This review contains spoilers. Our spoiler-free episode review is here.
3.9 The Suicide King
The Suicide King was one of the more interestingly constructed episodes of this season’s The Walking Dead. Rather than simply going for a duality between Rick and the Governor, or Rick and Tyreese, or Tyreese and the Governor, it functioned more like an episode of Seinfeld than a traditional drama. Seinfeld had a particular rhythm, a way of having characters drift from individual group to group, rarely gathering everyone in one place for the same scene but instead having a Jerry segment, a George segment, an Elaine segment, and a Kramer segment. There’d be some pairing off or even some tripling off, but usually the group would only be together at the coffee shop or Jerry’s apartment or some other gimmick.
That’s exactly how the scenes in The Walking Dead worked out this week. You had Merle, Daryl, and the Governor at the gladiator pit. That gave way to Daryl, Merle, Rick, Glenn, and Maggie. At Woodbury, you had Andrea and Milton and the Governor. At the prison you had Tyreese and his group, Hershel and Tyreese, Carol and Carl, and even Hershel, Rick, and Tyreese. Most scenes had two or more people involved directly, and none of them stayed static in the sense that it was everyone hanging around. Characters came in and out, scenes moved locations, compositions changed even in the course of scenes, and it was all incredibly fluid.
Perhaps the most impressive achievement of all was the fact that every decision made in the course of the show pin balled out to affect the other characters like a Mandelbrot fractal. In a show that’s historically been kind of tone deaf at escalating drama or having characters reference things that just happened to others, it’s really a surprising feat to see chaos theory in action throughout the course of the episode. One decision leads to a flare-up, which affects other characters who in turn affect other characters and everything circles back again and it all just keeps growing and compounding (I guess in that sense it’s more like a Fibonacci number, but I only took as much college maths as I had to).
The direction from TV veteran Lesli Linka Glatter isn’t as showy or visible as other directors that have taken on the series, and there’s only one really good gore piece, but she does something very clever during filming. In every scene outside of Woodbury or the inner workings of the prison, there’s a zombie in the background. There may be a zombie shuffling half a mile down the road, but there’s usually one visible, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them this present in the show before. It’s nice to know they’re out there, omnipresent, crushing mentally if not physically.
That was something that was missing in season two, which is looking like the slowest of the seasons. However, someone on Twitter recently discussed season two with me and said that if it wasn’t for all the character building in two, then three wouldn’t have as much punch. I didn’t buy that at first, but the more I think about it, the more it seems like a valid point.
Consider Tyreese’s situation. He’s with a group, albeit a small group, and they need refuge. Rick wants to send them on their way, much like Hershel did with his group at the farm. That gives an interesting dynamic to how Rick and Hershel interact with Tyreese. Rick is afraid, thanks to the experience with Tomas the prisoner betraying him; Hershel’s been on the other side. He didn’t want Rick, and Hershel has learned from his mistake in keeping Rick and company at arms-length at the farm for as long as he did. It’s a bit of amazing acting by Scott Wilson, who exudes his expression with the unspoken advice “I’ve done this before and I was wrong, Rick” during his scene with Andrew Lincoln (who is really good at Rick’s “I’m going crazy” face).
Could the third season retroactively improve the second? That might be going a bit too far, but it’s definitely created some interesting color for the third season, which has benefitted immensely from the much larger scope of the prison and Woodbury sets than the second’s claustrophobic farm. Just the simple fact that they have more extras hanging around has improved the show, at least from a sheer feeling of scale. There feels like there’s more at stake now, that the coming confrontation will be more meaningful (and have a higher body count).
I hate the feeling of impending doom, since it means the end of the season, but I love that I’m feeling dread, rather than relief.
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