Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead concluded with a scene now permanently etched into millions of traumatized brains: Gareth (Andrew J. West), leader of Terminus, forcing Bob (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) to watch as he takes a bite out of his newly amputated, charred-crispy leg.
“We didn’t want to hurt you before,” Gareth tells Bob, who’s just woken to find himself chained to a post. “We didn’t want to pull you away from your group or scare you. These are not things that we wanted to do.” He reminds Bob that “your people” destroyed Terminus, forcing its batch of psychos to survive “out here like everybody else.”
“In order to do that,” he continues. “We have to hunt. Didn’t start that way. Eating people. It evolved into that. We evolved. We had to. And now, we’ve devolved into hunters. I told you. I said it—can’t go back, Bob. I just hope you understand that nothing happening to you now is personal. Yeah, you put us in this situation and it is almost a cosmic justice for it to be you. But we would’ve done this to anybody. We will. But at the end of the day, no matter how much we hate all this ugly business, a man’s gotta eat.”
Then comes the kicker: “If it makes you feel any better,” Gareth says, biting off a piece of Bob’s flesh, “you taste much better than we thought you would.”
The episode was penned by Robert Kirkman, who modeled the scene pretty closely after a plot written for his Walking Dead graphic novels. In that version of events, a gang of cannibals called the Hunters—Gareth’s monologue dubs the Terminans “hunters”—stalked Rick and his group on their way to Washington, D.C., where Eugene was supposed to deliver secret information to save the world. The Hunters captured and ate part of Dale’s leg, unaware of the walker bite on his other leg that made him “TAINTED MEAT!!” On TV, of course, Dale (played by Jeffrey DeMunn) one-upped his comic book demise by having his guts ripped open by a zombie back in Season 2, leaving poor, bite-free Bob to take his place.
But, hang on, is Bob really bite-free? The big action sequence in “Strangers” comes when Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Bob, and Michonne (Danai Gurira) accompany a priest named Gabriel (The Wire’s Seth Gilliam) on a supply run to a town’s old food bank, a place infested with zombies and flooded with rancid rainwater. While attempting to pull a bin of canned food toward him, Bob is momentarily pulled underwater by a walker sneak-attack. Sasha, Bob’s now-official ladyfriend, quickly comes to his rescue and smashes the zombie’s face off.
He assures her he’s all right—but while Sasha can’t see, Bob takes one last, long, disturbed look at the mangled walker. He later leaves the group to go cry outside Gabriel’s church, moments before he’s captured by Gareth’s gang—suspiciously similar to a comic book thread where Dale, already bitten, tears himself away from the group to spare them his fate but ends up captured by Hunters. Did something happen to Bob during those few seconds underwater?
Bob wouldn’t be the only one hiding something, of course. A huge narrative fuss is made over what Gabriel might be hiding, though that’s as obvious a secret as the Terminans’ cannibalism once was. The guy is as weak and inexperienced as they come: Three walkers with a cumulative eight or so fingertips on his shoes were enough to overwhelm him. He straight up bolted during the fight at the food bank.
Yet, somehow, he’s stayed alive inside his old church—alone. All apocalypse long. Behind locked doors and windows with rows and rows of canned food. Perhaps to distract us from whatever’s going on with Bob, the episode wants us to wonder whether Gabriel was cowardly enough to deny his fellow parishioners shelter during the outbreak—which would explain the words etched by some angry soul into the church’s exterior: “You’ll burn for this.”
Gabriel’s dark past would be another plot lifted straight from Kirkman’s comics, but really, even Walking Dead babies have “dark pasts” these days, so no big deal there. For now, I’m calling it a victory that someone on this show finally uttered the phrase “eating people.” (Season 5’s opener featured human bodies that had been bled dry, hung up, and cut into pieces, but zero active munching—pessimists like me had given up hope of seeing it at all anytime soon.)
Gareth’s campfire dinner was gruesome to behold, but glorious in its horror schlock inspiration: “You taste much better than we thought you would” is a line so cheesy it’s actually satisfying. The only question now is whether Bob will be rescued before he’s either eaten or completely zombified. It’s too bad Andrea was killed off in Season 3: A bewigged Laurie Holden would be perfect for the job.