The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 5–Say the Word

“People with nothing to hide don’t usually feel the need to tell you that.”

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After weeks of seemingly escalating action, it was a welcome change of pace in this week’s Walking Dead. Yes, the episode dealt with the aftermath of last week’s frenzied, traumatic developments; but this week the focus was more squarely on the seemingly idyllic community of Woodbury, as more of its Dark Secrets were revealed.

Andrea of Woodbury

As early as the pre-credit sequence, we saw who it was that the Governor had tipped his drink towards in his inner sanctum a couple of weeks ago – his beloved daughter. But she’s not the smiling, pretty little girl from the photo in his office any more – she’s a grey, rotting Walker, her hair coming out in clumps as her father tries to tenderly brush it.

As I’ve commented in various other reviews, you can’t go wrong with a creepy little girl in horror. From the ghostly twins in The Shining, through the wraithlike apparition in Ringu, they’re a staple, and a very spooky tradition. Penny, the Governor’s daughter, specifically recalls little Karen Cooper, the zombie girl from the original Night of the Living Dead who so brutally killed her mother with a trowel. But the Governor’s not quite so helpless as Mrs Cooper; he’s obviously been looking after what remains of his daughter for quite a while, and has a pillowcase handy to cover her head when she gets… bitey.

Michonne was not so subtly investigating the Too-Good-To-Be True community again this week, with a bullheaded approach that seemed less than sensible. She seemed to be sailing close to the wind last week with her barefaced challenge to the Governor over his account of what had happened to the too-trusting National Guardsmen; this week she was blatantly breaking into his house, reading his diary, and slaughtering his captive Walkers in a nice bit of gory katana-based action.

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It’s been said by some that Michonne hasn’t exactly translated well from the more obviously fantastical comic series to a TV show that strains to be grounded in realistic characters. Certainly her surly terseness and superhero-like ability with a sword seem more suited to something like Smallville. And yet, I’m enjoying Danai Gurira’s portrayal, which hints at untold events that turned Michonne from a normal person to this brooding post-apocalypse warrior. There’s plenty to be revealed about her yet, I think.

Still, her bull-in-a-china-shop approach to investigating seems quite unwise, even given her confidence in her ability to handle herself. Woodbury is firmly under the Governor’s spell, and challenging him against that kind of devotion from that many people would surely merit a more cautious, secretive investigation. Michonne, instead, allows herself to be nearly caught in the Governor’s house, then actually caught having a slash-fest with a bunch of Walkers whose purpose she can’t have been aware of.

It’s a credit to the show’s more subtle version of the Governor that, on discovering all this, he didn’t go straight to the violent extremes of his comic counterpart. Instead, he tried a more subtle approach, cajoling Michonne and trying to recruit her to his cause, even going so far as to apparently ‘allow’ her and Andrea to leave the town. It’s another nuanced portrayal from the talented David Morrissey; we believe the Governor is a genuinely dangerous, scheming politician utterly without scruple, but seductive with it (despite, behind the scenes, plainly being an absolute loon).

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Andrea’s certainly seduced, to the extent that she’s unwilling to even entertain Michonne’s (as it happens, accurate) suspicions. I must confess, since her self-obsessed death wish for much of season two, I’ve found Andrea a hard character to like, despite a perfectly good performance from Laurie Holden. Here, she compounded unlikeability with sheer stupidity in her unthinking trust not just of a gang of strangers, but a man she would have every reason to be suspicious of – the ever-charming Merle Dixon.

Still, at least Merle was consistent, with more memorable scenery-chewing from Michael Rooker this week. You genuinely didn’t know which way he’d jump when opening the gates for Michonne and Andrea to leave, but you were on safer ground when he started having fun with the undead. It came as no surprise that, when the show realised the comic’s concept of the Woodbury zombie-based gladiatorial streetfights, it was Merle who was straight into the ‘ring’ as reigning champion.

In the comic, it was the revelation of the ‘bread and circuses’ zombie fights which was the ultimate Secret of Woodbury; here, with that revealed in the fifth episode, I’m wondering if there’s more. Certainly Dr Milton’s mysterious ‘experiments’ have still to be explained, especially with a ‘research team’ that includes a man like Merle Dixon. Together with the conversation about Walkers ‘remembering’ their former identities a couple of weeks ago, I have a feeling this is going to play into quite what the Governor’s up to with his decomposing daughter…

Porridge

Back at the prison, it was all fallout from last week’s jawdropping events. With Woodbury having the lion’s share of the action this week, there was still plenty of drama with Rick and the gang, as they struggled to deal with their losses, together with the new addition of a baby girl who needed feeding.

Prisons not normally being replete with baby formula, Daryl took charge to dash out beyond the fence and find some, accompanied by the surprisingly resilient Maggie. Rick, meanwhile, went from last week’s crying wreck into a violent, self-destructive fugue of grief, heading unheeding of protest into the bowels of the prison, with an axe, to wreak revenge on the Walkers. Any Walkers.

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Cue an orgy of head-splitting with some quite excellent gore effects, from which not even Glenn could dissuade his enraged leader. The whole sequence was obviously inspired by a similarly self-destructive orgy of Walker-killing from the original comic, in that case carried out by another grief-stricken character who didn’t make it into the TV adaptation. As was the cliffhanger, which saw the tearful Rick startled by a ringing from a dusty phone, and reaching out to answer it. In fact, given the show’s usual approach of deliberately subverting comic readers’ expectations, this week was surprisingly faithful in its straight(ish) adaptations of the original’s set pieces and concepts.

Even with comparably little airtime, the gang at the prison still found moments to (often affectingly) reflect on the trauma of recent events. Trying to choose a name for his new baby sister, Carl came up with a litany of all the names of the female characters who’ve died since the show began, ending (inevitably) with ‘Lori’. Glenn emotionally explained to Axel and Oscar that the group were more than just his friends; after everything they’d been through together, they were family. Suitably awed, the former convicts helped him to dig the necessary graves – looks like they’ve been accepted into the group now.

Still, Glenn might be being overly fatalistic with those graves, unless I’ve somehow missed something. Given Daryl’s melancholy emplacement of a Cherokee Rose on one of them, it’s presumably Carol’s; and yet, I don’t recall her fate being shown. Did the gang just put up a cross, with nothing to bury?

This was a more thoughtful Walking Dead than we’ve been used to of late, in keeping with the trauma of last week. There’s no way the show could keep up that level of adrenaline-pumping action for the whole of its sixteen episode run, and fun though it’s been, I wouldn’t want to see it exchange spectacle for drama. But even here, the showrunners appear mindful of last year’s criticisms, not stinting on zombie appearances. Even in the seemingly peaceful prison yard, there were corpses all over the floor and Walkers shambling around outside the fence. In contrast to last year’s largely zombie-free farm, this year we have a setting that demonstrates, however calm it may seem, that this is still very much a show about a zombie apocalypse.