The Walking Dead season 5 episode 2 review: Strangers

After last week's corker, The Walking Dead feels a little one-note in episode two. Here's Ron's review of Strangers...

This review contains spoilers.

5.2 Strangers

After last week’s barn-burner (not literally, that was the end of season 2) of an episode, it’s only natural for this week’s return to the universe of The Walking Dead to be a bit of a let-down. Even if it was a great episode, and this one was pretty good, it’s not going to compare to the non-stop action of Rambo Carol and her wave of undead camouflage washing over Terminus like a red tide of vengeance. No Sanctuary was thrilling, epic television, but if you want to enjoy Strangers to its fullest extent, pretend it never happened.

With that mindset in place, you may be ready for Strangers, the first think-piece episode for this season of The Walking Dead. Indeed, that seems to be the way the audience should be thinking because that’s the way the characters are thinking. Carol has done a lot for Rick and company, and she’s done a lot to Rick and company too. However, this week is forgive and forget, or at least forget and move on. Fresh starts all around, according to Robert Kirkman’s script and the mouths of every other character who gets to speak.

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Yes, it’s very heavy-handed, and revisited a great deal as the characters pair off with one another to discuss the events of Terminus. Rick and Carol talk about their past, Carol and Daryl talk about their past, Tyreese and Carol discuss their past (everyone talks to Carol, mostly because she’s awesome), and the newest survivor they come stumbling across, Reverend Gabriel (Seth Gilliam, AKA Deaton from Teen Wolf). If you haven’t guessed that the good Episcopalian has a story to tell, you don’t know The Walking Dead, because from his screaming, panicking introduction, Gabriel is clearly hiding something more sinister than a bad sense of humour, and that’s obvious before they even reveal the attempted break-in at the church and the scrawled message.

That’s not Seth Gilliam’s fault. He’s a great actor and he’s very good, thus far, as Gabriel. The more this show recruits actors for new characters, the better it seems to get in the acting department. It’s the writing that’s a bit lacklustre, and I expect a bit better from Robert Kirkman, considering this is his baby. I get that this is very early in the season, and the show has to pace itself, but aside from a couple of good set pieces in the resupply and the big reveal at the end, the episode seems a bit bland. They can’t all be winners, and there’s some positive stuff happening this week, but the episode feels a little too one-note thematically.

Still, the two big action moments are handled very well by David Boyd, and again we get the use of in-camera effects to simulate waking from unconsciousness to good effect. The shots of the stalker trailing them in the woods are also well done. Still, watery zombie fight or no, there’s not a ton of action to be put on display, and most of what Boyd does is pretty simple, standard stuff by TV standards. No real extreme angles or weird shooting styles, just straight coverage as befitting the material and some very pretty visuals. The only odd thing is the use of slow-motion in showing the crew walking down the road early in the episode, segmented by little individual conversations. Not sure what that was about, but perhaps it’ll pay off later (or maybe it was just a little flair).

The episode is very talk-heavy, very moralistic, very… season 2-ish, but it’s only one episode back and after last week, they clearly need to hang onto a few dollars for future episodes. It’s at least relevant talk, and it’s Carol-heavy, so it’s not too bad. Rick’s palaver with Carol is one of the better talky scenes this week, and Caryl together is always money. There’s no terrible Lady MacBeth angle to drag things down; hearing characters talk to one another about events always works better when they’re not unlikable: Bob and Sasha are very cute.

I’m not entirely sold that Rick would so easily give up and go to Washington, and it’s nice to hear that Michonne remembers Hershel and Andrea and those that are already dead—she just needs her sword back fast, even if she doesn’t miss it like, say, we all miss it. Now, if they spend another three episodes wandering around and talking about their past and how they should forget it, I won’t be happy (and Bob will live up to his name).

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, No Sanctuary, here

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US Correspondent Ron Hogan thinks that before long there will be more actors from The Wire than there were from the first season of The Walking Dead. He is far from the first person to notice that, and he won’t be the last. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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