This review contains spoilers.
Two characters have come to define The Walking Dead‘s consistently shifting universe. Time to hit a point I’ve been beating to death all season: Carol and Beth are the only two characters to show significant growth over the course of the show’s run.
However, while the characters have transmogrified, there’s a core aspect of their personality that shines through, just in a different way. Carol is strength personified. Beth is hope and innocence. Since she tried to end her life in the second season, she’s grown stronger, but never lost that little spark of hope that made the world impossible for her to face until she realised how much everyone else needed to have her around to sing Tom Waits to the baby and generally keep the survivors from becoming an antidepressant commercial smeared in filth.
Of course, it took them a while to find her a character, but when they finally bothered to write stuff for her post-suicide, it ended up working really well. It’s kind of amazing that Beth of all people became one of the show’s more interesting characters, with a pretty nifty little arc over the fourth and fifth seasons. Especially after spending the third season as part of the backdrop. I think a lot of the credit should go to Emily Kinney, who used her big, expressive eyes to her advantage in really being able to sell Beth’s personality and her hopefulness. It was a slow transition, with Beth feeling her way out in her new world once she decided to live with it, and it’s proof that The Walking Dead is capable of going slow and meditative without really losing a lot of viewer interest or story momentum.
The Walking Dead‘s cast and crew have learned a lot about pacing since the second season, and while this episode isn’t a great example of that improved pace, it’s still impressively competent. The opening is the sort of slam-bang action we’ve come to expect from the show’s mid-season finales, with the escaping Officer Lamson finding the business end of an Atlanta police cruiser courtesy of one not-to-be-trifled-with Rick Grimes. Grimes has instituted a new policy regarding second chances – your only second chance is a bullet to the face after getting your spine broken. That’s going to complicate the hand-off plan just a little bit, since they had bargained on three cops, but now only have two. Still, two’s company, and it may just be enough to get Beth and Carol returned. Meanwhile back at the church, Gabriel learns a valuable lesson about not taking the direct route back home after attracting a massive mob of zombies during your walkabout.
In The Walking Dead world, someone’s going to die pretty much at every series finale, even if it’s just a half-season finale. The show loves to end on deaths, though they have the big kills for the actual finale rather than the holiday break. However, Angela Kang does a great job of disguising the victim throughout the episode. Gabriel is hobbling around, unable to kill zombies and putting himself (and Carl and Michonne) in danger. Beth and Carol are in the middle of unfriendly territory. Rick and the gang have to organise a hand-off of captured personnel to a hostile, desperate force. It’s impossibly tense, given the amount of expendable characters involved – Beth, Carol, Noah, Sasha, Gabriel, everyone in Grady, and so on. There’s no real stand-out moments of dialogue, except perhaps when the big fatal decision is made concerning Dawn.
This is emphasised at several points, like when Dawn and Beth dispose of O’Donnell and there’s a lingering shot from below of the two shadowed in the open elevator door. There’s danger here, more danger than usual. The hospital scenes, both when Rick meets with the officers to arrange the drop and when the drop itself are painfully tense, but the big character death comes out of nowhere, seemingly after the tension has passed. Ernest Dickerson does a great job of plotting out how the exchange is going to go, and he uses some great camera angles to emphasise just how badly this exchange could go if just one person sneezes at the wrong time. The fact that it doesn’t end in a hail of bullets is a minor miracle and an uncharacteristic moment of restraint for The Walking Dead.
Of course, there’s much less restraint at the church, where Carl and Michonne hack and shoot their way through Gabriel’s pack of zombie followers. That’s a really fun scene, albeit it’s only fun in the special effect sense. It’s also wonderfully executed, particularly the shot where the zombies are streaming into the church and pass under the illustrated quote about eating flesh, turning the communion into something literal. Very cool stuff, particularly from a tactical standpoint, when they make use of Gabriel’s escape hole to lock the zombies within the church. The doors don’t hold, but it was pretty fun just the same to see them all double back to the safety of the outside world after their well-barricaded shelter gets compromised courtesy of a suspiciously incompetent Gabriel.
There’s always change, always cast churn. New folks are added, old friends are taken away. That’s the way of The Walking Dead; there are very few untouchable characters, and even they might not be so untouchable if there’s some sort of contract dispute. However, the show does a good job giving most of these folks a good send-off when the time comes. This week was a very fitting send-off for a character who just wanted to make the world a better place and who will be greatly missed.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Crossed, here.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is glad to see Carol up and about, even if it looks like the rest of the group is going to have hard time with the death. Top-notch send-off episode for one of the show’s more interesting developments. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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