First, last week Sandy robbed us of my Walking Dead E3 recap, so let me say a few words about it. Michonne is awesomesauce, Andrea remains a character I’m not sure if I like or not, and the Governor, while I know he’s a bad guy that keeps severed heads in his fishtanks, is so smexy. So very, very smexy. And while I understand that we’re supposed to get that the Governor is a duplicitous fascist from his ambush of the National Guard, I just can not get over how ridiculous it is in the post-zombie apocalypse landscape to waste such fantastic resources as a group of high trained army men who might, you know, be able to help guard your Podunk little town from the undead. Short sighted!
Now, four episodes in, with one of the darkest, most brutal outings in the show’s run under our belts, I am convinced that Walking Dead is committed to putting out a quality season. AMC seems to have learned that gutting the show’s budget last year had disastrous affects on season 2, forcing the lengthy sit-down at the farm and the zombie-sparse episodes. The writing is tighter. The themes are darker. And the show runners are finally committed to sacrificing members of the cast in ways that are unfair, upsetting, tragic, and true to the kind of desperate life these people are leading.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the crumbling of Rick’s moral center in these recaps. The man who started out as the very caricature of the noble lawman – he wore an actual white hat, in case we ever were mistaken of his place in the mythology – has become a dark, desperate man who is hanging onto sanity by his fingernails. We saw him surrender his hat and his badge to his child as the first step away from the old world. And we saw him struggle with his internal morals and the bleak survivor mentality that Shane represented. At the end of last season, Rick rightly ranted that he gave up everything for the group, killed his best friend for the good of the group, and that they didn’t deserve the humanity and democracy he had tried to show them. This change of plan got the group through a bleak winter and into the prison. And it also killed T-Dog and Lori.
When Rick slammed the door shut on Andrew two episodes ago, it was a betrayal of every scrap of morality he had tried to hold onto. You could see it blink out behind his eyes. He didn’t kill someone in the heat of battle, he wasn’t defending his group. He allowed an unarmed and frightened man to be eaten alive by walkers. This was the viewpoint that Shane espoused. This was what Shane’s rule would have been. And there’s a direct line from Rick locking that door to him collapsing in the courtyard at the end of a “Killer Inside.” His friend eaten by walkers. Carol missing. Lori gutted so the baby could survive. Carl, his child, having to shoot his mother so she wouldn’t resurrect. In the apocalypse, a lot of things happen that are awful and out of any one person’s control. But this – this is directly, irrevocably, Rick’s fault.
T-Dog, always a background character but a massive fan favorite, goes out as a warrior. He’s injured fighting to close the yard gates and refuses Carol’s offer to put him out his misery – the pact, remember? – because he felt it was his responsibility to get her to safety. Out of ammo and cornered, he used the only weapon he had – his body – to shield Carol to the end. That’s a hero’s death. It’s a fitting death for this character. But it’s also hard not to notice that it’s a death whose timing coincides with the introduction of another physically imposing black man to the cast. I’m positive the show would deny doing this on purpose, but it sure as hell felt like they were swapping T-Dog for Oscar.
Lori is a character I have wasted no ink criticizing. The show screwed her over just as much as it shorted T-Dog a story arc. They couldn’t decide if she was the straying wife or the good mother or the symbol for home and security. One week they had her playing Lady MacBeth and the next acting shocked and horrified that her husband actually acted on her murderous suggestions. Fans hated her. I felt bad for the actress, saddled with the impossible job of making this woman a sympathetic figure. So of course, the best scene she was ever given is her death scene. Lori always knew her pregnancy was her death sentence, Callies claims, which gives a different take on Lori’s desperate consumption of the morning after pill last season, and the revelation that Carl was also a c-section birth meant that there was almost no other way the pregnancy could end.
Backed into an awful corner, Lori took the only graceful way out. She told her son she loved him and she absolved him of anything he’d have to do after her death. Their relationship had be contentious since the farm, but her last act was to give him the love he needed. Childhood is over. It was time to be brave. And then she told Rick she loved him and let Maggie cut her open. It was the first time since I started watching the show that I cried. I find it difficult to believe that Maggie would try to leave without dispatching Lori – it seems wildly out of character for her – but I am willing to overlook it because it was important that Carl was the one who put the bullet in his mother. Like Rick taking care of Sophia, it’s an act of ultimate kindness. It’s empathy in the face of ugliness. And his hard, set face after he walked out of that boiler room? That was the face of his father two seasons before. It is the same face he wore when Rick called out for Lori in the courtyard – though if you watch carefully, as Rick collapses in the background, Carl moves towards Maggie and Glenn, looking for comfort. Giving and taking sympathy is important in this new world. It keeps you from getting hard.
After all this, it seems almost disrespectful to discuss what happened in Woodbury, so let us wrap up with a few observations. Merle is a racist POS, but he loves his brother, and if there was a chance that Daryl was still alive out there, he is going to take the chance to find him. Michonne doesn’t believe the smoke the Governor is trying to blow up her ass. Mayberry never had a place for women like her in it, and this weird 1950s throwback town isn’t ever going to accept a woman like her. And Andrea, beautiful, blonde, Andrea will never understand why Michonne is actively distrustful of this little fake-paradise, because it’s the kind of paradise that loves beautiful, blonde, “spirited” women like Andrea, as long as they know their place. Besides, Andrea is panting after the Governor like a teen-aged boy in heat. After Shane, maybe she should stop and give some consideration to the type of men she’s attracted to.