Review: The Walking Dead S3E04 “Killer Within”


“No more kids stuff. People are gonna die. I’m gonna die. Mom. There’s no way you can ever be ready for it.” — Rick Grimes

[spoilers within]

This third season of The Walking Dead has been hitting 3 for 3 when it came to quality episodes. The surprising part is that the season is three episodes in. Last week we had an episode where Rick and the prison group never appeared. It was a well-done introduction for the new characters that will have a major impact on the series. With tonight’s episode, aptly named “Killer Within”, we return to Rick and the prison as they start to settle in their new safe haven (as safe as any place can be in a zombie apocalyptic world).

Tonight’s episode begins with a mysterious individual who seems to be up to no good within the confines of the prison fences. We see this person (all we see is that he’s dressed like a prisoner) using the carcass of a deer (or was it a wolf) t lure zombies into the prison and also taking an axe to the chains and lock that kept the gate secured. It’s an ominous beginning to an episode that would see a major reshuffling of the show’s cast of characters. To say that tonight’s episode was shocking would be an understatement. It was full of what fans and critics had been saying last season lacked. It had action pretty much through half the episode’s running time not to mention even the quieter scenes in the beginning of the prison segment and back at Woodbury led to something instead of just filling up airtime.

The mystery of the  “killer within” of the episode’s title was kept a secret until pretty much close to the end of the episode. It was quite surprising to finally find out who it was who had opened up the gates to the prison and turned on the prison alarm which was ringing the dinner bell to zombies within the prison and those still outside the fences. There’s some leaps of logic that someone watching tonight’s episode would need to get past as to how this “killer” was able to survive so long since episode two without being noticed, but the positives of tonight’s episode outweighed any failures in logic that one noticed.

With tonight’s episode we got to see how much Rick and Carl has changed since the end of the second season and this season. What exactly happened to the group during the 7-8 months they had been out in the Georgia wilds trying to survive day-to-day until they happened upon the prison. The writers have been very silent about whether there would be some flashback sequences that showed how the group survived the Fall and Winter. All we’ve seen this season was how those months out in the wilds had turned the group into a well-oiled survival machine that had one leader and everyone with a role they’d accepted and played. The fact that the group suffered no casualties during the time-off between season 2 and the start of season 3 showed that maybe being on the move was the best thing. They’ve just moved into the prison and started cleaning the place up and now two (maybe three) of their group has died.

One of the things which stood out the most with tonight’s episode is how much Carl has come to be just like his father this season. Last season, Carl had become a joke to the audience with is penchant to avoid his adult handlers and go off running into danger. His behavior and actions even led to the group losing one of their own late in season 2. Carl before this season was almost as if the writers had no idea how to write up a child character in a zombie apocalyptic world. One moment Carl was this helpless and naive child then the next he would act and talk tough like Rick or Shane. Both sides of Carl last season didn’t ring true, but we saw hints of changes to the character in the last two episodes. We see the result of the change in the show’s leadership and mission statement for season 3. Chandler Riggs has improved as an actor which goes to show that good writing will bring out the best in even the least experienced performer. While we find out who the killer within was the episode’s title could easily mean the arrival of a harder Carl who could be on the dark path to turning out to be a killer.

As for Rick, we see another instance where he seems to have left his idealism behind and accepted the fact that ruthless pragmatism was the new golden rule of this zombie apocalyptic world. He looks at strangers not with an open-mind or whether these new people would become helpful members of his group. No, Rick has taken an insular view of the world. If you’re not part of his group then you’re a danger waiting to happen whether that suspicion has credence or not. This mindset has kept his group alive since they left the farm after season 2 but it has also made him harder, colder and more ruthless to those in the outside looking in and, more importantly, even to some within his group.

Will tonight’s events finally become the final straw that breks Rick both emotionally and mentally or will it galvanize him even more to protecting his own and damn to everyone else. This Ricktatorship has suffered it’s first casualties and it should open up a whole new world of storylines moving forward. Idealistic Rick became a frustrating character to root for in the second season, but there’s also the danger of a despot Rick this season becoming too much on the other side of the personality spectrum. It will be up to Mazzara and his talented group of writers to balance Rick as a character where he still has some sense of the white hat sheriff’s deputy, but at the same time also knowing that he cannot let that very idealism endanger him and his people.

As an audience we’ve come to expect a season to spread out how much action and tense moments a drama series has the length of a season, but the writers of this series seem to be making up for all the “go nowhere” episodes of season two with a vengeance. I’ve been saying since the beginning of this season that we’re finally seeing the series’ take on the narrative style of it’s newest showrunner in Glen Mazzara who came up writing some of the best episodes of the FX cop drama The Shield over seven seasons. He and his writers seem to understandthat in a world as savage and cruel as the one in The Walking Dead having episodes where nothing happens outside of character debating and philosophizing about the nature of civilization and humanity wouldn’t make for very dramatic tv. the question that comes up now is whether the show will be able to sustain this streak of very good episodes over the length of season three.

NOTES

  • Tonight’s episode was directed by Guy Ferland and written by series newcomer Sang Kyu Kim.
  • Some levity involving Glenn and Maggie didn’t last the episode which looks to be the most nihilistic of the series to date.
  • Michonne may not be as chatty as Andrea this season, but she’s made her words count when she has spoken. Also very observant of not just her surroundings but her situation.
  • We come across a situation regarding strangers and their fate. Last season the group, especially Rick, would’ve debated all episode long and maybe into the next one about how to deal with the strangers. Another sign that this season has become a sort of reset for the series with Rick (with some help from Daryl) deciding not to change the agreement he has with the surviving prisoners.
  • Look between Rick and Lori before all hell broke loose looked like things may be thawing between the two.
  • Good to see the writers not making Hershel go through a bout of self-pity. He even made good use of the crutches when things got real stressful.
  • This now marks the third stressful and action-packed episode inside the prison. Writers have definitely taken to heart about the lack of action and tension that plagued Season 2.
  • Carl has definitely become a mini-badass like his father.
  • It had to happen and the sequence leading up to T-Dog finally getting bit was handled quite well. There was no mysterious zombie suddenly popping out of nowhere to chomp down on his shoulder. When he moved to close the gate one could see just before the scene switched away a zombie come into the frame and move up towards T-Dog who had his back turned.
  • Part of me thinks that disagreeing with Rick’s decisions is like people saying “NO” to Jack Bauer. It’s a sure way to get yourself killed either by Rick or some other way.
  • This season really hasn’t made Andrea a sympathetic character. I’m wondering if the writers have a new role for her in contrasts to how she was in the comics. I can definitely see her turning on the group and joining the Governor.
  • The Governor definitely has a way with him when it comes to getting his way. Andrea seems to be buying what he’s been selling her and even Merle seems off his game around him.
  • It’ll be quite a turn of events if this season we end up getting Merle rejoining the group as a helpful member while Andrea becomes the Judas.
  • We learn that the Governor’s first name is Phillip and that he has a young daughter. We also get to see him channel his inner James Bond villain with a scene of him doing practice golf swings at the zombies beyond Woodbury’s walls.
  • Carl’s reaction when Maggie told Lori to take her pant’s off was classic.
  • T-Dog went out a hero and his final scene was a nice shout out to a similar throat-rip scene from Day of the Dead (the original one).
  • We finally find out the answer to whether Andrew the prisoner who Rick left locked in the prison yard with the zombies died or lived.
  • Sarah Wayne Callies performance as Lori in tonight’s episode was some of her best to date.
  • For all the talk on Twitter about zombie babies I like to remind people that the best zombie baby ever comes courtesy of Peter Jackson.
  • We hear the shot but we never truly saw Lori die by Carl’s hand. Here’s to hoping the writers are not trying to pull a fast one on the audience.
  • Carl definitely turned a corner in tonight’s episode. This season we’ve seen that Carl’s become more useful and mindful that his past behavior had some fatal consequences. It’s not until tonight that we see Carl lose that final vestiges of his childhood behind and become the child-soldier Rick and his group need him to be.
  • For all his cold distancing from Lori we see that Rick still loved Lori in the end. Talk about heart-wrenching scene from Andrew Lincoln.
  • I have to give it up to Sarah Wayne Callies, Chandler Riggs, Lauren Cohan and Andrew Lincoln for bringing their A-game and more for tonight’s episode.
  • The monologue towards the end that really got to this hardened horror fan: “You’re gonna be fine, you’re gonna beat this world. You are smart, and you are strong, and you are so brave. You promise me you’ll always do what’s right. It’s so easy to do the wrong thing in this world. You promise me you’ll always do what’s right. It’s so easy to do the wrong thing in this world. So, if it feels wrong, don’t do it. Alright? If it feels easy, don’t do it, don’t let the world spoil you. You’re so good. My sweet boy. The best thing I ever did. I love you.” — Lori Grimes
  • Zombie Kill Count for tonight’s episode: 32.

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