TV Review: The Walking Dead – Strangers (S5, E2)

The Walking Dead - 1

Director: David Boyd
Screenwriter: Robert Kirkman
Cast: Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan, Chandler Riggs, Melissa McBride, Chad Coleman & Seth Gilliam

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iQw3QE8NQQ]

After last week’s explosive season premiere, The Walking Dead returns to a more manageable pace this week, though that doesn’t mean – if you’ll excuse the slightly spoilery pun – that there still isn’t a lot to “chew over” (geddit?)

Whereas last week’s episode was all about bringing the group back together with a considerable bang or two, “Strangers” – an apt title for a chapter all about a disparate group trying to re-establish old friendships and partnerships – is focussed heavily on the uncertain challenges still to come. It is an episode about regrouping, in which the divisions and the problems of the past are discussed and forgiven (though never forgotten), yet one that is laden with a palpable sense of foreboding. Things might be alright for now, but as Rick tells Carl in one of the episode’s more poignant episodes, you must never let your guard down, for death and destruction might be just around the corner.

The main focus of “Strangers” is Gabriel (Gilliam), a priest who is rescued by the newly-reformed gang as they begin their arduous trek towards Washington DC. Gabriel, like everyone in The Walking Dead, is a classic enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a conundrum, and it becomes clear from the onset that Rick in particular is distrustful of this man of the cloth. Having spent months alone in the sanctuary of his church, Gabriel is reluctant to let the group interfere but the numbers are stacked against him and he has little choice to let them in. From there, a hunt for supplies and some ominous carvings on the outside wall of the church reveal that Gabriel isn’t all that he seems, though his secret is – at least for now – still just that.

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After such a powerful start to the season, it was inevitable that things would slow down and that there would be a certain dip in quality, but thanks to some excellent performances and a genuine sense of terror and uncertainty, the episode still gets the job done. Gabriel is an intriguing addition to the team, not least because we can’t yet be sure whether he’s a threat or not, though I must admit to being a little tired of the whole “dangerous secret” trope that seems to come with every new character. Nonetheless, the uncertainty around Gabriel provided some solid drama, and also gave us one of the series as a whole’s most reflective and pertinent moments to date, in which Carl reminds Rick that the necessity for safety and security doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be helped whenever possible.

“Strangers” is a decent episode with just enough meat on the bones to keep the audience engaged in the latest chapter in this ever expanding story. The scenes between Daryl and Carol were a delight, as always, and it was nice to see the group back together again, even though their reunion didn’t even mark it past the thirty minute mark before being shattered again. Nevertheless, I digress. This is an episode that doesn’t go too deep or get too dangerous; in effect, it’s a filler episode, but it’s a solid one, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It also boasts perhaps the single most horrific cliff-hanger in the show’s history to date, and for that alone it deserves your full and undivided attention.

★★★

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