TV Review: The Walking Dead – Four Walls and a Roof (S5, E3)

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

I knew it wouldn’t last long. If last week’s episode was all about regrouping, then this week’s savage return to the harsh realities of post-outbreak life was very much about the inherent conflicts that still divide and disrupt this disparate group of survivors, victims and reluctant friends.

With three of their group missing – two of whom (Carol and Daryl) have driven off in search of Beth, while the other (Bob) is quite literally providing a meal for the last, frantic remnants of the Terminus mob – the survivors who were in such high spirits at the conclusion of last week’s episode soon realise that their earlier optimism was utterly misguided, not to mention quite tragically short-lived. The cannibalistic Hunters, led by the vengeance-obsessed Gareth, are stalking them from all angles and the as yet indefinable Gabriel remains evasive as to how he managed to survive for so long without weapons or any skills of note. Furthermore, the stark clash of personalities and ambitions between Abraham and Rick – both of whom purport, whether rightly or wrongly, to have the best interests of their particular “team” at heart, threatens to drive a wedge through all of the recently-established solidarity between those holed-up in Gabriel’s church.

In contrast to last week’s slow and anxious episode, which attempted to re-establish old partnerships and build a bridge over the past, “Four Walls and a Roof” – a title which refers to the complete lack of faith, moral guidance and, in many ways, humanity that Gabriel’s church now comes to represent – moves at a breakneck pace, throwing the group into complete disarray as the reality of the threats from outside and inside the church begin to dawn on them. With Carol and Daryl out of the picture and Bob on his last leg (if you’ll excuse the pun…), the group are forced to act as quickly, as uncompromisingly and as violently as they can to get through the night. The consequences, as I’m sure you can imagine, are far from pleasant…

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For quite a while now, The Walking Dead has dedicated a significant amount of time to re-evaluating and redefining its characters. What were once simple survivors have now evolved, in some cases beyond all recognition, into heroes, villains and – most pointedly of all – anti-heroes. With the exception of Carol, the most obvious alteration – and, in my view, degeneration – in character has revolved around Andrew Lincoln’s Rick. The severe lengths to which Rick is willing to go to protect his literal and adopted family have been a focus point since as far back as Season 2, but this week we hit a whole new extreme. His leadership, once guided by at least some sort of moral conscience, is now aggressive devoid of restraint. Similarly, the zeal with which other members of the team enable and support his actions sends a shiver down the audience’s spine, and though we still like these characters, the series is doing a fantastic job of making us much warier of them than we once were.

The effect of this is to break down the obvious barrier between the human heroes and the undead villains. Gareth’s turn to cannibalism is perhaps the bluntest example of this, though the manner in which Rick’s group “dispose” of their latest batch of issues is clear, brutal and completely unjustified savagery. The divide in the group, between those brandishing weapons and those looking on in horror at the devastation unfolding in front of them, makes for a clear breach in the group, and one that will obviously crop up again before this season is over. “Four Walls and a Roof” continues down the path taken by the previous two episodes, though there’s more at play now than there was previously. We’re seeing a bunch of people on the verge of losing their humanity altogether and it’s fascinating to watch, if not a little terrifying.

If I were to make a criticism of this episode it would be that it feels a bit rushed. The threats come and go within a single episode, and I would’ve appreciated a bit more time getting to know Gareth and the Hunters a bit better, as well as at least one more episode in which the group isn’t divided down pointless lines that do little but drag the narrative out. Nonetheless, “Four Walls and a Roof” is highly accomplished television and more than maintains the excellent standard set out by its predecessors. Any worries you might have had about The Walking Dead running low on steam should now have completely dissipated. It’s a show going from strength to strength and, perhaps unlike many of its characters, there’s a heck of a lot more life in it yet…