If you've been following along with our reviews for "Home Sweet Home" and "Find Me" (here and here), then you know that the first two chapters of Season 10c have lived up to the pre-return hype with intimate, powerful, and meaningful narrative turns offering glimpses into what the future holds for the 11th and final season. We can now add this week's episode of AMC's The Walking Dead– and in ways and for reasons we didn't see coming. Written by Erik Mountain and Jim Barnes, and directed by Laura Belsey, "One More" finds Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) and Aaron (Ross Marquand) searching for food and supplies to bring back to Alexandria with the aid of Maggie's map. Finding their faith strained and their optimism fragmented, Gabriel and Aaron are burnt out, desperate, and near a point that there may be no going back from. That is until they stumble upon an oasis of supplies that wasn't on the map- proof that their luck might just be changing. Then the "oasis'" owner (Robert Patrick) returns and… well… let's just say that we're throwing on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!' sign and meeting you on the other side of this spoiler image buffer because this seems like a great point to deep-dive into our review.
Holy s**t this was a dark episode. I'm not talking "darkest before a last-minute dawn"-type dark here, either. When the "happiest moments" come with Aaron and Gabriel covered in mud only to find out it ruined the maps, Gabriel mocking Aaron's scream, and a quick game of drunk poker? You're not exactly talking a life-affirming outing here- and that's what makes "One More" work so well. In our previous two chapters, as dark as things got there was always that sense of family and connection, with lighter or touching moments to sprinkle in a little hope. This week, writers Mountain and Barnes, and director Belsey, offer a differing viewpoint- this one of two veteran survivors who (as Aaron alludes to) forgot what it was like to save people and now just go through the motions. There's no hope… there's no "fighting the good fight"… there's just doing what you can to live long enough to make it to the next day. And I think that's a perspective that needs to be put out on the table- that maybe at the end of the day, all there is for them is a future filled with fighting and scavenging for the basics. That maybe there isn't a "better society" waiting for them on the horizon.
Of course, we don't believe that for two reasons. First, we haven't let our hearts get that cynical (yet); and second, someone better give the Commonwealth the heads-up because I have a feeling they've been doing just fine (as it feels like "New World Order" will show us and our survivors). But that said, it's Gilliam giving what might be his finest performance on the long-running series to date that gave me pause to consider his position- which is essentially that pretty much everything is a "big bad" and what is decent out there is few and far between. Just to be clear, I've had a love/hate relationship with Gilliam's character since he was first introduced- on and off my list of characters I'd like to see go more time than I can count. But since the ninth season, Gilliam and the writers have crafted a character who has become a fascinating mix of contrasts- a man struggling to keep the faith while doing what needs to be done to survive. But Gabriel's been showing off more and more of his killer instinct as the seasons have rolled on- and that cold, calculating cynicism came to a head in this episode.
Gilliam takes us on a journey from understanding where Gabriel's mindset comes from when he shares a story with Aaron to rooting for his new-found faith in the possibility of mankind- to the shocking, brutal reality that Gabriel will do whatever it takes for the "bigger picture." Oh, and just to counter an argument that I know might be made. While it appears there was a lot more twisted s**t going on with Mays, his brother, and his family than Mays owned up to, that doesn't justify Gabriel bashing in Mays' head with Aaron's spiked mace hand. Why? Because Gabriel killed him before he knew that- killing him after he had let Aaron go and introduced himself. Need further proof? Look at the dismissive way Gabriel addresses the idea of them ever bringing Mays back with them. The look on Aaron's face is the same look we had- that we're looking at someone we've known for so long for the very first time. And again, this was before they found that "southern gothic" scenario locked away.
As much as the episode was one that Gilliam took control of from the moment the first kitchen timer was dropped in the field, "One More" was a dance that worked because it had quality dance partners in Marquand and Patrick. With Marquand, we were given an Aaron who thought he had lost hope until he was face-to-face with what hopelessness really looks like (and how it acts). And what more can be said about Patrick that hasn't already been said? He elevates a scene the moment he enters it, allowing Gilliam and Marquand to raise their games in ways that showed us more about their characters- warts and all. And I would be remiss if I didn't give the episode bonus points for getting me to yell, "Oh s**t!" at my screen and dehydrating me as my hands sweated during the Russian roulette scene- nice to know that the series can still get one of those out of me even after ten seasons. And it's nice to see AMC's The Walking Dead continuing through its creative rebirth- now on to the Commonwealth!