To call “Spend” an emotionally exhausting experience would count as an early qualifier for understatement of 2015, but the way in which the episode goes about devastating the audience brings up one of The Walking Dead’s major flaws. In the series, attempts to be honest and contemplative about death, as in the recent passing of Chad Coleman’s Tyreese, can quickly devolve into completely shallow acts of sadism, which would be the only way to describe the death of Noah (Tyler James Williams) and, to a lesser extent, Aiden (Daniel Bonjour). Frankly, the overt stressing of the tragedy of a single character hasn’t been so tastelessly extended since Otis got devoured in season two.
Noah’s demise leaves a particularly bitter taste following what is, in almost every other respect, an episode par excellence. Directed by Jennifer Chambers Lynch, “Spend” is built on a series of negotiations over bravery, specifically where the line in the sand is drawn when it comes to survival, both emotionally and physically. For Carol (Melissa McBride), her relationship with Sam (Major Dodson) turns into a debate over just how much she can emotionally invest in such an ostensible stranger in this new world. Elsewhere, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) has to make nice with the increasingly unnerving Pete (Corey Brill), even as he seems to already be contemplating how much he can trust his new neighbor and if, at one point, he might have to kill him.
Of course, the high-stakes negotiations on the supply run prove far more dire. If the writers seem a bit content to see Noah get literally torn apart, in the dubious task of proving that fear often overrules reason and empathy, they also offer a salient critique of behavior. The doubt that Eugene (Josh McDermitt) has about his own bravery turns out to be just apprehension, and in the moment, he steps up and gets courage quick. This proves a stark contrast to Nicholas (Michael Traynor), whose panicked cowardice turns out to be the death knell for both his best friend and one of Rick’s group’s most helpful members.
Fright and weakness also play a part in the final negotiation between Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) and Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), who reveals his belief that Rick and his group are Satan and his disciples in disguise. Considering the death of her son and Carol’s insistence that Rick will, indeed, have to kill Pete, the stage is set for a showdown, and one in which Gabriel will likely realize that he’s a devil disguised as an angel of light. It’s his inability to grapple with the way things are, and his seeming denial of his own horrific cowardice, that makes him undermine the peace between Deanna and Rick’s groups. Rather than making the Safe-Zone a more efficient working machine, as Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) helped do at the construction site, the question now becomes more about who’s genuinely useful in Alexandria, and who deserves the power to rule. What remains unclear is whether the calculated, conquering reason of Rick’s group will ever be able to outsmart the fatal duplicity of the irrevocably self-centered, those for whom life is precious once again, and worth sacrificing friends, neighbors, and total strangers over in a heartbeat.
For more recaps of The Walking Dead, click here.