The Walking Dead is working on tying all of season 5’s plot threads together for next week’s mid-season finale.
After six-straight episodes of shockingly consistent quality and, in a couple of instances, outright brilliance, it was inevitable that season 5 of The Walking Dead would finally deliver something kind of dull. So it is with “Crossed,” the penultimate episode before the show goes on hiatus until February.
Largely serving to sets things in motion for what is – I hope – a brutal, action-packed fall finale, very little of consequence actually happens. The episode’s action takes place over the course of a single afternoon, following the various members of Rick’s separated groups of survivors as they basically deal with the things that have recently happened to them, or prepare to do so.
Fortunately for us, while in previous seasons this would have been a maddening example, yet again, of the way this show pads out seasons with pointless exposition and wheel-spinning, this episode isn’t actually just filler. It was all about people trying to reach out to one another, offer a lifeline of support through very dark times, and trying to find it within themselves to take that lifeline. It also tied together the season’s core themes – hunt or be hunted, help your friends keep their humanity as they help you keep yours, and something something religious symbolism – fairly well. Perhaps most importantly, it gave us melted-by-napalm zombies in the process. So that was nice.
Even so, digressions into “let’s talk about things” have always been this show’s biggest weakness, and despite the season’s vastly improved writing, it remains a weakness, albeit much less of one. But I say again: napalm zombies.
Let’s hack into it. Obviously, spoilers ahead!
Note: Because the four stories the episode zig-zags between are all unconnected to one another, I’ll be talking about them individually instead of in the order experienced during the episode.
We begin at the church, where Rick, Michonne, Carl, Father Gabriel, Tyrese, Sasha, Daryl, and now a still-injured Noah, are preparing to rescue Carol and Beth from the creepy rape cops of Grady Memorial Hospital.
Sasha, still mourning poor Bob Stookey, is barely holding herself together as she breaks apart pews for wood. Tyrese, meanwhile, is tearing the pipe organ apart. Father Gabriel asks the group if they’re going to take the cross too. “If we need it,” Daryl says in a laconic hi/bye that rams home the point that things will never go back to the way they once were. Yep, something something religious symbolism is at play here (more on that later).
Rick knows that he can’t risk Carl’s life on this trip back to Atlanta and needs to leave Carl, and his infant daughter Judy, behind. Michonne agrees, and she offers to go on the mission in his place so he can stay with his children, but Rick insists that he owes Carol too much not to go himself. And so off he, Tyrese, Daryl, Sasha and Noah go, back to Atlanta for great justice, leaving Michonne, and an increasingly mature Carl, to deal with a wailing, crying baby, and also Rick’s infant daughter.
The baby of which I speak is Father Gabriel, now utterly despondent and consumed with guilt over his post-apocalyptic cowardice which killed his entire congregation. He’s also deeply disturbed by the bloodshed Rick and co. have brought into his church, likely seeing it as symbolic of his own sins. He kneels down to the floors and begins out-damn-spotting it, trying first to scrape the dried blood from the wooden floor, then trying to rub it off with his sleeve.
Carl is the first to try breaking Gabriel out of his deteriorating emotional state, throwing a stack of bladed weapons on the floor and urging Gabriel to choose one of them. “We can teach you [to defend yourself]”, Carl says to a reluctant Gabriel, who picks up a machete but refuses any further instruction, choosing instead to hole up in his office. Later, Michonne tries to break through, telling Gabriel that the things they have to do to survive, they’re worth it. Gabriel angrily rejects Michonne’s lifeline and returns to his office, where we see he’s using the machete to pry floorboards up, creating a huge hole.
Obviously, Gabriel is trying to bail on Michonne and Carl without their knowing it. He escapes through the hole – stepping on a rusty nail in the process – and takes off alone into the cemetery. Attacked by a roaming zombie woman, he manages to push her down onto a slim tree stump, but when he sees she has a cross around her neck, he can’t bring himself to finish her off. He takes off into the woods, his fate unknown.
Meanwhile, Eugene Porter, Rosita, Abraham, Tara, Glenn and Maggie remain where they were immediately following Eugene’s admission that he isn’t actually a scientist working on a cure for the zombie menace, and his subsequent nearly fatal beating by an enraged Abraham.
Eugene remains unconscious, the others trying to revive him by pouring what little water they have on his face. This doesn’t work, and we soon learn the firetruck they were driving around in is nearly out of water. So Glenn, Rosita and Tara set out to find another source of precious aqua pura leaving Maggie behind to tend to a possibly dying Eugene and a nearly-catatonic Abraham.
Glenn, Rosita and Tara mainly talk about Eugene, the impact of his deceptions, and also his worth to the group. Rosita dismisses him as useless, especially now that it’s turned out he isn’t actually on a mission to save the world. Tara defends him, pointing out that like them, he was doing everything he could to survive by the only means available to him. “Eugene wasn’t strong, he wasn’t fast, he didn’t know how to use a weapon,” Tara says. “He had one skill that kept him living. Were we supposed to be mad because he used it?” “Damn right” says Glenn with disgust.
However, as they make their way along a creek overgrown with algae, Rosita uses an empty plastic bottle and an enormous amount of creek sludge to create a makeshift water filter through which they can strain out enough water to boil and make drinkable. She then reveals that Eugene taught her how to do it, the first acknowledgement that he actually did have useful abilities. She soon explains how she first came to meet Abraham and Eugene, how they asked for her help on their “mission”, the first time anyone had done that since the apocalypse began. It’s clear she’s coming around to forgiving Eugene, as is Glenn to a lesser extent. After catching some fish and more water, Rosita confirms to Glenn that she intends to stay with his group even without any kind of mission. Heartwarming nontraditional family achieved!
Abe, meanwhile, has gone full-tilt Cameron Frye, sitting blankly in the road, refusing to speak to anyone. Before setting off for water, Rosita tries giving some of their dwindling supply to him, but he violently swipes it out of her hand and stands up as though he’s going to attack her the way he attacked Eugene. Maggie steps in, gun drawn, and tells Abraham to sit down, “or I’ll put you down”. Abe appears to consider this offer carefully, but ultimately opts to glumly sit down on the road to resume his taciturn emotional breakdown.
After creating a shelter from the sun for poor Eugene, Maggie attempts to reach out to Abe again, berating him for giving up. Later however, she sits down, offers Abe water again, and asks him point blank, “did you want me to shoot you?”. “I thought I did,” Abe says, “but I didn’t”. As if on cue, Eugene finally makes a noise and Maggie runs over to tend to him. Abe chooses that moment to reach for the bottle of water and begins to stand up.
We spend little time at Grady Memorial Hospital, where Beth remains a captive of the creepy rape cops, along with an unconscious and critically injured Carol (who was wheeled in on a gurney the last time we checked in with Beth).
The time spent here largely serves to demonstrate just how precarious things are for Dawn, the leader of the rape cops. Having finally accepted that her group have all but turned into monsters, she is more importantly keenly aware of how tenuous her authority over them has become. Beth, having checked in on a still-unconscious Carol, walks in on Dawn and one of her rape cops discussing the waste of electricity resulting from the life support equipment Carol currently enjoys. Rape cop is adamant that they ought to cut their losses, though Dawn is, slightly to her credit, reluctant to cut the cord just yet, suggesting they give her another day.
Beth cocks things up when she interrupts them to fling rape cop’s hypocrisy in his face – he keeps his DVD player hooked up to the hospital’s electricity without any concern about wasted resources. This prompts a clearly terrified Dawn to order Carol immediately taken off life support. However, once rape cop leaves the room, Dawn explains to Beth that it was either agree to kill Carol or lose control of everything. She then gives Beth the key to the hospital’s medicine supply, revealing she has never done this, and bids her to go save Carol herself. “Why are you doing this?” asks Beth. “I thought you were weak. You’re not” is all Dawn will tell her.
After a quick consultation with Doctor Edwards to find out what medicine might save Carol, she delivers the medicine to Carol and begins the waiting game. Carol may or may not survive, but Beth knows she may have an unlikely ally should shit hit the fan. As it clearly must, because Rick and the others are in town ready to demonstrate to Grady’s fascist cops that they are indeed screwing with the wrong people.
By far the most plot-advancing part of the episode involves Rick and co. as they prepare their rescue of Carol and Beth. Rick favors a stealth infiltration and firefight if necessary, and blithely gives Daryl the task of neutralizing the guard they expect to encounter. Tyrese asks just how that would go down, to which Rick cooly replies “He slits his throat.”
Tyrese, clearly appalled by Rick’s casual willingness to slaughter, suggests instead that they try capturing a couple of Grady cops, then ransoming them back in exchange for Beth and Carol. Rick still favors his sneak attack plan, but Daryl, who whatever he was before the apocalypse is clearly a drastically changed man, agrees with Tyrese, and that convinces Rick.
So it is that they have Noah, who they know is still being sought after by the Grady Fascists, fire off a pistol randomly in order to attract a patrol. Two cops show up in one of the hospital’s “ambulances,” nearly run Noah down, and begin to “arrest” him, but Rick and the others emerge, guns drawn, to turn the tables. They put the Grady cops in restraints, and one of them – played by Maximiliano Hernández, AKA Jasper Sitwell in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – tries to strike common ground with Rick by asking if he (Rick) is a cop. Before Rick can answer, a backup vehicle from Grady shows up, machine gun blazing. Rick and co. scatter and their two captive cops leap into the new car’s back seat and take off.
Fortunately, Sasha is a pretty good shot and she manages to shoot out the car’s rear right tire. Rick’s group runs after them and discovers the car abandoned, either because of that back tire, or because of the melted zombies it drove over.
Oh right, yes, melted zombies. Remember how the federal government’s final response to the zombie disaster was to drop napalm on Atlanta? Turns out it didn’t kill all of the zombies. Many of them just ended up melted to the ground, unable to move from where they’re stuck but still moaning and chomping away. It’s gloriously disgusting, and an uncharacteristically (for this show) inventive take on zombie biology.
Anyway, we see two of the cops running around a corner, and Rick, Sasha and Tyrese run after them. Daryl, meanwhile, stays behind to look for the third cop. He’s swiftly ambushed, then forced to the ground, the cop choking him while trying to force his head toward one of the melted zombies. In another beautifully gory moment, Daryl reaches over and grabs another melted zombie’s head like a bowling ball, smashing it into the cop’s head, which stuns him, giving Rick enough time to come back and force the cop’s surrender at gunpoint.
Rick seems awfully eager to kill this particular cop but Daryl stops him by reminding him that three hostages are better than two. This convinces Rick to spare him, and they take the prisoners into the warehouse in which they’re hiding.
We’ll cut to the chase. Officer Sitwell quickly ingratiates himself, using he and Rick’s shared police background and his apparent regret over the way things have gone in Grady hospital – plus the increasing lack of control Dawn has over things – to curry favor with the group. So much so that they treat him almost as a friend, affording him respect and niceness they denied to his colleagues.
Obviously, he’s playing them. I mean, he is in Hydra after all. At episode’s end, he gives Sasha a woeful tale of regret and sadness involving a former police colleague he knew from just before the world ended and who, so he says, he recognized as one of the napalmed zombies. Sasha, who has spent the entire episode shutting down over having lost Bob and who is herself struggling to move on, sees in Officer Sitwell a kindred spirit,
and she offers to kill the zombiefied friend as a kindness. Sitwell offers to point him out to her, but when they walk to a nearby window, she takes aim, giving Sitwell the chance to quickly ram her face-first into the glass, knocking her out. He takes off, and closing credits.
- So about that religious symbolism. This season has been littered with it, but so far I’m having trouble discerning precisely what the point is, aside from just a stand-in for “the old world is dead”. That’s not the worst thing ever, but I’m hoping the way they have been so front and center so often pays off in some way. For now, it just feels like freshman lit, heavy use of Christ-metaphors and old testament analogies to give philosophical weight to shlock.
- I kind of loved when Tara awkwardly referenced Band of Brothers early in the episode. Not only does it suggest the show takes place in a world where Band of Brothers was made, but somehow zombie movies never were, it also speaks to how she really does believe in the group, almost naively, which serves to bring the fractured others back to it.
- Going back to melted zombies, this episode, like most of the season, made the most of some pretty great shots, including one scene where Tyrese and Sasha embrace, only for the camera to pull back, framing their emotional reconciliation with a moaning, grasping zombie in the foreground. A+.
- Where the hell is Gabriel going? I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him, and that nasty case of tetanus he’s almost certainly picked up has to pay off later.
- Casting Maximiliano Hernández as a villain was seriously dope misdirection. We’re already inclined to see him as villainous, given how often he plays shady characters, leading to the easy conclusion that he’s playing against type here. Nope, he’s still in Hydra after all. Love it.
Bottom Line: This season has been very good, with clear and intelligent advancement of core themes, and “Crossed” is no exception. I especially love how the process of tending to one’s friends and family, of making sure they don’t lose their humanity and their making sure the same is true for you, is shown to be constant and difficult. It’s by far some of the most real, honestly human stuff this show has done, especially considering that previous seasons seemed to be written by people who had only heard about people, but never actually met them. Unfortunately, all these positives can’t undo the fact that it was a limp, somewhat boring episode that felt like stuff was constantly just about to happen, even when stuff was actually happening.
Recommendation: Not terrible by any stretch, but definitely only essential watching if you’re binging on the entire season.
Next week, it’s the Fall season finale, “Coda,” written by season 5, episode 3 co-writer Angela Kang.[rating=3]