Because The Walking Dead is adapted from Robert Kirkman's comics, it has more license to experiment with structure than your average television show. I'll admit that sometimes I forget that, particularly when the series is in the middle of one of its more "uniquely paced" stretches, whether it's a string of slow-talkers or a bunch of action-packed episodes in a row. But the show's give-and-take relationship with its source material means there's no real right or wrong way for it to go about its business, and that can lead to surprising events like the ones that took place in "Four Walls and a Roof."
The Walking Dead has been building up Gareth as Season 5's big, scary threat for months now. Rick and the group spent all of Season 4B trying to get to him (well, technically they were trying to get to Terminus, but Gareth is forever linked with the place). Then they were imprisoned by him in the Season 4 finale. And then they escaped from him in the Season 5 premiere, only to be hunted by him in Episode 2. That right there is the television formula for creating a season-long back-and-forth between two opponents, and I'm sure many viewers were hoping that Rick would end up eating Gareth in the Season 5 finale because that would be funny.
Instead, this happened:
Yowza! That wasn't a, "Oh, Gareth is knocked unconscious and he'll untie his binds in order to escape and get back at Rick in next week's episode," that was Rick pureeing Gareth into a pile of mush with a machete and Michonne making that woman's face explode with the butt of her gun. They're dead, and I have to applaud The Walking Dead for slapping me in the face by heading in this direction. From what I understand of the comics, the Hunters arc that Gareth and his flesh-eating friends were based on was equally brief, but the TV series has been known to drag out its source material's stories for much longer than necessary (ahem, Hershel's farm), so I'm sure you can understand why I assumed this one would continue for at least a good bit longer.
Instead, The Walking Dead shocked us by killing Gareth now and defying our expectations. That's great because A) Gareth was already getting on my nerves thanks to his long-winded and dumb musings on why he took up cannibalism (while still never answering the question), and B) we watch The Walking Dead to be surprised, since there's not a whole lot else left for the show to do. The survivors can only give so many speeches about the cost of staying alive in this world before we start to tune out. They can only debate the rules of taking in strays so many times before their bickering becomes white noise. We can only watch so many sad deathbed scenes before we start to develop bed sores. And so forth. The Walking Dead's greatest weapon right now is its ability to make our jaws drop, and that's exactly what "Four Walls and a Roof" did with Gareth. Heck, Gareth (Andrew J. West) was promoted to series regular for Season 5, and now he's a pile of goop on the church floor.
The butchering of the Terminians also kept up the brutal human-on-human violence that's been escalating in Season 5, and that's given Season 5 a little more character than The Walking Dead's past seasons. Zombies have almost become an afterthought on the show, replaced by various assholes as the main threat to the group at any given time. And as we've already seen and heard, the lesson that Season 5 is teaching is that no one can be trusted. Meanwhile, the only good people left in the world are apparently part of Rick's group, which is growing somewhat ironic since they've gotten a lot more vicious and stabby as of late (ease up there, Sasha!). The Walking Dead has tried to explore this idea before, but it's always pulled back in order to retain some of its main characters' humanity. That no longer seems to be the case as showrunner Scott Gimple stomps on the survivors' fingers as they try to not fall into a deep, dark pit of primal survival. Until now, I've never seen Rick remain so determined and confident for a prolonged stretch, and that makes me Rick a lot more than I have in the past.
In addition to Gareth, "Four Walls and a Roof" also marked the loss of another series regular, Lawrence Gilliard Jr. as Bob. HIs death didn't resonate as big as those of other characters have, probably because I still didn't feel like I knew him all that well, but his defiant optimism right up to the very end became his most defining moment. Well, that and the fact that cannibals ate his leg after he'd been bitten by a walker. That's something I would've loved to see play out, but alas, everyone involved died before we could witness any possible consequences of eating "tainted meat." Boo! I have to assume that eating infected flesh can't be the healthiest dinner option, but I'm curious to know whether cooking it does kill the zombie virus, as Gareth insisted when he tried to reassure his fellow diners that they'd be okay.
The other big development of "Four Walls and a Roof" involved Eugene, Rosita, and Abraham moving up their trip to Washington and initiating another group split. Abraham wanted to leave immediately, but Rick wasn't going anywhere without Daryl and Carol, who were last seen chasing after the car presumed to be driven by Beth's abductors. Glenn played mediator and agreed, along with Maggie, to accompany Abraham if they could wait to leave until noon the next day. However, I'm not sure why adding Glenn and Maggie to the mix worked as leverage for Abraham. He was dead-set on leaving that night without anyone else to help, but then he suddenly decided to stay because Glenn and Maggie promised to go with him 12 hours later? Huh? And would Maggie really be so quick to take off without answers regarding what happened to her sister? I didn't get the reasoning behind any of this.
Finally, in the last scene of the episode, Daryl returned to the church with a mystery companion whose identity wasn't revealed in order to achieve maximum cliffhangerization. It's probably not Carol since she would be the obvious person to return with Daryl, so keeping her identity a secret would be useless, and it's probably not Beth given the promos for next week's episode (unless those are all flashbacks). That leaves... I have no idea. Who do you think is in the woods?
I was mentally prepared for a season-long battle between Gareth and Rick, but now that Gareth is out of the picture, the question we're left with is, "Where does Season 5 go from here?" There are definitely going to be some stories involving Beth's disappearance and Abraham & Co's trip to Washington D.C., but hopefully The Walking Dead will play to its strengths and continue traveling in unpredictable and dark directions.
Next week: ALL BETH ALL THE TIME! YEAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!
– That shot of Rick and the group exiting the frame to look for Gareth while Gareth and his group were headed into the church was nifty. That was a ballsy move on Rick's part to bait Gareth back to the church by pretending to leave, and it would have fooled me until I was bloody, fleshy floor pudding at Rick's feet. Well played, sir!
– Oooh the metaphors were strong with Gareth when he was talking to Bob. "We marked our way here so we could find our way back after. So stupid, right? Back to what?" He was talking about Terminus, but he may as well have been talking about humanity, because he was way beyond what's socially acceptable in my book! And the shots of his group eating Bob's leg while zombies freaked out on the other side of the glass signified that the division between Gareth's group and the zombies wasn't all that thick.
– I would imagine that Gareth is right about pretty people tasting better, and I hope to one day test that hypothesis by taking a bite out of Mila Kunis.
– Yep, Gabriel was a bad, bad priest who locked his congregation out of the church during the early days of the apocalypse.
– Gabriel's flock couldn't get into the church, but Gareth's men didn't seem to have a problem!
– The red "A" on the church wasn't adultery shaming à la The Scarlet Letter, it was a reference to the train car that Rick and his group were thrown into when they arrived at Terminus in the Season 4 finale. That was Gareth's way of saying, "Hey, we're still gonna eat you." That's a nice creepy touch.
– What do you think of the season so far? I'm digging it.