‘The Walking Dead’ review: Stockholm syndrome
“We’re not leaving!”
“We can’t stay here!”
This opening exchange heard on Sunday’s Walking Dead perfectly sums up the conflict plaguing our prison crew as they recover from the Governor’s terrorizing tease and prepare retaliation logistics of their own. The prison has always served as a shelter of both literal and metaphorical proportions, but as the gang’s safety becomes more tenuous by the minute, the irony of their situation only swells with heightened urgency. The walker-infested fortress they’d fought to take over and use as protection from the apocalyptic elements is now an inescapable target their newest and most threatening enemies have already infiltrated. Carol still tries to consider it home, but Daryl’s less optimistic. “It’s a tomb,” he declares mournfully. Unfortunately, they’re both right. At this point, the zombies are nearly the least of their worries as Guv and his cronies likely have the entire perimeter in their crosshairs. The whittling options for Rick and his weary travelers are equally unappealing, as the choice to either stand their ground or hit the road both present similarly inevitable dangers.
With Merle now exiled from Woodbury and saddled up alongside his brother and the rest of the floundering Ricktatorship, the only common denominator remaining between both sets of dueling survivors is Andrea. Sunday’s episode, “I Ain’t a Judas,” scaled back the fanboy friendly violence in favor of focusing on community dynamics during Andrea’s perpetual, maddening commitment issues. Some might consider this relatively quiet detour boring. Others (ahem) actually welcome the addition of necessary exposition, but harbor hope the rest of the season doesn’t screech to a halt in the glow of more moonlight contemplations.
Andrea’s naïve insistence she can find a way to appease her conflicting devotion to both groups mirrors the difficulty facing Rick and the gang as they struggle to decide whether or not to abandon ship. The episode opens with bickering opinions, as Hershel pleads with Rick to take the gang and flee before Guv returns. Merle, in the first of several surprising displays of wisdom, warns the group it’s too late to escape. “We should have slipped out last night,” he drawls. Lest they thought that clown car of walkers was Guv’s pièce de résistance, Merle tells the gang to brace themselves. Ol’ One Eye was merely “ringing the doorbell.” Rick tries to saunter away in a huff, but Hershel’s had enough brooding. In a refreshing display of continuity, he recalls the season two finale when Rick informed the gang they weren’t part of a democracy. That means some decision making needs to take place, yes? Even Carl’s now openly doubting his dad, and quietly tells Rick he should stop. “Stop what?” Rick asks. “Being the leader,” Carl replies, adding, “Hershel and Daryl can take it from here,” twisting the knife even further. Ouch. Judging from Rick’s crestfallen expression, he might have reached an elusive moment of clarity. Let’s hope Lori doesn’t rattle her chains and interrupt.
Merle’s using the group’s current impasse as an opportunity to “clear the air” regarding his previous indiscretions. Glenn and Maggie are still openly repulsed by Merle’s presence and can’t bear to accept him back in the gang mere days after he’d tortured them in Woodbury. No one argues their case, but Hershel tries to offer perspective by pointing out how Merle’s devotion to Daryl likely means he’ll stay loyal to the group as a whole. His status as the number one traitor on Guv’s shit list doesn’t hurt, either. Hershel and Merle have a conversation of surprising depth and understanding, as they each relate to the other’s experience of losing limbs and finding faith. Merle tells Hershel it’s impossible to “put a price on anything anymore,” and the cost of war is no exception. He theorizes Guv will likely kill him first before making his way through the rest of the group, but Rick will be saved for last so he’ll be guaranteed to witness the horrific deaths of all his remaining loved ones. Well. This Governor guy sounds like a bit of a loose cannon.
Michonne sure doesn’t need any convincing of that, but her dry skepticism regarding Merle’s attempt to make amends goes right over his head. He’s a bit indignant at her refusal to forget that time he hunted her down through the woods and tried to kill her. Man, what a bunch of grudge-holding pansies. After all, that was “just business,” Merle explains. “I was following orders.” Oh, “like the Gestapo?” Michonne deadpans. “Exactly!” Merle beams. How validating to know you’ve been understood.
Back in Woodbury, Andrea’s reeling over Guv’s attack on the prison and appears to be finally noticing a tonal and aesthetic shift in the community from when she first arrived. Gone is the gleaming façade of suburban gentrification. In its place is the harsh reality of a crumbling, fearful society frantically militarizing itself in preparation for war. Milton is helping Guv assemble a cavalry of soldiers, including any able-bodied resident over the age of 13. When Guv refers to the youngsters as “men and women,” Milton tries to protest, but Guv insists the idea of adolescence is merely a “20th century invention.” You know, like global warming or gun control. Andrea demands to be granted leave so she can see her former comrades and hopefully mediate the dispute, but Guv calmly informs her if she dares to visit the prison, she can go right ahead and stay there.
When Andrea later asks Milton to cover for her so she can sneak out, he initially balks. Not because of concern for her safety, of course, but because he’s terrified to risk his good standing with Guv. She does seem to strike a chord after pointing out Woodbury’s devolving status into third world tyranny, but Milton turns right around and rats her out anyway. Surprisingly, Guv encourages Milton to help Andrea escape. It’s a move so out of character, in fact, Milton hilariously asks if he’s being tested. Turns out, Andrea is.
Milton accompanies her into the woods to nab a walker and immobilize it, taking a page straight out of Michonne’s book of survival tips. Watching the nebbish, bespectacled Milton squirm in his protective duct tape armor while Andrea hacks off the zombie’s arms gives comic relief to an otherwise gruesome sequence. In fact, Milton could very well carry his own spin-off sitcom, Mad Scientist, the joke of which is that he never really gets truly mad. Coming this fall to NBC.
Andrea then fastens the zombie’s open jaw against a rock and smashes the back of its skull with her foot, evoking the horrific scene from American History X that perhaps no one has ever been able to watch in its entirety. With her makeshift bodyguard now properly disassembled, Andrea looks prepared to continue her journey to the prison until a team of leering walkers begins to suddenly close in. Milton is useless, of course, and Andrea can only handle so much with her pickax. These two didn’t think to swipe a gun on their way out?
Luckily, Tyreese, Sasha and their father-son tagalong duo appear out of nowhere, lending the exact kind of helping hand Rick so conveniently chased off. Milton and Andrea reluctantly reveal Woodbury’s existence as thanks for saving their lives, and Milton escorts them back for Guv’s appraisal. Like Andrea, the group is immediately enchanted by the presence of running water and clean linens, so when their knowledge of the prison and its inhabitants happens to come up during the ice-breaker, Guv’s casual interrogation turns into an opportunity to gain serious intel. “We’ll do whatever we can to earn our keep,” Tyreese says, and Guv’s good eye twinkles with malevolent glee. Man, Rick really whiffed this one. Thanks again, Lori.
Maggie and Carl are keeping watch at the prison when they notice something strange approaching the gate. Upon closer look, they recognize Andrea walking toward the prison with a walker held at arm’s length for repellent. Guv had already fed her a series of lies regarding the group’s disposition and intent, but their hostile greeting upon her arrival only seems to support his claims, at least from her point of view, and heighten the friction even further. Rick begins to frisk her for weapons and demands to know if she’s alone, barking his orders like a drill sergeant. Andrea is stunned at the group’s anger toward her, not comprehending the notion that even the apocalypse doesn’t slow down the speed of gossip.
We’re reminded just how out of touch she is with this crew when they’re all finally inside and Andrea asks where Shane is. Whoa. After being fully debriefed, Andrea chokes out stunned, apologetic condolences and then ruins the moment by asking, “So, you all live here?” Groan. Andrea’s continued attempts to smooth the tension go over just as poorly, as she’s shocked to learn Rick and the gang are every bit as ready for war as the Governor. “There’s nothing to work out,” Rick sneers. Well, alrighty then. Michonne later shuts Andrea down by pointing out she “chose a warm bed over a friend.” Andrea, of course, can’t even muster a peep at a zing of those epic proportions. Seeing she’s made her point, Michonne promptly drops the proverbial mic and walks away, having made a deeper slice with her words than any katana ever could.
Rick and the gang do offer some helpful revelations about Guv’s maniacal behavior, debunking Andrea’s belief they’d instigated the conflict. “He told me you fired first,” she croaks. It’s a relief to see some much-needed discussion taking place, but the group’s glaring failure to mention Guv’s treatment of Maggie is simply baffling. If there’s anything to help drill the truth into Andrea’s head that should be it, but then again, even the floating heads and secret daughter didn’t make much of a dent in her titanium-strength denial. This woman must really have a thing for eye patches.
While Andrea’s visit to the prison crew helped shed light on her formerly one-sided perspective, it’s Carol who provides the most cutthroat and realistic advice for her to actually use upon returning to Woodbury. Andrea leaves her former comrades on an awkward but more stable note, with Rick giving her weapons and a vehicle for her journey back. After stunning Woodbury’s guards by rolling up in an unfamiliar car after dark, Andrea heads to Guv’s lair to confess her secret expedition. Although it doesn’t seem to cross her mind he already knew exactly where she’d been, Andrea seems to gain the upper hand, however momentarily, when she puts Carol’s plan into action. She takes Guv to bed that night, assumedly appeasing his fear her loyalties had shifted, and prepares her knife once he’s snoring away. Although the opportunity to end the impending war literally lies in her hands, Andrea’s inability to carry out what’s necessary speaks volumes about the state of Walking Dead as a whole.
The stellar first half of season three was a welcome relief for those frustrated over the stalled progress and lurching quality during season two’s troubled narrative arc. The introduction of comic favorites like Michonne and the Governor, combined with the change in scenery provided by Woodbury and the prison, helped usher in Dead’s most critically and commercially successful phase so far. Unfortunately, the series appears to be approaching another creative crossroads as the departure of a second showrunner looms ahead. As the most demanding and anticipated storyline of the show’s history reaches its apex, the production and writing staffs of Walking Dead is appropriately facing difficult decisions whose outcome will ultimately affect the entire trajectory of the series. With war at stake for our survivors and the best Dead season yet hanging in the balance, viewers have reason to wonder just who at AMC is holding the knife.
What’s next for the brewing battle between Rick and the Governor? Will Andrea ever choose a side for good? When did Carol get awesome? Is Merle turning out to be more help than anyone had thought? How does Beth know who Tom Waits is? Sound off on all things Walking Dead in the comments section below!
Season 3, Episode 11: “I Ain’t a Judas” (originally aired February 24, 2013)
The Walking Dead shuffles into your living room Sunday nights at 9/8c on AMC.
Images courtesy of Gene Page and AMC.