The Walking Dead: Clear

THE WALKING DEAD: 3.12 “Clear” 

I’ve missed the last two episodes of The Walking Dead, which may have been a good thing. From what I’ve heard they were a little shaky, full of too much Andrea, Rick’s silly hallucinations, and some questionable attack strategies on the Governor’s part. The last episode I watched, “The Suicide King” left a pretty bad taste in my mouth and I can’t help but wonder that if I had kept watching the next two episodes in a row, I may have given up on this series all together. After watching “Clear,” though, I think I’ll be sticking around with the series for a little longer. “Clear” was the best episode of this show in a long while. In a pretty little numbered list below, I’ll rattle off what I liked most about this episode:

  1. Focus, Focus, Focus: This was a tight, focused episode that really benefited from focusing on only three main characters. We had no Angela, the Governor, or Merle taking up space and time. Instead, the episode stuck mostly to Rick, Carl, Michonne, and to a lesser extent, Morgan, which leads to my next point…
  2. Character Development: This show has tried to develop it’s characters before and failed. I remember being particularly bothered by this halfway through their time at the farm last year. I’m not sure why it didn’t work, but every time people started talking or endlessly debating the nature of their group, I just got bored. In “Clear,” however, the side story with Carl trying to recover the picture of his family from the bar really worked. He’s often come across as annoying throughout the course of the series, but in this episode, he was a convincing, sympathetic, confused kid and it worked. Michonne seemed to have more lines in this episode than she’s had throughout the series combined. Instead of just pouting and sulking in silence, she actually displayed a wry sense of humor that really endeared me towards her. I hope we see more of that in the future.
  3. Contrasts and Good Acting: I’ll admit, I’m getting tired of writing this list, so I’m going to combine these two points together. Bringing Morgan back was a good idea because his acting here was great, and I think Rick was really able to pivot off of him well. The scenes between the two of them were great, particularly when Morgan was relating the heartbreaking story of what happened to his son. I thought it was also interesting to compare and contrast Rick and Morgan. They’re both very similar men, but while Rick has managed to remain at least somewhat connected with other humans, Morgan’s been isolated and driven insane by his isolation. It’s a path that Rick could probably easily go down in the future (especially in light of his recent hallucinations) but for now, he’s at least not completely alone.

I was disappointed to see that Morgan wasn’t going to join Rick and the rest of the group; he would have been a great addition to the cast, but maybe we can hope to see him again in the future. I also don’t have much hope that the show will be able to keep up the focus and characterization it showed in this episode, but at least I know it’s capable of really landing a good episode. That, I hope, is enough to keep me watching the last four episodes of the season.

 

 

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The Walking Dead: The Suicide King

THE WALKING DEAD: 3.09 “The Suicide King”

The Walking Dead is back for its mid-season premiere, and sadly, I did not like this episode nearly as much as the last few before the break. It was slow, plodding, and unconvincing.

My biggest objection was with Merle and Daryl’s fight to the death. Before the break, the Dixon brothers were put in a tough spot, facing off against each other in a fighting pit, with angry residents of Woodbury (and some harnessed zombies) thirsting for blood just on the outskirts of the pit. It looked like the brothers might have to make some tough choices, and it seemed like one or both of them might not make it out of the fight in one piece. Instead, though, after exchanging a couple of rabbit punches, Rick and Maggie appear deus ex machina style, toss a smoke grenade, shoot a couple of people with their assault rifles, and liberate the Dixon’s without much of a fight. This was a cheap way to weasel two important characters out of a nearly impossible situation. Am I supposed to believe that the Governor and his people, after already being attacked once on the same night, would be lax enough to let two people sneak up close enough to a gathering, open fire, and cause enough mayhem to free two prisoners? The Governor and his henchmen have so far seemed much more ruthless can capable, so I don’t see how they could have been so careless. On top of that, the entire situation was resolved so quickly, in the first five minutes of the episode I think, that it sucked out a major point of tension that could have been used to keep the rest of this rather boring episode interesting. Finally, the scene itself just looked cheap and unconvincing. The extras running around in the background looked like they were strolling rather than running for their life in a hail of gunfire, and I just don’t see how Maggie and Rick, who were taking cover in the same location, rather than splitting up and attacking from two different directions, could have caused enough chaos to allow Merle and Daryl to escape. There was smoke everywhere, how did the Dixons even know which direction to run in?

The rest of the episode was a lot of talk that didn’t really amount to much, though I have to say I am (surprisingly) enjoying Herschel’s transformation from helpless old fool to wise sage and advice giver. His scenes with Tyreese, and then Maggie and Glenn were really good, and the scene with Glenn was particularly touching. Andrea, on the other hand, remains with the Governor, though it’s clear that she’s not trusting him all that much after learning that Glenn and Maggie were held captive without her knowledge. While the Governor seems solely focused on revenge, she tries to rally the remaining citizens of Woodbury with a with a speech about sticking together that I found rather unconvincing. Maybe it was just her delivery. But speaking of revenge, didn’t the Governor send a group of his lackeys over to the prison to attack it just before the ambush? Or did those guys never get a chance to leave? An assault on the prison, just as Rick’s mental health and leadership seems to be totally crumbling, would make for an interesting second episode, though I won’t hold my breath. The Walking Dead seems to have just as many downs as it has ups, and this episode ranked as a down in my book.

The Walking Dead: Made to Suffer

THE WALKING DEAD: 3.08 “Made to Suffer”

It turned out that this week’s episode of The Walking Dead was less of a bloodbath (though we did say goodbye to poor Oscar as well as the Governor’s left eye and his zombie daughter) and more like the opening skirmish of an upcoming war. Maggie and Glenn are rescued; Oscar dies in the attempt (because there’s apparently some unwritten rule on this show that you can only have one black male on at a time) and Daryl stays behind to find Merle, where he’s captured.

In a twist that I didn’t really see coming, the Governor turns on Merle and declares him a traitor, blaming him for the attack in an attempt to rile up a blood thirsty mob. As if the undead child and pickled zombie heads in his office weren’t enough to convince Andrea of the Governor’s bad intentions, I think his demagogic speech to the crowd and threat to kill both Merle and Daryl might have finally made her step back and wonder about how crazy and evil her new lover is. Things look pretty grim for the Dixon brothers, though I would expect that Andrea will come to her senses and hopefully help them escape.

The Governor suffered quite a loss; not only his eye, but his captive zombie daughter. Even before the attack, he was planning on wiping out Rick’s people. Now that he’s been wounded and humiliated by them, he’ll have an even greater motivation to come after them with all the firepower at his disposal. Like a true mid-season finale, the bloodbath I initially expected has simply been delayed, though I’m certain it’s coming before the end of the season.

A few other things:

  • I got a genuine jolt of excitement, something I haven’t felt in a while watching this show, when the new group of survivors were introduced. This show can feel sometimes very cramped and restrictive, so actually giving us the chance to see the world from a new perspective was very welcome. I hope these new people are fully fleshed out, much more than the paper thin (or non-existent) personalities we saw for T-Dogg, Oscar, and so far, Michonne. 
  • I have to mention that it’s become completely obvious and rather ridiculous that this show has had three black men on it throughout its run, two of whom barely had a page of dialog combined, and it seems to have made a point of killing off the earlier black character almost immediately after the newest one has been introduced. I have no idea why this seems to happen but I’m finding it discouraging. The moment that I saw Tyreese, I knew Oscar was dead meat. I really hope they give Tyreese some dialog and personality.
  • Andrea’s mooning over the Governor, much like her fling with Shane last season, is not only annoying but inexplicable. Equally annoying and baffling has been Michonne, who seems completely unable to relay important information, or really communicate at all aside from a few grunts here and there. I know she is supposed to be the strong and silent type, but this is ridiculous. I hope they spend a little more time humanizing her in the second half of the upcoming season, since it seems like she’ll be sticking with Rick and his group for a while.

The Walking Dead: When the Dead Come Knocking

THE WALKING DEAD: 3.07 “When the Dead Come Knocking”

Although I’m not sure if she ever really trusted them enough to give her name, Michonne decided to lead Rick, Oscare, and Daryl to the Governor’s fortress in Woodbury in an attempt to rescue Glenn and Maggie. Along the way, they stumble across an odd little cabin in the woods with a dead dog and a delirious mountain man who looks like he may have slept through a bad hangover and the end of the world at the same time. After a short standoff, mountain man ends up dead and zombie bait, so that Rick and his group can escape from the horde that has been chasing them. The episode ends with Rick and his little paramilitary group, armed with guns, flashbangs, and teargas, hiding outside the walls of Woodbury, looking for a way in.

Meanwhile, in Woodbury, Merle tortures Glenn in the hopes that he’ll reveal the location of the prison. When he refuses, Merle locks a walker into Glenn’s room while Glenn remains duct taped to a chair. In one of the most tense action scenes of the show’s history, Glenn manages to harness a pure animalistic sense of survival as he breaks out of his chair and stabs the zombie to death with a broken chair leg. In the aftermath, he lets out a scream of victory, which really helps emphasize how far and how much stronger Rick’s group of survivors have come and become (and maybe serves as a preview of the damage that Rick and his team will inflict on the Governor as payback for the kidnapping.)

Meanwhile, Maggie, locked in her own isolation room nearby, gets to experience the  the Governor’s charisma. When his soft, reassuring talk fails to convince her to reveal the location of Rick’s settlement, he threatens, with few words and a lot of creepy leering and gestures, to rape her. I’ve heard that the Governor was a truly brutal, evil character in the comic books, yet so far in the TV show I haven’t gotten a good sense of his corrupt darkness. He certainly seems to be at his most creepy and nasty in this episode, but I’m still not sure I’m getting full blown-evil from him. Anyway, while he ultimately doesn’t follow through with his threat, Maggie strong and defiant in the face of such potential brutality. Only when the Governor gets tired of waiting and threatens to shoot Glenn does Maggie finally reveal how to find the prison. The Governor dispatches a small group to check the place out, disbelieving that a group of ten, as Maggie tells him, could clear all the Walkers out of such a large space. With Rick and his crew nearly battering down Woodbury’s doors, the Governor’s expeditionary team could cause some real problems for Carl, Herschel, Carol, and Axel (though who knows; Carl’s becoming quite the shot with his pistol).

Finally, we also got to see Andrea helping the Governor’s research assistant with a little project; to see if a newly turned walker could retain any of its former memories or humanity. Unsurprisingly, the experiment is a failure; once a walker, forever a walker.

This whole episode (especially the final minute or so, with its pounding, distorted bass beat that slowly built in intensity) led up to what will likely be a tense and probably extremely violent mid-season finale next week. Will Daryl take Merle’s side, or Ricks? Who will Andrea cast her lot with (she’s become a bit annoying, so at this point I wouldn’t mind if we never see her again)? How will those left behind at the prison deal with the Governor’s men? This season has so far been more effective than the last, and I’m definitely looking forward to finding out the answers to these questions.

THE WALKING DEAD: 3.6 “Hounded”

THE WALKING DEAD: 3.6 “Hounded”

I have to say that the truth behind last week’s wonderful tease, in which a phone rang in the prison and Rick picked it up to hear a new survivor, in the end turned out to be nothing more than a manifestation of Rick’s tortured psyche. The ringing phone only a hallucination, along with the myriad of voices on the other end, all of whom represented one of the many people that Rick has seen die under his leadership. Rick’s tortured breakdown throughout the episode was well acted, yet I can’t help but wish that the phone really did work, and that there really was a whole new group of survivors out there waiting to be found. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.

When he realizes the voices of the dead on the other line are simply products of his fevered imagination, Rick realizes that he’s hit bottom and slowly tries to drag himself out of his pit of despair. It’s a good thing he’s come around too, because he’ll need to deal with the new crisis that a a wounded Michonne brings to his doorstep.

Merle and his improvised sword arm, along with a couple of of other red-shirt posse members, had been chasing down Michonne to kill her. I guess the Governor doesn’t appreciate anyone crossing him or his henchman. After a scuffle or two, one in which Michonne shows off her swordplay by severing one of the red shirt’s heads, Merle tracks her down to a nearby strip mall. Instead of his quarry, he finds Glenn and Maggie, both searching for ammunition and baby formula. He kidnaps them and takes them back to the Governor, while Michonne watches, hidden behind a car.

Andrea has spent most of the episode having plenty of sex with the Governor. I’m sure that when she learns that her old friends has been captured, she’ll think that her new-found intimacy with the man in charge means she can influence the Governor into letting Glenn and Maggie go; I expect she’ll be sorely disappointed. The Governor will tear as much information from them as he can, whether or not Andrea tries to stop him.

I’m glad to see the two storylines from this season finally coming together. I’m really interested to see how Rick deals with Michonne and the news about the kidnapping. How will his fresh grief, his recent mental breakdown, influence his response? Will he be more violent, brutal, and unpredictable? Only a few more episodes to go before the mid-season break. Hopefully we’ll find out soon.

The Walking Dead: Say the Word

THE WALKING DEAD: 3.05 “Say the Word”

After all the action and emotional trauma we were subjected to last week, it should be no surprise that this week’s episode was a little slow moving. Necessary, perhaps, to let some emotional wounds begin to heal, or at least stop bleeding. Rick goes crazy with grief, and plunges back into the zombie filled corridors of the prison, chopping up every walker he can find. Poor Carl and his new sister (who I believe has been dubbed Lil’Asskicker by a surprisingly maternal Daryl) are left with the rest of the group and no one seems quite sure what to do with them. It’s clear, though, that the baby is going to have to eat soon, so Daryl and Maggie drive out into the wilderness looking for some baby formula.

Meanwhile, we learn a bunch of interesting things about the Governor’s pristine little town:

  1. The Governor’s daughter is a zombie, and he keeps her around the house and restrained, taking her out occasionally to ritually brush her hair (and accidentally pull off a piece of scalp in the process.) This is not a sign of a stable psyche.
  2. The people of the town keep a stable of detoothed walkers around so they can use them in some sort of ritualistic fight club. Andrea is horrified when she witnesses this. It’s barbaric! she claims, while the Governor seems puzzled that she can’t appreciate the fun. I’ll agree with Andrea; it is barbaric, but I can think of a few things that could have been worse and more horrifying. What if the Governor had been feeding petty criminals and dissidents to his zombie collection as punishment? That would have been really depraved.

Anyway, Andrea realizes there’s some moral rot beneath the beautiful surface of the Governor’s world, and she’s probably wishing she cut and run with Michonne when she had the chance.

Our feeble, weekly ray of hope shines in at the end of the episode when Maggie and Daryl return with dinner: two cans of formula for the baby and a dead possum for the adults. I can’t imagine those two cans will last for very long, but at least the baby has something to eat for now, and the adults have a little person to fawn over.

Finally, the show saves its most interesting part for last. Deep in the bowels of the prison, surrounded by hacked up zombie pieces, Rick is roused from his catatonic state by the sound of a phone ringing. He stands up, moves across the room, and finds an old looking black phone, ringing steadily every few seconds. Rick seems as surprised as I was. A ringing phone? Hasn’t civilization collapsed? Hasn’t all the electricity been turned off? How can this be? Who could be on the other end? Answers to those questions, if there are any, will have to wait to next week, because the show cuts to black right as Rick picks up the ringer.

The Walking Dead: Killer Within

THE WALKING DEAD: 3.04 “Killer Within”

Sorry that I’m a few days late with this. Because I watched it yesterday instead of when it aired, I was already knew that some pretty major stuff happened. I already knew, in fact, which characters were going to die. But actually watching this disaster unfold for the members of Rick’s group was emotionally draining. The writers and actors did a series best job of getting us to care for characters that some of us really didn’t like (Carl, Lori) or know practically anything about (T-Dog.) I was really impressed with this episode. The action was good again, of course, but it scored some emotional resonance that I haven’t see the show successfully touch on since perhaps the first season.

I really liked the slow ramp-up of tension in this episode. How everything seemed calm, with Herschel out walking on his crutches, giving the survivors a dash of hope just before the zombies stumbled in and everyone realized the gates were open. One by one, groups of survivors start getting separated in the chaos, pushed down dark hallways with more walkers at every other turn. Poor T-Dog sacrificed himself (and was rather grotesquely devoured by hungry walkers) so that Carol could escape, though we don’t even know if she made it out alive by the end of this. It’s hard to believe that T-Dog has been on this show from the beginning, because he’s barely been developed at all, which I think has been a real problem. It looks like now that T-Dog is dead, former prisoner Oscar will take his place. I really, really hope that the writers give him more lines, more dialog, and more backstory to work with because the “tokenism” with which they treated T-Dog was embarrassing.

The most traumatic scene though involved Maggie, Lori, and Carl. All three locked themselves in a closet or cell somewhere. The baby was on it’s way, but there were complications and Lori knew she needed a C-section to survive. After a very tearful, gut-wrenching goodbye, Maggie did the grisly work, cutting Lori open to retrieve the baby and leaving her dying on the floor. After agonizing deliberation, Carl used his gun to put a bullet in Lori’s head. I’ve never been a fan of either Carl or Lori, but that final goodbye scene was as intense as it can get. Wow. So sad.

What might have been even worse was when Maggie, cradling the newborn, and Carl stumble back out into the prison yard to rejoin Rick and the others. Rick sees them without Lori and begins to crumble, but he falls apart completely when he looks at Carl’s face and realizes what his son had to do. What a scene.

I don’t have much to say about what’s going on with Andrea and Michonne, since I missed last week’s episode and I’m not exactly sure what’s going on in that little idyllic town-fortress they’ve settled into. It’s clear that Michonne smells something she doesn’t like and wants to clear out of there, but Andrea’s intrigued by the charms of the Governor. I don’t think she should trust him.

A very good episode, but a much reduced original cast. Let’s hope this trend can continue.