Here’s my big problem with the Woodbury storyline this season: The nature of the Governor’s evilness is too ill-defined. Last week, he sent a crew into the woods after Michonne, even though it would have made more sense just to forget about her. (Contributing to the vagueness: the order came off-screen.) This week, Glenn and Maggie are locked up inside a makeshift prison at Woodbury, but, at first, it seems like their incarceration and torture is being fully orchestrated by Merle and that the Governor is too busy playing house with Andrea to even care what’s going on. Then, later in the episode, when he finally does involve himself, he gets all touchy-feely-and-nearly-rapey with Maggie, which is icky but still a significant softening from the comic-book version of the character. The show keeps taking the Governor right up to the edge … but then pulls back at the last moment. He even lets Maggie run into Glenn’s arms once he has the information he needs (although not without another improper touch or two).
So are his actions another hint about how deranged this guy really is? Or are they indicative of the Governor’s hard brand of interrogation for these hard times? I’m honestly not sure which the show wants us to believe. Look, there’s no question the guy is bad news. But is it because he’s secretly off his rocker, as the aquariums full of heads (not seen, let alone elaborated on, since episode three) seemed to indicate? Or are we to assume that he’s just a cold, no-nonsense dude with little empathy for outsiders who places protecting and strengthening the Woodbury community above all else? I’m all for multidimensional villains, but the “look he’s such a nice guy/actually he’s really, really not” balancing act the show is trying to pull isn’t working because it’s muddling the Governor’s motivations something fierce. It’s time to make a more forceful move in one direction or the other. If he really is just a nutjob, and there’s certainly enough evidence to support that, then it’s time to drop the pretensions of making this a complex villain and just go full-on crazy with him.
“When the Dead Come Knocking” is a better episode than either of the two that preceded it, despite some more wonkiness in the plotting department. Let’s go ahead and get that out of the way first. Why is it that Michonne is so trusting of Rick and company? They take her sword away, just like the Governor did. They tell her she isn’t allowed to leave, just as she suspected the Governor would do. In fact, I thought it was interesting how, from Michonne’s perspective, Rick and his group had to appear just as shady as the Woodbury contingent. But that idea is quickly extinguished when Michonne decides to throw down her lot with Rick’s crew and begins filling them in on what’s happening in Woodbury. Why does she do that? I first assumed it was because she recognized Rick’s people from stories Andrea told her. But, actually, we don’t know if that’s the case because she oddly never mentions Andrea by name. So maybe she doesn’t know who they are. She also never utters Merle’s name when telling the tale of Glenn and Maggie’s abduction, which is kind of silly but awfully convenient for the show’s writers, who get to save that reveal until it’s more dramatically effective.
Still, if you can get past the obvious writers’-room string-pulling, there’s a pretty good Walking Dead episode here. Badass Glenn seemed to come out of nowhere — seriously, was it ever even hinted before that the guy was tough enough to withstand significant torture? — but the scenes where he refuses to give up the location of the group to Merle were taut and effective, especially his fight against a zombie while duck-taped to a chair. I don’t know if it was director Dan Sackheim who decided on the delayed cut to commercial after Glenn’s primal scream, where you only hear his heavy breathing, but whomever was responsible deserves a gold star. And Steven Yeun surprisingly sold the hell out of the physicality of these scenes.
Equally impressive was Rick, Daryl and the rest of the away team’s battle against a zombie horde, which forced the group to barricade themselves inside an abandoned shack. Okay, it wasn’t totally abandoned; some crazy redneck who didn’t even realize there was a zombie apocalypse raging outside still lived there. Farfetched? Yep. Did we care? Not once the group decided to toss the guy out the front door to serve as a distraction/feast … which was awesome. An undead horde encroaching on a trapped and barricaded group of survivors is an oft-used trope of the zombie genre, but it was put to good use here.
So next week is the midseason finale, and all the pieces have been put in place for a series of “Hey, what are you doing here?!”-style revelations. It’ll be interesting to see if Rick and the Governor attempt any sort of negotiation, or if the show jumps straight to the shooting and killing. The question of where Daryl and Merle’s allegiances lie — with family or with their respective group — will undoubtedly be brought to the forefront, although a lot of this stuff is obviously going to carry over into the second half of the season. And maybe I’ll get my wish that the Governor will be fully and completely outed as the sick bastard we suspect he is.
A few more thoughts on “When the Dead Come Knocking” …
– I liked how Rick and company just completely ignored the one stray walker who was shambling behind them as the exited their car near Woodbury. It was a nice little touch that showed how seasoned this group now is. Killing a single walker isn’t even worth their time.
– The shots of Carol holding Rick’s new baby, apparently named Judith for some non-reason, were quick yet subtly emotional. It’s easy to see her taking on the role of “mother” in an attempt to fill the Sophia-shaped hole in her heart.
– I was happy to see that Milton’s zombie experiment was a total failure, as I remain firmly against giving the walkers some added human dimension. I’m assuming the state of the Governor’s daughter is what pushes him to support Milton’s work, but I wouldn’t mind if that link was developed a bit further.
– Zombie kill of the week: Glenn “chairing” the walker in his makeshift prison cell.
– #TeamPrison is the best you could do this week, Hardwick? Weak. Try harder next week, buddy.
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