“We need each other, we can get through all of this together.”
This impassioned quote from Glenn (Steven Yeun), who found himself not once but twice playing the in-the-nick-of-time intercessor between Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), who is aggressively OCD when it comes to getting to good old Washington DC, wherein supposedly lies the saving grace of all humanity, and Rick (Andrew Lincoln), proves once again that hanging onto your humanity is day by day, hour by hour task in a zombie apocalypse.
That Glenn, and Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) and even dear half-legless Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) still think this is an important calling and one that should be pursued even in the face of a renewed and rather sneaky attack by the Terminites to Father Gabriel’s church in the dead of night which was clearly designed to re-stock the larder with a great big serving of self-serving vengeance on the side, speaks volumes of what these three characters value even in the midst of mayhem, violence and the bloody pulping of enemies.
And my Lordy was there a great and furious round of flesh pulping in an episode in which the bleating “Poor me!” leader of the Terminites, Gareth (Andrew J. West), in a weird mix of confessional Bond villain and solo therapy session, seemed hellbent on trying to cajole some sort of sympathetic admission from Bob along the lines of “Well golly gee Gareth, it makes sense you would resort to cannibalism since you were SO hard done by those aggressive interlopers who came in and wrecked your mung bean-loving hippie commune of peace and brotherly safety … and my chopped leg that you’re eating in front of me? Why it’s the least I can contribute to your continued wellbeing.”
Of course, Bob, who diligently, and in the face of monumental odds to the contrary, held fast to his innate belief that the bluebird of happiness was just around the corner, and not stuffed inelegantly in the mouth of a hungry zombie, had more reason than most to laugh in the face of Gareth’s pathetic justifying of his wholesale shucking of his humanity (which continued right up till the end when he pathetically tried to plead and reason with an uncaring Rick), given the fact he had been bit by an aquatic walker and was not long for this blighted world anyway.
And he did, screaming at the top of his lungs, with a nice touch of maniacal laughter, that he was “Tainted meat!”, eliciting a rather panicky reaction from Gareth’s remaining Terminites, who didn’t seem to handle the idea of the boot being on the other foot (which in Bob’s case it actually was).
Rather than killing Bob outright – because they’re decent honest, hardworking cannibals you see who only want the best for the people they’re butchering – they dumped Bob outside the church before skedaddling away, a rather precarious position for one-legged man to be in what with zombies on the prowl for a midnight snack and all.
Hardly an act of mercy, although Gareth went on and on about how they only did what they had to – Bob’s silent hostile reaction to Gareth’s PR missive spoke volumes about his humnanity-nicely-intact-thank-you view that it a choice not a coerced reality – it gave them a trigger for a showdown with Rick’s group after a number of them were seen to rush out to exact vengeance on the Terminites at the walker-filled elementary school they were holed up in (this was after naturally rescuing Bob from the peckish undead).
Seizing their moment, the Terminites rushed in to the church where Carl (Chandler Riggs), Judith, Tyreese, Father Gabriel and others were huddled in locked rooms out the back while Rick, Sasha, Glenn, Maggie (Lauren Cohen) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) were supposedly off enacting red hot vengeance, only to find themselves in the trap to end all traps with the sheriff and his posse stealing back into the church for a silent but deadly game of “Whack the Cannibals!”
And whack them they did, in mercilessly brutal fashion, reducing their once-captors to piles of bloodied, pulpy flesh, vengeance made physical in such a raw visceral way that even Maggie, Glenn and Tara (Alanna Masterson) looked on stupefied incredulity.
This understandable but grisly act underscored one of the central themes of the episode which was what do you choose when something seemingly unforgivable happens to you?
Do you choose vengeance as Rick, Sasha and some of the others did, or do you take the far harder route, especially in the dog-eat-dog world of the zombie apocalypse where forgiveness and mercy are in short supply, as Tyreese did after he lost the love of his life Karen (Melissa Ponzio) to Carol’s (Melissa McBride) doing what needs to be done moment, and forgive those who, in old Bible parlance, “trespass against you”?
Tyreese tried to talk Sasha over to the far less popular side of forgiveness but her grief, her anger was far too raw to listen to her brother who, she pointed out, reacted exactly as he did when he lost Karen.
Acknowledging he had, he nevertheless tried to argue for mercy, justice and forgiveness, but Sasha was having none of it and the Terminites, who frankly deserved everything they had coming, delusional and self-serving as they were right up until the end, paid with their lives as a result.
Far away the central core of “Four Walls and a Roof” – the title refers to the fact that the church, desecrated by Father Gabriel’s tearful confessed sin of locking out his congregation when they came seeking sanctuary and the execution of the Terminites, was no longer a house of god but simply, in Maggie’s words, “Four walls and a roof” – were the emotionally-resonant scenes between Bob and Sasha who stayed together until the very moment the endless optimist breathed his smiling last.
Sasha: “You were out” [to a groggy just waking up Bob]
Bob: “Was I?”
Sasha: “You were.”
Sasha: “Why are you smiling?” [her confusion is understandable since he’s mere moments from death]
Bob: “I think I was dreaming and I think you were smiling back at me in the dream. That’s it.”
What could do you in the face of that kind of deathbed romantic utterance but smile which Sasha did, even with her pain raw to breaking.
The thing about Bob throughout the episode was that even as he lay dying – in an act of brotherly love, it was Tyreese who knifed him in the temple to stop him turning – he never lost his tenacious grip on his humanity or his optimism, something made abundantly and poignantly clear in his final exchange with Rick (held tightly onto Judith as the two men talked):
Bob: “Just want to say thank you. Before the prison, I didn’t know if there were any good people left. I didn’t know if anybody was left. You took me in. YOU took me in. It was you man. What I said yesterday [about the nightmare ending] I ain’t revising it even in the light of current events. Nightmares end; they shouldn’t end who you are. And that is the just this dead man’s opinion.”
Rick: [softly] “I’ll take it.”
Bob looks at Judith.
Bob: “Just look at her and tell me the world isn’t going to change.”
It was simply, heartfelt and understated but deeply and profoundly redolent with meaning – the apocalypse, horrific though it is, doesn’t have to be the end of optimism, of humanity, of mercy or forgiveness, that we all have a choice who we become even in the most taxing of circumstances.
It was a lesson Bob knew by heart, Sasha still had to learn, Michonne (who in a telling act picked up her katana from the backpack of one of the dead Terminites, a sign she was perhaps hardening up a little again) might be un-learning a little, and Rick seem to take to heart, at least as Bob came close to breathing his last.
This fraught episode, which was punctuated by the departure of Abraham, Rosita (Christian Serratos), Eugene (Josh McDermitt), along with Maggie, Glenn and Tara who agreed to go along to keep the peace on the understanding that Rick and the others would follow upon the return of Carol and Daryl (who the group now knew had driven off after Beth’s kidnappers; the creepy stalker-y behaviour of the Terminites at least served some purpose) and the unexpected arrival of Daryl and persons unknown at the very end of things, was a master class in balancing action and philosophical introspection.
There was plenty of action to be had but it served a purpose which was to underline how noble and wise Bob had become during his various apocalyptic travails, and that his life lessons, far from being airy-fairy and of little use in the real world, were grounded in the all too real hard slog of trying to survive.
That Bob didn’t, and that Sasha will likely mourn him by shutting down, gave his message all that more power and urgency, and underscored that the writers of The Walking Dead continue to understand in the uniformly excellent season 5 that the show works best when action and emotional/philosophical ruminations are held in searingly-affecting tension.
The renewed splitting up of the group, with a promise by Rick that he come to Washington DC as soon as he could – after ripping shreds off Rick in their tense exchange, Abraham apologised via the map he left with Rick saying “SORRY I WAS AN ASSHOLE. COME TO WASHINGTON. THE NEW WORLD’S GONNA NEED RICK GRIMES.”
There’s no doubting we all need Rick Grimes but for the next while at least many of the major characters in The Walking Dead will have to do without his presence as the show once again embraces the fractured storytelling of season 4, and follows a series of divergent narratives until what is likely to be a rather full-on mid-season finale.
And without further ado, here’s the promo and a sneak peek for next week’s episode “Slabtown” …