The Walking Dead
My skepticism meter was off the charts as the opening scenes of this episode unfolded. There’s Gabe and A-Aaron, out here in these woods covering grasshoppers and all manner of flora with plasma. (“Blood on a Dandelion” sounds like the title of one of Beta’s albums.) They’re in search of food and coming up empty in the worst way. Instead of a house that might hold supplies, they find only rubble and the charred skeletal remains of what appears to be two adults and a child holding each other. Aaron wonders what happened here; Gabe cheerily says they’ll never know. Or will they? It may have started off slow, but this dark, depressing side quest turns out to be the most compelling season-ten bonus chapter so far.
There are plenty of signs early on that something grim is ahead. Gabe shows some ingenuity — tossing a wind-up kitchen timer to draw zombies out from hiding in tall grass — and there’s a good jump scare as he gets dragged down into the mud by another stealthy walker. (Gotta love a fortuitous flash storm to wash away all that grime. Father Gabe is cleansed, amen!) But otherwise, it’s one depressing tableau after the next. At a convenience store mobbed with zombies, Gabe finds a sad sight on the roof — two more corpses locked in eternal embrace, and a groaner tied up nearby. Earlier he found a bullet casing on the ground, and we see at least one body with a hole in its skull.
Gabe isn’t interested in detective work (at least not yet). They’ve been on the road for two weeks now with nothing to show for it. So when they happen upon an abandoned warehouse that wasn’t marked on the map, it seems too good to be true. In fact, the signs that things are not as they appear are everywhere: A wild boar is locked in a room, a bottle of knock-off Pappy Van Winkle is stashed in a desk, and there’s a creepy pile of Bibles with pages torn out. Gabe opens one and sees a passage from Samuel with a hand-written annotation about “mourning.” (This particular scripture is a message from the Lord telling Samuel to quit weeping over Saul and “be on your way” — the spirit of which seems to be misinterpreted by someone we’ll meet soon.)
You know that a night of card playing and hootch-swilling is not going to end well. Gabe and Aaron tie one on as the priest recalls a valuable lesson taught by his mentor: “Real ministry isn’t preaching from a pulpit. It’s talking to people one on one, on their own terms.” Continuing with the gloom-and-doom theme, Gabe doesn’t have much faith in what’s left of humanity. “Evil people aren’t the exception to the rule,” he says. “They are the rule.”
Worse than a whiskey hangover is realizing your friend with the very useful spiked mace hand is missing. Even worse is seeing that the guy who probably took him is the Terminator. As the mysterious stranger enjoys some leftovers from last night’s meal, Termy — rifle in hand, face horribly scarred — poses a fair question to Gabe: Did ya think that hog locked itself up? There’s a sharp exchange as Termy says he’s been using the holy book as toilet paper: Gabe suggests he should start reading the Bible instead of wiping his ass with it. Termy replies that he did and that’s why he does. Say what you will about his rather in-your-face blasphemy, but I’m starting to like this guy’s moxie.
That’s about when any hint of rugged individualist charm takes a hard turn toward serial-killer scary. Termy — who’d been listening to the poker party all night — shares Gabe’s belief that there are no good people left in the world. Unfortunately, he’s set up a sick test to prove his point: a game of Russian roulette, with the option to point the gun at your opponent instead of yourself before pulling the trigger. After three extremely tense clicks, Termy admits his bleak outlook was shaped by his brother, who stole his food and tried to kill him. Termy “handled it,” he says, and gained something that day, which seems to be insanity.
Gabe seems to put his ministry to good use as he somehow talks Termy down from his homicidal ledge. Tears in his eyes, moved by the promise of a better life and perhaps the last good folks left on Earth, Termy tucks away the pistol, unties Aaron, and in a humanizing gesture, reveals that his name is Mays. It’s precisely this moment when Gabe goes full Mike Trout with Aaron’s club hand and crushes the guy’s skull. Aaron flips from “Holy shit, Gabe’s sermon worked” to “Holy shit, I’m wearing this guy’s brains on my shirt.”
At first it seems like all of Gabe’s ministry talk was bullshit, but he actually stayed quite true to his words. He spoke with Mays on his terms, knowing the guy was capable of killing his own family, and sized him up as evil despite a brief moment of possible repentance. Perhaps the ballistics evidence Gabe witnessed along the way — gunshot wounds, the bullet casing — suggested this guy could be involved in a lot of dirty deeds. Mays isn’t the exception to the rule. He’s a rabid dog that needs to be put down. (This begs for a crime procedural spinoff, CSI: Alexandria.)
Aaron was probably relieved to find Gabe was right. A quick search of where Mays was hiding reveals the horrible truth: His twin brother was actually alive — hirsute, handcuffed, and held captive with the dead bodies of his wife and daughter at his feet, each with a single bullet hole in their skulls. “He made me play,” the man mumbles over and over. There’s an awful poetry in the brother stealing the pistol from Gabe, raising it to his head, and pulling the trigger.
In the aftermath, Aaron looks scarred for life, while Gabe calmly goes about grabbing cans of food to bring home. Earlier, they debated whether to go off course and investigate a water tower. Now, there’s no argument. Might as well, right? What’s the worst that could happen?