Just like a stranded potato feasting Mark Watney, there comes a time when every survivor has one key thought: “It’s time to start thinking long term”. The point where you realize that your day-to-day survival routines like scavenging have an expiration date on them, and as difficult and daunting as it may seem, you to start planning for a future that doesn’t always seem possible. It's long been a topic explored on The Walking Dead as various people try (and usually fail) to make a new start. It’s on the minds of Travis & Chris this week as they look to start wandering with a purpose. Will they see eye-to-eye with their visions of the future? Or is it more a case of Travis is from Venus and Chris is from Mars?
Do Not Disturb – While trying to find somewhere they can settle, Travis & Chris meet a trio of young fellow survivors but Travis worries about their influence on Chris. In the hotel, Alicia meets Elena, the former hotel manager, and together they work their way downstairs to save Madison and Stand.
You have to hand it to the writers for the setup. The abandoned wedding last episode just looked like a fun setting, but here we open with a flashback to the event itself. It’s wonderful snapshot of the emotional state of civilization at that time, a beautiful and happy of people coming together but edged with growing fears of “the sickness” reported in the nearby US. It takes us right back to Season 1 territory of people trying to carry on with their normal lives without realising they’ve already ended. It also serves as a great introduction to Elena’s character as we see her collecting some serious guilt baggage when the Rains of Castamere heralds a Red Wedding. It makes a great opening to what becomes a fantastic episode full of action, suspenseful horror and good character beats. There’s a nice common theme of trust across the two story locations of the hotel and Travis & Chris on the road. Alicia meets Elena while the boys meet a trio of fellow survivors and both introductions bring with them animosity. Following on well from the opening scene, we catch up with an Elena that’s become agoraphobic, having confined herself to her hotel tower since the outbreak. She represents an extreme of isolationist survival that feels comparable to Danielle Rousseau from Lost.
Then by contrast, the trio of fellow Americans that Travis & Chris encounter become generous and welcoming, causing Travis to become the paranoid one. This plays well on the idea that he’s recently lost Madison and the others by being overly cautious about trusting anyone else for fear of losing Chris too. In both cases, we see how fear can cloud judgment but it’s Travis & Chris’ scenes that impress the most by the way it flips their roles, allowing Chris to become the voice of reason. Yet Travis still has some good points that play well to our knowledge of the main show. These guys are good are good for supplies... that typically comes at someone else’s expense so can they really be trusted. This again echoes back to the hotel and Elena’s containment actions, saving some at the expense of others.
The action and suspense value of this episode must not be understated as director Michael McDonough makes full use of the hotel setting. The visuals of Alicia tip-toeing through the dark walker-filled corridors with the emergency lighting flashing in and out are brilliantly tense. The long corridors keep the peril clear and present while the tight twisting corners preserve the sense of unknown danger. It’s a trick the show should definitely repeat before the end of the season. Similarly, the elevator shaft sequence makes a great payoff as Alicia dangles just beyond dead fingertips. In fact, as the episode progresses, the hotel develops into an ever more elaborate location as we learn of other residents/survivors within the building and see walker flooded corridors being used, and defensive walls (just like Nick’s new friends). Suddenly, this switches from being just another rest and hold up location to a developing post-apocalyptic tower block gang war (Dredd & Ma-Ma approve). Hopefully, we’ll get at least another episode or two of this playing out before the show starts to move its character clusters (not a breakfast cereal) towards a reunion. Finally, the episode makes the right choice over holding and teasing the reveal of last week’s cliffhanger; a boozy Madison & Strand getting a lot of unwelcome party crashers. Rather than jumping straight back in, we’re made to wait and give Alicia and Elena time to question whether or not it’s already too late.
Now that we’ve caught up with everyone at last, I really like what show is doing with its characters as it expands and develops these different groups. Nothing feels like filler. Each has something worth paying attention to and gets bonus throwing in a, “let’s check out the barn”.... because nothing ever goes wrong there. The ultimate success or failure of the season will be how well these different parts unite into a whole as things (and people) inevitably come together but right now it’s looking strong.