All day, I’ve been walking around with one hand in the air, waiting for someone to high-five me. You see, in last week’s review of “Strangers”, I speculated that Gabriel had locked out his congregation during the initial zombie outbreak, that Bob had been bitten by a walker in the flooded basement, and that the remaining Terminus cannibals would die from food poisoning, giving new meaning to the saying, “You are what you eat.” Two out of three ain’t bad, but what I couldn’t have expected is how well The Walking Dead would pay off these threads in “Four Walls and a Roof”, contrasting the animalistic cruelty of the new world order with the fragile humanity subsisting in communities like Rick’s.
This may seem an odd thing to bring up in light of the bloodbath at the end of “Four Wall and a Roof”, but let’s face it: the Terminus cannibals left our heroes no choice. A shootout would have wasted bullets and attracted zombies by The Walking Dead rules; tying up the baddies and leaving them to the walkers would have been needlessly cruel (though it would have quenched my thirst for poetic justice); and letting them go would have guaranteed another assault if not on this tribe, then on the next group of survivors to come along.
In other words, Rick’s desire to wipe out the Terminus clan both in this episode and “No Sanctuary” has less to do with bloodlust than long-term survival. A lesser show might have used this revelation to justify (even glorify) our heroes’ violence, but The Walking Dead makes a point of exposing the massacre for what it is, turning our attention to Tara’s helpless discomfort and Tyreese’s concerns for Sasha’s soul. In the new world order, even good people have to behave like monsters. The difference lies in their never using the fall of civilisation as an excuse for personal debauchery.
Consider the Terminus leader’s claim that his victims all had an opportunity to convert to cannibalism rather than get eaten, a direct contradiction to the chain of events in “No Sanctuary”. Like the Governor before him, Gareth is lying to himself, rationalising his heinous behaviour with pretences of higher values. By the same token, Gabriel’s objections to the showdown taking place in his home (as if God would have approved any other battleground) stinks of hypocrisy. As Maggie points out, without a congregation or a pastor true to his convictions, the chapel is just “four walls and a roof”.
The real man of faith this week is Bob, who somehow manages to keep a positive outlook even as he’s tortured and the walker disease snuffs out his future. The Walking Dead has its share of ass-kicking super warriors (one of whom just got her sword back), but few could match the recovering alcoholic’s fortitude at death’s door, defiantly shouting, “Tainted meat!” while cannibals are chomping at their leg. I also like the subtle way he nudges Rick’ moral compass, reminding the deputy of his values without passing judgment on recent events. In contrast, Hershel might have offered more overt counsel as a father figure, and Dale would’ve just thrown a fit before getting attacked by a zombie ninja.
It occurs to me we’ve never had as gentle a passing on The Walking Dead. Director Jeffrey F. January did a great job removing any sense of threat or doom from the death scene in “Four Walls and a Roof”: the clean and cozy room with a comfy couch, the bright sunlight shining through the window, the warm exchanges with Sasha, the shot of our heroes all paying their respects… Even the sound of Tyreese puncturing Bob’s skull with a pocket knife felt softer somehow. I’m grateful for quiet moments like these. They serve as a reminder that human compassion can survive any environment.
Death toll so far: twenty-seven, I think. I’d need to revisit season four.