If Shakespeare had made it through to the zombie apocalypse, then there’s every chance he would written something along these lines to describe the tone and feel of the penultimate mid-season eight episode, “Crossed”:
Once more unto the Atlanta breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our zombiefied dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of the apocalypse blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Rage it seems was the thing in “Crossed”, or perhaps most accurately, the unceasing need for self-preservation (and perhaps the dying of the light too although some poetic intent isn’t high on most peoples’ agendas) at all costs that it seems to engender.
The urge to live, or protect those you care about who are still living was front and centre in this episode, which danced with pleasing dramatic precision thanks to Seth Hoffman’s elegantly-plotted script, between three locations – Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Noah (Tyler James Williams) in Atlanta ready to rescue Carol (Melissa McBride) and Beth (Emily Kinney), Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) looking after Little Asskicker at the church, and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Glen (Steve Yeun), Maggie (Lauren Cohen), Rosita (Christian Seratos), Tara (Alanna Masterson) and a still unconscious Eugene (Josh McDermitt) out on the road.
Every single person in the episode demonstrated in one way or another a strong survival instinct which granted is usually on display anyway among the survivors of The Walking Dead – or well, they wouldn’t be survivors now would they? – but rarely is it on such synchronous display, with every single word, action or deed belying a desperate need to hold onto the little that is left to them in the current apocalyptic mess.
Of course not everyone handles this fight for life in quite the same way, a dynamic most clearly on display with the Fire Engine Crowd – Glen, Maggie and the others who spent much of their time huddled around the only safe place they have out on the open road with a herd of zombies not that far away – who reacted to the news of Eugene’s Big Fat Survival Lie in markedly different ways.
Abraham spent pretty much all of “Crossed” on his knees where he had dropped after decking Eugene, staring lifelessly into the distance, unable, or as it turned out, unwilling to respond to anyone’s attempts to snap him out of it.
The one time he did stir in any noticeable fashion, it was to come close to doing something violent to Rosita who had tried to get to drink some water and almost paid dearly for it; you could see the violence brimming in his eyes, coiling in his fists and it was only Maggie’s quick thinking decision to point her gun at him that defused an almost lethally tense situation.
Maggie: “Did you want me to shoot you?”
Abraham: “I thought I did. But I didn’t.”
He had clearly taken the loss of Eugene’s fabricated survivalist nirvana to heart, his stalled grieving over his wife and kids, which was interrupted in Dallas by Eugene’s almost clown-ish hollering for help, striking back up again as if no time had elapsed at all.
Perhaps it was some kind of dramatically-executed sulk – Maggie seemed to think so alternating between cajoling and berating him, depending on her mood – but given what the man had been through, and his lack of time or place to deal with it (something that could be said about any of the survivors really) it made sense that he simply shut down.
Maggie for her part spent her time tending to a still-sprawling, unresponsive Eugene, shading him with a fire ladder and a blanket while Tara, Rosita and Glen went off to get water, and by happenstance, fish, making use of the belongings of some walkers to advance their chances of survival while learning a little more about how Rosita came to be with Abraham and Eugene.
While Glen and Rosita were quiet and resolute of purpose, Tara tried to lift the mood with some black humour telling some zombies trapped under a telegraph pole at point to not bother getting up, there’s nothing for you in D.C., and some creative naming of the group with the acronym G.R.E.A.T.M. adopted, Band of Brothers-style, to demonstrate their still-standing (hoped for) “solidarity”.
When Glen seemed to take her task for being a little too flippant, she responded with a few words of perspective-resetting wisdom, which every needed to hear and which seemed to do the trick, lightening the mood somewhat:
“Listen, I don’t know what to do without D.C. anymore, but I’m not dealing with it, I’m over it. I just want him [Eugene] to be OK. Eugene wasn’t strong, he isn’t fast, he doesn’t know how to use a weapon. Truth hurts but he’s useless. He had one skill that kept him living and we’re supposed to be mad at him ’cause he used it?”
There was a lot of adjusting going on to new realities, as important a step towards continued self-preserbation as the water and fish (Biblical imagery anyone?) that Glen, Rosita and Tara (and her yoyo!) managed to secure.
Meanwhile back at the church, whose organ and pews were pulled apart with singular efficiency, while Father Gabriel looked on with barely-disguised sanity-sapping horror, his world slipping still further from his grasp, for both weapons and church-as-sanctuary bolstering capabilities, Michonne and Carl took quite different approaches to getting Gabriel more firmly onto the kicking ass to save your butt bandwagon.
In lieu of more sophisticated descriptions, Carl was the bad cop, trying to use a great bludgeoning slab o’ brutal home truth to wake Gabriel up to the realities outside the now further-depleted “four walls and a roof” of his church, to less than stellar success (with Michonne watching on with great and justifiable concern:
Carl: “You’re lucky the church has lasted this long. You can’t stay in one place anymore. Not for too long … and once you’re out there, you’re going to find trouble you can’t hide from. You need to learn how to fight … Good choice [Gabriel selected a machete as his weapon with obvious, strained reluctance]. But you’re not holding it right. You need to be able to drive it down, sometimes their skulls aren’t as soft and you need to be able to …”
At that point, Gabriel weakly holds up his hand, and indicated he needs to go lie down, Carl’s rousing speech of bitter realities not going down to well with the reverend who seemed to shedding his sanity, almost as fast as he sweated.
Michonne, realising that Gabriel was only a loosened dog collar away from howling at the moon in anguish, tried a more softly-softly good cop approach, assuring the clearly rattled minister that “the things we do are worth it” and “we’re just trying to help.”
While he nods like he understands, Gabriel responds to Michonne’s kindler, gentler, kumbayah tactics by closing the door to his office, lifting up floorboards and making a run for it, weapon-less, a sign of his rapidly deteriorating state of mind, for the woods but not before standing on a tetanus-loaded nail, another piece of boldly-declared Biblical imagery and a possible portent of his fate.
That he encountered a walker not barely a tree or two into the woods was not a good sign, his chances of surviving this ill-thought-out dash for what exactly not enhanced by his inability to deal a fatal blow with a rock, his nerve thrown by the glittering cross around his assailant’s neck.
That he got away was a miracle frankly but isn’t indicative of his odds of survival, his unwillingness to face up the realities of the brave, new world around him, writ large across his anguished face.
And lastly to Atlanta where action of a less cerebral, more violent and tactical nature was playing out.
Rather cleverly, Hoffman’s nuanced script didn’t turn this storming of the hospital to rescue Beth and a still-desperately injured Carol – who became the subject of a “is she worth the resources to save her?” discussion between Dawn (Christine Woods) and one of her restless officers O’Donnell (Ricky Wayne) – into a slam-down certainty.
While Rick and the gang certainly had the element of surprise, what they didn’t have was a consensus on what was needed to preserve their lives and that of Beth and Carol when they attacked the hospital.
Rick’s highly-tactical plan relied on everyone in the hospital behaving exactly as Noah said they would and sticking to their routines to the absolute letter, while Tyreese, who felt there was too much that could go wrong if all the sociopathic ducks didn’t line up in a row, opted for kidnapping a police officer or two, and bargaining for the release of Carol and Beth.
Neither plan was foolproof, of course, but it was the latter one that won the day, a reflection of Tyreese’s post-loss of Karen impulse to minimise death wherever it was practical to do so (another example of the continuing idea that selling your humanity down the survival-at-all-costs river isn’t a prerequisite for living in a post-apocalyptic world).
And to begin with everything seemed to go swimmingly.
The officers took the bait, following Noah down an alley where Rick and the others swooped into capture them, mission seemingly accomplished.
But wait, not so fast my slow-and-steady strategists!
For before you could say “Don’t step on the melted Napalm’d zombies stuck to the road!” – Greg Nicotero’s design brilliance triumphing yet again – in swooped a third officer, causing enough confusion for the two captured officers to hot foot it away for a moment at least.
They were quickly re-taken and Tyreese’s bargaining plan seemed happily back on track until the officer Noah described as “one of the good ones” – no, no he is not Noah; you severely underestimated the lengths people will go to survive, odd given your recent elaborate escape attempt – Bob Lamson (Maximiliano Hernandez), taking advantage of Sasha’s still raw grief, made good his escape, blowing any element of surprise out the window.
The impressive part of this whole sequence was the way the action sequences and Sasha and Tyreese’s ongoing heart-to-hearts about Bob’s death co-existed well together, an ongoing strength of season 5 which is neither hostage to blindingly violent action or bogged down in far too much conversational inertia.
Now of course with the cat out of the bag, it’s anyone’s guess how the great storming of the hospital will go down.
Suffice to say it won’t be pretty with all manner of predictions about who will and won’t die being bandied about.
One thing is for certain in next week’s mid-season finale “Coda” – everyone will be doing whatever they have to to preserve what they have or what they want to get back,the perfect recipe for a violent, take-no-prisoners exchange in which only group can emerge triumphant.
Here’s the trailer for “Coda” in which Beth rightly remarks “You have to do whatever it takes; this is you until the end” :