So after last week’s yawner of an episode, I was concerned that the third season had already shot its metaphorical storytelling wad. Last year was long, drawn out, and repetitive character development, which didn’t sit well with the fan base. It’s not that the show didn’t need to explore its characters, it just couldn’t strike the right balance in doing so. This year, they switched up with a number of fast-paced, tension-laden weeks, limiting any character exploration largely to Rick, and secondarily to The Governor. Moretta even noted the lack of development in last week’s comments.
And we were both proven wrong by what has to be one of the strongest episodes the series has ever put out. It proved that the writers could strike a balance between action and emotion and showcased some of the best acting this season. Let’s check in with the survivors.
Rick’s deteriorating mental state was on display again, most of his action given over to his walkabout outside the fence. Who can really blame him for cracking? There’s no therapy in this world, and no meds, and the man has been responsible for the lives of this entire group for over ten months. Glenn’s panicky, disjointed attempt as serving as the group’s leader perfectly highlighted why not just anyone can take on that mantle. Your mind has to be operating on multiple levels, covering lots of ground, and you have to be willing to make terrible choices and sacrifices. We may not always like what Rick does as the leader, but he is the man for the job.
It was an excellent touch that most of the close ups on Rick’s face showed him red and bleary eyed. Confused and distracted. But at the end of the episode, with the yard full of walkers and the Governor and his crew making their triumphant return to Woodbury, the last shot of Rick shows him clear-sighted. He functions best when he has a goal. Rick told Hershel he knew Lori led him outside the gates for a reason and he needed to find out what it was; this was his reason.
Its either ironic or…well, something, that Ghost Lori serves the exact same purpose on the show that Real Lori did. That is, to be a symbolic representation of Rick’s mental state and not a character with motivations or story arc of her own. She shows up and looks serene. Or she dies horribly while her last words are for Rick. She exists for his story.
This past week, TechnologyTell ran an essay called “‘Skyler is Such a Bitch!’ And Other Unfair Breaking Bad Observations.” While the focus of the story is on Skyler, the author rightly notes that it’s the wives on a large number of shows, like Mad Men or the Walking Dead are loathed by show fans, and they all share a common thread; they’re bitchiness is written in as opposition to the main protagonist, to give him contrast. Even when the wives are right – or even not drug lords or mafia men who murder people – they still get smeared with a nasty brush. One of the sharpest comments in the responses comes from BCarbaugh, who rightly notes: “People think TV drama wives are bitches because nine times out of ten, the wives don’t have any compelling core drama of their own, and their every story beat consists of playing devil’s advocate to the main character’s story beats… They’re vapid cardboard-cut-out harpy shrew women, there to yell at the main character when he’s doing one thing, pressure him into doing another, and then yell at him for doing that, all the while creating unnecessary conflict and false drama, putting themselves in peril, etc.”
I thought about this quote a lot while watching this episode, because it is so striking to me that Lori, even after her death, remains the convenient plot device to get Rick from point A to point B.
This week picks up with Glenn making good on his threat to act as the group’s leader. Like Rick, he refuses to give up the prison, even though he finds most of the already cleared areas reinfested with walkers. He wants to sneak into Woodbury with Michonne and assassinate the Governor before the Gov comes for them. He wants to hold the jail. He wants to avenge Maggie’s brutalization. But he can’t even remember to assign someone to keep watch. Glenn is trying, desperately, and there’s nobility in that. But he’s not suited to for that level of stress.
The big prison news, of course, is the raid at the end of the episode. Axel’s death was shocking – I even shouted when it happened – though all of the other prisoners have been killed and the writers gave him more than a handful of lines, which is their equivalent of saddling a character in a red away team shirt. Watching the group react to the attack is interesting – it called to mind the zombie killing phalanx from the first episode. Everyone acted as team. Even Michonne, who, given the way she’s been treated, should have just locked herself in that overturned van, fit smoothly into their response. (And how badass did she look, running across the field with her sword?) Carl provided Carol cover. Beth brought out the assault rifles. People didn’t expose themselves where they didn’t need to. It was impressive.
Despite them being brothers on the show, this was Daryl and Merle’s first opportunity to really act opposite each other. We are treated to a series of phenomenal scenes of them on the road that underscore just how far Daryl’s come since the beginning of the show. And there’s even a chance to work in some unresolved issues from their childhood. If you have a chance, go back and watch the scene of the two of them fighting right after the bridge rescue. There is so much going on there — just watching Michael Rooker’s face as he yells about why he can’t head back to the prison tells us so much about Merle’s character. There’s a lot of fear and desperation there as he watches his little brother make his way in the world without him.
It goes without saying that Daryl and his magnificent arms are as compelling as always.
And so we come to Woodbury. The Governor is one hell of a manipulator. He has got Andrean’s number like he’s known her all his life. Sure, she looks suspicious when he comes to her room spilling apologies and abasement, but Phillip knows that Andrea is an ambitious woman. She’s made no bones about wanting to be a leader, and Phillip is offering it to her on plate. “Oh, Andrea, this town needs a leader just like you!” Of course, when Andrea actually goes out into the town, everyone is either lying to her or evading her questions. And to her credit, she does act like she finds this suspicious. But not because, maybe, she’s unfit to actually lead them. No, her ego assures her she’s not. But maybe because The Governor went someplace that she wasn’t invited.
The show, of course, is setting up her major conflict in the coming episodes. Who does she side with, ultimately? Her family at the prison, or the place where she gets to be in charge?
Watching The Governor’s smoothly executed invasion of the prison and the steeling (one) eyed way he attacks the survivors, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t want him leading my post-apocalypse. The dude is a cold, hard badass.
Tyrese and Co.