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.