The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 11–I Ain’t a Judas

“There’s nothing to work out. We’re gonna kill him. I don’t know how, or when, but we will.” – Rick

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After the frenetic action of the last two slam bang episodes, it was only natural that this week’s Walking Dead took a bit of a breather, as the characters were able to take stock, and manoeuvre themselves for the coming conflict – a conflict that Andrea was desperate to avoid. It’s a measure of how well-drawn the characters have become that this episode’s intrigue and emotional trauma was as gripping as the action that had preceded it.

As the title indicates, the episode was all about loyalty – or the lack of it. We know that, loose cannon though he may be, Merle is unswervingly loyal to his brother. And Daryl is equally loyal to the rest of the gang at the prison, who Glenn and Hershel unhesitatingly describe as family.

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Other loyalties, however, are shakier – particularly in Woodbury. Andrea finally seems to be getting some sort of an inkling (perceptive of her) that the man she’s sleeping with might actually be… a bit dangerous. Points for finally realising this were immediately deducted for her own foolish trust in Milton, confiding in him her plan to nip off and visit Rick. Milton, of course, is loyal only to the Governor, and was straight off to let his charismatic cult leader know. The Governor, who may be a nutter but is a shrewd politician, immediately recruited him as a double agent, to report on his girlfriend’s treacherous activities.

He needn’t have bothered, as Andrea basically blabbed exactly what she’d been doing when she got back. Again, would you do that with someone you’d just been told was a lying, murdering psychopath, and who you would later contemplate killing in his sleep after sex? Andrea’s dilemma – her loyalty to her old friends vs her newfound lover, who wants to kill them – was a central point of the story. Irritating though her persistent naivete is, it did at least pay off with the shades of grey she was faced with in deciding – a choice she still, apparently, hasn’t made.

It may seem an obvious choice to we the viewers, who think of Rick and the gang as the heroes of the piece. But the cleverest thing in this episode was allowing us to see them through Andrea’s eyes when finally reunited with them. Remember, she hasn’t seen them since halfway through the season 2 finale, when they were just losing Hershel’s cosy farm. She doesn’t even know Shane’s dead. Or T-Dog. Or Lori. In fact, the gang has befriended and lost several people she never even met.

Rick, meanwhile, is plainly unravelling mentally, instantly twitchy and paranoid; Hershel is failing to get him to pull it together, and even Carl thinks he should maybe take a break (“I think you should stop. Being leader. Let Hershel and Daryl handle it”). Hershel, meanwhile, is one leg lighter than when Andrea last saw him. Glenn’s been beaten half to death. And the whole gang look ragged, dirty and on the verge of collapse.

Because we’ve been with them through this whole process, we haven’t really noticed how far they’ve deteriorated until we saw the shock on Andrea’s face at the state of them. Even the prison, which previously seemed like a hard won haven, took on a new light when looked at with fresh eyes – Andrea described the situation as “they’re broken. Living in horrible conditions”.

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As the episode’s central theme, Andrea’s reunion with the group was well-handled; it even made some of the scales fall from her eyes regarding her boyfriend. But not enough to make her take up Carol’s suggestion of killing him in his sleep. And while Carol might have been pleased to see Andrea, the rest of the gang were more equivocal – or downright hostile. Rick didn’t trust her for a minute, and she earned Michonne’s contempt for choosing the Governor and a life of comfort over hardship and her friend.

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For whatever else it may be, Woodbury is luxury compared to the dank, forbidding prison. By merest coincidence (and maybe a bit of plot contrivance), Tyreese and his group have found themselves welcome recruits there. With the Governor doing his hail-fellow-well-met act, Allen and Ben were immediately keen to sign up for getting rid of the unkempt loons who’d just chucked them out of the prison. Told you we’d need to watch out for them.

Tyreese was less keen, but it’s unlikely to make much of a difference; the Governor was conscripting, basically, anyone who could shoot a gun for what’s presumably his next assault on the prison. Arthritis might win you a ticket out of his army, but asthma won’t, especially when the teenager concerned was so keen to fight for his community. The Woodbury residents’ fervent loyalty to their Jim Jones-like leader touched on the episode’s central theme again – as well as cementing the Governor as a Fuhrer-like figure who can command irrational devotion. In times of peril, people like turning to a strong, charismatic leader. They don’t always make the right decision about who that should be.

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Away from the intrigue in Woodbury and Andrea’s sour reunion, there were plenty of choice character moments to be had. Glenn continues to be an embittered, vengeance-hungry figure; Merle, meanwhile, was revealing yet more hidden layers. In a quiet chat with the amenable Hershel, he revealed that not only does he know his scripture, but he likes to read – “Woodbury had a damn fine library. One of the only things I miss about it.” The man’s just full of surprises. He may have a way to go before atoning for torturing Glenn in the Governor’s name, but I like the way the writers are developing him as a character with more depth than the stereotypical redneck thug we met way back in season 1.

Gore of the week

In a more contemplative episode than recent weeks, there were slightly fewer Walkers to be seen. But we did get one wince-making moment when Andrea, having learned a lesson from Michonne, ‘customised’ one to be her ‘guardian angel’. He didn’t look too pretty even before she got her hands on him, with half his face ripped off:

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But he got a whole lot worse when Milton pinned him down and Andrea lopped off his arms with an axe then smashed out his teeth on a rock.

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Reminiscent of a similarly unpleasant sequence in the movie American History X, and only slightly more bearable because the victim here was actually already dead.

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This felt like a ‘calm before the storm’ episode, as wounds were licked, loyalties tested and preparations for the next moves made by both sides. Even though Andrea’s bullish stupidity long since became deeply annoying, it served a purpose here as she was forced to choose, and still can’t make herself do it. As I mentioned, the character interaction on display here was every bit as gripping as any shootout, and the glimpse at Rick and the gang through fresh eyes was a bit of a shocker after we’ve become so accustomed to their gradual decline.

I’m sure the calm won’t last long though. As Beth took to crooning in the lamplit prison, seguing into a montage soundtracked by the mournful voice of Tom Waits, it’s clear that there’s tragic events a-comin’. But how soon?