Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Spend" Your Time On THE WALKING DEAD

Article originally written for Seat42F.

A lot happens in last night’s THE WALKING DEAD on AMC, “Spend.” Both the supply run team and the construction team run into Walkers and cowardice. But it’s not just outside the walls of Alexandria where trouble is brewing, as martial issues come out and the panicked declarations of one weak man may screw things up for everyone.

First, let’s start with the supply team, as that seems the most shocking. While picking up some needed parts for the town’s solar array, Aiden (Daniel Bonjour) makes a stupid mistake that injures Tara (Alanna Masterson) and kills him. Before he dies, he admits that the former members of the group that died did so because he and Nicholas (Michael Traynor) panicked. History repeats itself when Nicholas refuses to listen to Glenn’s (Steven Yeun) plan to get them out of a revolving door, and Noah (Tyler James Williams) is the collateral damage this time.

This save-yourself mindset repeats itself on the work site, where Tobin (Jason Douglas, Revolution) and his team are ready to abandon an injured Francine (Dahlia Legault, Actress Apocalypse). Lucky for her, Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) is a little more selfless and manages to save her. Tobin, realizing that the settlement’s policy of abandoning those in need may result in unnecessary casualties, eagerly cedes command of the group to Abraham, and tells Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) the change should be permanent.

I think we now see how Alexandria has survived so long, and why there is plenty of room for others to move in. Rather than uniting to stay alive, these people are cowards who run at the first sign of trouble. That works fine until you are the one who needs rescuing, and the population numbers will slowly dwindle over time. Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) group is tougher, knowing strength can lie in numbers. Even having been on the road and compromising their morals, they still have compassion for those in need.

This is exemplified in “Spend” with Eugene (Josh McDermitt). He begins the hour insisting he doesn’t do violence, but is forced to go on the supply run anyway. When things break down, he carries Tara, his best friend, over his shoulder and killing his first Walkers on their way to safety. Then, draws away some of the cluster from Glenn and company. He stands up to Nicholas, even if he needs Glenn’s help to stop him. The nobility and braveness of Rick’s group has rubbed off on Eugene, and it’s in this episode that he finally becomes a fully contributing member.

This will rub off on the Alexandrians in THE WALKING DEAD. We see at least one member of Tobin’s group rush to Abraham’s aide, not that the gleeful Walker-killer needs it, but still. It’s a spirit the fledging town needs, and one that is giving the people not just a want to survive, but a way to feel good doing it. It’s contagious, in the best of ways, proving the inclusion of the newbies will change Alexandria forever.

But how much change will Deanna tolerate? She puts Rick and some of his people in positions of power by choice, carefully strategizing what to give up to them. Letting Abraham take over the construction crew, not the first unexpected compromise she’s made since they arrived, makes her uncomfortable because that expands what she’s willing to sacrifice. She’s afraid they will take over and bend the morals and values of those who live there. The townspeople may be weak, but they’re still civilized in a way Rick and company are not, spared from losing their humanity. Deanna knows she needs our heroes, but if the cost gets too high, she may not pay it.

It’s into this doubt, which is blossoming even before she learns her son is dead, something not seen in “Spend,” that Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) pours fuel. Gabriel also lives in a sheltered life prior to Rick showing up, and he doesn’t spend much time out in the wilderness with them. He clings to them when he needs them to survive, but sees kinship in the Alexandria residents, and warns Deanna not to trust Rick, afraid of what Rick will do to the city. This is the wrong thing for Deanna to hear right now, and while I understand Gabriel’s perspective and love that THE WALKING DEAD shows varied personalities, this is the wrong move that will surely spell trouble.

As if that isn’t enough, Carol (Melissa McBride) thinks she discovers that Pete (Corey Brill, The Normal Heart) abuses and threatens his wife, Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge), and young son, Sam (Major Dodson, American Horror Story). Carol, having been abused herself, wants Rick to kill Pete, which Rick may be apt to do, considering he clearly wants Jessie for himself. But that won’t go over in the town, especially when things are so tenuous, and I can’t imagine Deanna would approve a death sentence. Plus, Pete is the town doctor, so he’s kind of necessary.

“Spend” has all of this and more. There is plenty of symbolism and foreshadowing, like a broken owl and a mall sign that says ‘big things are coming.’ This week’s episode is stressful because of the danger certain characters are in, but also because of the hints of what’s to come. Noah’s death, just when he declares his want to work with Reg (Steven Coulter, Banshee) on a plan for the future, is tragic. But with the little bits above tossed in, it spells a big, dark season finale. I assumed that this year’s ending may be the town and Rick’s group pulling together to be tested by an outside force. Now, I’m much more concerned about an internal implosion, which seems imminent.

THE WALKING DEAD has two episodes left in its fifth season, airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

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