The Walking Dead 5×14 ‘Spend’: Implosion

The Walking Dead 5x14 Cover

Okay, let’s talk about death.  I’m sure you’re aware of how many television shows, more so television shows in today’s era, use character death as a way to make episodes full of “moments”.  Because people remember moments more than they remember anything else.  We remember Tony and Carmela’s huge fight at the end of Season 4 of The Sopranos.  We remember the flashforward at the end of Season 3 of LOST.  We remember a certain character losing his head in Season 1 of Game of Thrones.  Big, visceral, intense moments make us remember what we’ve been watching, and they keep us coming back.  We want to feel the excitement and thrill we experienced when we weren’t sure whether or not our favorite character was going to make it out alive.  It’s not a bad thing (for the most part); storytelling is entertainment, and entertainment is a feeling.  Therefore, storytelling has to manufacture sensational feeling as well as deep, emotional feeling.

The Walking Dead 5x14-1

Source: AMC

So, “Spend” features two character deaths, and while they don’t necessarily feel major, the implications are rather extreme.  Aiden, Deanna’s son, is impaled on a couple rods of metal after accidentally shooting a live grenade on a zombie, after which he is disemboweled by a horde of zombies while he is still alive.  Noah is also pulled apart by zombies, though this is done right in front of Glenn, and his face is graphically torn apart in bloody detail.  It’s one of the more brutal images we’ve seen on The Walking Dead in a long, long time, and there has been a fair amount of internet discussion about it.  Some say it’s okay, others say that it goes too far.  Of course, it makes sense that people would be upset.  We want zombies and gore to thrill us, even disgust us a little, but get too graphic and upsetting and the fantasy is shattered.  People being torn apart by zombies is just that.  Death is upsetting, and we don’t necessarily want to be reminded of that.

The Walking Dead 5x14-3

Source: AMC

But think about Noah’s place on the show.  The writers planned this episode around the complete debacle that was the supply run, and Noah’s death was the climactic moment of the storyline.  Only issue is that we’ve only known Noah for maybe half of a season, and we don’t know enough about him to be truly upset by his death.  However, the point of his death is that Glenn is horrified by it, as much by the spectacle of his death as by the fact that it was Nicholas’s fault that Noah was killed.  And in order for us to feel that pain, we had to feel something for Noah’s death.  And since emotional connection wasn’t really an option (they tried at the beginning of the episode, but that was minimally effective), they went for visceral.  And man, was it visceral.  Glenn’s horrified look as he watched his friend ripped apart by zombies worked like a charm.  It was absolutely one of the more horrifying moments the show has exhibited in a long time.

And it was effective in communicating the issue that the second half of the season has been dealing with for a while now.  There are two status quos at work here.  One is the outside world, which Rick and his group is prepared for.  The other is Alexandria, which Deanna is prepared for.  When in the outside world, the citizens of Alexandria have no idea what to do.

The Walking Dead 5x14-2

Source: AMC

Side note: I don’t entirely buy how clueless the citizens of Alexandria are when outside the walls.  They’ve had this community for a long, long time now, and if they are this clueless now, then they should have been zombie food a long time ago.  The one real weakness of “Spend” is how heavily the episode is skewed in the favor of Rick’s group.

And it’s nearly catastrophic that the citizens of Alexandria are so lost.  They’re willing to leave people behind if it means keeping everybody else safe, not because of any particular contingency plan, but because of cowardice.  Abraham ends up saving one of the workers on the site, Francine, because nobody else will go to rescue her (after one of them makes the mistake that gets her hurt).  Same goes for Aiden making the mistake of shooting the grenade.  Glenn hates Aiden, but is willing to put everything he has into trying to save him.  Nicholas is so terrified of being eaten that he runs away, leaving Aiden to die and getting Noah killed in the process.  Alexandria may want to be paradise, but they don’t have the survival skills to make it paradise.  They can’t just block out the outside world.  They have to contend with it as well.

The Walking Dead 5x14-4

Source: AMC

On the other hand, all of this places Rick at a crossroads.  He learns from Carol that Pete is hitting Jessie and possibly Sam, and that he’s going to have to hurt Pete in order to resolve this.  Carol suggests that he kill Pete, but this suggestion of murder is why this ending scene is juxtaposed with Gabriel’s conversation with Deanna.  The old Rick would just weed Pete out by gunning him down (like he gunned down the cop in Atlanta in “Coda”).  But he can’t be the old Rick inside Alexandria.  In order to bring the two status quos together into something sustainable, he needs to be able to exert the control necessary to keep from murdering Pete, but to still be able to contend with the issue.  Because as heroic as Rick’s group looks in this episode, Carol is still suggesting that Rick kill a man.  And that won’t bode well for the cohesion of the community.

But that’s the entire point of “Spend”, the idea that people have to transform and evolve in order to exist within new status quos.  Eugene carries an injured Tara back to the van, killing zombies along the way, not because he wants to, but because he has to.  And Rick is going to have to use discretion when it comes to Pete, not because he wants to, as I’m sure he wants to gut Pete like he did to the man who assaulted Carl in last season’s “A”.  It’s because he has to, because existing in a community that isn’t Woodbury or the Prison means that he has to better than he was before.

Gabriel doesn’t have it right when he tells Deanna of the horrible nature of Rick’s group.  But he’s partially right.  Rick has it in him to be a murderer.  The real question is: Can he be better?

So what did you think of “Spend”?  Are you excited to see whether or not Rick is reinstated as a leader?  Or if there will be war inside Alexandra, as well as outside (we still are yet to see The Wolves)?  Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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