Review: The Walking Dead S5E09 “What Happened and What’s Going On”


TheWalkingDeadS509

“Paying the high cost of living.” — Tyreese

[spoilers within]

The Walking Dead returns tonight after taking a weeks-long hiatus. We left the group as down as we’ve ever seen them after having lost another one of their people. This particular loss seem to have hit the group even harder than their previous losses. Beth Greene had become a symbol of hope for the group and, to a degree, for the audience who needed someone else other than the hardened killers most of the survivors have become.

If the show has been consistent about one thing it is that good-natured people tend to not last long in the zombie apocalypse. It’s a new world where one’s humanity will forever be at war with one’s will to survive at all cost. There are no more police or military to protect you from harm. No more hospitals to treat one’s wounds and sickness. No firefighters to call on in case of emergency. It’s a world where one must learn to do what goes against one’s nature if one is to survive.

We saw Dale as one of the first of those “good people” to die. His stubborn need to remain civilized and stick to his principles of always doing the right and moral thing made him unable to cope of what Rick and the rest of the group were willing to do to keep on going. Next to go was Hershel last season. While he finally was able to understand that the necessity of doing awful things to survive doesn’t really mean abandoning one’s true nature, but he never truly got the chance to put that into practice as he was soon dispatched by the Governor.

Then there’s Beth Greene. Sweet, innocent Beth who many saw as a sort of singing albatross that could only lead to getting some of the more capable members of the group killed by her very lack of survival skills. The show was able to redeem Beth’s character by having her spend some quality time with one of it’s ultimate survivors in Daryl Dixon. This showed in her growth as a character and a survivor. Yet, just like her father Hershel, what she’s learned became too little too late as her need to stick up for those seen as weak led to her own demise.

Tonight saw the exit of one of the last few principled and moral centers of the show. Tyreese has always been a sort of mystery. He’s this big, hulking man who could escape a mob of zombies with just a hammer and come out of it unscathed. Yet, this is also a man who hesitates in killing another human even if it means doing so was the logical and safest thing to do. We saw this in full detail when he refused to kill Martin from Terminus who had threatened to kill baby Judith in this season’s premiere episode. Killing Martin would’ve mean tying up a loose end that might’ve kept the group safer from Gareth and his hunters. It wasn’t in Tyreese to kill another person even one who would’ve killed him and those he cared for without hesitation.

Tonight’s episode saw Rick and a handpicked group taking Noah back to the gated community that he had called home in hopes of reuniting the young man with his people and also finding a new place to call home. This wouldn’t be the Walking Dead if everything turned out peaches and cream. During Noah’s internment with Dawn at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, his home at Shirewilt Estates (a nice shout out to the Wiltshire Estates from the comic book) had fallen to the zombies due to some unknown group of raiders that had breached their walls.

It’s during Noah’s attempt to learn the fate of his family that Tyreese would meet his inevitable end. Some would say that Tyreese’s character wasn’t as well-established and well-written to elicit sympathy the way Hershel’s and Merle’s death meant so much to the show. Yet, his very death symbolized the death of hope and optimism the group began to have once they had gotten back together after Terminus. His death meant another person who could’ve kept Rick and the rest of the group from tipping over into the darkside. He was the symbol of forgiveness for the group which has begun to show lack of empathy.

Chad Coleman was always a welcome addition to the cast. Maybe the problems previous showrunners had in creating fully-realized characters had limited his character’s growth, but it’s to the new-found focus of current showrunner Scott M. Gimple that we finally get to know Tyreese and what made him tick. It’s just a shame that just when we’re really getting to know the character he was taken away in a heartbreaking manner.

The series hasn’t even dealt with the after-effect of Beth’s death to the group and now they will have to find a way to cope with the death of Tyreese as well. If the group truly does go on forward just trying to survive towards the next day will all these important deaths wear away on their humanity.

Will some in the group just give up and let it all end? Or will it spur them even more to try and find a new safe place to call home? We have seven more episodes left in this season and if Washington really is the goal then we may just get both.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode, “What Happened and What’s Going On”, was directed by Greg Nicotero and written by series showrunner Scott M. Gimple.
  • Glenn picking up the baseball bat could either be a throwaway moment or an ominous foreshadowing of things to come. Readers of the comics will understand.
  • I was half-expecting to see every character who died to show up during Tyreese’s hallucination.
  • There was almost a sense that Tyreese might pull through and take the place of Rick as the one-handed man (which Rick was in the comics), but the way the episode unfolded it was inevitable that he wasn’t going to live.
  • The radio reports (BBC Radio, I think) that Tyreese was hearing during his hallucination made for a nice parallel to the events that Tyreese had seen during his time on the series.
  • The song being sung by Ghost Beth is “Struggling Man” by Jimmy Cliff. A song about a man struggling with grief and the need to move on. Very appropriate for what became Tyreese’s swan song episode.
  • It seems like Tyler James Williams’ character Noah going to get a rep as being the grim reaper of the group. He’s already been the cause for the death of two of Rick’s group: Beth and Tyreese.
  • Talking Dead returns with guests series producer/director Greg Nicotero and Tyreese’s own Chad Coleman (in a way to keep viewers from thinking a cast member was leaving the show due to character death it was announced that Ron Perlman of Pacific Rim and Hellboy fame was going to be one of the guests)

Season 5

Review: The Walking Dead S4E08 “Too Far Gone”


TheWalkingDeadS4

“We’re not too far gone. We get to come back.” — Rick Grimes

[some spoilers]

The Walking Dead had it’s mid-season finale over this past Sunday and like previous mid-season and season-ending finales of the past three season this one went for the gut-punch. Season 4 of the show has seen a major improvement in how the writers were finally treating some of the major characters on the show.

The first five episodes were pretty much using a plague situation within the prison community to explore the growth of some of the lead roles in the show. We saw how Rick tried to escape the burdens of leadership by attempting to just be a farmer and a good role-model for his son Carl. It didn’t necessarily work out the way he wanted it to. In the end, Rick finally realized that leadership was what the group needed from him and what he was really best suited for.

We saw a major character shift in one of the show’s less realized characters in the past meek Carol Pelletier. This season we see how she has grown into becoming just as much a cold, calculating survivor as The Governor, but still retaining some of the humanity the latter seems to have lost when the zombie apocalypse happened to the world. It was a surprise to see Carol in such a new light. A person who would do anything to protect the group with special attention to the young children — especially two young girls — who have survived this far into the zombie apocalypse.

Then we had Hershel finally get to have his time in the limelight. Episode 5 has been a near-unanimous choice as the strongest episode of the first half of the season and nothing about the mid-season finale changes that. That’s how good “Interment” really was in the overall scheme of this new season’s first half. We saw Hershel finally become the show’s moral center but one that didn’t have the rigidity of ideals that Dale had. Hershel kept his humanity but also knew that this new world meant having to put one’s life on the line and not just pay lip-service to one’s ideals. I know that Dale would’ve done the same, but we never truly saw him put it all out there. He was great with the speeches, but the writers could never have him act on them. With Hershel they were able to reset the show’s moral compass and write the role properly.

The last two episode saw the return of The Governor. It was a peculiar two-parter which focused only on the return of Season 3’s main villain. Scott M. Gimple and his crew of writers tried to dial back the cartoonish way the character had become a villain by the end of Season 3. They tried to put the character back on the road to redemption. They even gave him a new surrogate family with a young girl who looked eerily like his previous daughter pre-zombie. Yet, while the attempt was an interesting one the character arrived full-circle to the very Governor we first met in the early episodes of Season 3. He wasn’t as mustache-twirling evil that he had become by the end of last season, but that redemption road that episode 6 and 7 was all about ended up being a red herring.

Now, we come to the mid-season finally which literally reset’s the finale of season 3. It was a finale that was underwhelming at best. The war between Rick and the Governor never truly materialized. This was finally rectified with the arrival of the Governor and his new band of camp followers but this time he has a tank. It’s a scene straight out of the comics and it was one that readers and fans of the books have been waiting for years to happen.

“Too Far Gone” marks a turning point for the series in that we finally leave another fixed location but do so with some major characters never to return. It was an episode that started off like a sizzle reel of every complaint detractors have about the show. Dialogue that went nowhere and just seemed to spin the episode’s wheels to fill time. Yet, as the episode progressed the entirety of the first half’s story-arcs began to take shape.

Rick was willing to share the prison with his worst enemy. He wasn’t too far gone that he would put himself as innocent of doing some heinous things to survive. He might not like the Governor, but for the sake of both groups not killing each other he would swallow his pride and accept everyone. The prison has room for everyone and the didn’t need to interact. It’s a major character growth for Rick who always saw his group as the good guys in any conflict. But like any leader he was getting tired of the battles that hurt only the survivors. The real threat were still the zombies who were slowly gathering outside. Hershel’s reaction to finally seeing Rick realize that one didn’t have to sacrifice their humanity to survive in this new world was one of the most poignant scenes in the series to date.

What followed it moment’s later would become one of the most heart-wrenching scenes of the series and one fans of the books were dreading to see.

Hershel was the MVP of this season’s first half and it was only appropriate that he went out in such a memorable, albeit very gruesome manner. It’s not often we see someone decapitated on any tv show. What had been an episode that threatened to meander just the way the finale of season 3 ended up doing instead became a final 20-minutes of intense action that saw both groups fail to hold onto the prison and the survivors scattered to all points of the compass. In the comics, this particular story-arc saw Lori and Judith die just when readers thought they were about to be safe from the battle. With Lori already dead a full season ago the only question which remained during this mid-season finale was whether the writers would actually pull off the unthinkable and do the same to tv version of Judith.

Children have never been seen a sacred cows on this show, yet infants seemed to remain safe. The episode ends with the question of whether Judith is dead or alive hanging in the air. It’s to the visceral power that this show brings to the table that peope will wait the near to three months of hiatus before the show returns of the second half of season 4. The show will remain one that’s obsessed over by the general population while derided by a minority who have valid complaints about it.

“Too Far Gone” could almost be the motto of this show. Any sort of major change on how the show’s stories has been told might be too late to implement. The fans like the show for it’s violence, gore and the soap opera stories. It’s not perfect television, but it is television which seems to have grabbed, caught and held the attention of not just the American tv viewing public but the global tv viewing public. Maybe, it’s just time to just make the that decision each viewer has to make. Either stay on the ride and hold on until the rollercoaster ends or jump off now and forever hold their peace.

Season 4

Review: The Walking Dead S4E06 “Live Bait”


TheWalkingDeadS4

“And I ask for no redemption in this cold and barren place.” — Ben Nichols

[some spoilers]

Season 4 of The Walking Dead, from the very beginning, has been exploring the theme of whether those who have managed to survive this far into the zombie apocalypse could ever return to who they were in the past. Could they return from the brink of having to do some unthinkable acts in order to survive? It’s this running theme which has dominated this first half of the season, so far.

We’ve seen Rick trying to leave behind the “Ricktatorship” of Season 3, but only to find out that this new world won’t allow him to go back to the way he used to be. He has changed, and so has everyone, some of the better and some for the worst. We’ve seen several main characters of the show go through this very crucible and some have turned out much colder while others have seen their moral center strengthened.

The series has been hinting that the Governor was still out there and last week’s episode ended with a sudden reveal that he’s back and has now set his sight back on the prison. While quite an ominous moment considering the Governor’s past actions towards Rick and the prison group, tonight’s episode has put some ambiguity on what the Governor’s agenda in regards to the prison really is.

“Live Bait” is the title of the latest episode of The Walking Dead and it takes a risky move by concentrating on the Governor only. We don’t see Rick or anyone from the prison community. This episode was all about the Governor and what happened to him after his failed attack on the prison in the season 3 finale. We already know that he massacres pretty much every member of his attacking force with the exception of his two most loyal lieutenants in Martinez and Shumpert. We see during the episode’s cold opening the total breakdown of not just the Governor but also the full destruction of everything he had built with Woodbury both literally and symbolically.

Yet, we don’t see him continue his rampage against those who he sees as having been the architect of his downfall. We see that he has blamed no one else but himself for turning into something that Rick and his people always feared he was: a charismatic, but psychotic leader who would destroy anyone and everything if he can’t have it. Tonight’s Governor has come a long way from Season 3’s version. Tonight he’s become a wandering, disheveled loner who looks to have more in common with the very zombies he hates. He’s on automatic with the barest sense of survival in his mind. Yet, just when we think he has finally given up the image of someone in a second floor window of an apartment complex peaks his curiosity enough to want to live another day.

This begins the meat of this episode as we see the Governor encounter a family who has survived the past year of the zombie apocalypse on their own. A family of a cancer-stricken father, his two daughters and a granddaughter. A group that has managed to survive without having learned just exactly how to destroy zombies they encounter and the true nautre of the infection.

For some this latest episode was too much talking and exploring the state-of-mind of the Governor, but it was actually a very strong episode that shows not every week has to be action-packed. While the episode (written by series regular Nichole Beattie) wasn’t very subtle about having the granddaughter becoming a stand-in for the Governor’s daughter, Penny, it still doesn’t diminish the fact that we see a sort of reset on the Governor as a character. The almost cartoonishly villain that the character had become by the end of Season 3 looked to be getting a sort of rehab to something that retains some complexity. This is not crazy Governor tonight, but a damaged individual who doesn’t see redemption in the future for the sins he had done in the past.

By episode’s end we see him having built a sort of surrogate family from the two daughters and the granddaughter who took him in, but his attempt to try and escape his Woodbury past (going so far as to use a name he had seen during his aimless wanderings) goes for naught as we see his past literally come back to confront him from the bottom of a pit. Like I said, not the most subtle episode, but for the most part the ideas and themes explored stick the landing.

Now, time to see if the sudden change in the Governor in his road to redemption will continue with the next episode which, hopefully, will catch up to the reveal of him watching the prison in episode 5. Some may decry the loss of lunatic Governor, but I prefer my villains to be much more layered in their personalities and motivations. The Governor has come out of this latest episode a sympathetic villain, but who might still have that dark side just waiting in the shadows of his psyche for a chance to assert itself.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode was written and directed by series regular Nichole Beattie and series newcomer Michael Uppendahl.
  • The barn spraypainted with the name Brian Heriot and instructions for this unseen individual on where to go was another reminder of how much the world of The Walking Dead has lost in terms of society and civilization.
  • The first episode of The Walking Dead where the original cast (those that still remain) don’t make any sort of appearance.
  • This episode also marks the very first flashback-only episode of the series.
  • The characters of Lilly and Tara look to be this show’s version of two characters from the comics and the novels. Lilly was one of the Governor’s loyal supporters in the comics while tv version of Tara was much closer to the novel version of the same name.
  • When the Governor gives the sisters his name as Brian it’s a little detail that fans who have read the novels know as the Governor’s real first name. Philip is actually the name of his brother whose identity and personality he takes.
  • The episode didn’t have much zombie and gore until the end and much props to KNB EFX for finding new ways to kill zombies. Best kill of the night being the use of a femur bone to rip off the head of zombie by pulling back it’s top jaw off violently like a pez dispenser.
  • Talking Dead Guests: Ike Barinholtz of The Mindy Project and David “The Governor” Morrissey.

Season 4

Trailer: The Walking Dead Season 4


TheWalkingDeadSeason4

During the panel for The Walking Dead over at San Diego Comic-Con we found out first and foremost the premiere of season 4 for AMC’s huge hit.

The Walking Dead Season 4 will premiere on October 13, 2013.

Now what’s in store for fans of the show when it returns in a couple months. It looks like we get another veteran from HBO’s classic drama series (and best drama series in history, ever) The Wire with Larry Gilliard, Jr. coming on-board as the character Bob Stookey. The season will also see the return of fan favorite Lennie James as Morgan Jones. The new season will also bring with the the show’s newest and latest showrunner in show writer Scott M. Gimple.

The Walking Dead is pure genre storytelling which means that at times it will show the best while at times it fails under the weight of the very narrative it’s trying to tell. It’s not Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad or Mad Men. What the show has become which the other higher quality show still hasn’t reached is a level of popularity that just continues to build with each passing season and episode.

While October 13 is just a little under 3 months away it’s still going to be a long wait.

Review: The Walking Dead S3E16 “Welcome to the Tombs”


TheWalkingDeadS3E16

“In this life now you kill or you die…or you die and you kill.” — Philip “The Governor” Blake

[some spoilers within]

We’ve finally made it to the finale of season 3 of The Walking Dead.

There’s something about tonight’s episode that was both good and bad. It had the hallmarks of this season’s showrunner, Glen Mazzara, who wanted the series to get back down to basics after a season 2 where there had been too much philosophizing and existential angst. Mazzara delivered on bringing more action to the show. The first couple episodes of this season and the mid-season finale episode showed just how action-packed the show could be and fans responded enthusiastically about this change in the show’s narrative.

Yet, with a 16-episode season there was bound to be some break in the action and it’s here that Mazzara still fell in the same trap that got Darabont removed as the showrunner and what I think got Mazzara removed from the position as well. While Mazzara’s leadership of the show’s writers weren’t as bad when it came to the more slower and introspective part of the season he still couldn’t get rid of the meandering and wheel-spinning in some of the less-action episodes. It didn’t help that while most of the characters in the show had made some great strides in characterization the one main lead who remained an enigma and a problem: Andrea.

“Welcome to the Tombs” was suppose to be the main battle that would determine who would come up as winner between Team Prison and Team Woodbury. The assault on the prison by the Governor’s larger force was fast and loud. It was sort of a “shock and awe” tactic that was meant to disorient and put the fear of God in Rick and his people. We see from the episode’s cold opening that the group looked to have voted to leave the prison before the attack and the empty cellblocks seemed to reinforce this point. It sure didn’t make for a battle that was meant to give Mazzara a climactic sendoff as showrunner this season. yet, when things were about to get real disappointing with the empty prison and the Governor and his people entering an even more silent and empty Tombs we finally saw that things were not as they appear to be.

It was a nice change that the prison group decided to stay and fight as a group even when given the chance to vote on their fate. The fact that they knew there were going to be outnumbered and outgunned also forced their hand to be more creative and sneaky in how they would counter the attack on their hard-earned home. It’s a fine and noisy welcome the Governor and his people get while in the Tombs and showed just how amateurish his army really is (with small exceptions to his small cadre of minions) when stacked up against the more veteran and hardened smaller prison group. It’s not a wonder that this supposed battle between the two groups felt more anticlimactic than explosive.

The episode itself was more character-driven than action when one got down to its basic. We learn more of the Governor, Carl and Tyreese than see explosions, gore and action during the episode’s running time. For some this was made for a so-so finale while others probably saw it as a good finale that finished off the troubled character arc for one of the show’s most hated and difficult characters to work with: Andrea.

It was her episode in the end as we finally see the reasoning for some of the ridiculously maddening decisions she’s made this season. While it’s still not easy to forgive the character (or even the actor in the role) we do get a definite answer to the question of why is Andrea so stupid (in the extreme) or naive (when one is more forgiving) in a world that eats up such sentimentality. We saw how Rick had had to adjust his personality and decision making to not allow sentiments to rule his every act and decision and we saw how successful the group became, but also distanced him from everyone else. Andrea was almost an attempt to balance out the craziness that was both Rick and the Governor, but Mazzara and his writers were never able to pull off that job. In the end, she remained a lost chance to creating a very complex character that one could sympathize instead of hating even when her actions were well-meaning and logical.

“Welcome to the Tombs” saw the ending of a third season that went a long way into fixing the show’s problems under Darabont’s guidance, but the added episodes from 13 to 16 also meant that Mazzara’s vision for the show began to run out of steam by the finale thus the more subdued (despite an explosive opening) and pensive finale. While the show’s slogging towards the finale can’t be fully laid at Mazzara’s feet as showrunner one cannot just say that his legacy was righting the troubled ship that was The Walking Dead, but also failing to finally find the right balance between zombie mayhem and action with the drama that comes with people trying to survive in a world irrevocably changed for the worst.

The Mazzara Era of The Walking Dead has come to an end. The show has become even more popular under his guidance, but it has also remained a show which remained quite uneven in how it told it’s story and wrote it’s characters. Mazzara’s leadership went a long way into fixing most of it, but time ran out for him and his vision and tonight’s finale showed that attempts to do stand-alone and more character-driven episodes during the season as a way to fill-up a 16-episode schedule should’ve been set aside for doing a finale that went just one episode. Mazzara had the right idea, but in the end he ran out of things to do to pull it off. Now it’s up to incoming showrunner Scott Gimple to continue the improvements done under Mazzara and see about fixing the rest of the problems the show has with him in charge. Maybe fourth time is the charm.

Yet, despite all this I have a feeling The Walking Dead will remain the most popular thing on TV and will continue to do so whether Gimple succeeds or not. Such is the power of the zombie genre over the imagination of people everywhere.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode, “Welcome to the Tombs”, was directed by series veteran Ernest Dickerson and written by season showrunner Glen Mazzara.
  • Well, it looks like we didn’t have to wait too long to find out if the Governor will confront Milton about being the traitor. The same goes as to whether Daryl was going to make it back to the prison after the vents of last week’s episode.
  • The Woodbury attack on the prison was quite an operation that pretty much forgoes any sort of siege that played out in the comics. Instead the writers decided to go for a more aggressive tactic.
  • Nice to see Ma Deuce in action and where the hell did Martinez get his hands on a Milkor 40mm MGL. Weapon laws in Georgia must be much more lax in Georgia than everyone else. It’s either that or he came across a group of dead Marines.
  • We finally get to the meaning of the season finale title as the Woodbury group moves deep inside the prison and into the less than secured area that Rick and his people have begun calling the Tombs.
  • Some nice trickery from Team Prison to scare and rout Team Woodbury once they were inside the Tombs.
  • Once again, it looks like Team Prison needs a lesson in how to kill living people as opposed to zombies. I don’t think they killed anyone from Team Woodbury, except for Carl, once they were running for their lives in the prison yard.
  • Governor has gone bye-bye and even his two most loyal mions in Martinez and Bowman could see it with his work on the Woodbury Army.
  • Carl has definitely turned into a badass. Quite the boss move (or dick move depending on your stance on Lil Grimes) on the Woodbury teen trying to trick Carl into grabbing the shotgun.
  • Tense moments between Milton and Andrea back at Woodbury and the pay off was something that should please Andrea-haters.
  • Carl looks to be channeling his inner-Shane or Governor with the little speech about doing what needs to be done to his own father. It should make for an interesting season 4 now that Carl looks to be heading towards amoral territory.
  • Love how there’s now a growing rift forming between Carl and Rick. It’s something that was explored in the comic book, but never to a degree that really went anywhere. Here’s to hoping incoming showrunner Scott Gimple does a better job in exploring the father-son relationship in season 4.
  • With Andrea’s passing The Walking Dead now has just one member left from the Darabont acting troupe and that’s Melissa McBride.
  • Zombie Kill Count of tonight’s episode: Too much to count.

Past Season 3 Episode Review

  1. Episode 1: “Seed”
  2. Episode 2: “Sick”
  3. Episode 3: “Walk With Me”
  4. Episode 4: “Killer Within”
  5. Episode 5: “Say the Word”
  6. Episode 6: “Hounded”
  7. Episode 7: “When the Dead Come Knocking”
  8. Episode 8: “Made to Suffer”
  9. Episode 9: “The Suicide King”
  10. Episode 10: “Home”
  11. Episode 11: “I Ain’t a Judas”
  12. Episode 12: “Clear”
  13. Episode 13: “Arrow on the Doorpost”
  14. Episode 14: “Prey”
  15. Episode 15: “This Sorrowful Life”

Review: The Walking Dead S3E15 “This Sorrowful Life”


TheWalkingDeadS3E15“I can’t…GO BACK. Don’t you understand that. I can’t” — Merle Dixon

[some spoilers within]

We are now in the penultimate episode before The Walking Dead reaches it’s season finale on March 31. Last week we saw preparations and turmoil inside Woodbury as the Governor has to deal with Andrea finally making the decision to pick Rick and her friends at the prison as her side in the coming conflict. He also has to deal with a potential traitor within his own inner circle. The episode was good in certain aspects, but also did nothing to move the story along. It was an episode that definitely put some viewers into wondering if the season had enough gas to make it to the promised explosive end.

“This Sorrowful Life” switches things over to the prison with Rick having made the decision to sacrifice Michonne to the Governor if it means a chance at avoiding the conflict he knows he and his people has a good chance of losing. He knows the numbers and firepower are against him. While he and his people may be more seasoned and veterans of being on the road killing zombies as a team it won’t be enough against a force that could afford a battle of attrition. It’s a decision that Rick’s inner circle doesn’t agree with (Hershel and Daryl), but they’re willing to support his decision as they have in the past. Rick has kept them alive this long and has earned their trust even if it’s a choice that goes against everything they believe in.

Tonight’s episode is another one that focuses on the choices the survivors in this zombie apocalyptic world have had to make and continue to make to survive another day, week and, the fates willing, another month. It’s also an episode that uses the dark horse in Rick’s group to highlight just how the choices people have made in this new world has changed people and most of it not for the good. I would like to think that tonight’s episode was an exploration of what made Merle Dixon such a character full of contradictions.

Merle Dixon was introduced way over in episode 2 of the first season and he came across as a cartoonish, one-note racist redneck who the audience were suppose to love to hate. But something changed in the time from his last appearance in season 1 and to his reappearance this season. That change wasn’t anything done by the character but how his younger brother, Daryl Dixon, viewed him and how this helped audiences want to learn and know more about a character who seemed to have earned Daryl’s undying trust and love.

We get some side stories in tonight’s episode with Glenn asking Hershel for Maggie’s hand in marriage and then Maggie in turn accepting his offer. We also see Rick finally realizing his error in judgement in trying to use Michonne as a sacrificial offering to the Governor. While this latter was brought on by another hallucinatory episode of him seeing Lori it happens for the briefest of moment. Unfortunately, this change of heart from Rick comes a little too late to stop Merle from going through on the plan to hand over Michonne.

Again we get back to Merle. A character hated by most everyone in the prison outside of his brother (who I believe also harbors somoe fraternal hate for the man even if just a little), but one they want to have on their side even if it means to do the dirty work. Rick knows this which is why he picked him instead of the younger Dixon to fool, capture and bring Michonne to the Governor. Everyone understands that choosing Merle to stay with them was one of necessity and not one born out of the goodness of their own hearts. Even Daryl knows this and even when he tries to convince his older brother to be more amenable towards Rick and the others it comes off as hollow. Daryl knows his brother and trying to change the man now after what he had to go through after season 1 would be a monumental, if not, an impossible task. This is why Merle decision to go on a mission of redemption was such a suprising twist to the episode, if not, the character himself.

It was some great writing by the upcoming season 4’s newest showrunner in Scott M. Gimple in tonight’s episode. We didn’t get a huge dose of exposition from the main leads and the one that we get finally resets the decision Rick made at the end of season 2. The Ricktatorship is now over. It was good and necessary when they were out, alone and desperate after leaving the farm, but now that everyone has learned the skills to survive it was time to rescind the writ of dictator and bring the group back to being a democracy, albeit one that’s now smaller than before.

Gimple also does a great job in making Merle one of the most tragic characters on the show. While Merle may have begun as a cartoonish, racist buffoon he went out a character that we were finally able to understand. He knew his faults and didn’t apologize for them. It was his love for his brother that kept him from going over the edge the way that the Governor has and we see it in his decision to take on Woodbury by himself.

Yet, for all the great writing Gimple did for tonight’s episode (which could be why he was chosen to be the show’s new leader after Mazzara’s exit everything hinged on whether Michael Rooker would be able to put on a performance worthy of tonight’s script. To say that Rooker hit it out of the park would be an understatement. There so much subtle hints in his performance that gave us a peek inside his gruff, outsider attitude towards everyone not named Daryl Dixon. His resigned acceptance at his new role in this new world as the man willing to do the dirty work for others. Be the bad guy so others can remain untainted with having to do the right, but immoral decisions. Rooker kept tonight’s episode from just being another good, but still throwaway until the season finale to one of the best in the show’s life, so far.

It goes to show how much potential this show has to be great. To go beyond it’s horror and grindhouse foundations. We saw it just a few episodes back with the Morgan-centric episode and we saw it even earlier with the episode where Lori redeems herself and exits the show on a high note. When it comes down to it the show shines when it balances all the horror and action with some deep character exploration. It’s a shame that Rooker has to leave the show to make this point, but he did leave it the only way he could and that’s to redeem the character of Merle. To give Merle the chance to choose for himself what he wanted to do and not have others (whether it was the Governor or Rick or even Daryl) dictate what he should or should not be doing. In the end, Merle chose for the love of his baby brother and while the end result would bring heartache and loss to the only person he loved it was his choice and he made it himself.

“This Sorrowful Life” goes down as another major highlight in The Walking Dead and finally lays down the final piece to what looks like an ending that will be another shift in the show’s cast of characters. Whether everyone makes it out alive after the season finale we as the audience will have to wait another week to find out.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode, “This Sorrowful Life”, was directed by Greg Nicotero and written by next season’s showrunner Scott M. Gimple.
  • The episode’s title comes from the 6th volume of the comic book the show is based on. It was also the volume that dealt with the Governor’s final assault on the prison.
  • I think having Merle become so prominent a character in tonight’s episode should’ve been a clue that his time was numbered.
  • Tonight’s episode was quite a redemptory one for Merle and once again showed how far gone the Governor has towards the darkside.
  • Michonne really got Merle to a “T” and he knows it which seem to trigger the decision he made to let her go and attempt a mission to help out Daryl (it always comes down to his baby brother) and the people in the prison.
  • nice little interlude between Hershel and Glenn and then Glenn and Maggie. It’s one of the few things on this show that doesn’t involve death, violence and zombies and it’s a welcoming respite.
  • Like the character or not, Merle definitely has found himself the most useful person in this new world. It’s no wonder the Governor kept him on as one he trusted (to a point) and why Hershel and Rick was willing to take him back despite what he did to both Glenn and Maggie.
  • Just call Merle Dixon the Pied Piper of Zombies.
  • I think he should’ve taken a bit more time and attracted a bigger herd back to Woodbury.
  • Merle, even one-handed, sure caused a lot of damage against the Governor’s men. Makes one wonder how much more effective he would’ve been on his one-man mission if he had both hands to work with.
  • Greg Nicotero puts in another easter egg in tonight’s episode straight from the original Dawn of the Dead with the bald zombie in the red flannel shirt. The zombie approaches Merle while he’s in the car with the music blaring. dawnofthedeadzombie
  • Ben, we hardly knew you, but what we did know tells us you were a douchebag like you father Allen. I don’t think many people was going to shed a tear for this character’s demise tonight.
  • Not just killed by Merle but also became a meal in a scene that was horrific and sad.
  • The Governor has done gone past the darkside and into something worse.
  • Fight between Merle and the Governor as brutal as the one between Michonne and the Governor. Just goes to show just how primal fighters get when it comes to taking on someone they hate very much.
  • I felt a great disturbance in The Walking Dead fandom, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in anguish.
  • Another great episode of work from Greg Nicotero (both as director and special effects man) and his FX magicians over at KNB EFX.
  • Zombie Kill Count of tonight’s episode: 26 onscreen.

Past Season 3 Episode Review

  1. Episode 1: “Seed”
  2. Episode 2: “Sick”
  3. Episode 3: “Walk With Me”
  4. Episode 4: “Killer Within”
  5. Episode 5: “Say the Word”
  6. Episode 6: “Hounded”
  7. Episode 7: “When the Dead Come Knocking”
  8. Episode 8: “Made to Suffer”
  9. Episode 9: “The Suicide King”
  10. Episode 10: “Home”
  11. Episode 11: “I Ain’t a Judas”
  12. Episode 12: “Clear”
  13. Episode 13: “Arrow on the Doorpost”
  14. Episode 14: “Prey”

Review: The Walking Dead S3E14 “Prey”


TheWalkingDeadS3E14

“Killing the Governor doesn’t save your friends.” — Milton Mamet

[some spoilers within]

Last week we saw what would amount as a sort of UN Summit between two warring parties in AMC’s The Walking Dead. Just like other peace summits the two parties involve would agree on something then turn around and do the opposite once they were away from each other. It neatly set-sup the last three remaining episodes this season to finally getting this war between Rick’s group and the Governor’s into full gear.

Yet, three whole episodes of just the two groups shooting it out might sound exciting but could quickly become repetitive. I mean there’s only so many people on both sides to kill and that’s only in one full episode of nonstop battle. No, what we get with the first of the final three is an episode wholly dedicated to the Governor and Woodbury preparing for what they think will be their first and only strike necessary to deal with Rick and the prison group. It’s an episode that looks to be a throwaway that literally ends right where it began.

“Prey” is probably going to be an episode that many will not look too kindly at. For one thing, it’s an Andrea-centric episode and it’s been a worst kept secret that many fans of the show have no love for the Andrea character. Yet, this episode goes a long way in helping re-establish the character as the badass that she was originally created as in the comic book. There’s no hesitation in the character to finally make the decision to abandon Woodbury and try and make her way back to the prison. She does this while alone and armed with only the small pocket knife she carries at all times. It’s a situation that most characters on the show would find daunting yet Andrea proceeds anyway if just to warn Rick and the others in the prison what the Governor has planned for them.

Of all the episodes in this series, so far, this one really relied heavily on the horror tropes of the zombie genre. Yes, the episodes actually included a lot of zombies to really heighten the danger Andrea finds herself in as she treks her way back through the Georgia wilderness alone. Yet, it’s not the zombies themselves who really make this episode a truly horror and tension-filled one. It’s the appearance of the Governor who has found out about Andrea’s plans to warn Rick and must now hunt her down to prevent this from happening. It’s what gives the episode it’s title.

The cat-and-mouse game between Andrea and the Governor had some very nice moments when the two maneuvered their way through the abandoned warehouse which was chosen as the location of their one-on-one face-off. We get to see more of the Governor’s growing sociopathic tendencies (something the show has begun to ramp up in the last couple episodes). There’s a great moment when we think Andrea has finally run out of luck and cornered between a stairwell full of zombies in one end and the Governor on the other end when she turns the tables on her pursuer. It’s a move that we might see from Rick, Daryl or, even, Glenn, but something that most fans of the show couldn’t imagine this hated character in pulling off.

The episode did well for Andrea, but overall it did have it’s drawbacks. By concentrating so much on the Governor and Andrea and very little on the growing discontent from one of the Governor’s most trusted lieutenants back in Woodbury we don’t get too excited over the apparent sabotage of the pit zombies being gathered for the next meeting with Rick. The suprise gotcha moment when Andrea was almost home was another bit of storytelling that looked to be more lazy than shocking. It detracted from the strength showed by Andrea in outwitting the Governor, but also made the latter seem like he was some sort of unkillable slasher villain who has the many lives of a cat.

It’s not surprising to see that the episode had two writers in showrunner Glen Mazzara and Evan Reilly. Most of the show’s episodes tend to stick to one writer and let them run with that particular episode’s narrative. By having two writers in this time around could be a clue in the behind-the-scenes issues producers of the show had with Mazzara to the point that he was replaced for the upcoming season. The episode had both the good and bad that has saddled the series since it’s inception. The good being more zombie action and less standing around and just talking. It had the worst things as well with letting a story lead to nowhere which this one seems to have in a narrative sense though in terms of fleshing out certain characters it did it quite well.

The final two episodes this season will tell if season 3 was an unqualified success or still a series that had flaws to work out. So far, reactions to this season is leaning to the former, but if Mazzara had lost control of the story he wanted to tell this season then the climax of the season may be more of a fizzle than a sizzle.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode was written by Evan Reilly and season 3’s showrunner Glen Mazzara w/ series newcomer Stefan Schwartz directing.
  • From the sound of it the backstory of Michonne’s pet zombies in the series looks to be very different from the comic book. It definitely adds to some subtle hints during the season that Michonne doesn’t like to be touched in an aggressive manner by men.
  • Another change we see in this episode’s cold opening is the Governor prepping the chains he must have made specifically for Michonne. In the comic book series the set-up was already there and hinted at being used by the Governor.
  • Milton looks to be regretting the fact more and more that he has attached himself to someone who has gone over the deep end and never returning.
  • Yet, he still seems willing to protect the Governor despite all of it.
  • Tyrese may be a beast with the clawhammer but he’s awful with a firearm.
  • Andrea could easily have convinced Tyrese better if she just described what the Governor has done and plans to do instead of being all cryptic.
  • Tyrese is just too damn reasonable. I guess not spending an extended amount of time with Rick hasn’t made him cynical.
  • Wow, Allen is such a douche. I repeat, Allen is such a douche.
  • Hate the character or not, Andrea looks to h ave become very self-sufficient and a badass in her own right since the end of season 2.
  • There’s the Tyrese fans of the comic book should remember and love.
  • Andrea definitely did a lot to help repair whatever character-flaws she had that made fans of the show hate her so much. It wasn’t a full recovery but it was in the right step.
  • It was a nice homage scene with the zombies in the stairs that Andrea lets in to a scene in the original Dawn of the Dead in the tenement building where zombies in the basement breakthrough to attack the National Guardsmen and police. One can see it at the 4:57 mark
  • Seems Andrea has taken the place in the torture room that had been reserved for Michonne in the comic books.
  • Another great work by KNB EFX with the zombie make-up and kill gags. Special mention goes to the burned zombies in the pit who were still animated but looking like some very well-smoked brisket ready to be sliced and served.
  • Milton really has no skill whatsoever of being a good liar, at all.
  • Tonight might have been one of the more horror-centric episodes of the series. This is surprising considering it’s suppose to be a horror tv series. From the slasher-like way the sequence between the Governor and Andrea in the abandoned warehouse to the final gotcha moment before Andrea could make it into the safety of the prison this was an episode that worked all your typical horror genre tropes to the hilt.
  • Zombie Kill Count of tonight’s episode: 25 or more seen (another 20+ off-screen). Tonight definitely had a huge kill count.

Past Season 3 Episode Review

  1. Episode 1: “Seed”
  2. Episode 2: “Sick”
  3. Episode 3: “Walk With Me”
  4. Episode 4: “Killer Within”
  5. Episode 5: “Say the Word”
  6. Episode 6: “Hounded”
  7. Episode 7: “When the Dead Come Knocking”
  8. Episode 8: Made to Suffer
  9. Episode 9: The Suicide King
  10. Episode 10: Home
  11. Episode 11: I Ain’t a Judas
  12. Episode 12: Clear
  13. Episode 13: Arrow on the Doorpost