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The Walking Dead Review: “Strangers”

Five years into the series and there seems to be two different kinds of The Walking Dead fans – those who like the violence with cheap effects and lots of walker killing, and those who like the story of the humans and their own troubles. Neither is wrong, and it’s fine to enjoy the show for either if it’s your thing. If you fall into the “I like seeing a million zombies get repeatedly hit in the head with things” crowd, last night’s episode probably was not for you. Following the explosive and (dare I say) excessive season opener last week, S5:E2 was a welcome shift back to significant character building and some genuine intrigue.

As you might expect, the episode opens with a series of reaction conversations that The Walking Dead has used time and time again to let you know how characters feel about a situation. It feels a little stretched, and lasts longer than I would have liked. Once the episode gets into the meat of the issue, though, it gets pretty darn good. Even the obligatory “get attacked while walking to create a fake sense of drama” that I’ve come to hate in The Walking Dead has a purpose in this episode.

The group is heading as far away from the now decimated Terminus as they can possibly get when a lone walker stumbles into their midst. Michonne reaches for her sword, realizes that it’s gone, and has to resort to killing it with the butt of her gun like all the others. It was a simple walker killing, free of unnecessary drama, that establishes that Michonne has a feeling of loss nicely. This is a general theme that her character has been battling since the beginning of season four. As it’s explained later, her iconic sword was actually just found after the proverbial walker doodoo hit the fan. She doesn’t miss it much, because all of her associations with it are negative. It’s actually the people she misses more. Personally I’m not still entirely sold on Michonne becoming this open book and super friendly character, but it worked well enough in this episode. None of her actions felt out place. In general, it’s nice to see characters have an actual arc beginning to pay off in some way.

Not long after they set off, Rick and the others run into a lone survivor. He is trapped on top of a rock and ineffectively fighting off a batch of walkers until the group rescues him. One quick vomit session later, and the obviously scared and unhardened survivor reveals that his name is Gabriel. He has no camp, but instead has been shacking up in his nearby church, living off of canned food from a food drive that ended shortly before the walker apocalypse.

All of this was well and good, and nothing about the church and Gabriel sticks out as particularly good or bad to me. There is a nice little moment where Rick is getting ready for a supply run to the last place that Gabriel hasn’t been able to raid, and he tells Tyrese to stay back and babysit Judith. That dynamic of the big, kind-hearted and still menacing Tyrese taking care of tiny baby Judith is probably my favorite in the show – especially after he saved the baby from an attacker earlier in the episode.

My biggest disappointment with the episode is the obvious direction it is taking the show. As we learned at the end of last week’s episode, Rick’s group didn’t end up killing everyone at Terminus and now the pissed survivors are tracking down the group. Hopefully there is something to change it up, but as it is it’s way too similar to The Governor/Woodbury storyline. Group ruins safe haven, group doesn’t kill everyone in safe haven, group finds seemingly safe place, survivors from safe haven hunt down group. That inane plot was spread out over a season and a half, so this resurrection being mostly condensed into two episodes is a nice surprise. It’s still a shame to see the same exact dynamic making such an obvious return. At the very least, I have to admit that the cannibals and their leader are infinitely better characters and villains than The Governor could ever hope to be. This new villain is menacing, has proper motivation, and in general is played by a much better actor.

Overall, like I said, the episode is mostly flat and uneventful. Despite this, you could do much worse for a filler/set-up episode, especially in a show as notoriously stretched out and poorly written as The Walking Dead . My only hope is that more episodes show this level of restraint and lack of pointless walker attacks, but I’m not holding my breath.

Talking Dead Mini-Review

Talking Dead was pretty solid as well. A delightful absence of uninterested celebrities talking about the show for a paycheck, instead replaced by a genuine fan of The Walking Dead , Matt Jones, and the actor who plays Tyrese on the show, Chad Coleman. They offered some pretty great insights into what might be coming and what has happened without spoiling anything. Chris Hardwick made an awkward joke about having sex with Matt’s wife, but other than that it was one of the more watchable episodes and the candid conversations between the three of them were pretty enjoyable.

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