Spoilers for this week’s episode follow. Do not read below this line.
There’s been a lot of chatter from the show’s cast and creators about how crazy this season will be. Like off-the-charts, zombies-gone-wild gonzo. That big talk is expected during the usual media frenzy before a new season kicks off. But so far, they’re backing it up. A pair of episodes in, and we’re now two-for-two in terms of gasp-inducing shockers. Last week, it was the scene at the trough, as Gareth orchestrated a gory throat-slitting symphony. And last night, just when the gang got a little too comfortable, Bob is knocked out, kidnapped, Hershelled and placed on the menu of Georgia’s hottest new pop-up restaurant.
Until those last few moments, it seemed the big talking point for the episode would be the arrival of Father Gabriel, who is a significant character in the comic book series. Almost as important — he’s another cast member of The Wire to join the show. (As it’s hard not to see Bob and think Barksdale, we may have a Father Carver situation on our hands. Attention, showrunners: Now that Boardwalk Empire is over, we hear Michael K. Williams has some free time. Surely there’s a place in this hellscape for Omar.)
As we learn immediately, Gabriel is not well suited for this cruel world — he’s unarmed, flailing and wailing as a handful of zombies try to pull him down from his perch. (It’s worth noting that Carol is among those who rush in to save him. Carol! We’ll discuss her soon.) As the gang’s faith in humanity has reached an all-time low, they’re skeptical of him, despite — and perhaps because of — the fact that it’s a miracle this guy has lasted so long. Rick gives him the Can We Trust You Quiz, which Gabe basically flunks. Hasn’t killed any walkers? Or people? Impossible. Unless your parish had just completed a canned-food drive moments before the universe went to shit. And, it seems, you locked the doors of your church and refused to let your desperate congregants inside. Based on Carl’s detective work — knife marks on the windows, “You’ll burn for this” carved into the wall — it appears Gabriel has good reason for not confessing his sins. (There’s also the matter of the Cat-Eye Glasses zombie, whom we later see looking cozy with Gabriel in an old photo. Were they friends before she turned, or something more? And was she among those Gabriel wouldn’t save?)
As Rick makes clear, sharing some canned fruit and passing ‘round the communion wine doesn’t mean they trust Gabriel — and trust is a big theme in this episode. Tara opens up to Maggie and admits she was with the Guv at the prison; Maggie accepts her — perhaps a bit too easily — with a big ol’ hug. Tyreese tells Carol that he has her back regarding some pretty heavy stuff, namely, that she killed his girlfriend and a child. He wants to tell the group and insists they’ll have to accept what she’s done; otherwise, he says, “they wouldn’t be here.” He’s right. Even Rick asks Carol’s forgiveness for banishing her to the woods. In terms of character transformation, no one has changed more than Carol. Remember when she was a battered wife and an emotionally frail mother who prayed for her missing child’s safe return? Now she’s arguably the strongest of the group — tough enough to physically survive in the wilderness alone, and emotionally prepared to do just about anything necessary to live, no matter how unsavory.
Speaking of trust, Sergeant Abraham is still hiding something. After watching Michonne rifle-whip a zombie, he turns to Rosita and says, cryptically, “Right there is why we’re waiting for our moment.” (Brief aside: For a show that does a decent job of making its female characters every bit as three-dimensional and capable as the men, Rosita is nothing more than the Sarge’s lady at this point — a hot midriff with a gun, sort of a poor man’s Lara Croft.) He’s careful to respect Rick’s authority, calling him “Officer” and not arguing when the gang insists that repairing the “short bus” and hitting the road can wait. Once everyone’s hopped up on Del Monte, vino, and Judith snuggles, the Sarge makes his speech: Okay, survivors, who’s ready to take back these United States of America? Everyone’s in. It’s a rare feel-good moment for the gang, who desperately needed a pick-me-up.
Yet as Rick warns Carl — with advice that should have happened four seasons ago and repeated daily — no one is safe, ever. Daryl catches Carol as she was prepared to ditch the group and flee in an abandoned car; Rick and Tyreese have made peace with her, but Carol seems to feel she’s better off alone now. As luck would have it, the hearse goes flying by, and Carol doesn’t hesitate to help Daryl save Beth (and hopefully deliver a good Dukes of Hazzard–style backwoods car-chase scene).
Rick also tells Carl that “it only takes a second, and it’s over.” He really should have shared that with Bob, who earlier expressed his newly optimistic worldview: “This is a nightmare. And nightmares end.” Minutes later, Bob is waist-high in zombie soup and nearly eaten by a juicy, water-logged walker. At the church, Bob acts strange with Sasha, then goes outside for a good cry. My first thought was that he was hiding a bite from that food-bank basement tussle, and knew his relationship was headed to an early end.
Alas, no such luck. Poor Bob’s nightmare only gets worse as he ends up a captive of Gareth and the Terminus gang, who’ve been forced to take their cannibal act on the road. One thing that doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny for me is the fact that Gareth’s crew, as we learned, rapidly devolved from good folks to sociopathic flesh-eaters because some bad guys had abused them. Gareth doesn’t just chew on a prime slab of Bob leg jerky — he does so gleefully, informing his catch of the day that he tastes better than expected. In giving Gareth a somewhat sympathetic and humanizing backstory, the show made his extremely sadistic behavior a little hard to swallow. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Still, he’s quickly become a loathsome big bad, right up there with the Guv.
Considering we know that Morgan is not far behind — and odds are he’s armed to the teeth — Rick’s old pal may be the key to putting Gareth down for good. Among the other essential lessons learned: Tara gives awkward fist-bumps; we miss Michonne’s swords more than she does; the group really needs a buddy system; and you damn well better listen to Rick when he suggests taking a few extra minutes to wipe out the last of the bloodthirsty cannibals who just tried to eat you.