The Walking Dead Review: 'Spend'
There were so many things wrong with this episode. In fact, there were precious few things that were right in this episode. At least two subplots landed with a thud, the dynamic between the Alexandrians and the Rickettes was oversimplified, the violence was way more over-the-top than usual, and the treatment of minority characters on this show has become a distinctly unfunny joke.
Major spoilers ahead!
I'll talk about the racism first, just because it's gotten so out of hand. As the spoilers predicted last week, Noah was a goner by the end of the episode. It was without question one of the most gruesome deaths on the show, with Noah's face literally ripped apart right before Glenn's eyes. Not only did the gore reach gratuitous levels, which I'll talk more about in a minute, but his fate just served to confirm the insidious racism on this show. Out of the five major characters who have died this season, three were black men (Bob, Tyreese, Noah), one was a woman (Beth), and one was a white man (Gareth). And even that analysis is being charitable, because Gareth doesn't really count. He was a villain, which means an ugly death was built into his character from day one, but he wasn't a core member of the group. The Walking Dead is a horror show, which inevitably means that it has expendable characters who are unceremoniously killed off. But it's interesting that, of the series regulars, black men seem to be the most expendable by a landslide.
The fact that Noah's death scene was entirely lacking in taste added insult to injury. I like a good kill as much as the next person, and I genuinely like gore when it's in service of a greater purpose and doesn't cross the line into torture porn. The Walking Dead often tiptoes around that line, but usually I'm the first one to say that if you want to portray a zombie apocalypse realistically, pulling punches simply won't get the point across. Aiden's death was a good example of a death that almost crossed that line, but was ultimately acceptable. They may have lingered on Aiden's pain for a little too long, but it may very well be important in future episodes for the viewers to remember that he died a truly horrifying death.
Some may make the same argument for Noah's death, especially considering that Nicholas is still alive and will likely be brought to justice for his actions in future episodes. When Alexandria is contemplating his punishment, when Glenn has emotional reactions to his trial, it will be helpful for the audience to remember that Glenn saw Noah die horribly right in front of him. But this could have been done in a much less gratuitous manner; the moment in which Noah is literally pressed up against the glass so Glenn can see his death up close was so clearly contrived, it would have been funny if it wasn't so sickening.
The drama back at Alexandria, or I should say melodrama, got a similarly disappointing treatment this week. First, the Father Gabriel subplot fell completely flat, as he has barely been developed as a character and the motivations for his betrayal were not explored nearly enough to make his scenes work. Everything about it was over-the-top: Father Gabriel ripping pages out of the Bible, Maggie overhearing their conversation like this is a damn soap opera where everyone overhears everything, the crazed insistence to Deanna that the Rickettes are "devils disguised as angels of light." Without any foundation laid for this plotline (we haven't even seen this character for weeks!), he sounded less like a desperate man who tragically felt that he was out of options than some random guy you would avoid on the subway.
The Carol/Sam plot thread fared a little better, but not by much. The scenes between Carol and Sam mostly worked, and I liked that the writers chose Carol to discover Pete's abuse rather than Rick. Her reaction to the discovery was very well-done; she clearly had an emotional reaction to Jessie and Sam's abuse that was colored by her own history with domestic violence, but never explicitly mentioned it, because she didn't have to. The writers should give the audience that kind of credit more often.
But then, at the end, they had to go overboard with the melodrama again, and Carol insists that Rick will have to kill Pete. I'm the last person who would ever defend someone who would hit their wife or child, but this is a huge leap. They would need to be absolutely certain that Pete is abusing his family before bringing him to justice, especially if they're considering capital punishment. The evidence is pretty damning, but it's not conclusive, and I think Carol would realize that no matter how much this situation hits close to home. I won't speak to what they should do if they're sure, because it's an extremely complicated issue, but they would at least need to be sure. I understand that they're trying to draw a contrast between the Alexandrians, who are accustomed to living in a society with rules, and the Rickettes, who are used to indulging their animal instincts to survive in the wild, but this was too much.
And speaking of that contrast, the subtler conflicts and politics between the melding groups remains the most interesting part of the back half of the season. Deanna is shaping up to be an extremely interesting character, and there's no denying at this point that she is likely a good person and a better leader. She may be lacking Rick's experience, but she's hardly naive as an individual, and we can see that she's torn between her acknowledgment that the town has become complacent and her justified fears that the Rickettes have been out in the wild for too long. Although the complicated dynamic between her and Maggie may have been ruined by the aforementioned Father Gabriel contrivance, Deanna's line, "I put one of your people in a position of power, you vouch for them … it's becoming a pattern" was hands-down the best of the episode. Even if this episode made me cringe overall, I'm looking forward to exploring the nuances of the Alexandria/Rickettes dynamic for the rest of the season.
-Obviously, a show like The Walking Dead needs to kill off characters, so why not Eugene? Not only is he an expendable white man, but he's also just the worst. I don't buy his redemption arc at all, especially after he refused to take any responsibility for his lie or even show gratitude for their protection.
-Speaking of which, I really hope Tara isn't dead, if only because she was awesome in the "I got you there," "No, we got you there!" exchange.
-Once again, The Walking Dead minimally characterizes someone for the sole purpose of killing them off. If you need to tell the audience that Noah wants to be an architect in order to make his death impactful, then you haven't done the legwork up to this point. Plus, as I said when Beth died, character development should be a goal in itself, rather than just a means to get the audience to care a tiny bit when the characters are gruesomely eaten.
-What is this "system" the Alexandrians keep talking about? Is it just leaving people behind when the going gets tough, like Aiden and Nicholas did with their raid team? If the Alexandrians have some deep, dark secret, this might be it.