This review contains spoilers.
The more I think about the set design on The Walking Dead, the more impressed I am. Consider Woodbury. Now having watched Talking Dead, I know it’s a real small town in Georgia that the show basically takes over a big chunk of for filming. It’s a beautiful little place, picturesque in a way that’s perfect for the mindset of someone like The Governor, who simply wanted to continue with pre-zombie reality in as unobtrusive a way as possible. What better way than a little town that looks more idealized than Mayberry? Ditto the prison. The sweeping shots of the prison in the opening of this episode, travelling along the walls and gates and fences really shows both how expansive it is and how claustrophobic it can be.
It’s also a great metaphor for Rick’s mindset. He’s so locked in on himself that he can’t even function among the group anymore. Indeed, for most of this episode, Rick stays away from pretty much everyone, and in that leadership vacuum, someone has to step up. Fortunately for the prison survivors, that’s Glenn. Unfortunately for the survivors, Glenn’s a little blinded with rage at the moment.
The Governor knows where they are. They know The Governor may be coming, and there’s an internal conflict in the group. Glenn, the ersatz leader, wants to just attack Woodbury, kill The Governor, and get it all over with. Or they can just hunker down, wait for the Woodbury attack, and use their superior defensive capability. That’s the question. Do you attack when they know you’re coming, or wait for them to attack… if they even will attack you. That’s the sort of tension that is meaningful; it’s not whether or not they’ll get to stay on the farm, but whether or not they’ll all be alive with armed men from Woodbury potentially creeping up on them through the woods and zombies streaming in through the tombs via the damaged outer wall.
Say what you want to about Andrew Lincoln, but when it comes to looking crazy and showing Rick’s mental turmoil with just your eyes and your facial expressions, he is brilliant. He’s got some actual chemistry with Scott Wilson, and that’s one of the show’s bigger strengths. Rick and Hershel, Herschel and Glenn, Daryl and Merle… their relationships read real, and have become increasingly well-written as the show has gone on. Even Axel and Carol’s flirtation in the wake of Daryl’s fleeing camp is awkward enough to be both honest and really adorable, and it’s thanks in no small part to a great script from Nichole Beattie.
The show breaks up into three individual settings this week: the prison, Woodbury, and the Dixon brothers wandering alone. Breaking up the big cast in such a way is a good way of getting individual relationships a chance to develop. See, for example, Glenn, Maggie, and Hershel from last week, or Daryl and Merle together this week. We saw hints of their pairing and their brotherly dynamics last week, and we get to see more of how they interact this week in some strong scenes for both Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus. It’s interesting to see how that dynamic changes over the episode, how Daryl goes from the little brother being bullied to the man we know from the farm who risked his life daily to find Sophia.
Of particular note, at least to me, is Steven Yeun’s performance this week. Glenn is the leader, because no one else can step in, and it weighs on his shoulders in a palpable way. He’s angry for all that’s happened, he’s angry for his own failings to protect Maggie, and he’s angriest of all at Rick for putting him in a position to where he has to take on the leadership role of the group while Rick’s off chasing ghosts through the woods. There are little moments when you can see Glenn steel himself in an attempt to do what he thinks is right, to make the right decision when he doesn’t know what the right move is.
Director Seith Mann does a great job of framing shots this week to emphasize just how alone Glenn is in his situation. He’s got the group, but he’s the one in charge, and it’s weighing on him. The shot composition of Glenn and Maggie’s discussion in the cell, with the sun behind Glenn coming through the bars, shading him while illuminating Maggie’s turned back was a stellar bit of shooting; ditto the opening trip through the prison to Rick, and the use of the rotating “Rick’s going crazy” camera shot when the character stumbles off the walls and gives chase to Lori’s ghost. It’s a shot they’ve done before in the show, and it remains one of the better call-backs.
Mann is also no slouch with the episode’s action scenes, of which there are a couple of really good ones. In particular, the last set piece is brilliantly handled, both in terms of the idea behind it and in terms of how it was shot, staged, and executed. In a show in which running children can execute perfect head shots on moving targets, it’s an odd touch of realism to show how most firefights seem to work on the rare occasions they happen in the real world.
It also leaves the show in an awesome position to finish out the season. It feels like a brief plateau leading to something really big coming up in the waning weeks of The Walking Dead‘s third season. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
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