How do we defib a show back from a hiatus? Well, you get a bunch of people who want to rescue some people by throwing a smoke grenade into the crowd of people and then start shooting some people. GOSH. PEOPLE.
That’s exactly how the cold open launches The Walking Dead. I have mixed feelings about starting the episode exactly where it left off because while it attempts to bait you by throwing in an action sequence early (making it feel tacked on when you look at the whole picture), the remaining time seems to follow in a steady slumping decline. It could be due to me riding on ridiculously high expectations, but I always thought that where the show lacked in action or violence it never skimped on intensity. Not the case this time.
So after Woodbury descends into a panicked clusterfuck and the Atlanta crew help the Dixon brothers escape to safety (or well, as far as we can stretch the meaning of safety when running away with a stream of scared people who may or may not be bitten), we see an important character moment: the Governor emerging from the billowing plumes of widespread town destruction with naught but a glimmer of cold revenge in his only eye.
After credits, we’re treated to the tail end of the recon gang’s narrow escape from a bunch of walkers drawn to the barricades of Woodbury. Merle, Daryl, Rick and Maggie scoot off as the first zombie trespasses and looks around for its next meal on legs.
Glenn and Michonne wait it out for the recon team to return, and both throw a huge fit when they see that Merle’s tagging along. I love how while everyone’s being all John Woo about it with their weapons in the air pointed at each other’s face and everything, Daryl and Merle still find time to bicker like actual siblings. Brother bonds, man. They touch me deep. Also, did anyone else relish Daryl’s super thick redneck accent when he was reprimanding Merle? I got the giggles.
And then I get the creepies when Merle lecherously licks his lips mentioning Andrea and the Gov’s big tryst time. Glenn is incredulous, and Rick questions Michonne about her relationship with Andrea. As usual, she glowers instead of saying anything useful – cut the act! Too much glowering flattens out the dimension of the character. Luckily for Rick, Merle’s big mouth spews all the basic info he needs to hear.
Maggie doesn’t believe that Andrea’s hooking up with the Governor. After the way he terrorized her! Us neither, Maggie, we kinda headdesk-ed our way through the first half of the season the moment he showed us his rapist gaze.
Merle continues to taunt the group, and everyone yells back at him. Rick is the one to comically knock him out with the butt of his pistol.
At the prison, Hershel patches Allen up. Beth appears with Judith in tow and everyone from the Visiting team is bedazzled with the presence of a newborn, though Beth is quick to deny biological ownership of the Lil’ Asskicker. Surprising, for someone who carries around that baby like Hilton did Tinkerbell. Sasha asks about Lori, but no one responds. I wish the reason was because no one cared about Lori, but in this show everyone seems to have a soft spot for her feeble parenting, especially during her times of pregnancy.
“Man, you people have been through the mill,” says Tyreese. It dawns on me that for two and a half seasons we’ve been through hell and back with this group and we forget that there are other people out there just like them, constantly on the run and dealing with the stupidity of humans or a life-costing accident. And while the experiences may be different, you can easily draw parallels – everyone’s probably had a black sheep, everyone’s had a leader, everyone’s made a careless mistake.
Sasha tells Hershel that their group has been the only decent people she’s come across, and I believe her. Ty shares that they lived in the bunker of the paranoid apocalypse nut next door until they ran out of supplies. See guys? SEE?! It’s useful to be prepared. Even expired canned food is something.
They met Allen and Ben in Jacksonville, and used to be 25 strong, until their camp was overrun. They had a camp. Yikes. It seems like the bigger the group, the harder it is to keep it together, huh? The Atlanta crew could very well end up the same way if they keep expanding, but for now, I’m just appreciating that people can still be civil with one another after all the eggshells we’ve been trampling on. Even as Hershel gives a soft warning not to get too comfortable, it’s nice to see that he wished he could welcome them anyway before he said it.
Not sure how much time has passed, but it seems that nothing much has been done so far with the recon team except some discussion about who gets to go back to the prison. The truth is, no one wants Merle around, which should be obvious to Daryl by now, but he won’t relent, playing the stranger card on Michonne. Maggie doesn’t want to leave her behind, and Glenn points out that she brought the formula to them. Daryl may be related to Merle by blood, but Glenn sure as hell isn’t, he makes that clear. Rick, being Rick, doesn’t really want to add anymore weight or tension to the team, and puts it out there that all they’ve been through has made them family, which Daryl is very much still a part of.
Wrong move, guys. You’re asking a man to leave the brother he’s been looking for since you guys abandoned him. I get it, and feel glad that Daryl’s got the backbone enough to stand up and say, “No him, no me.” It shows how much attention members of the group are paying to each other – not enough apparently, because everyone seemed to think it shocking that after all they’ve been through since season one, Daryl would still give in to his own flesh and blood.
When it comes down to it, it makes sense that no matter what horrors Merle has committed so far, Daryl would want to deal with him on his own terms, even if it means kicking his ass around all the way to redemption island first. I’m not siding with Daryl because he’s been this crossbow-wielding badass. Merle has shown how awful a person he can be. But I completely understand why he would pick Merle, especially after this long of being apart not knowing if he was even alive. Merle didn’t actually kill him in front of fifty crazy people screaming for his gladiator’s death. That’s an act of Dixon love right there.
So it’s Daryl and Merle against the world. Glenn asks what to tell Carol. Daryl says she’ll understand where he’s coming from. As he walks away, Rick makes a last ditch effort to get him to stay, but it’s a weak to no effort. It’s very sad, because if Daryl, as a member of their “family”, was so bloody important to everyone, they would have accommodated. Rick would’ve given him one chance. Instead, he let his best muscle walk away from him. There are so many other angles to this argument, but I genuinely think that Daryl deserved to have someone believe and trust in his choices and his decisions. So far he has never done anything to threaten the group’s safety, and I would think that he wouldn’t have bargained for Merle if he didn’t think that he could rein in his brother.
As much as I’m going to miss the Darick bromance, I really can’t wait to see how this pans out for the brothers. A Dixon-centric arc could add a lot depth to the show.
Immediately after his breakup, Rick tells Michonne that after she’s mended, she’s gotta get lost. She looks mentally prepared for it in her nod; the car zips back to prison.
Tyreese’s group takes Donna’s corpse out back to bury in the field. They pause while they’re still in the compound so that Allen can take a moment. He sees Carol and Carl in the distance doing their own thing and states that this is their “golden opportunity” to get rid of the incumbent gang before they’re kicked back out into the wild to fend for themselves.
I’m totally aware that there are nice guys and jerks in every group. It’s always gray area when it comes to having new people eat into your space, or when you’re a new guy zoning in on someone’s territory. And while I want to say that it’s easy to wish misfortune on Allen and Ben for planning bloody murder, they’re being practical, like Rick was being practical with Tomas. The only guaranteed way of surviving the company of others is to kill them first. I honestly hate how difficult it is to assess who has the right to anything because the big answer is that everyone has a right to everything during the zombie apocalypse. The prison; to protect themselves; to feel threatened by the mere presence of someone, regardless of whether they’re physically able to overpower you or not. While it makes great tactical sense, it still disturbs me that offing kids and women are so easily put on the plate.
Guess they have to agree to disagree. Axel and Beth drop by bearing some additional tools for the burial, to which Ty and Sasha quickly take the weapons before Allen or Ben can do anything rash with them. They’ve got a lot more discussing to do.
The recon team stops their car to strip a pickup in the middle of the road. Glenn flips out on a lunging zombie, stomping all his angst out by putting his foot through its face. Of course there’s a deeper issue! Glenn’s upset about the Governor surviving, about Daryl leaving, about Maggie going into Woodbury instead of him. He yells about what the Gov did to Maggie. He spells out that their situation is dire. Maggie just wants to go home. I get distracted by zombie extras wandering closer to them (I love that detail). Then Glenn is done talking. It’s a pretty awkward scene that does no favours to the characters. It’s a little heavy-handed, and you could’ve just cut it out and it wouldn’t affect the flow of the episode.
Finally, we’re back at Woodbury. Andrea reports 9 casualities and the Doc mentions The Gov being holed up in his bachelor pad. The town seems to be in a state of panic, and Phil’s henchmen prevent the residents from running out into the streets of danger. Everyone wants out, which I find crazy, because the risk of dying out there is considerably higher than staying within the walls. At least we can assume that the situation’s contained, right?
As the guardians of the wall take aim at the oncoming zombies, a woman pleads with Andrea to convince the patrolmen to allow the people to flee. A man horns the shit out of his car, causing everyone to point their guns at the jerk. The dude carrying the MP5 pulls him out of the car, and Andrea intervenes, only to be interrupted by a screaming woman running away from stray walkers chowing down on a man. In swoops Andrea! Are they trying to make her seem cooler by making her run out of bullets, then calmly reloading, then killing a walker with a point blank shot? Because it’s a little hard to wash away the irkstain that is her banging the Governor.
The townspeople start to gather around the man who was bitten, and a woman asks Andrea to help him – are these people not properly educated in the mechanics of being bitten? If it’s not on an appendage that can be dismembered, there is no help. Andrea hesitates for a long while. She’s never really had to kill an actual person before, has she? It’s only until the Govenor brisk walks out of his home with his cranky pants on that the dying man is put out of his misery. Unintentionally comical. The residents are dumbstruck.
Carol and Carl bond over how things used to be pre-apocalypse. In a glimpse of Carl’s actual feelings over what’s happened to him so far, we see that he’s regretful over his behaviour towards his mum. I’m surprised that the show hasn’t gone into it that much, and decided to let Glenn have his rage instead.
Also, is it just me or does the cast look really emaciated? I don’t know if it’s deliberate but I kinda find it eerie that starvation just might do the group in before zombies ever get them. When I look at Carol I feel mildly afraid.
The recon team is home, and as soon as Rick pulls the car over, he’s super relieved to see that Carl’s still okay. Carol asks about Daryl, and Rick has to deliver the news immediately. She doesn’t take it too well, and the look on Rick’s face tells it all – I feel you sister. He was my buddy. My right-hand man. We may not have cuddled or skinned animal corpses together or teased each other with tickles but he took a chunk of me with him when he left me in the dust to be with his brother.
“And Oscar?” Carl asks. “No,” Rick replies. ):
The Governor can’t even take a moment without Andrea barging in on his space and asking for an explanation. Sometimes there is no explanation, lady. After all that she’s witnessed, I’m really surprised that she would think he could still function as the town’s leader the same way that he used to. She wants to know what Daryl was doing in Woodbury, and Phil reveals that he’d held some of the Atlanta members captive, deserving the gunfire they got for the lives that had already been lost in the assault.
She can’t believe he didn’t tell her. The Gov doesn’t give a shit. He coldly informs her that she’s just a visitor in town, but Andrea won’t have any of it.
The Doc knocks on the door bringing news that those pesky townspeople are about to erupt again. Nope, still not giving a shit.
The Greene family are happy to see each other again. Beth gives Rick a hug and pecks him on the cheek; I actually didn’t read into any of it, but apparently it creeped Jun out a lot (since she’s always attached to that baby too). On second watch, I noticed Rick’s reaction to it. Sort of taken aback, but it’s a somewhat dismissive response to something that he doesn’t want to misconstrue.
Rick updates Hershel about what happened in Woodbury. The old man can’t hide the unwanted visitors no more; Rick, Hershel and Carl lock themselves back up in their cells to stew over what to do with them.
Beth is tending to Judith. Is this a thing now? It feels like a thing, only because there’s no one else more fitting to care for a newborn. Not because Beth wants to be a baby momma. Rick checks up on his kid, while Beth tells him that she’s got Lori’s eyes. Which she means to say that she doesn’t have Rick’s eyes. Which Rick means to hear that perhaps the eyes of Judith is perhaps more inclined towards Shane, which is why the world around him hollows out as we see, quite sadly, that he is unable to properly bond with his daughter. Fiddlesticks.
Look, I have no problem with the whole older man-with-younger-woman thing. I’ve been a 17 year old girl before; I’ve looked at a much older man adoringly and let my hormones race. Crushes happen. And Beth/Rick could happen, because it’s in times of grief and great stress that people are especially prone to sexual proclivities. But I feel like Rick’s an asexual creature at this point. He’s hardly at a stage where he can love again, at least not romantically, and his respect for and dependence on Hershel to be his voice of reason would eliminate any chance of him allowing himself to even dream of pursuing Beth. I’d find it incredibly tragic if it happened, like if one day Beth climbed into his bed and he’d feel damned enough to not stop it. It would be Rick’s rock bottom where you couldn’t even dig down deeper if you blew it up with C4. It’s going to be awhile (or there’s gonna be no “while” at all) before we get any answers on this, so let’s move on, shall we?
Back at Woodbury, things are on the mend, but townsfolk are still not yet convinced. Luckily for the town, Andrea’s wearing her new leader underpants that gives her the superpower of inspirational speechmaking, ending in HUGS ALL AROUND. Sheesh. The Governor watches from his mancave, probably sharing the same sentiments as me: totally ridiculous scene. Is this supposed to be an empowerment thing? A single pep talk about being in the history books and we’re all high fives and back to being cooperative now? Is anyone even taking down the minutes to this meeting?
Additional frustrations: Are we to just simply forget that Andrea doesn’t have much of loyalty in her bones? She’s only ever there until the next best thing comes along. She had the choice to follow Rick back to the prison in the beginning of the episode but she didn’t. She could have tagged along with Michonne when she left but she stayed. Maybe the Gov sees it too.
Carol observes that Beth’s good with the baby, recalling that Sophia used to be a little monster. Beth wants one of her own. I refrain from reading into that either. She accurately assesses Daryl’s real worth to Carol. “We’re weak without him.” It amazes me that it’s taken this long for someone in the group to acknowledge how instrumental he’s been to the group’s survival. He deserves that credit. I also like that Carol’s being realistic in her reaction to Daryl’s departure. It comes across as a, “Nevermind, Tyreese and his pals will probably add up to one Daryl. Almost.” She shows that she does understand the rationale behind him leaving.
Carol takes Judith from Beth’s arms and places her in a box labelled just for the baby.
Hershel is working his healing hands on the second person in a row now – Glenn. Maggie pauses in front of his cell for a tension ridden moment, but decides not to say anything. The old man is an astute one. He knows that something’s happened. Better talk to his daughter first. Before leaving, he gives the ultimate words of encouragement Glenn would ever hear in his life. “You’re like my own son, Glenn.” Awh.
Maggie’s not in the mood for talking either, but it’s perfectly okay to not want to tell your father that you’ve been sexually harassed and nearly killed. I wish they would’ve focused on her response to the whole hostage ordeal. Right now, we’re only looking at it from the eyes of Glenn, who’s angsting and beating himself up for not being able to prevent what happened to her. But what about Maggie? She’s her own character, but she hardly exists outside of being Glenn’s girlfriend nowadays. It wastes Lauren Cohan’s talent. Why should we only get to see Glenn going ballistic over it?
Hershel offers Maggie more kind words and proves once again that he is the best. Best dad, best vet, best handicapped survivor ever.
There’s a shot of Rick looking at Beth holding Judith (again?). I’m not sure why this was included. According to Hershel, Michonne’s got a concussion and it’ll be a couple of days until she can be kicked to the curb. Axel laments about the loss of Oscar. The group then discusses what’s the next step. Run or stay? Hershel hints that the new survivors outside could be of great use to them.
Everyone steps out to meet them formally. Rick starts his questions: How did you get in? How did you last so long? Tyreese offers some sensible terms for him to consider – they’ll source for their own food, chip in with manual labour, and help out with the threat of another group if the need arises. All they want is the share the prison.
Rick doesn’t agree. They’ve had way too much experience with loss and double crossers to let more new people in. And so what if they turn out to be okay people after all? He doesn’t want anymore responsibility on his shoulders. Hershel tries to prod him into accepting them. They need the extra bodies. Rick needs to give people more chances.
There’s more hesitation and eyeballing. He looks like he’s about to make his decision, when he sees a figure in a white dress standing on the second level. What the freaky ass yellow hell – is that LORI?! No way. I thought we were past all this! Come on. Is crazy Rick going to be another thing now? I hope it isn’t going to be some recurring vision, and it’s just a one time hallucination, like how he saw Shane walking towards him in Woodbury. I’m onboard if it’s a manifestation of him crumbling under pressure, but I can’t get on the crazy train if it’s Prison Ghostline Part Deux. I would prefer if he just descended into depression without going through all these elaborate mirages conceived by his conscience.
In an abrupt end to the episode, Rick loses it in front of everyone, and Tyreese’s group is forced to leave.
There were some special and highly important plot developments, yes, but I still can’t help but feel like the pacing for the episode was an erratic mess. I felt an inkling of what the show would be like after Glenn Mazzara’s departure, and the pangs of loss started to pull at my heartstrings prematurely – not another Community situation. The truth is, I would have preferred if Suicide King didn’t rush through the breakdown and fallout of the various groups post-Woodbury.
Don’t get me wrong. I love what’s happening with each cluster of people. There’s so much discussion to be had and I want to find out more. But why does it all feel so crammed? Did I really have to see Andrea try her hand at being a faux political figure? Again, I was pissed that there wasn’t enough introspection or closure with the recon characters and their experience during the assault, aside from Glenn’s overplayed anger.
But you know what, in spite of all these questions, they could do a lot worse. I’ve seen far poorer mid-season openers being coughed up and I’m just glad that my favourite zombie show is back for me to start analyzing and going nuts over. Welcome back, my love!