Eschewing the season-long formula of focusing on one person or group per episode, this week's installment of "The Walking Dead" instead featured all of our characters equally, weaving together their storylines as a way to set up next Sunday's sure-to-be-epic showdown at Grady Memorial Hospital. Unfortunately for viewers, that meant that there wasn't too much action to enjoy, as this episode served more or less as merely a placeholder that put all of our major players into position before the real game begins. Even its title, "Crossed," was a nod to the chess-like precision with which the writers poised the survivors for big moves down the line. But just how effective their respective strategies will be is yet to be seen.
We do know, however, that Carol and Beth's rescue squad – made up of Rick, Daryl, Sasha, Tyreese, and Noah – has its work cut out for it, since it's already been compromised by Bob 2.0, a cop serving under the menacing Officer Dawn at the hospital. Sasha, still nursing her wounds from the sudden loss of Bob, Original Flavor (patent pending by Gareth on that moniker), is caught off guard by the new guy with the familiar name, and in a moment of naivete leads herself right into a trap – and right into a windowpane, knocked unconscious as her prisoner escapes.
The fact that Sasha was even put into that situation in the first place speaks volumes about how ill-conceived – and so far, ill-executed – Rick and co.'s plan was from the start, a mistake that seemed a bit out of left field for the group and for the show. Based on the past four seasons' pattern of depicting an initial confrontation, a plot to avenge said confrontation, and a later, grander confrontation, I just assumed that "The Walking Dead" prides itself on the long game. But to see the gang rushing back into Atlanta without so much as a group-wide powwow at the church with the recently-returned Daryl and new addition Noah just seemed odd. And when the rescuers reached their destination and Rick finally tried to lay out the plan, only to be immediately undermined by both Tyreese and Daryl, something appeared off then, too.
Perhaps this disjointedness was a way of addressing the survivors' still-simmering distrust of Rick, which surfaced in the season premiere after he let his crazy flag fly while demanding that they return to Terminus post-bombing to finish off the cannibals one by one. And obviously, the writers weren't going to completely resolve the situation at the hospital before the midseason finale, since there needs to be some sort of intrigue left on the back burner for viewers to stew over during the hiatus. But going to Atlanta before even discussing an initial plan seemed silly at best, and now life-threatening for everyone – both Rick's group and Carol and Beth at the hospital – at worst. Of course, there's a chance that this feeling of dread has been purposefully placed by the writers, a miscue meant to amp up anxiety before Rick and Daryl lay waste to Dawn and her minions next week. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this confusion within the group is merely a sign of things to come with our survivors, leading to even more strife, and no doubt a significant loss of life. It's the "Walking Dead" way.
- My Debbie Downer attitude is shared by Maggie, who's left to guard a catatonic Abraham after he beat Eugene senseless. While Abraham stares off into the distance, refusing water and refusing to discuss what just happened, Maggie snaps at him to snap out of it. "Get over yourself," she hisses. "You're not the only one who lost something today. It's never gonna get any better than this."
- Perhaps not, but that doesn't stop Tara from yukking it up. After making a crack about zombies that Glenn deemed "not funny," Tara retorts, "It's not not not not funny." Yes, four "not"s. She later plays with a yo-yo while continuing to argue the semantics of double (or in her case, quadruple) negatives. I can't decide if the writers are serious with this character, or if she's actually secretly 12 in disguise. Either way, I don't think I actually care.
- This week's Zombie Apocalypse Lifehacks: Rosita uses a piece of her shirt and a plastic bottle to make a water filtration system. Later, she helps Glenn catch fish using the torn-out mesh from a dead guy's windbreaker. (Tara, meanwhile, discovers the yo-yo. Way to make yourself useful, Tara.)
- And while we're handing out awards, this week's title for Most Creative Use of a Zombie in a Walking Dead Episode goes to Daryl, who pokes out the eyes of a walker melted to the ground next to him, then rips off its skull and uses it to bash in the head of an attacker. This is why everyone loves Daryl.
- I really seemed to take the "X-Files" mantra of "Trust no one" to heart during this episode, since I smelled a rat with Bob 2.0 from the start. (And he just magically knew that Rick used to be a cop, based solely on his demeanor? Right.) I also think that Dawn may be pulling one over on Beth with her direction that Beth give medicine to Carol despite Dawn's fellow officers' insistence that they pull the plug to save resources. And based on Dr. Edwards's intentional mix-up of medications with Beth from before, I was also uneasy when he told her what to administer to Carol. Finally, while it seems that Eugene survived Abraham's beat down, we don't actually get to see him awake on camera. Could that groan we heard have been some zombie mouth-breathing in disguise?
- Father Gabriel continues to be both confusing and also completely boring, if that's possible. (In addition to a Debbie Downer, this episode has also made me a Negative Nelly, apparently.) He gets a little OCD trying to scrub up the blood left behind from the slaughter of Gareth's cannibalistic crew, then begrudgingly agrees to take up a weapon for self-defense at the insistence of Carl. Carl, who's usually The Worst, actually gets in a pretty good line while explaining to Gabriel the finer points of a machete. "Good choice," Carl says. "But you're not holding it right. You've got to be able to drive it down, because sometimes skulls aren't as soft..." Gabriel retreats to his office before Carl can continue that quease-inducing thought.
- Just how Gabriel's eventual abandonment of the church – he dug up some floorboards with the machete and crawled out from underneath the structure – will affect next week's episode is unclear. He's not able to kill zombies yet (he couldn't bring himself to take out a walker he spotted wearing a crucifix necklace), but the blood he's leaking from impaling his foot with a nail right outside the church should make him an easy target. (And may make the rest of the survivors holed up at the structure vulnerable, too, since that wound no doubt left a distinct-smelling trail.)
- It seems about time for another installment of Morgan Watch. Unfortunately, Week 7 featured no sign of him (there's been nothing since the season premiere), and I'm not entirely sure we'll see the survivor before the hiatus, either. Prove me wrong, "Walking Dead"!
- "My only interest is peaceful resolution, not dying, and sleeping in my own bed tonight." – Bob 2.0, speaking for pretty much everyone on the show. Too bad almost none of that will transpire next week, dude. This midseason finale is going to be brutal.
Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC