“TAINTED MEAT!” — Bob Stookey
Well, that was one hell of an episode.
“Four Walls and a Roof” was a surprising episode as it unfolded not because of the payoff in the end, but how it further signifies the changes in how the show’s writers have been handling the show’s pacing. This was a major development considering the criticism it’s detractors (and some fans) have had about the series.
In seasons past, The Walking Dead always had major issues with it’s pacing. Despite what some have been saying the show does have some great episodes, but we do get several slow and wheel-spinning episodes following it up. Almost as if the writers were trying to find a way to help the audience decompress after a very tense, action-packed and/or horrific episode. It wasn’t such a major issue during it’s premiere season which was only six episodes long, but as each season got longer there came a time when too obvious filler episodes were aired that sucked the momentum from the series.
Even some of the show’s most strident supporters have complained about the necessity for extending certain story-arcs when it was obvious that they could’ve been handled and resolved in just a handful. Tonight’s episode was such a surprise in that it resolved a story-arc that was a major one in the comics in so short a time. Yet, despite having condensed the “Hunters” storyline from the comics into just three episodes they still kept the impact that it’s much longer comic book version had on readers.
The episode itself begins pretty much right after last week’s episode. It’s a cold opening that’s eerily done with images of zombies and the Terminans eating meat interspersed to make the two groups indistinguishable. Calling themselves Hunters, Gareth and his bunch were still having a moonlit dinner with Bob’s left leg as the main course. Of course, Gareth continues to monologue his way through the cold opening as if he just can’t help do so now that he has such a captive audience in Bob. One could almost sense that his own people were probably sick of hearing him talk through dinner, but were more afraid of him to say so. Gareth’s moment gets a major interruption as Bob, in a fit of crazed laughter, finally tells them a secret of why he was out all alone in the end of the previous episode. Bob didn’t make it out of the flooded food bank unscathed and the festering bite on his right shoulder was evidence enough for Gareth and his Hunters to lose their appetite.
One thing that could easily have derailed tonight’s episode was to spend too much time trying to figure out what happened to Bob and if Father Gabriel was involved in some fashion. Even after last week’s revelation that the people who have been stalking Rick and his people was Gareth and his small band of Hunters there was still theories that Father Gabriel might have been involved in some way. Gabriel had survived this long without having to deal with the zombies and other survivors looking for sanctuary. Someone must’ve helped or made a deal to spare him and Gareth looked like someone pragmatic enough to come up with a plan and deal to keep Gabriel stocked with food and not bothered as long as he pointed some people towards Terminus.
The fact that we get to the bottom of Gabriel secret and shame in the very first ten minutes of the episode was a nice change in how the show has been treating major personal secrets. The expectation that the show would keep Gabriel’s secret for more than two episodes was a given, but to have it resolved in swift fashion showed that Scott M. Gimple and his stable of writers do understand that pacing on the show has been an issue and they’re trying to fix that.
To top Gabriel’s secret now out we also get another surprise in Bob being brought back by Gareth and his people to just outside the church. The plan by Gareth to traumatize and put Rick and his people back on their heels actually was a sound plan, but he failed to factor in the fact that this band of survivors was not the type he and the Terminans have had to deal with since their fall into the darkside.
Rick might be a leader who has had some bouts of indecisiveness and more than just a tad bit of self-loathing which made him a liability, but his dedication to keeping his family (which now includes those he has added since Atlanta) alive throughout this hellish new world has seen him go from an idealistic man of the law to one who now understood that pragmatism and controlled brutality was now the coin of the land. We saw the final nail in the peacemaker Rick begin to recede in the back of his mind when the Governor returned in the mid-season finale of season 4 and saw Hershel killed and his prison haven destroyed and his people scattered.
Throughout the series there has always been the main question of does someone get to keep their humanity in a world where it has no room for it if one was to survive. It’s a question that’s been answered in one form or another whenever Rick and his people come across other survivors who have discarded their humanity and done evil things to survive. Some have become haunted by their acts while others have embraced them. Rick has become the barometer by which we judge our band of survivors. He’s taken it upon his shoulders to be the one that makes the hard decisions.
He’s always tried to deny the role of leadership and just want to be there for his son and daughter, but we’ve come to realize through his own personal revelations that people would always look to him as their leader whether he wants them to or not. Others see it in him and even Gareth, right up to the end, sees that this was a man who has done terrible things to survive this long to save his people. Where the difference lies between Rick and Gareth (and the Governor and Joe in past encounters) is that Rick still strives to keep some hold on his personal moral code. He might be setting aside his humanity to get the job done, but he does it as a necessary evil and always looking back to make sure that his humanity still waits for him once the task was done.
Tonight’s episode was a perfect example of Rick finally accepting his role as group leader and doing what must be done to keep everyone safe.We’ve only seen glimpses of this through the first four seasons of the show and it’s refreshing to finally see the writers stop waffling about Rick should continue to torment himself about doing the right thing.
Does this put him on the same path which tainted the Governor, Joe and Gareth?
There’s a good chance that it could, but as we’ve seen Rick has something those other men never had to keep him from falling to the darkside. Rick has good people around him to offer friendship and moral advice. They understand that Rick has taken on much to keep them alive and it’s their job to help him keep his humanity intact once the nightmare ends.
Bob might be gone from the group, but just like Hershel before him, his very optimism in a world that rewards nihilism and brutality has left a mark on everyone. His parting words to Rick showed that Rick still remains a good man despite doing things that Gabriel and others would call evil.
The Walking Dead has had it’s ups and downs since it’s first season and I don’t think a barreling first three episodes of this new season could solve all the problems it has had. But it’s encouraging to see that the producers and writers haven’t been tone deaf to the complaints about the show’s storytelling and its work on making the characters believable and complex. Even with its ridiculous ratings with each new episode they do understand there’s room for massive improvement and if what we’ve been witness to this early in the fifth season then The Walking Dead might just have it’s best days still to come.
- “Four Walls and a Roof” was written by Angela Kand and Corey Reed and directed by Jeffrey F. January.
- Like how even the smallest details in this young season has become a major factor. An example was Glenn finding the three suppressors in the looted gun store in the previous episode feeling like some throwaway moment, but it sure made a difference in tonight’s episode.
- It looks like there might be further issues between Rick and Abraham if tonight’s episode was any indication.
- One of the best scenes in tonight’s episode happens in the end as Michonne glances down at the carnage they heaped on the Terminans and notices that one of them was carrying her katana. The look on her face she drew it out was priceless. She’s whole once more despite telling Rick last week that she didn’t miss it.
- Tyreese and Glenn look to be the frontrunners on who should be taking on the role of moral center since Hershel left the group midway through last season.
- Surprising how Larry Gilliard, Jr. wasn’t a guest in tonight’s Talking Dead episode.
- Talking Dead guests tonight are Slash (Guns ‘N Roses, Velvet Revolver), Mary Lynn Rajskub (24, Californication) and Gareth himself, Andrew J. West.