“Survivors,” Abraham asks “The Walking Dead’s” band of post-apocalyptic stragglers. “Is that all you want to be?” It’s a question that resonates all though “Strangers,” the second episode of the show’s fifth season, and for once, it gives serious weight to both sides. Nearly every week, we’re reminded that Rick and his group will do whatever it takes to survive; what once was morality has been reduced to sentiment, and sentiment will get you killed. But with the group voting to sign onto Abraham’s mission, which involves escorting Eugene to Washington, D.C. in hopes that he can cure the zombie epidemic, they’re looking past the present and to the future. They survive — then what?
Rick, who in the fifth-season premiere ordered the group to wipe out what remained of the cannibal sanctuary Terminus, not in the name of self-defense but because “They need to die,” has been burned too many times to believe. When he finds Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam, “The Wire’s” Carver) cowering from walkers in the woods, Rick looks at him with barely veiled contempt: He’s immediately convinced that Gabriel must have done something terrible to survive on his own — “We all have,” he points out — and Gabriel’s denials, coupled with the effrontery of wearing a priest’s collar in a world God would seem by every measure to have forsaken, make it seems as if Rick might kill him at any moment, just for having the gall to exist. But he doesn’t, and though Rick’s suspicions are only fueled by the deep scratches in the wood around the windows of Gabriel’s church and the scrawled message, “You’ll burn for this,” the building itself remains a place of hope.
The survivors struggle with what they’ve done, and might do: Carol talks with Tyrese, the only person who knows the full extent of what she’s done, including putting down a young girl as one would a mad dog, and he warns her about having something to go back after the outbreak — the difference being Carol’s given up on thinking there will be an after. Carl points out to his dad that being strong sometimes means being good. But the Terminans, who make a rude reappearance in the episode’s final minutes, are resigned to their lot. “We evolved,” Garth explains to Bob, chewing on a mouthful of what turns out to be the latter’s leg, “Then we devolved.” If, as Rick says, humans are more dangerous than walkers, then they’re among the most dangerous of all, and it seems certain Rick will live to regret not following through on his vow to kill them all.
Reviews of “The Walking Dead,” Season 5, Episode 2, “Strangers”
Kyle Ryan, Entertainment Weekly
This isn’t a world that gives survivors the luxury of dwelling too much on the past. Daily survival requires too much intense focus for that, and the constant movement on to the next place means life never gets too settled and reflective. In that sense, there’s always a chance for renewal, that getting to the next place will make it easier to move past all that has happened. It’s a refrain Daryl keeps telling Carol in “Strangers”: “Hey, we ain’t dead. Whatever happened, happened. Let’s start over.”
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
I like Bob. Gilliard is one of the best actors the show has, and it’s a nice emotional contrast for the group to have one vocal optimist in its ranks — Hershel played that role once upon a time, and, come to think of it, he also lost a leg — even if his departure from the party to cry outside suggests that a lot of it is just acting. (That, or alcoholic Bob has a hard time being around communion wine.) If we’re heading towards seeing him tortured until he’s either dead or had all the joy sucked out of him, that’ll feel like an unpleasant waste. But the larger conflict between the two groups seems a good one to stake this season on. Rick is learning to be a good guy again, but how long does that last when he’s faced with the kind of badness the Terminus people represent?
Matt Fowler, IGN
Normally, since most of my issues with The Walking Dead involve character beats and decisions, I tend to dread the “come down” episodes a little bit. But “Strangers” managed to juggle the large ensemble very well while also keeping the story fresh and dangerous. The episode also raised legitimate questions about how to handle new faces on the road now that it’s a clear given that people are far worse than the undead in this new world.
Matt Vella, Time