This review contains spoilers.
3.13 Arrow on the Doorpost
An entire season has been building to this point. All season long, the survivors at the prison and Woodbury have been drawing closer and closer to the inevitable conflict. With the two leaders being compared at all steps by the writers and directors of the show, down to match cuts and montages, there hasn’t been any real contact between the two. Intermediaries come and go, survivors slip between affiliation to Woodbury and the prison, but Rick and the Governor have never seen one another, never spoken face-to-face. That all changes with this episode.
The confrontation is a pretty simple one, but it’s a great example of how the show should have been conducting its talkier moments all along. There is something at stake and it was done in a meaningful, telling way. As Rick and the Governor square off, you can see that Rick is in his element for perhaps the first time. As a law enforcement officer in his previous life, he’s surely going to be good at seeing through deception. Meanwhile, the Governor has turned himself into a pretty good liar and a reader of people. It’s fun to watch the two of them spar with that old kitchen table between them. The Governor tries a variety of ways to speak to Rick, from bonding over the death of a wife to their mutual position at the head of a group that depends on them to even personal insults, hints of just how well he knows his way around the prison, and open threats against the lives of Rick and his group. Rick mostly glowers, but in this case it’s appropriate glowering.
It’s a clever bit of writing from Ryan C. Coleman. The Governor is going to get what he wants, and he knows that he can’t straight-up intimidate Rick and his crew, because they’ve seen a whole lot of the world and its violence and are battle-hardened. Woodbury has the numbers, but not the experience, so he’s going to try different ways to get Rick to see his side of things, from making promises both know he won’t keep, to bribery, to even making an eye joke. None of it works, except for one particularly pleasant-sounding offer that the Governor makes to Rick that gives the prison leader something to seriously mull over. Assuming you can trust the Governor, that is. We know the Governor isn’t trustworthy in the slightest, but Rick might just be crazy enough at this point to believe the offer’s a good one, and that’s what makes that plot thread hold.
The fact that this problem goes from the top down makes a whole lot of sense, and it really helps give other characters, like Martinez and Daryl and Milton and Hershel, a chance to actually get some breathing room. While their leaders battle over the fate of their respective groups – indeed, their lives are at stake in an immediate way – they get a chance to bond. It’s nice to see Milton and Hershel get to have some discussions. Between the two of them, they may be the only reasonable, violence-is-a-last-resort members of their group (though Martinez and Daryl had their moments, and gave the SFX crew a chance to show off). In a way, Milton and Hershel are kindred spirits. After all, until the farm massacre, Hershel too hoped to find a way to reverse the undeath process, as Milton has been doing. Even though Andrea is still terrible (and gets dismissed in a very funny way this week), the other characters have been picking up the slack. Even Merle has gotten a little more humanizing, and he’s a one-note racist.
I’m not sure the writing is great, but it’s improved. The show is doing some very clever things playing with tropes, hinting at things that don’t get put into action, and bringing out some surprises. This week’s episode set up multiple things that didn’t get acted upon, to a positive purpose. It’s a pretty impressive exercise in tension, with the other cast members serving to lighten the tone after a fashion. The direction, from the show’s cinematographer David Boyd, is light on visual tricks (aside from two good match shots of the crews returning to their homes), but heavy on atmosphere. The build continues, but the fact that Rick and the Governor know one another now makes the posturing more effective.
There have been a lot of episodes building towards the climax, cranking the violence potential up and stirring the pot until the boiling point. With only three episodes left, that pot’s about to bubble over. I won’t say it hasn’t been fun watching the situation get worse, but I’m ready for the big throw-down.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Clear, here.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here