This review contains spoilers.
All season, The Walking Dead has balanced between two different settings. Woodbury and the prison are very much alike, when you strip away the surface. There’s a leader who is unquestioned, with a group of loyal armed followers who have proven their worth. Neither responds well to outside pressure or new people, both are a little unhinged, and both have unusual coping strategies. However, while Rick seems mostly benevolent despite his fractured psyche, the Governor is indulging his baser instincts and that seems to be rubbing off on impressionable Andrea.
Andrea has always been a problematic character for the television show. Whenever someone needs to do something that’s a horrible idea, like sleep with Shane, Andrea’s there. Running off when the zombies raid the farm, abandoning Michonne outside the gates for a chance at a cold glass of lemonade and not being eaten… Andrea’s never met a bad idea she wasn’t willing to try out, though at least the decision to stay in Woodbury makes sense. The Governor and Woodbury are safe, and if they indulge in a little zombie Fight Club on the side to keep life interesting, that’s just the kind of thing Andrea might like.
This week, writer Scott M. Gimple divides the episode not into one story, or two plots, but three (or probably four). Rick gets to have his alone time, dealing with the fall-out of Lori’s death and the ever-ringing telephone. Meanwhile, Carl, Daryl, and New T-Dog get to explore the prison some and kill some walkers. Meanwhile, back at Woodbury, you’ve got Andrea hitting it off with the Governor and continuing down that path while Merle and his cronies are out looking for a loose cannon named Michonne. It’s a tough balancing act to squeeze in three completely different plots (from a tonal standpoint), but to the show’s credit they not only pull it off, they also pull it off very well. A lot of stuff happens, but the show keeps things moving and the episode is cut in such a way that it keeps all the stories functional while giving them all plenty of time in shorter chunks.
Perhaps more importantly, as the show finds its way to the season break in two episodes, they’re progressing the stories to the point where we’re seeing more crossing-over and intersections between the various groups, while keeping the action separate enough to prevent the show from bogging down in any central location. Even with the static setting of the prison, enough things have happened during our time there and there’s enough danger there to keep it from getting too uninteresting. The show has put a renewed focus on zombies this season, and it makes things better constantly. There shouldn’t be a zombie-free episode, and people should be in zombie peril whenever they step out of their safe areas only slightly.
That’s been one of the consistent things about the show. Anyone can die at any moment, as Joe Bob Briggs used to say, and the show has been liberally killing off important or semi-important characters left and right, both onscreen and off, to keep us on our toes and to keep the show’s plots from getting stale. A lot of blood has been spilled, and it’s on Rick’s watch. Watching him deal with the deaths that he’s brought about through inaction or complacency or just plain bad luck has turned his character around and given Andrew Lincoln the chance to really impress. Of course, not every character has to be suffering to be great; just look at Merle. He’s got a bayonet stump and a gun in his belt and he’s as happy as a clam. They’ve softened the character’s racist angle (thankfully) but kept his many other terrible traits—hotheaded, impetuous, craven—and used them to build a great villain for Michael Rooker.
Most of the writers are the same as before, but the new showrunner seems to be making all the difference. The writers seem to have more of an idea of what to do with Hershel than before, and they’re more willing to flesh out Daryl’s backstory by letting him bond with Carl, or more willing to let Rick confront his own weakness and failures without completely derailing the show and making it the Rick Grimes Grief Hour (or worse, ignoring the fact that his wife just died and he’s got a new baby to deal with while his only son grows up to be a sociopath). That said, I’m not sure I know what they’re wanting to do with Andrea at the moment, and she’s definitely the weakest link in The Walking Dead at present.
Still, even a show with one weak link can still be really good, and I’m feeling that, slowly, Andrea and the Governor are going to become a really interesting pair of characters given the newest wrinkle in the show’s Woodbury plans.
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