The episode opens with a cursory introduction to Tyreese (a fan-favorite from the comic books) and company. Seeing so many badass Black survivors is a nice script-flip from that defunct horror convention where the Black character was always the first one to die.
We can tell they're a compassionate crowd because they don't drop their bitten matchstick girl like a sack of hydrogenated potatoes. With this delivery of fresh meat to the show, it's only a matter of time before the tribal dynamics and intrigue COMMENCE! Sadly, this episode was not to be a lesson in post-apocalyptic anthropology. We'll have to wait until February to see these relationships get juicy.
The Tyreese-group's discovery of the crumbling prison catered to my love of ruined urban architecture. Nothing says “fall of civilization” quite like a bombed-out compound, does it? To this day, I can't look at the US Bank Tower in Downtown Los Angeles without thinking of its laser ray shattering in Independence Day (or maybe that's just because it's the newest location for my white collar wage slave job). In any event, the blown-out bricks of the prison walls have me scratching my head. When did this happen? Didn't Rick et al. do a thorough reconnaissance of the perimeter? Was this Andrew's doing? Insecurity and questions abound.
The Governor and Andrea enter this episode, post-coital, framed in an oval mirror like some sick cameo. Was I the only one who expected some of his inner freaky evil reflection to manifest in his reflection? And was that a bowl of BRAINS next to him as he had his unsupervised visitation with his daughter? You gotta wonder how many times he's brought her out of that room and expected the impossible. That quote about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? That's The Governor.
Poor Axel – he's a living, breathing punchline. He's the embodiment of the dance club / bar rejection line, “Not even if you were the last man on earth.” But FINALLY! A gay reference!! Too bad it was a tired trope that not even an imprisoned zombiepocalypse survivor could really justify: “You're a lesbian, you have short hair!” Cue muted horn.
Glenn's shirtless bloodiness (along with his survivalist balls of titanium) made me think just a little bit of that geek demigod, Bruce Campbell – specifically his portrayal of Ash from The Evil Dead. It would have been highly inappropriate, but I kept waiting for him to turn to Maggie and say, “Gimme some sugar, baby.”
I don't like the sound of the Screamer Pits.
Again, I gotta praise the writers of The Walking Dead television series for their decision and ability to seamlessly introduce characters that were not in the comic books, but that work so well. Daryl and Merle definitely fit this bill. Daryl's fraternal bonds are tested (only theoretically) by the revelation of Merle's torture of Glenn. Nature v. Nurture or Good/Bad Seed? Would Merle have become a better person if he'd stayed with the main group and not been enveloped in the Woodbury fold? Would Daryl have been corrupted had he either stayed with his brother or taken Merle's place as The Governor's redneck muscle? Maybe it's only their relative degree of handsomeness (Daryl is the clear winner here) compared to their relative degree of racism (Merle clearly wins here – because really? Does anyone ever even say “spear-chucker” anymore?). It's an old-timey brand of hate that draws a proud and clean line from KKK lynchings right down to Merle. Not cool retro, and thus Daryl is the better man.
Waiting for the inevitable death in the firefight was nail-biting, but the loss of Oscar didn't have any of us sobbing in our cereal (except maybe the actor who played him). We did get a vision of Shane with Shane channeling Wolverine. Do you think this hallucination was another symptom of Rick's malingering psychotic break? Personally, I saw this delusion as something of a good sign. Although Rick had to kill Shane earlier in the series, he did so with bucket loads of regret. Shane was Rick's best friend, and even though Shane hooked up with Laurie, “seeing” him in the Woodbury firefight tells me that Rick is still processing his share of guilt over Shane's death. This could be a bad thing, keeping him devoting his full attention to the crisis situations that are never-ending in this world; or it could be a good thing, demonstrating a tender humanity that he otherwise keeps quashed.
Michonne's wordless tete-a-tete with Andrea was heartbreaking. I know there's negative evidence they were lovers, but this felt like a break-up, a bad one at that. I cannot lament Andrea's choice enough. Even if you considered yourself straight before the Walkers destroyed civilization as we knew it, how could the heteronormative choice of The Governor over Michonne really seem like the right call? Yes, Michonne has a vicious independence streak, and without the benefit of her experience, Andrea might have reason to be wary or question Michonne's loyalty or even sanity. After all their time together, however, Andrea would be insane to have any doubt whatsoever that Michonne would protect her to the death. Michonne clearly bonded with Andrea. I know pickings are slim, but Andrea's rejection of Michonne wounds. Those of you who have ever had the painful experience of losing a same gender lover to the sad safety of a heterosexual pairing understand only too well the hurt Michonne broadcast through her eyes. It makes me wonder whether Michonne's heightened reserve when dealing with Rick and the others is even more guarded because of Andrea's betrayal. Michonne had lots of good reasons not to trust strangers in this hostile environment before, but losing Andrea to a man who is so obviously bad and evil must have murdered her faith in anyone other than herself. Forever.
Which brings us back to the Michonne/Governor showdown. Why did Michonne go back to confront The Governor? It undermined her position with Rick. She could have slipped back out with them without encountering her nemesis. Instead, she chose to make her stand in his inner sanctum, on his own turf. Maybe I'm biased by the sky-high esteem in which I hold Michonne, but I saw her last stand with The Governor as a public service. She was cutting off the head of the poisonous Woodbury snake, denying The Governor the chance to make the Walker-infested world a fresh hell that had nothing to do with zombies.
MAN, what fantastic symbolism in the boiler room! Where Carl lost (and shot) his mother, he rescues the newest ragtag group of survivors. As Damon Lindelof put it on Talking Dead, Carl's rites of passage have been “better than a bar mitzvah.” Carl may have become Johnny Swing Dick rescuing Tyreese and his people, but boo on him imprisoning them. The Southern setting, with its too-recent, ugly history of slavery, gives Carl's actions an especially uncomfortable tinge. Tyreese's acceptance of the unsavory terms of their shelter should not be read as a cop-out, or him being an Uncle Tom. There are the obvious benefits of the protection of the prison, especially when we remember how very rough his group has had it. Their frazzled, skin-of-their-teeth survival seems to have been bereft of the breaks that our main group has enjoyed since the outbreak. They seem to have been on the run, barely scraping by, without a chance to regroup or harden themselves or hone their skills since the beginning. More than that, however, Tyreese's acquiescence demonstrates a keen intelligence in choosing his battles (recalling how slaves had to know their masters better than they knew themselves). It's rare to find a man of reflection in this adrenalin-drenched environment, so Tyreese's reserve is noteworthy. The Southern/American racial strife echoes again later, as Rick de-katanas Michonne. She's got a look on her face like, “Really? Stopped and frisked by a white cop? Even here? Even now?”
The Governor really has control of his sheeple: “Go on home, everyone, nothing to see here,” seemed to be all the explanation they needed when all hell was breaking loose. I was SO not surprised that The Governor A) calls Rick and Co. “terrorists” and B) relegates Andrea to woman's work that she calls him out on, but still accepts. Using the term “terrorist” is instructive, for our current political climate as well, since we see how Woodbury accepts and follows and utterly fails to question when he uses that word. What kind of “terror” are the “intruders” trying to inflict? It's just a neat way to conveniently “otherize” an outside group and reinforce his own power and authority.
Andrea's ability to turn a blind eye to the growing mountain of problematic evidence re: The Governor is truly nauseating and borders on willful ignorance. REALLY? You're going to buy his bullshit about the Walker heads in the fishtanks as his way of “preparing himself for the horrors outside?” He wasn't perusing a gross anatomy textbook, Andrea, he gave himself a Colonel Kurtz-inspired meditation room, replete with FLOATING ZOMBIE HEADS. That takes some concerted effort to construct. Holding his daughter, weeping through his shard, I think we've seen the last of The Governor's tenuous humanity. Unfortunately, The Governor's eye patch gives him a badassery bonus of +200. It's The Snake Plissken Rule.
Merle is elected as The Governor's sacrificial lamb. Merle has a look of “Why am I not surprised?" It didn't click until seeing Talking Dead with The Walking Dead's creator, Robert Kirkman, that The Governor's judgment of Merle as a “terrorist” is not just politically expedient to satisfy his minions' taste for retribution, but mostly due to Merle's failure and deceit regarding Michonne. As The Governor incites the crowd, we realize the true purpose of the toothless Walker-ringed gladiator matches: to keep his followers' blood-lust at a frenzied pitch. So when he asks the crowd what to do with Daryl, “KILL HIM,” is the immediate and much-chorused response.
We're left on the edge of our seats until February to find out what happens in The Walking Dead world. Tyreese's posse shows signs of mutiny and Daryl and Merle's geese look cooked. This week's “mid-season finale” lacked the emotional gut-punch of earlier episodes this season, but it did leave one tasty-smelling story-soup on the stove to simmer.
Special thanks to deviantARTist nerdboy69 for his digitally manipulated image of Glenn (yum). Check out more of his work at http://nerdboy69.deviantart.com/.