Not for the first time, The Walking Dead pulled a fast one with its latest episode. Truthfully, "Spend" didn't look especially promising, at first. It's positioned a couple of episodes before the season finale (ie cost-cutting time) and while we've been wondering what the deal was with Gabriel, the thought of an episode centred around him wasn't exactly a tantalising prospect. Happily, "Spend" turned out to be something else entirely.
It all looked straightforward enough: Glenn, Tara, Noah and some of the Zoners went on a supply run beyond the walls of Alexandria. Meanwhile, Rick and the others got to know the locals a bit better. It's still slightly disorientating seeing the gang surrounded by seemingly nice people again. The episode starts with Noah bonding with Deanna's husband Reg, who seems like a stand-up guy. Likewise, the scenes between Carol and young Sam were really quite joyful. He's a brave kid going back to her after last week's threats and you can see her iciness beginning to thaw.
Shamefully, my Imminent Disaster Detector didn't go off here. I didn't initially realise that these scenes were just the preamble to two fairly brutal twists. The supply run quickly took on a nightmarish tone as Aiden the Douchebag shot an armoured zombie – and accidentally detonated some explosives. He was rocketed across the room, impaled on spikes and then eaten alive for good measure. Then Noah, Glenn and Nicholas found themselves trapped in some revolving doors, surrounded by walkers.
You could question the logic of this scene. As plans go, hiding behind moving glass was never a great idea. It's clearly designed to establish Nicholas as a coward – and to set up the episode's big setpiece: Noah's death in front of Glenn.
I was dismayed by Ty's exit earlier in the season, especially coming straight after Beth's. Intentionally or not, it felt like a “Gotcha! Bet you weren't expecting that...” moment. The show had already been so emotionally draining that it barely registered. Noah's was better handled. It's placement before the finale was surprising and it illustrated that even simple missions can go badly wrong. It's not going to be a death that fans mourn for long – we just didn't know Noah that well – but it worked.
There will be consequences, too. With Aiden and Noah gone, our people and the Zoners have both been badly wounded. Then there's the matter of Pete. The revelation that he is an abusive husband and father – assuming that Carol is, in fact, correct – means that he will have to be dealt with. Carol has jumped straight to the most extreme option and Rick looks more than happy to oblige. Deanna is already starting to question just what she's bitten off by handling so much responsibility to the likes of Maggie, Abraham and Rick, and now she's just lost her son. Then there's Gabriel, sneaking in to pour Miracle-Gro on the seeds of her mistrust.
So I guess the feature-length season finale isn't going to be 90 minutes of Rick and Carol finally chilling out and finding Mrs Neidermeyer a pasta maker, then?
The Walking Dead airs on AMC in the US on Sundays and Fox in the UK on Mondays.
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