With The Walking Dead spreading out its characters and stories once again during the first half of this season, it was only a matter of time before we had an episode like “Crossed”, which fractures its narrative to focus on the different factions of survivors as they all head towards the Atlanta hospital where Carol’s life is in limbo, and Beth is clinging to whatever scraps of safety she can (or in Abraham/Glenn’s case, going nowhere at all). And despite a few stumbles in places, the solid character work done over the past season and a half largely carries “Crossed”, an hour that slowly begins to push all the pieces to the center of the table.
What stands out about “Crossed” is its examination of Rick’s mental state: when Rick begins talking about slitting throats and shooting guards with silenced weapons, it’s clear that the good sheriff has probably left town for good. Even Daryl is willing to consider another way, for Pete’s sake – and when Tyreese suggests they take a more non-violent approach (which… haven’t you learned the value of killing enemies this season, Tyreese?), the camera lingers on Rick’s dumbfounded reaction. The idea is expressed more overtly when Good Cop/Bad Cop shows up and points out Rick used to be a cop – but it works so much more effectively when the informal Save Carol Council turns against Rick’s plan, holding out a bit of hope for humanity in the process.
Is it a smart idea? In previous seasons, this answer would be definitively “no”: but while The Walking Dead remains a very pessimistic show, season five hasn’t wallowed in its own darkness, presenting contrasting ideologies between characters about the nature of people, and how that affects them in this new world order, where man has returned to its most primal form of predator – willing to kill to protect its own without hesitation, t hat is. Gabriel is a fine example of this internal moral conflict: again, watching him scrape blood off his church floor isn’t the most subtle way to go about presenting this idea, but it works to establish how isolated and afraid Gabriel is, still reeling from the Termite massacre in his Godly living room (and even more so, struggling to face the fact he’s more like them than he wants to admit, even if he still doesn’t kill the undead).
In those moments, “Crossed” continues the trend of the show’s new found focus on character, utilizing that development to push the story forward when needed. Beth’s resourcefulness comes into play with her negotiations to save Carol, just as Sasha’s pain over losing Bob leads her to (really, really stupidly) trust New Bob, two bits of character that end up representing important narrative turns in the climatic moments of “Crossed”. And it extends to the troupe previously traveling to DC: while waiting for Eugene to regain consciousness, “Crossed” gives us some back story on Rosita, and uses Maggie’s strength as a human being (and ability to deal with pain and disappointment) to kick Abraham’s butt back into gear – even if it’s only represented by a wonderfully-composed shot of his bloody hand picking up a water bottle, it works as a mini-character arc: that bottle represents the importance of maintaining hope and human connection. Without it, Abraham’s lost, as silent and purposeful as the undead wandering around the country side – and for the first time in a long time, it feels like The Walking Dead has a little more hope for its characters.
There are places where I could nitpick “Crossed” (like Sasha’s idiotic decisions, or how odd it is to see Daryl suddenly embracing a peaceful approach to something), but it does a great job at pushing all the stories closer together through thematic work, keeping all characters in the fold, even though some are clearly not headed toward the hospital, where it looks like the mid-season finale will take place. All things considered, “Crossed” is another strong episode, one that directly benefits from the creative changes made to the show the last year-and-a-half, building up plenty of steam as it heads towards it winter hiatus.
Photo via AMC