“That could have been us!” Rick (Andrew Lincoln) says about three-quarters of the way through “Four Walls and a Roof,” not long after mercilessly hacking up the group of “hunters” that chowed down on Bob’s (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) leg. It echoes the central questions at the heart of The Walking Dead: What have we become, and what will we become? For Bob, who was secretly bitten during the raid on the food bank, the answer is clear enough, but for Rick, these question hang heavy in the aftermath of his butchering of the cannibals that followed his group out of Terminus. And if nothing else, “Four Walls and a Room” was a startling reminder of just how seriously the series takes murder, even in regard to people who would happily eat your grandmother.
Gareth (Andrew J. West) and his crew certainly don’t seem to be very bothered by noshing on Bob’s calf—that is, until they find out that he’s, in his words, “tainted meat.” The choice of Gareth’s group to return Bob to the church where Rick and company have been laying not-quite-low may, from the outset, have seemed like a flash of humanity, but it becomes clear very quickly that it’s a ploy, the baiting of a waiting hook. There’s a great static long take on the church’s sign as Rick and his crew seemingly leave to find Gareth, one that anticipates a cut just before the cannibals quietly circle the church in preparation for an unprotected feast. It’s a moment of tremendous dread that snowballs into one of the more suspenseful sequences in the show’s history, one that alludes to the horror of what might have happened if Rick had actually walked out to Gareth’s lair, looking for vengeance.
Of course, that was not the case, but the show’s writers clearly didn’t want the murder of Gareth’s group to go down lightly. Earlier in the episode, Rick and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) nearly kill each other over rights to the fixed-up bus and the timetable for getting to D.C., a brawl averted only by Glenn’s (Steven Yeun) honed peacekeeping skills. This is a group of people who increasingly have to kill on a regular basis, to the point that it’s become almost second nature to them, and in moments like these, the writers convey a deep fear of how one tempers the physical simplicity and moral damnation of murder after one has depended on it for so long. In the case of Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), the craving for the false satisfactions of violent vengeance nearly keeps her from spending some last moments with Bob, despite Tyreese’s (Chad L. Coleman) heartfelt warning to her.
“Four Walls and a Roof” doesn’t portray doing nothing as anything better, as witnessed by Father Gabriel’s (Seth Gilliam) confession of letting his parishioners get consumed by a zombie horde in the early days of the outbreak. No matter how stark the depiction of the church-house slaughter is, one most definitely cannot blame Rick for what he does, but rather the way in which he does it. Though his mind may be on protection, there’s no denying the glint of enjoyment in his voice when he tells Gareth that they aren’t going to waste bullets on them. Rick and his cohorts are still alive and human, but that comes with the burden of remembering, as Michonne (Danai Gurira) reminds Father Gabriel at one point. Right before that, Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) admits to Rick that the trip to Terminus “killed” him, to which Rick quickly responds that it didn’t. It’s a helpful reminder of a fact that’s hard to keep a hold of in the world they live in: You’re not dead, until you are.
For more recaps of The Walking Dead, click here.