Another episode focusing on several different storylines, another hit or miss experience; thankfully, “Spend” is largely a hit, even if one of the stronger segments indulges in gore to a degree that borders on tastelessness. (I guess that’s almost a pun?) Father Gabriel’s bizarre efforts to sow doubt about Rick and the others lands with a flat thud, as the character’s sailed over the edge of clear-thinking and into La La Land. It’s possible to chart his progress, and there is a sort of twisted logic to what he does here—he is essentially trying to push his sins off onto the rest of the group—but it’s still such a flailing, and unhinged, way to behave that he ceases to be interesting as a person with motivations, and becomes instead a sort of special effect. He’s not a zombie, not yet, but character-wise, he’s roughly as interesting as one of those shuffling corpses.

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Thankfully, Gabriel’s ravings only took up a scene or two, and the rest of the hour was given over to more productive pursuits. Glenn goes along with Aidan and Nicholas (and Eugene and Tara from the regular group) on a disastrous supply run for tech equipment; Rick has an encounter with first Jessie and then her husband about a broken owl sculpture; Carol bonds (begrudgingly) with Jessie’s son Sam, and discovers an unfortunate truth; and Abraham takes up work detail as a crew expanding the walls of the community, only to find he’s the only one on the team with the guts and the confidence to do the job right.

Apart from the Gabriel stuff, all of this felt necessary for the show’s overall storytelling, and even the Father’s paranoid, Bible-flavored rant made sense in the long term. The season is building towards a confrontation between Rick’s group and the locals, and it’s doing a decent job in trying to make that conflict as ambiguous as possible. “Spend” comes down pretty heavily on the side of “our” team, as Deanna’s people are all naive, or inept, or, in the case of Jessie’s husband, apparently abusive assholes. But Deanna (and to a lesser extent, her husband) still remains a thoughtful, perceptive leader, and the fact that she realizes Rick and the others are slowly taking over makes her more interesting as a potential adversary. It’s not as morally complex as, say, The Wire, but it doesn’t need to be; the point is that it’s more complicated then “Good” and “Evil,” and that’s pretty terrific.

Take, for instance, the horrible fall-out during the supply run. Aidan, being an idiot, shoots a soldier with grenades; in the ensuing explosion, Tara is seriously (maybe mortally) wounded, and Aidan is impaled, and initially left for dead. He’s not dead though, and when Glenn, Noah, and Nicholas try and save him, we learn that Aidan and Nicholas have left people for the walkers before. Hearing this, Glenn still tries to save Aidan, but Aidan, in maybe the one decent act we’ve seen him make, tells him to go. Goodbye Aidan. That’s decent writing, but it gets tougher when Nicholas makes a selfish choice while trying to escape, a choice which directly leads to Noah’s gory death-

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(Okay, time out for a second. I like gore. Honestly I do. And I’ve enjoyed the amazing work the Walking Dead effects team has managed over the years. I realize this is a horror show, and that Noah’s death needed to be brutal for the story to work—we need to feel how frustrated and horrified and enraged Glenn is for this to land. But that was too much. The zombies literally dragged him out and pressed him back up against the glass so they could slaughter him in front of Glenn’s eyes. It would’ve been comical if it hadn’t been so gruesome, and if Noah hadn’t been such a likable character. Gory deaths have a place on this show, but this one stopped the action cold, and served as a distraction in what should’ve been a devastating sequence. Also, it sucks that Noah was deemed expendable. Anyway.)

Right, where was I, Noah’s gory death, and then Nicholas almost gets away, but Glenn gets out and beats him up a little. What makes this complex isn’t anything to write home about. It would’ve been nice if Glenn could’ve just shot Nicholas right then and there—the bastard certainly deserved it—but he didn’t, partly because he’s Glenn, and partly because they’re a part of society now. There are rules and consequences, and you can’t just shoot someone in the head, even if you want to.

Some of the cast is more pre-disposed to accepting this kind of restriction than others. Glenn has always been a fundamentally decent man (which he’ll presumably be punished for someday, I’m sure), and the apocalypse has actually made his decency stronger. Carol, though… she’s more pragmatic. And so is Rick. Which makes their conversation at the end of the episode about Jessie’s husband Pete so interesting; about how Pete has been beating his wife and maybe his son; and about how Carol knows that there’s really only one way to answer this question. As tense and awful as the stuff on the supply run was, for my money, the scenes at home were equally compelling. We’ve seen swarms of walkers before, and we’ve seen the damage they can do. What we haven’t seen is Rick trying to decide if he’s going to wait for what he wants—or if he’s just going to take it.

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Stray observations:

  • Didn’t really discuss it, but Abraham’s storyline was good, and, in its way, a breath of fresh air compared to everything else. Unlike the others, no one died on his watch, and he saved the day; even the guy he punched was decent enough to quit his job.
  • Is Tara dead? I hope not, though I realize the odds aren’t good.
  • While it felt a little like a cop-out, it was satisfying to see Eugene stepping up.
  • “Sam, we’re not talking.” Yeah, Carol, that always works with kids.
  • Sad that Noah is gone, but at least he got to exit with a ironically appropriate notebook quote.
  • I get the idea that Rick and the others are way more competent, but it’s amazing the Alexandrians have lasted this long.

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