This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 10 Episode 19
Walking from point to point on the map, looking for desperately needed food and supplies, all Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) have done is kill zombies and wear the leather off their shoes. At this point, The Walking Dead is also the walking living, as the two are without car, bicycle, cart, or horse. Every spot on the map marked by Maggie has been a dud, from the freshly burned-down house to the boarded-up mini-mart. Frustration is beginning to set in for Aaron, who is ready to head back home with empty hands. Two weeks of wandering around killing walkers and burning precious calories is a long time to be away from a city trying to rebuild after a war, but Gabriel insists upon one more.
The place they find, a closed-up warehouse, isn’t on Maggie’s map, but it’s worth a look. They don’t find much in the way of useful food up there, but they do find three things: a wild boar trapped in an office, a bottle of expensive whiskey, and trouble in the form of a dangerous loner named Mays (Robert Patrick). Taken by surprise and caught in a moment of weakness, Aaron and Gabriel are forced to take a hard look at themselves, and their attitudes, as part of a very sick game put together by a very sick man.
Before Robert Patrick shows up, the episode itself is solid. The very mundane act (for these people) of killing walkers or avoiding them is honed down to a fine science. They know to throw something into tall grass to get walker attention. They know how to fight back to back and keep threats within eyesight. They work together as a team and clear efficiently, even when they’re exploring a dark warehouse. Every walker they pass, and every skeleton they find scattered on the ground, is someone who failed to learn those hard lessons, but Aaron and Gabriel are capable, dangerous men. Everyone is dangerous in this world.
It’s no wonder that, when Aaron and Gabriel gets into a bottle of whiskey, things turn a little dark. Gabriel, in particular, is burned out and tired of fighting the good fight. Trying to see the good in humanity is hard in this place. It’s no wonder he thinks people are mostly bad; Alexandria has been through a lot in a short span, and Gabriel has seen nothing but darkness and terror since the apocalypse kicked off. No one is unscarred, mentally or physically, by the way the world has turned. Then he meets Mays.
From the moment Robert Patrick steps into frame, he’s an arresting figure to watch. He’s tall, especially by actor standards, and he’s physically imposing. There’s a reason he was the T-1000, after all; he knows what to do with his body to maximize whatever mood he’s going for, even when he’s not speaking or his face is obscured by a hood and scar makeup. He is immediately a threat in the way the walkers throughout the episode were not, and even when he’s making conversation about the boar—his boar—that Gabriel and Aaron ate in a level voice, there’s a level of menace in the way he handles himself. Laura Belsey makes the most out of this ability throughout the episode.
By having him usually standing over a tied-up Aaron or across from the shorter Seth Gilliam, it emphasizes his size and his physically imposing stature. Robert Patrick already seems somewhat dangerous and commanding just based on pop culture osmosis, but by constantly putting him in the position of control and power over the other two, it only makes that balance of power seem tilted even farther away from the two Alexandrians, even without taking into account that he’s armed and dangerous. He is in control, and Gabriel and Aaron are both trying their best to find a crack in his aggressive, blustery armor.
Aggressive and blustery is something of an understatement. Mays is on the offensive from the moment he shows up and asks Gabriel how the boar tasted, and his slow reveal of psychosis is very well done in Erik Mountain and Jim Barnes’s script. It is paced out slowly, so when he pulls Aaron’s arm out of the bag and throws it across the room, it’s an immediate shock and it seems that Aaron could be dead. Mays only ups the ante further when he fires his gun into the office, then announces that Aaron was tied up inside.
Throughout the episode, as he quizzes Gabriel and Aaron on their attitude towards survival, and what they were talking about while drunk the night before, bits of his own past are exposed. That gives Gabriel enough of a view of his psychology to start using his pastoral care training to meet the grieving, angry man where he is (a lesson nicely established during the drinking talk earlier) in an effort to reach him and save their lives.
It’s constructed well. He pushes Gabriel and Aaron, getting angrier and angrier, with Patrick, Gilliam, and Marquand playing off one another nicely throughout the process. The two series regulars have enough of a relationship established that just by watching them look at and react to one another, you can tell what they’re thinking, and Aaron and Gabriel seem to agree to play “good cop, better cop” with their unstable captor. For his part, Patrick just pushes forward, getting angrier and angrier each time, until he finally confesses how he got his scars and just what he had to do with his family on the road, having a breakthrough in the process. It’s a breakthrough!
And it lasts just long enough for Gabriel to smash Mays’s head in.
Gabriel’s patter seemed to work, with Mays cutting Aaron free and responding positively to Gabriel’s mention that their community heals the broken. Then bang, Laura Belsey masterfully deploys the first of two big surprises to the episode, and it’s as stunning to the audience as it is to Aaron. The second surprise is less shocking, but more bittersweet, as Mays’s brother is chained up in an upstairs hiding spot and is freed just long enough to grab the Russian roulette pistol from Gabriel and use it on himself, to join his long-dead wife and child in the great beyond.
One Mays brother is given brief redemption before his pain ends, and the other takes matters into his own hands to end his pain. Gabriel, for all his talk about the world not being full of evil men and redemption being possible, does not act like it after the death of Mays Prime. Some things simply cannot be hand-waved away in the end, and someone who killed his own family is always going to be a concern. As for Gabriel, the truth passes drunk lips easily.