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This week’s episode of The Walking Dead is entitled “Spend”, and for good reason.
If there is a single overriding theme of the episode, it is that a cost must be paid to maintain paradise. Each of the core cast of survivors lose something precious in this episode, though all in acutely different and awfully specific ways. They are all paying a price in order to become deserving of the world they’re asking to join. For some of them, such as Glenn, it is an overt price of personal loss. For others, it is a more subtle cost in terms of shedding personal baggage.
In the same way that the core cast pays unique prices, they are each embracing a solitary sense of building something new. There is still, however, a penalty to be rendered for that literal and figurative construction. Building something new cannot come without tearing something down. In this case, it’s a slow destruction of the shields that hide the flaws in the systems and practices which have made Alexandria run to this point. The most unvarnished reflection of this comes in the scenes featuring Abraham. His bravery in comparison to the rest of the assembled construction workers who face the unexpected walker assault exposes their cowardice and lack of a no-man-left-behind ethic. That forward movement for his character comes just as the cracks in his gruff facade begin to appear. Abraham is a character who is most at-ease when everything goes to hell. In peaceful moments, he’s withdrawn and shows signs in line with post-traumatic stress disorder, but as soon as the proverbial shit hits the fan, he’s totally engaged. He is at his most effective when placed in a position of critical leadership. Seeing him take on the responsibility of leading the construction crew suggests that he is embracing the role he surrendered when his group merged with Rick’s, though in somewhat narrower scope.
Abraham’s elevation is a microcosm of the larger shift working its way through Alexandria as Rick and the survivors take on more and more of the leadership positions within the community, something which is recognized by Deanna at one point in the episode. With the loss of Aiden, it stands to reason that Glenn will take over his role as the leader of the run parties, and Carol is (against her will) being dragged into the role of “den mother” she jokingly ascribed to herself upon the group’s arrival. Carol’s grudging conversation with Sam, combined with Rick’s conversation with Pete and her hard-earned understanding of the way in which abusive relationships present themselves, are shedding light on the darkness behind the smooth veneer of Pete and Jessie’s marriage.
Of all the prices paid, however, the highest of those who remain alive at the end of the episode was Glenn’s. The unusually gruesome (even for The Walking Dead) death of Noah marks a loss of great meaning for the community at-large, but even more so for Glenn. Following the episode, actor Stephen Yuen remarked to the host of Talking Dead that Noah’s death represents the first time Glenn has been personally responsible for losing a member of the group. He had previously seen nothing but success when trying to bring the survivors through harrowing situations, so his inability to save Noah’s life will surely resonate down the road for him. What Noah’s death represents in terms of loss for the community as a whole cannot be understated. He had the most ambition and the most potential of any of the survivors, and so his death illustrates the continued danger to their long-term survival.
In terms of the larger arc at play, namely the ongoing assimilation of Rick and the survivors into the fabric of Alexandria, the episode finally made use of Father Gabriel Stokes. Many viewers of The Walking Dead have been asking “where’s Gabriel” for several episodes. While the disillusioned preacher, ably brought to life by veteran actor Seth Gilliam, featured prominently in the story before the midseason break, he’s been pushed to the background since Rick and the survivors arrived at the Alexandria enclave.
This episode really ramped up the stakes for the survivors and the action level in comparison to previous episodes. It also gave many of the core cast opportunities to shine, with Carol’s slow shedding of her emotional armor, Rick’s barely-concealed animalism, Abraham’s traumatic internal struggle, and Glenn’s abject loss.
This was easily one of the best episodes of The Walking Dead since the return from the midseason break, and earns a hearty 9/10.