Season 5, Episode 14 “Spend”
review by Jayson Snyder
Warning full spoilers for S05E14 “Spend” below!
On its face, The Walking Dead is a zombie fueled apocalyptic gore fest with enough carnage to rival any top horror franchise. However, beneath the surface lies the true genius of the series, a continual re-examination of moral constructs in lawless world. As society breaks down, and the fabric of the living world decays faster than the dead consuming it, what place do moral values hold? Where do you draw the line between heroism and recklessness? Devoid of even the most basic structure, how do you identify the conduct of a ‘bad person’? The latest installment of AMC’s The Walking Dead explores these very concepts in it’s trademark skillful, blood-spattered style.
There were three main sub-plots interwoven into this action-packed episode, which I will unravel henceforth in considerable detail. Spoilers be damned!
First, we see a contingent of survivors preparing to make a recovery run for parts needed to repair Alexandria’s failing solar power grid. After conferring on the mission and saying some goodbyes to onlookers, the team consisting of Aiden (Deanna’s son), fellow Alexandrian Nicholas, Glenn, Noah, Tara, and Eugene depart on their quest snuggled into the confines of a rust speckled, techno-thumping van.
Upon arrival at their destination, an abandoned electronics warehouse, the group finds the facility under threat from squatting walkers. Upon inspection, though, they decide that a stealthy and focused foray will get them in and out of the building without harm as most of the walkers are restricted by an internal partition. We soon find that this plan goes predictably awry in a hurry.
Substituting bravado for experience, Aiden fires on a rogue walker dressed in military fatigues and inadvertently explodes a belt-clipped grenade. The fallout of this explosion finds Tara unconscious, with significant head trauma, and Aiden impaled in multiple places by mangled fencing. The others, shaken but not injured, manage to drag Tara into a nearby office to regroup and seek shelter from the now freed walker herd.
After some quick thinking, Glenn hatches a plan whereby he, Noah, and Nicholas will distract the zombies with a flare and carry out a rescue mission to tend to wounded Aiden. The plan is initially successful, but upon reaching Aiden they find freeing him of his predicament more difficult than anticipated. This difficulty is compounded by Nicholas’ persistent pleas to abandon Aiden and forgo the rescue. Glenn tries valiantly to convince Nicholas that rescue is the only noble pursuit, but his efforts are in vain and Nicholas flees the scene. Just before Aiden meets his gruesome demise, he confesses to Glenn that Alexandria has lost other members under the same cowardly circumstances.
Forced from the warehouse, Glenn and Noah pursue Nicholas to the front of the building where all three of them become trapped in a revolving glass door, with Nicholas in one compartment, Glenn and Noah in the opposite. Walkers prevent movement in either direction, until Eugene (who has carried Tara to safety with uncharacteristic chivalry) draws the external walkers from the front of the building with the noisy van. Presented with the opportunity to escape, Glenn instructs Noah and Nicholas to steady the door from rotating as he prepares to break the glass. Instead, Nicholas panics and rotates his compartment of the door forward allowing him to escape. This is the ultimate act of selfishness, however, as his rotation of the door pushes the opposing compartment back into the building where Noah is pulled inside by a ravenous herd of walkers and savaged in brutal detail whilst Glenn can only watch helplessly.
Nicholas reaches the getaway van, and has a short but threatening confrontation with Eugene. However, Glenn soon catches up and beats him to unconsciousness with fervent emotion. Reluctantly, he asks Eugene to help him load the limp body of Nicholas into the van rather than leave him behind to die.
In the second sub-plot, Rick out on patrol as newly appointed Alexandrian constable, discovers his flirtatious love interest Jessie in her garage, picking up the pieces of a vandalized owl sculpture. He promises to investigate the matter, and when she protests, Rick informs her of the “broken window theory” of law enforcement which postulates that by keeping control of minor infractions, you prevent major crime. This interaction only further highlights the stark difference between life inside the walls (where a broken owl sculpture is to be treated with high accord) and outside the walls (where the characters are forced to kill or be killed in Darwin-esque fashion).
Later, as Carol begrudgingly shows Sam (Jessie’s son) how to bake her famous cookies, she becomes suspicious of domestic violence in Sam’s household specifically from his father, Pete. As a viewer we can only assume that Sam faces dire circumstances at home, given his willingness to confide in the woman who’s darkly poignant and calculated threats in the previous episode are still giving many of us chills.
When an intoxicated Pete pays Rick an impromptu visit, the tension and awkwardness between them is palpable. Though never addressing it directly, the tone of the conversation is clearly one of warning brought on by jealousy over the playful budding relationship between Rick and Pete’s wife, Jessie.
In the final development of this storyline for the episode, Carol pays a visit to Sam’s house and is met by Pete at the front door. All of her questions are quickly rebuffed and she is dispatched by a slamming door in what is quickly becoming Pete’s trademark aggressive style. Convinced that Pete has been abusive behind closed doors, Carol appeals to Rick imploring a penalty of death for his transgressions. In a bit of a cliffhanger, Rick does not reply in the affirmative or negative to this request which is clearly bolstered by Carol’s personal experience in her own abusive relationship.
Finally, in the last of the three major sub-plots, we find that Abraham has been assigned to an off-site construction crew working on wall expansion. When a herd of walkers attacks the crew, he immediately snaps into action by jumping into the firing line. However, when Francine (the crew’s lookout) is accidentally dumped into the midst of the attacking herd, we see Abraham’s true value. He heroically pushes forward, alone, into peril in an attempt to save Francine’s life. As the other Alexandrians fall back, drowning in fear and recoiling in self-preservation, Abraham shuttles Francine into the cab of a piece of nearby construction equipment. Together they fight back the advancing walkers, eventually inspiring other Alexandrians to join their plight. Together they successfully repel the attack.
As the dust clears, there is a distinct changing of the guard as Abraham takes command of the construction crew from the sheepish Tobin, barking out orders and colloquialisms in a way that would make any drill sergeant proud. Abraham flashes a distinct smirk of satisfaction, pleased with his triumphant brush with danger and his new found position of leadership.
In a subsequent scene Tobin takes counsel with Deanna, asking her to accept his resignation as the foreman of the construction crew. He explains that Abraham is simply a more effective leader, and she reluctantly accepts his assessment making the change official. Deanna confesses that in making the change she has put another of Rick’s group into a position of power within Alexandria, a move that makes her understandably concerned given her inexperience with the group.
As she marinates on these thoughts, Deanna receives a visit from Gabriel, the priest, who as we know was saved from certain peril by the people of Rick’s contingent earlier in their travails. This back story makes what unfolds even more bizarre, as Gabriel proceeds to warn Deanna that she has made a grave error by accepting Rick and his people into her community, claiming that they have done unspeakable things. He quotes scripture and conjures the notion of Satan disguising himself as the Angel of Light. Further he implores that “the day will come when they put their lives before yours and they will destroy all that you have here”. Deanna explains that she has a lot to think about before sending Gabriel on his way, never knowing that Maggie has overheard the entire betrayal.
This is where our episode comes to an abrupt stop, leaving us with many questions and thirsting for answers as the skillful writers of The Walking Dead are often apt to do. Did the heroic acts of Glenn and Abraham inspire the people of Alexandria or did they further reinforce a reputation for recklessness? Will Rick pursue justice with Pete for suspected treachery against his family, and, if so, in what form will that justice come? Will Deanna consider Gabriel’s plea regarding Rick’s people, and have they truly become ‘bad people’?
AMC’s The Walking Dead exists at a crossroads of philosophy and storytelling, a fertile ground for introspective imagination. This episode clearly helped to further the current storyline, as the show crescendos toward a rapidly approaching season end. And, as strong as the plot points were for the episode, I found the most enjoyment in contemplating the concepts of morality that were so deftly imbedded throughout. I highly recommend the episode and anxiously await the next installment of this must-see series.