The Walking Dead: 502 “Strangers” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
The Walking Dead’s fifth season got off to a barnstorming start last week with a premiere that delivered reams upon reams of gory action and accomplished more plot-wise than most half seasons of the zombie show – but with Terminus in ashes and the group back together again, does episode two keep up the momentum? Strangers marked a return to The Walking Dead’s typical pacing – a far greater emphasis on character interaction than all out walker-filled carnage – but that’s not to say it was a weak episode, even if it didn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the season premiere.
A key strength of the episode was the way it handled interaction between the now army-like collection of regulars – deftly handling dangling ends like Tara’s involvement with the Governor’s attack on the prison in an efficient and interesting way, by matching up characters who previously had never even met (Tara and Maggie’s new friendship, considering Tara’s bond with Glenn, provides some interesting fuel for further conflict) There would have been times back in the second and third seasons that the information would be held back and then slowly revealed later on in the season – but despite the generally slower pace of Strangers, it retains the no-nonsense attitude that No Sanctuary impressively displayed towards story. Not all the character interactions are quite as strong however – the continued insistence of going back to Carol’s actions at the start of season 4 is starting to get a little tiring. While Carol is undoubtedly a far more interesting character, the fallout of her murder of Karen and David feels like a leftover plot point brought back to dredge up some character drama.
Strangers also saw the debut of comic character Father Gabriel, played by The Wire alum Seth Gilliam. Gabriel doesn’t get a huge amount of screentime here and there’s clearly a lot yet to be revealed about the mysterious Gabriel, but Gilliam makes a strong impression here as the nervy and peaceful priest. Gabriel’s introduction also highlights just how violent and threatening Rick’s group has become – Rick’s casual threat of killing Gabriel is a great moment, even if Rick’s change back to a slightly more compelling character has come at the cost of somewhat jarring with what we saw last season. With the group possibly on the way to the fabled Alexandria Safe Zone this season, the show’s efforts to show how the apocalypse has changed Rick and the group are surprisingly interesting.
Aside from the character development, Strangers also delivered a well-executed (if brief) action set piece as Rick’s group come under attack from some rather soggy walkers. The Walking Dead seems intent on topping itself week after week in the gore department – and the wet walkers are appropriately disgusting, evoking memories of the infamous well walker from season two (even if it doesn’t quite match those vomit-inducing heights). The scene also provides an effective jump scare too as Bob is pulled underwater by a walker – a moment that might just prove to be key later on.
The ‘cure’ plot arc took a back seat to the carnage last week – but it makes a return here, with Abraham making his pitch to the group. The cure is an intriguing arc, even if the chances of actually finding the cure are next to zero and it’s satisfying to see it progress. The Walking Dead is often a little guilty of bedding down in one place for too long (hello, season two!) so the promise of an actual objective for the crew is a solid foundation for the rest of the season, if it can execute the story in a satisfying manner. Likewise, Carol and Daryl’s chase of the white cross car is an exciting setup for further events (even if it’s little more than a plot contrivance to thin out the massive group) – and after the show’s continued sidelining of Beth’s disappearance, it’s great to finally see some growth on that front.
And of course, there’s the final scene. Over the summer it was widely speculated that season five would adapt the popular Fear the Hunters arc from the comics – and not only does the final scene give the ex-Termites their comics moniker of the Hunters, it gives us one of the most iconic scenes from the comics, as Bob wakes up to Gareth and the Hunters casually chewing part of his now-missing leg. It’s a chilling, somewhat disturbing scene, excellently played by Andrew J West (who, despite some surface similarities to the Governor, is coming into his own as a unique bad guy) – and proves that there’s pretty much no boundary to what The Walking Dead will show onscreen in detail. And it’s not just Bob who’s in trouble now – it looks like Rick’s entire group is now on the dinner table.
Overall, Strangers is a solid second episode – it might dwell a little too much on bygone plot points and is saddled with reams of set-up for the rest of the season, but with an exciting action setpiece and a slightly traumatizing ending, it continues the momentum season five has already built up.
Scene of the Episode – Kentucky Fried Bob – Gruesome, dark and disturbing, this scene, ripped straight from the comics, is essentially The Walking Dead distilled into one scene.