fiercely loyal that even the best intentions may not be able to stop them from weeding out anything that might pose as a threat. It’s an interesting, though somewhat troubling development.

“Spend,” this week’s episode, felt like… a beginning of sorts. The beginning of the next phase of their time in Alexandria. There was none of the uncertainty of integration, none of the fear of sanctuary. If anything, this is the beginning of Deanna realizing that she may have taken in people too strong for her to manipulate. Abraham exerting himself over the work crew, Rick taking investigating head-on, Carol… being Carol, Glenn taking control of the scouting crew (and returning full of tragedy and righteous fury). “Spend” was a gripping, intense episode, and how all this plays out has the potential to be some extraordinary television.

Things We Loved:

- Noah. Oh, Noah. This storyline broke my heart a little. Despite Noah’s foolishness back in “What’s Happening & What’s Going On,” I’ve grown to appreciate the earnest optimism that his character brought, particularly at the opening of this week’s episode. His death was devastating, in part because it was him, and in larger part because it was so awful, so gruesome, and right there in front of Glenn. All the credit is due to Tyler James Williams for a terrific performance this week.

- Abraham. I loved Michael Cudlitz’s work this week, and I’m glad he’s finally doing more than looming ominously and cracking wise. Instead, there was some deep insight into who and what Abraham is — a soldier who is lost at peacetime, showing every sign of cracking under the strain of inertia. Yet once action is required, he becomes something else entirely, an aggressor, a leader… a commander. Him cutting a swath through the walkers to save another person while the others fell back on their protocols was terrific, and then he just… took control. And they followed.

- The increasingly complex dynamic between Glenn, Nicholas, and Aiden has been some of the show’s best work when it comes to this new, complicated balance of power. This was the week where we saw that Glenn, like Abraham, is made to lead (and it’s also refreshing anytime Glenn gets to shine a little when out from under Rick’s shadow). This entire sequence, from Aiden begrudgingly gaining respect for Glenn to Glenn taking the lead, to Nicholas’s horrific cowardice that leads to the death of not just Aiden, but also Noah. Glenn’s beating of Nicholas brought out such a primal response, my anger so intense, that there was a dark little piece of me that wanted to see him beat him into meat. The whole series of events was harsh and brutal and incredibly well-scripted.

- Eugene. There has been something refreshingly great about Eugene’s unapologetic brand of cowardice, in no small part because he truly believes that he understands his place in the universe and… he almost makes you agree with him. Maybe Eugene belongs behind the lines, safe and letting his brain do the work that his body and conscience can’t (or won’t). His talk with Tara reinforced that, to the point where I almost agreed. Maybe Eugene just isn’t cut out for it. But that all changed, to borrow a line from a great novel, when I saw Eugene Porter choose to be a hero. It was nicely done, because he still operated under the confines of his own fears. His hand was not steady, his aim was not true. He was not fast or strong, but he did enough to save Tara and tried his best for the rest of them. It was a great moment.

- Carol. Carol is becoming flat-out fucking terrifying, the Iago to Rick’s Othello — an imperfect comparison, sure, but there’s something about her quietly subversive work on Rick’s conscience, coaxing him to take the darker paths. Carol makes you afraid when you agree with her, because she’s the radical end of Rick’s triumvirate, the one who will kill to get them to where they need to be, without blinking or pausing. And now, with the new (possible! yikes!) news about Jessie’s husband (who is, at the very least, a drunk and a fucking creep and at worst an abuser), Carol is dangerously close to breaking whatever loosely attached chains that she has worn in the name of civilization. And goddamn it, Melissa McBride is absolutely crushing it, every step of the way.

Things We Didn’t Love:

- Gabriel. While I appreciate the idea of Rick’s group having a traitor in their midst, and there’s an ironic, insidious logic to Gabriel being that traitor, I just can’t get behind this character, even as a pseudo-antagonist. It’s just not particularly well written. And sure, he plays an interesting contrast in cowardice when compared to Eugene, and it’s neat to see how different people rise or fall when faced with adversity. But I’m tired of Gabriel and his sweaty, wild-eyed, overacted chicanery. The character is weakly drawn and ends up often shoehorned into the plot, oft-forgotten until a plot twist is needed.

- I’m not going to make a production out of it because I’m too frustrated to get into it, but I would like to point out that, once again, the number of black men is back to one (and it’s Gabriel! Why the hell do we have to keep that asshole?!). Anyway, quota achieved, balance restored. Sigh. At least we have two black women.

Fortunately, that aside, Gabriel was the only part of this episode that failed to resonate with me. It was an interesting exercise, and even the storyline of Jessie and her husband is an interesting one — as if the rot that we’ve been expecting to see within Alexandria is finally exposing itself, but… it’s not the kind of rot we’ve seen before. It’s not madness or chaos, but rather the more conventional, pre-apocalypse rot that all communities have always been victim to. It’s abuse and fear and uncertainty and simple human vice, things that communities silently endure because they’re just so… safe.

Ironically, despite my misgivings about Gabriel and despite his mad ravings, he’s not completely wrong. Rick and his group want more than safety, they want control. Security. Strength. And slowly, by force or by habit or by simple logic, they are taking that control. Now, Deanna is starting to realize that she may have taken on more than she can handle. Rick’s group doesn’t even care about a return to normalcy, they care about surviving at any cost. The question that remains is will the citizens of Alexandria be part of that price.