“Arrow on the Doorpost” is one of those episodes that works well enough on its own but could have been so much more effective had the Governor storyline been better handled leading up to it. The sad truth is I’ve never been able to buy the Governor as a seemingly insurmountable threat to Rick’s group, which is really want you want him to be for dramatic purposes. He’s been written as too flighty, too mopey and, just in general, too ill-defined for that. In “Arrow,” he admits that he could have killed the whole group in his attack on the prison three episodes ago, but he pulled back because … uh, well, because he wants to offer a fake peace treaty so he can kill the whole group (or it’s most important members, anyway) in a few days’ time. Yeah, I don’t really get it either. Still, it’s a tribute to David Morrissey, who offers up the best work we’ve seen from him on this show, that the Governor proves to be an unnerving presence over the course of the episode anyway.
I also appreciate that the show’s writers’ room had the good sense to jump straight to the meet between Rick and the Governor, the event which anchors this entire episode, rather than dilly-dallying around with how the meet was set up in the first place. It’s not important and probably would have involved more screen time for Andrea, which no one wants. The viewer is smart enough to put two and two together, and the nearly wordless opening carries over momentum from last week’s stellar episode while proving to be an efficient setup for the verbal showdown that follows. The two leaders have been brought together by Andrea to try and make peace, though neither appears all that interested in doing so. Rick refuses to remove his weapon and mostly just sits around looking nervous and unhinged. Meanwhile, the Governor (who does put his piece down but has another hidden underneath a table just in case) seems more interested in using what he learned from Andrea to psychologically torture Rick, such as mentioning that little baby Judith might not even be his. Despite bloviations that he’s only here for Rick’s surrender, the Governor eventually offers a deal: He’ll leave Rick and company alone provided Rick turn over Michonne, the woman who took his eye and killed his zombie daughter.
While all this negotiating is going on, everyone else is stuck in wait-and-see mode. Outside the rusty barn where Rick and the Governor are talking, Daryl and Hershel chat up Milton and Martinez, one of the Governor’s soldiers. Milton, ever the wannabe scientist, asks to see Hershel’s stump. (“I just met you; at least buy me a drink first,” Hershel says, amusing himself more than anyone, including the viewer.) Daryl and Martinez have a moment of zombie-killing one-upsmanship because this is, after all, The Walking Dead and there are head-destroying quotas to meet. Oh, Andrea’s around too, mostly sulking because Rick and the Governor kicked her out their little meeting. Thanks to Hershel, she gets wind of what the Governor did to Maggie, which perhaps finally convinces her that she backed the wrong horse. The problem is, if she flips sides now, it could destroy the peace she’s so desperately trying to broker.
Back at the prison, Merle’s getting itchy because he’s worried about his brother. He proposes the rest of the group just storm the barn now and take the Governor out. When he threatens to go alone, Glenn and Maggie wrestle him to the ground. A little later on, they wrestle each other to the ground in one of the more uncomfortable looking TV sex scenes in recent memory. Sure, it seems reasonable in the moment, but those concrete jail floors are going to leave bruises. (Also, was I the only one that thought something really bad was going to happen because Glenn and Maggie abandoned their watch for some good old-fashioned make-up sex?)
Eventually, the meeting ends and the two groups head back to their own camps. We learn the Governor expects Rick will turn Michonne over … and then he’ll renege on the deal and murder Rick and anyone else who makes the return trip. (This does not seem to please Milton, who, like Andrea, is slow on the uptake but may be starting to finally come around.) We also learn that Rick suspects the Governor’s deal could be just a smokescreen for a massacre. But he’s not certain, and on the small chance the Governor is sincere, could he really risk sacrificing Carl, Judith and the group as a whole for Michonne, who has saved a few lives but is still seen as an outsider? He tells only Hershel of the Governor’s offer, admitting that he’s considering it. To the rest, he proclaims, “We’re going to war.” So Rick is obviously conflicted. But, hey, at least he’s not seeing his dead wife this week!
A few more thoughts on “Arrow on the Doorpost” …
— Here’s a question: Would it be more interesting if the Governor’s peace plan were genuine, and the move to war was facilitated by Rick refusing to turn over Michonne rather than the Governor just being an unreasonable bug-fuck crazy guy? I think it might be, although it’s kind of a moot point because, whereas the writers spent so much time trying justifying all the Governor’s actions earlier in the season, now they just seem interested in showing what an immovable prick the guy is.
— Zombie kill of the week: Martinez going all Ted Williams on a walker up against a barn wall.
— Oh, Eliza. My sweet Eliza. It’s true I’ve missed you since Dollhouse was canceled, but it pains me to see you chatting up Chris Hardwick during Talking Dead promos. You never should have skipped those Shakespeare parties at Joss’s house!
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