Following last week’s barnstorming premiere, which seemingly closed off the Terminus-related arc, this week’s episode, ‘Strangers’, was the start of the next arc. Alongside the foreshadowing for the rest of the season and beyond, this felt like one of a particular kind of The Walking Dead episodes – those which revolve around a specific concept, and fit everything around that. Here, that idea was ‘our’ real world against the world of the show; civilisation versus reality.
The plot saw the group encounter a new character, Father Gabriel Stokes, and hole up at his church while in preparation for the impending Washington journey. Seth Gilliam, part of the ever expanding group of The Wire alumni to join the show, portrays Gabriel, who’s outwardly a priest but is clearly hiding something; he’s a by the book ‘man of God’, uneasy with violence, the antithesis to the group’s hive personality. As much as I’m sure there’ll be more to the character as his potential deception is revealed, for now he seems a tad familiar – it’s nothing new to have a character who for one reason or another can’t kill. The religious element however is fairly new to the show; the Latino nursing home way back in season one is the only time that springs to mind.
While the portrayal was fairly basic, it did play into the aforementioned key theme. Gabriel appears wildly out of place in the world of TWD, yet before the outbreak, he would’ve been quite normal, especially for the US – meek, mild-mannered, getting on with life as a devout Christian. But the looks he was given by the entire group when they encountered him showed how battle-weary they are – a peaceful person is useless in this world.
Bob and Sasha’s ‘good and bad’ game highlighted just how much has changed in the world. There were various shots of the burnt out town, but there was also Abraham’s rousing speech towards the end, the full version of what had been teased in the season five trailer where he talked of ‘the living taking back the world’, and reclaiming civilised life. As was shown through the Woodbury arc of season three, the group has become so adapted to the drifter life, of perpetual danger and no privacy, that it’s hard to see them easily fitting back into ‘civilised life’, where people are predominantly friends, not yet another potential cause of death. Of course, its hard to see the ‘cure’ that’s talked of paying off, or even the group getting to Washington at all, so talk of adaption is probably premature.
Proving that we hadn’t seen the last of them, the Terminus gang made another reappearance, and a rather unpleasant one at that. The shock factor of Bob’s amputation and ‘digestion’ was good, but it’s odd how Gareth seems to ignore the fact that he imprisoned the group, instead acting as the wronged party. Sure, characters can be wrong or corrupt but this extent is pushing it. How they’re handled and shown throughout the season will be interesting, as there has to be more beyond, “Ooh look, cannibals”, for them to earn their screen time. Yet that was a minor blot on a fairly strong episode overall, one that set the scene for what’s to come.