The smaller-scale episodes of the extended season ten endgame of The Walking Dead reach their half-way point with “One More”. The story of an exceptionally risky supply-run, it focuses on the ill-at-ease pairing of Aaron and Gabriel, as their patience with one another and with the mission begins to fray at the edges.
With the community at Alexandria in dire need of food and other kit, the duo are out alone in the badlands far from their base. Armed only with hand-to-hand weapons, and a map supplied by Maggie, the pair have repeatedly struck out. Time and again, they have found only abandoned buildings, empty shelves, wrecked storerooms and countless numbers of the increasingly desiccated and shambling undead. Their repeated failures, the compound exhaustion of the effort, and the distance from friends and family are all taking their toll. Aaron has had enough, and wants to return home. Gabriel insists that they keep going, and check just one more place on the map (and maybe just one more after that).
Since his introduction during season five, Aaron has become a pivotal member of the ensemble of survivors around Alexandria. He’s survived multiple near-death experiences, rescued Rick Grimes’ group, rallied the warriors of Oceanside to wage war on the Saviors, and endured the amputation of an arm. Having lost his partner Eric in the fight against the Saviors, Aaron has become a surrogate father to baby Gracie, left orphaned in the war.
While Father Gabriel also first appeared in the show in season five, his true nature was not immediately apparent. It was only later that the reality of his cowardice and culpability in the death of others who had sought sanctuary in his church came to light. Since then, Gabriel has wrestled the recognition of his guilt, and lost and then rediscovered his faith. Seeking atonement for his past failings, Gabriel has since found greater courage and a reaffirmed belief in what he considers is ‘God’s purpose’ for him.
As the pair pick their way across a barren bucolic landscape, the early sequences in “One More” are unnervingly atmospheric. Writer Tony Moore and director Laura Belsey together craft some inspired scenes of hidden walkers emerging en masse from amidst the undergrowth.
It might not be entirely convincing that the undead have been prone, and at rest, while the long grass has grown up around them. But, like the shots of walker blood defiling the new wildflowers erupting across the meadow land, it makes for an arresting image. And few viewers will ever have seen a kitchen egg timer put to a more life-saving use.
As the two companions pick through lines of rusting cars, break-in to boarded up shops, and rifle through the detritus of the old world, a powerful air of melancholy and loss permeates proceedings. It’s something that provides the plausible context for their growing doubt about the wisdom of continuing their fruitless, high-risk escapade. These two scavengers are now bored with the routine effort of despatching the endless animated cadavers menacing them.
That’s something of a narrative gamble, given the premise of the show. But it’s the kind of shared sense of world-weariness that encourages them to take the fateful decision to indulge in an overdue ‘time-out’.
When Aaron and Gabriel stumble upon a warehouse, there’s disappointingly little in stock. Yet it is a secure overnight locale and there’s a bottle of whisky and a pack of cards to keep them entertained. Moore’s script shifts pace at this point, as the two characters begin to unwind and be less guarded with each other. As they share more of inner thoughts, a somewhat boozed-up Gabriel tries to reconcile his religious faith with his cynicism about the proliferation of human wickedness.
It’s a really well performed, introspective sequence that provides the best of contrasts with the abrupt left-turn to the plot that follows.
This week’s guest star Robert Patrick (best known as the T-1000 from Terminator 2 and the post-Mulder-and-Scully X-Files) makes a major impression with relatively little screen time. He plays Mays, a grizzled and embittered survivor carrying scars to his psyche far worse than the ones that have disfigured his face and body.
His character’s arrival on scene forces Aaron and Gabriel to reassess their commitment to each other. Under unimaginable pressure, their belief in the resilience of human goodness in this terrible new world is also put to the test. Patrick delivers a tour de force performance, as the episode pitches from the downbeat to the harrowingly bleak.
A tough-as-nails instalment of The Walking Dead, “One More” makes time to fill out the dynamics of a less explored relationship on the show. It’s a story that, by implication, reaffirms the precarious position in which Alexandria finds itself, as its resources are stretched to the limit. There’s no wider progression of the season arc beyond that. But Aaron and Gabriel are confronted once again by the sometimes terrible costs of trying to uphold the higher values of decency and community in a merciless world.
The Walking Dead: One More, the nineteenth episode of season ten, is available now on the Fox Network