A Bloody Mouthful: An Introduction and Quick Recap of Season 3's first four episodes
Welcome to the inaugural edition of A Bloody Mouthful, your weekly recap of the latest The Walking Dead (TWD) episodes, from a queer perspective. A hallmark of geekdom is our fervent (some might say obsessive) adoration and consumption of cultural media that tends to be a bit, hmmm, how should we say? Off. Science fiction, violent video games, and yes, a television series based on a comic book series about the continuing horrors experienced by a rat-tag groups of survivors in a zombie-infested world are all … apart from the norm, to put it mildly. Identifying as LGBTQ (or being an ally of said community), we get that apart-ness – we embrace it, we live it, we love it. A Bloody Mouthful will not be a chronicle of everything that occurred in the latest episodes of TWD – in fact, there’s going to be quite a few tangents to explore together. It will, however, contain SPOILERS (duh), so don’t read unless you’re all caught up or you’re one of those strange people who can know what’s going to happen and not have it completely ruin your viewing experience. (I am not one of those people.) With that said, if you can’t get enough TWD, here’s yet another place to think about it, relive it and rehash it. Keep hope alive – just not undead alive.
But first, Season 3 so far…
The Walking Dead eschews any whimsy or fantasy-fulfillment (à la the mall “shopping” sprees of Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Comet**) that an outbreak of zombies might offer. The wordless first minutes of the first episode, “Seed,” expertly convey a sense of the crushing grind of survival in the aftermath of the zombiepocalypse. The daily, or hourly, struggle to stay alive just doesn’t allow for even a moment of capitalist indulgence.
[**Technically not a zombie movie, but close enough]
After this grim reminder of daily life under constant siege, “Seed” pivots quickly to the goretastic killing spree that TWD fans (and fans of creature make-up) LOVE. First, there’s Tomás’ splatterific overkill of Big Tiny (ostensibly to prove his mettle to Rick, but probably not, as we see later). Then, Rick butchers Tomás pretty unceremoniously. Tomás’ demise wasn’t much of a surprise, since you cannot throw a Walker on a man – any man – never mind a man pushed to his moral limits like Rick, and expect to live. There are few rules in the zombiesphere, but that’s one of them. Rick’s disposal of inmate Andrew is less bloody, but in some ways more horrific. Closing the outside prison door on him with Walkers abounding can’t be categorized as anything but a death sentence. Was it a morally relativistic choice to not put a bullet or hatchet in his brain, but to choose the “gentler” (more sadistic?) method of exile? This choice could be seen as an expression of Rick’s continued seething Laurie-rage … or maybe his arms were just tired from so much recent killing. In any case, Rick’s cold-blooded actions seem to be a reflection of his hardening worldview.
In this brave and harsh new world, our heroes have come to adopt new roles, some decidedly more positive than Rick’s potential descent into Heart of Darkness territory (would anyone be surprised to see him one-upping Daryl’s Walker ear-necklace and going on some kind of rampage?). Concomitantly, we would expect this to manifest in a shifting of gender roles, simply because survival demands that any able-bodied, non-Walker adapt to the needs of the group. Of course, a role like the healer is interesting in that although women were often seen as “suited” to that role (because of essentialist notions of women and nurturing), the rise of modern medicine meant men were seen as “better” doctors. Carol’s newfound healer position isn’t exactly without cultural and social precedent, but you can’t deny it gives her a newfound sense of confidence and purpose. She’s come a long way from the weak, battered woman we saw way back in the beginning of the series.
Speaking of gender roles brings us to the most intriguing, potentially queer storyline The Walking Dead has to offer thus far: Michonne and Andrea. But before I get to that – ladies (and gents and others who appreciate ladies), let us just pause to savor and appreciate the all-around badassery that is MICHONNE. How genius is it to rip the arms and jaws off of a pair of Walkers and use them as pack mules? Not to mention the striking visual Michonne cuts wielding these two on chain leashes in one hand and a katana in the other. And THEN there’s the fact that we later find out that her “Pets” have a repellant quality, adding to their benefit. Calling them “Pets” seemed odd to me, but perhaps something of a human inevitability – something akin to a reverse Stockholm Syndrome to feel affection for a neutered threat. But “Pets,” as a moniker, makes more sense now, having discovered that the Pets might once have been Michonne’s friends or loved ones.
Michonne’s unceremonious dispatch of her Pets furthers Episode 3’s theme of lawlessness and chaos in post-apocalyptic “America.” “Walk With Me” opens with Michonne and Andrea witnessing the downing of a military helicopter – something of a symbol of the fall of law and order, perhaps? Before their capture, we are also reminded of what Death means in this new landscape. As the halved, reanimated corpse of the soldier demonstrates, Death means becoming a Walker. The Walker virus is everywhere, and inside every survivor. Michonne’s beheading of her Pets reminds us that while she may or may not have a sentimental attachment to said Pets, the organic fodder to make new Pets abounds in the legion of Walkers around every corner.
This season, The Walking Dead is nailing home its new tagline: Fight the Dead, Fear the Living. Episode 3 introduces us to yet another human threat: the Governor. From what I understand, this incarnation of the Governor is much more handsome and charming (in a Jim Jones kind of way) than Robert Kirkman’s comic book depiction of him, which is decidedly more opportunistic gas station attendant (h/t Chris Hardwick, host of Talking Dead, AMC’s break-it-down show that airs immediately after TWD).
I’m sure I’m not alone in my fear that Michonne and Andrea’s abduction into the compound of Woodbury had a very Handmaid’s Tale/Battlestar Galactica/28 Days Later reek about it. My greatest fear was that these strong women survivors would be subjugated as unwilling breeders – a particularly horrifying prospect had they developed a loving relationship. But the Governor does not have such sadistic plans (yet), and raised my hopes and my eyebrows when he offered Michonne and Andrea a single room. Was their lesbian showing, or was it just assumed that two newcomers would want to bunk together? Hmmmmm….
Michonne’s Nancy Drew routine on the convoy vehicles had the Governor plenty nervous – with good reason, because I don’t see her backing off (or down) any time soon. The Governor has his eye on Andrea (gross), and it might be fair to label the interactions between the Governor, Andrea, and Michonne as a love triangle (or at least a love-hate triangle, because there is zero love lost between the Governor and Michonne).
Nothing good will come from the Governor. The question is whether Andrea will get her head out of her ass long enough to heed Michonne’s caution. Andrea’s cluelessness reflects her white privilege. Michonne, having the lived experience of being a woman on color in America, before the fall, is naturally suspicious of any promises or “protection” coming from a white Southern man surrounded by armed, somewhat rednecked, cronies. Andrea, on the other hand, still harbors some pipe dream notion that things can be restored to her sense of normalcy and wants desperately to believe that the horrors of this new world can be walled off and civilization “preserved.” Not to mention she’s never really had that great a taste in men – Sean, anyone? What’s truly radical about this aspect of the TWD story is how we’re seeing things from Michonne’s POV – the audience identifies with the Black female character because if his terrifying appeal to Andrea, trying to convince her that Woodbury is a utopian civilization (replete with major overtones of The-South-shall-rise-again) didn’t freak you the fuck out, then his ghoulish safe-room aquarium certainly did.
As much as I wanted, hoped and wished for a juicy Sapphic storyline, Episode 4, “Killer Within,” murdered those fantasies. Well, maybe not the fantasies, but definitely the prospect that Andrea and Michonne sexually bonded as we would think they would after eking out their survival in the Walker wilds for months on end. Why else would Michonne, obviously a loner and able to kick ass and take names all by her chingona self, be catering to the sick and nearly dead Andrea as Episode 3 opens, if not for a sense of loving loyalty? Apparently, though, that loyalty remained strictly in the friend zone. Andrea put a bitter kibosh on my dream of Michonne and Andrea growing old on a clapboard seaside porch, picking off Walkers from twin rocking chairs with their shotguns, when she scoffed at Michonne’s suggestion that they head to the coast. Her decisive shutdown of that idyllic option makes me think Michonne and Andrea never were an item. More’s the pity.
Episode 4 ends (as Chris Hardwick noted, on Talking Dead) like a season finale – and we’re only four episodes into Season 3! I am positively salivating for what the writers are going to deliver next. It turns out hell hath no fury like a prisoner locked out of “his house” amidst a sea of Walkers. Hurricane Andrew, with those goddamned sirens, unleashed a storm of panic and mayhem that left T-Dog and Laurie dead and Carol in the wind. Former prisoner Oscar made the judgment call not to kill Rick when he had the chance, but took out troublemaker Andrew instead. You would THINK this would convince the group that he and his sniveling cohort, Axel, were worthy of adoption, but our band of survivors has very strict (impossible?) membership requirements, and it looks like it will be a while, if ever, that the former inmates will be accepted into the fold. Notions of family and tribe are looking positively prehistoric here – and it raises that essential post-apocalyptic question: is there room for compassion and civilization (things we normally associate with humanity)in a world where merely surviving one day to the next is an all-out war?
T-Dog’s AND Laurie’s deaths mean that NO ONE (save maybe Rick) is safe from the writers’ deadly keystrokes. This was a particularly genius stroke of translation from comic book to television series – it keeps the audience guessing, keeps the story fresh, and gives the writers a tabula rasa on which to create.
On a parting note, Carl is going to be more badass than John Connor at the rate he’s being forced to grow up and face horrific circumstances. The boy SHOT HIS OWN MAMA, and walked away with stone face. DAMN. That is simultaneously awesome and disturbing. Carl is walking the razor’s edge – will he grow up to be a sociopath or a warrior? And what’s the difference in the world of The Walking Dead?
Hope you enjoyed this installment of A Bloody Mouthful. Don’t choke.