When the crew takes a brief respite, they come across an odd priest with something to hide. Fortunately, Carl is on the case! Unfortunately, he doesn't trade his sheriff's hat for Sherlock Holmes' deerstalker, but everyone gets a chance to catch up before the shit hits the fan again in true Waking Dead style.
After the explosive season premiere — figuratively and literally — it makes sense that the show would want to give Rick and the others some time to breathe. Most of these characters have barely seen each other since the Governor destroyed the prison and scattered them in the season 4 mid-season finale, and both they and viewers need a space to come together and see where everybody stands with each other.
I'm not sure that I would have given this episode to creator Robert Kirkman, however. As his other TWD TV scripts have shown, he's better at driving plots forward and shocking moments than he is at getting at what characters are feeling and thinking without having them say outright "I AM THINKING AND FEELING THIS." On the plus side, "Strangers" is likely his best scripted episode so far, but it still felt clunky compared to last week's fantastic premiere.
Part of the problem is that Gabriel, the priest who Rick and the others meet shrieking on top of a rock in the forest and surrounded by walkers, is creepy, but not necessarily in an intriguing way. I'll explain: Gabriel (played by Seth Gilliam, yet another alum from The Wire) is ridiculously suspicious. He completely falls to pieces when zombies are around, which makes the fact he's survived this long very strange. He has a church that he says he's barely left, but it's full of canned food; he claims he held a canned food drive right before the apocalypse hit. He makes super-weird jokes about leading everyone into a deadly trap and then tries to explain he just has an inappropriate sense of humor.
When Gabriel tells the group that there's one place nearby he hadn't raided for supplies because it contained a dozen zombies, Rick, Michonne, Bob and Sasha decide to make a raid, forcing the very unhappy Gabriel to come along. Before he leaves, Rick tells Carl he can never, ever let his guard down and that he'll never be safe — a grim reminder of the ceaseless danger of this young boy has grown up in, which would be more effective if it hadn't been a talk Rick probably should have given him back in season two.
At this point Inspector Carl enters the scene. I really wish we could have seen Carl wander around the church, looking for signs of some kind of sinister behavior (okay, I actually don't, but it's really funny in my head). When Rick returns, Inspector Carl has found two clues: 1) knife marks near one of the doors, as if someone had been trying to break in; 2) "YOU WILL BURN IN HELL FOR THIS" scratched in one of the outer walls, likely by one of the same people.
Now this is pretty interesting, but at this point Gabriel's Dark Secret has been telegraphed so hard it's going to have to be completely fucking insane to pay off. Obviously, the character is hiding something – helpfully pointed out when Rick tells him "YOU'RE HIDING SOMETHING" — but a late reveal indicates it may be that he just hasn't gotten over his wife turning into a zombie, in which case who cares? Everybody's lost somebody, dude.
Anyways, while Carl is sleuthing, Rick and the other hit the food bank Gabriel told them about. A leaky roof has led to a leaky floor which has led to a disgusting pit of murky liquid and the most disgusting, water-logged zombies of the show so far (seriously, they're straight out of Return of the Living Dead). As Bob so aptly puts it, "If a sewer could puke, this is what it would smell like." But the basement is also flooded with canned goods, and despite the risk, the group needs supplies. So Rick and the others crawl down and use the massive shelves in the basement to form a barrier behind which they can stab the zombies in the head. Rick forces the increasingly sketchy Gabriel to enter the pit with them, but a zombie in glasses (that aforementioned late reveal indicates she was Gabriel's wife) causes him to completely lose his shit, and Rick ends up having the break the barrier to rescue him. This turn leads to a zombie grabbing Bob and pulling him under, but Sasha helps rescue him before anything unfortunate happens. No, really. For sure. He's totally fine. Don't even think about it.
At any rate, the group gets a ton of supplies and throws a bit of a party at the church. They eat, drink and are merry — Gabriel even breaks out the communion wine for everyone to drink. At this point Abraham takes the moment of tranquility and happiness to make a toast — a toast that is really a plea for Rick and the group to accompany Abraham, Eugene and Rosita to DC. Abraham gives it the hard sell — even beyond promising a land of safety where the government has prepared for a situation even this messed up, he pulls out the "Save the world for that baby girl!" — and of course Rick is convinced. With everyone finally reunited and the prospect of actual hope, it's hard for everybody not to feel excited and happy for the first time in who knows how long — although Gabriel's communion wine probably isn't hurting either.
But this new journey hasn't begun, because the night is not yet over. Unseen by almost everybody, Carol sneaks off to a car she and Daryl found earlier. While Rick has forgiven her for killing and burning the two infected people at the prison, his banishment is still weighing on her mind, and she seemed to be contemplating leaving again… but Daryl finds her before she can take off. But before they can even have a conversation about it, a car zooms past them on the road, a car with a white cross on the back window — the car that took Beth! Daryl and Carol fly into their car and shoot off after the vehicle.
Now that would be a pretty exciting ending, but that's not how Robert Kirkman rolls. After an emotional kiss with Sasha, Bob also wanders off from the church, and begins sobbing. It seems pretty clear that he was actually scratched or something back at the food bank, and is weeping because he knows he's going to die and turn into a zombie — but we don't know for sure because that's when someone comes up behind him and knocks him out. When he wakes up, he's tied up and Gareth, the main asshole from Terminus, is looming in front of him. He's in a camp full of Termites, which is bad news too, but the worst news is that Gareth is eating his leg. And it's not attached. And it's been cooked. And, apparently, Bob is pretty tasty.
And that's how Robert Kirkman does an ending. I'm not a huge fan of bringing the Terminus people back for round 2 — I think turning them into petty assholes bent on revenge makes them more like the Governor and less like the more interesting, humanity-less monsters of the premiere — and I'm also not a big fan of it seemingly justifying Rick's initial decision to go back and kill all the Termites last episode, which I think is counter to the humanity Rick recovered over seasons 3 and 4. But you can't deny that a dude eating another dude's leg isn't a hell of an interesting way to end an episode.
• I don't mean to gloss over all the character moments in the show, but they don't fit very easily in a recap. They range from the good (Tyreese and Carol agreeing not to say anything about the girls, mostly because Tyreese needs to completely block it from his mind) to the nonsensical but still moving (Rick thanking Carol and asking if he and the group can join her) to the crappy and on-the-nose (Carl: "Gee whillikers, dad, I think we should help people. You know, as a general policy.").
• I didn't realize Michonne had left her sword back in Terminus, but I really liked her speech about her not missing it, as it symbolized her joyless life of nothing but survival prior to meeting Andrea and the group. It's still weird seeing her without it, though. I wonder if one of the Termites will have it? Still, her abandoning the sword is huge, and I think it would be a shame for the show to go back on this particular scene.
• Looks like Gabriel was spending his time handwriting copies of the Bible. Note: The old, pre-Scott Gimple Walking Dead would have shown us the Bibles and then Carl would have said, "He writing down the Bible!" in case we were too dumb to understand what we were seeing. Gimple just shows the Bibles and lets viewers make the connection, which is one of the main reasons TWD is a much better show now.
• Speaking of: In the beginning of the episode, Daryl senses someone watching them, and off-screen, he tells Rick about it, Rick believes him and has Daryl check for tracks. Back on-screen, Daryl merely says he didn't find any tracks, but Rick trusts Daryl's gut and tells him to be careful. Again, most of that exchange is off-screen, but it still explains everything that happened without telling us, by showing us all the information we need in as concise a manner as possible. In the old TWD, Daryl would have sensed somebody. He would told Rick, Rick wouldn't have believed him. Then Daryl would have sensed the guy again later, told Rick again, Rick would have told him to look for tracks, and then we would have watched Daryl look for tracks and not find anything, and then he would have told Rick that he didn't find any tracks. It would have taken up an entire episode. Maybe two.
• I find Tyreese's love of Wee Baby Judith as adorable as everyone on the show seems to find it. It also looks like the Rick and Tyreese partnership, a main relationship from the comics, will be starting in earnest this season.
• AMC ran a TWD flashback of Daryl yelling at Rick in season one, when he first learned Rick handcuffed Merle to a roof somewhere. Both Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus look 15 years younger. It was weird.
• Glenn and Maggie raid a gun store and find a few silencers, which may be something that ends up important later. Two things to note, though: 1) Glenn trips and accidentally fires his gun, and tries to pass it off as he was being attacked by a zombie, which is kind of funny, and 2) they find the gun store by looking it up in a phone book. I always like it when they show how the characters actually accomplish little things like this in the zombie apocalypse.
• Carl, upon showing Rick the "YOU WILL BURN IN HELL FOR THIS" on the church. "It means something." THANK YOU WORLD'S GREATEST DETECTIVE.
• So if Bob has been infected — infected in the sense that he's dying very very quickly now — does that mean Gareth and the Termites are also infected from eating him? I assume not, since narratively that's a terrible payoff, to have these antagonists get taken out so anti-climatically, but holy shit that would be the greatest thing ever. I was literally hoping Bob would look down at his missing leg and just start cackling evilly, but no dice. So does this mean Bob wasn't infected? Or did cooking Bob's leg destroy the zombie bacteria? Crap, that's probably it.