The stage is set for a climactic confrontation at Grady Memorial.

By Kyle Ryan
February 27, 2015 at 04:27 PM EST
Gene Page/AMC
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Pick a cliche: No good deed goes unpunished. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Something from that song in Wicked. You get the point: As much as kindness is one of the only remaining links people have to their pre-apocalypse humanity, it can also make them careless. The Sasha we see in the opening shot of the episode angrily hacking a church pew with an ax wouldn’t have tried to help a prisoner achieve closure. And in the final shot of the episode, we see where that gets her: knocked out on the filthy floor of an abandoned factory.

These characters can be so maddening. Watching that final scene was like watching a horror movie when the next victim is about to open the door and get slashed. Doesn’t he know the killer is standing behind it?! Doesn’t Sasha, a battle-tested survivor, know better than to turn her back to a prisoner like that? Sure, he’s cuffed, but that doesn’t mean anything, as we all see.

It’s another baffling rookie mistake that follows Carol’s “Well, guess I’ll throw my weapon and back into this room that has walkers in it” move in “Consumed.” Still reeling from Bob’s death (and her inability to be the one to prevent him from coming back), Sasha moves from anger and depression and takes a tentative step back from the brink, only to have someone exploit her vulnerability. Emotional vulnerability can be just as dangerous as physical vulnerability in this world.

“Crossed” dutifully sets up the big midseason-finale showdown, and for some viewers, it’ll feel like a filler/transitional episode. The action is limited, the dialogue plentiful, though without any of the “what does it all mean?” philosophizing. All that table-setting is nicely balanced by some of the grossest walkers we’ve seen on The Walking Dead, and that’s saying something.

Where the past three episodes have focused on a particular person or persons, “Crossed” offers a little bit of everything: a look into the trio holding down the church (Gabriel, conflicted as always, Michonne, and Carl, along with baby Judith), GREATM (Glenn, Rosita, Eugene, still out, Abraham, Tara, and Maggie), the hospital (Beth, an unconscious Carol, and their captors), and the strike force (Rick, Daryl, Sasha, Tyreese, and Noah). Again, it’s all in service to set up the climactic finale, but each group’s story carries weight.

THE CHURCH

The episode opens with the group (minus GREATM) fortifying the church and preparing for battle. Some of the pews in Gabriel’s less-than-holy house of the Lord are being split to barricade the doors, and the pipes from the organ are inverted around the entrance as walker-catchers. (“Are you gonna take the cross too?” Gabriel asks sarcastically. “If we need it,” says Daryl.) Carl wants to join the raiding party, but Rick won’t allow it. Michonne offers to go in his place, but a) Rick is the leader, and b) “I owe Carol.” “We all owe Carol,” Michonne says. Rick won’t have it: “I owe her more.”

Everyone says their good-byes and Gabriel begins obsessively but fruitlessly cleaning the blood on his floor. He reluctantly picks a machete when Carl implores him to take a weapon to defend himself—which he secretly uses to pry up the floorboards in his quarters and escape out the crawlspace at the end of the episode.

The St. Sarah’s gang provides the least interesting parts of the episode: Gabriel is still pissy and resentful, even when Michonne tries to sympathize with him. In the comic, she’s a bit of a libertine, so I wondered if this was a careful step toward a more personal connection with Gabriel. Maybe that’s wrong, but Michonne is especially careful about making any personal connections, so it felt significant. More significant is the look of grave concern that washes across her face as Carl makes an Abraham-esque “You keep moving or die” speech to Gabriel. Add it to the “Will Probably Be a Problem Later” File. What do you mean, there’s no more room?

GREATM

That’s the acronym Tara bestows on the group per the letters atop their water bottles. The scene opens apparently right after the confrontation that left Eugene unconscious and Abraham homicidal. They can’t move Eugene, because it could exacerbate his injuries; they just have to leave him for the time being. Rosita tries to get Abraham to drink water, though nothing about his intense thousand-yard stare indicates he’s in the mood. When she tries to force it, he knocks the bottle out of her hand and stands up menacingly. “Sit down or I’ll put you down,” Maggie says, gun drawn. Abraham’s face softens; he realizes something, but it’s not clear. Is it that he no longer cares if he lives or dies? Maybe, he’s been there before. Did he not fully grasp how much the group has turned on him until good-hearted Maggie stared him down with a look that backs up her words? Maybe. (“Well, what’s next on the agenda?” asks Tara, this week’s comedian.)

Those two share more than they perhaps realize: Both of them desperately needed this mission. For Abraham, it literally saved his life. For Maggie, it gave her hope for the first time in recent memory. (As she told Glenn in “Self Help“: “It just feels really good having this because it’s now about what was—it’s all about what’s gonna be.”) As Abraham continues kneeling in silence on the highway, a stance that would resemble prayer if he didn’t look like a guy waiting to be shot execution-style, Maggie unloads: “Get over yourself. You’re not the only one who lost something today.” Pause. “It’s never going to get any better than this.”

I mentioned in “Self Help” that Eugene’s hose-down-the-walkers move may have worked, but it also used gallons and gallons of water. Stranded on the highway with a severely injured man, the group has drained the remaining water out of the tank. Glenn, Tara, and Rosita head to a nearby creek to stock up while Maggie keeps an eye on Eugene and Abraham. Along the way, they pass a few walkers pinned down by a fallen telephone pole. “Just stay here, guys,” Tara says. “Don’t get up. There is nothing for you in Washington.”

No one else appreciates her gallows humor, but she’s the most clear-headed of anyone in GREATM. “Eugene wasn’t strong. He isn’t fast. He doesn’t know how to use a weapon. The truth hurts, but he was useless. He had one skill that kept him living. We’re supposed to be mad at him because he used it?” (“Damn right,” says Glenn.)

We get some background on Rosita and Abraham while they get water at the stream. They met in Dallas, when her group got in trouble with walkers and he swooped in to save them. He saw how Rosita handled herself and asked for her help on his mission. “He was the first person to ask me for that since this all started. Maybe he was lying, too.”

The stream happens to have fish, something the group clearly hasn’t seen in a long time, and they bond while catching fish with an impromptu net from the jackets of the telephone-pole walkers. By the standards of The Walking Dead, they’re having a great day, and it shows in their contented faces as they head back to the truck.

Maggie and Abraham have made progress, too. “You’re thirsty. Don’t say you’re not,” she says as she puts a water bottle next to him. “Did you want me to shoot you?” Abraham responds, and maybe explains why his face changed when Maggie pulled the gun on him: “I thought I did, but I didn’t.” They hear some gurgling noises, a sound viewers have come to associate with walkers—like the thousands of walkers just down the road—but are actually coming from Eugene, perhaps roused by the shade over his head Maggie was able to create using the fire truck’s ladder and tarp.

Abraham reaches for the water bottle for the first time. If Eugene’s alive, he won’t have to punish himself quite as much.

NEXT: Give me 5 milligrams of epinephrine, stat!

GRADY MEMORIAL

While Beth doesn’t say outright she knows Carol, Lerner and Dr. Edwards would have to be exceptionally dim not to put it together. Beth doesn’t get a lot of screen time this week, but she makes an exceptionally risky move butting into a conversation between Lerner and one of her officers. He’s busy telling Lerner that Carol was “half-dead” when they brought her in, so the prognosis is bad. At Grady, you get a day to show some improvement, or down the Corpse Chute you go. Beth jumps in, saying his DVD player wastes energy, so who is he to decide when it’s time to pull the plug? Beth probably figures she had to act, even if it was a Hail Mary like accusing an officer of using too many resources. Surely she had to know Lerner would never agree with her—the cuts on her face and forehead still look fresh.

“You just killed that woman. Who do you think I have to side with?” Lerner says to Beth. She talks again about the fragile ecosystem that keeps the hospital together, but then makes the unexpected move of giving Beth the key to the drug cabinet. Wait, what? Standing quietly next to a patient earns Beth a slap in the face, but disrespecting an officer in front of Lerner gets her a key to the drugs? “I thought you were weak,” she says to Beth. “You’ve proved me wrong.”

This shouldn’t sit well with Beth, and maybe it doesn’t. She doesn’t have time to consider Lerner’s motives. The plug has been pulled on Carol, and she has to act quickly if she’s going to help her friend live. Edwards warns her that Lerner didn’t act “out of the kindness of her heart”—gee, you think?—but still gives Beth a suggestion for medication to give Carol.

Before prisons started banning smoking, cigarettes functioned as currency. Now it’s stamps, if Orange is the New Black is correct. And at Grady Memorial? Strawberries. Well, maybe it’s only currency to the old guy who starts faking a coughing fit/seizure to distract the guards while Beth raids the meds cart. That guy. Hey old man, could you try make it look a little less obvious that you were faking it?

Beth hooks Carol up to an IV and gives her 5 milligrams of epinephrine. And now she waits.

THE STRIKE FORCE

Hey, in the post-apocalypse, Rick and his group are the closest thing we have to SEAL Team Six. He certainly has no plans to take prisoners. How to deal with the guard Daryl will encounter? Slit his throat. It’s all about staying quiet and moving quickly: knives, silenced weapons. Efficient, lethal.

Still disconnected from his killer instinct, Tyreese suggests taking a couple of Lerner’s cops hostage and orchestrating an exchange. Daryl agrees, to Rick’s surprise: Lerner won’t have any choice but to cooperate if they take two of her officers.

It sets the stage for one of The Walking Dead’s grossest, nauseatingly ambitious setpieces. Rick and the crew set a trap for the Grady cops by sending Noah out and having him fire his gun. The cops come flying by and right into the trap. It works until it doesn’t.

And here’s another “What the hell?” moment. Rick doesn’t station Sasha up high to provide coverage in case this whole plan—one he didn’t want in the first place—falls apart? Because that’s exactly what it does. As Sasha says later in the episode, she’s a “good shot,” and thanks to her, the cops don’t get away in the car that rescues them. But it’s unusually short-sighted of Rick to put the whole team in one spot.

Edwards had told Beth that the government napalmed Atlanta, and aside from some CGI scorch marks on downtown buildings, we haven’t seen much evidence of that—evidence like walkers with their skin melted off, lying in grotesque pools of flesh on the asphalt. Again, Greg Nicotero and Scott Gimple weren’t lying when they said season 5 would escalate the nastiness. From my notes on the interminable close-up of that melted walker: “SUPER F—ING GROSS.”

Also super f—ing gross is the walker caught in the wheel of the vehicle that tries to spirit away the captured officers. And the walker head Daryl pries off and uses to bash the Mr. Clean-esque officer who had him pinned. How many Daryl Dolls’ hearts stopped during that confrontation? That’s the most acute danger we’ve seen Daryl face in quite some time—just moments away from being bitten by these melted walkers who can barely crawl.

Rick helps rescue Daryl and when Mr. Clean irritably stands up (“Okay, you win, asshole”), we see the wheels turning in Rick’s head. Mr. Clean clearly can’t be trusted; should Rick just take care of him right here? “Rick, three’s better than two,” Daryl says. He talks Rick out of it—this time.

Maybe he shouldn’t have, because the ripple effects of the “do no harm” plan keep coming. Their prisoners aren’t valuable: The lady cop says that Lerner knows she and her fellow prisoners want Lerner out, so they have little value. It’s better to let them deal with Lerner on their own, then they’ll make a trade. A third officer suggests they stick to the more merciful option of a trade. He’ll coach Rick and the group in dealing with Lerner, and no one has to die.

What’s interesting about how this plays out is that the episode suggests that brute force is the only viable option. Tyreese’s plan doesn’t work as expected, not that there are any guarantees Rick’s slit-their-throats idea would’ve gone off without a hitch. But complications keep arising, and another one will arrive soon.

Sasha is the wild card. After Tyreese comforts her about how she handled Bob’s death, the armor she had up falls away—and that puts her and the group in a perilous situation. But it’s worth noting that Rick buys this guy’s “Let me help you” shtick, too. He thanks “Sergeant Lamson” for his help. “My name’s Bob,” he says. “You’re still a cop,” Rick says. “No,” Lamson responds. “The real ones are all gone.”

And here comes the most maddening sequence of the episode. Sasha offers to eliminate the reanimated remains of a man Lamson claims to have known. (He has an affecting story about how he was supposed to be where this guy was, and if he had been, it would’ve been his gross, melted body out there on the asphalt.)

“That’s a sad story,” Sasha says. (I’m summarizing here.) “Why don’t you walk with me to a remote part of the building and stand behind me while I look out this window?”

Is Lawson going to warn Lerner? Or is he just making a run for it? Either way, it spells trouble. We’ve had four relatively restrained episodes in a row. It’s time for the big finish.

Etc.

• Look for next week’s recap a little bit later as I will be watching the episode live.

• Tonight from Dalton: an interview with Seth Gilliam. You’ll definitely want to read that one, because he may have a scoop on Gabriel’s motives for sneaking out. Look for another interview with Sonequa Martin-Green tomorrow.

• “You just told me your plan was counting on him screwing up. That’s some active police work right there.” Nice one, Dawn.

• Abraham got Rosita to join him by asking for her help. Glenn smartly does the same: “We’re going to need that wherever we all wind up. You in?”

• Who in Rick’s crew isn’t going to make it past the midseason finale? Taking bets now.

• Did you notice the wooden tablet hanging on the wall at St. Sarah’s? It shows a list of Bible passages, presumably from when the congregation still attended services at: ROM 6 4, EZE 37 7, MA2752, RE 9 6, LU 24 5. Maybe it’s been there this whole time, but I never noticed it until tonight. Because this season of The Walking Dead has turned me into a Bible scholar instead of a person who had religion burned out of him by 12 years of Catholic schooling, I looked up those passages. Unsurprisingly, they’re germane to the show:

Romans 6:4

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

There’s that “starting over” theme again, this time via the afterlife. Maybe that’s the only way people in this world really can start over.

Ezekiel 37:7

“So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.”

Ezekiel is the only Old Testament book on Gabriel’s board, and this passage comes at the exact halfway point of chapter 37’s first part, “The Valley of Dry Bones.” In it, God walks with Ezekiel through a valley filled with bones (the Big Guy doesn’t explain what happened to all the people who once used those bones) and gives Ezekiel a strange order: Tell the bones to come to life, which will prove to Ezekiel God is, like, really God. Ezekiel does it, and the bones come together. What’s more interesting to The Walking Dead is the passage that follows in line eight: “I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.” They had tendons and flesh, but no breath. That sounds familiar.

Matthew 27:52

“…and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.”

This occurs immediately after Jesus dies on the cross, along with an earthquake and the curtain of the temple tearing from top to bottom. It freaks out the Roman guard standing next to Jesus to enough to say “Surely he was the Son of God!” This passage has no real direct link to the show—those walkers don’t look especially holy—but it’s all part of the afterlife theme.

Revelation 9:6

“During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.”

This one hits the hardest: Death lurks everywhere on The Walking Dead, but it’s no escape. You come back and roam the Earth like a feather on the breeze, dumbly stumbling toward every noise you hear. Taking out walkers is a matter of survival, but it’s also a matter of mercy. People in The Walking Dead save themselves with those headshots, but they euthanize the walkers, too.

Luke 24:5

“In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?'”

Why, indeed.

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.
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