The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 13 – Arrow on the Doorpost

“I wanted you to talk. Too many people have died for no reason. Let’s end this.”

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Let the summit begin! After last week’s intriguing diversion, The Walking Dead was back to this year’s story proper, which is increasingly beginning to resemble a classic war movie. With that in mind, this episode was very much the lull before the storm, as the two leaders met for a clearly-doomed peace summit arranged by the ever-optimistic Andrea.

It was far more of a character based instalment than we’ve been used to this year, with the gore and zombie action taking a back seat to moments of intrigue and interaction. Last year, it often felt like that was all the show did, and it eventually became tiresome. After this year’s near-unrelenting action, though, it felt like a breath of fresh air. And these characters have been so well-drawn that it was a pleasure to watch them together, many of them meeting for the first time.

Principal among those, of course, were Rick and the Governor. We’ve seen them onscreen together before, but only shooting at each other from a distance. This episode gave the show’s two alpha males a chance to properly meet face to face, and it was electrifying. Keeping the visuals mostly down to tight close ups heightened the claustrophobic feel of the scene.

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Summoned to a remote barn by arrangement of Andrea, the two leaders circled each other warily before sitting down to a talk that felt every bit as combative as gunfire. Both Andrew Lincoln and David Morrissey were at the top of their game here; rightly, their exchange took centre stage in the episode. As with last week, it was another example of a US drama being dominated by two British actors pretending to be American – we may have Damian Lewis to thank for starting that trend, with Band of Brothers back in 2001.

Rick was as taciturn as we’ve come to expect these days, staring warily at his opponent, who was presenting his usual genial, charming façade. You got the feeling this was not going to go well from the start, as the Governor raised his hands to show he was weaponless, but we saw a gun taped to his side of the table. With one of his opening gambits being to needle Rick about the possibility that Lori’s child was actually Shane’s, they were clearly not going to get on.

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Still, the Governor was all smiles as he presented his case – he was the victim, the problems had all started with Merle, and Woodbury had been the subject of an unprovoked attack against its innocent population. Fortunately, Rick wasn’t as gullible as Andrea, and plainly didn’t believe a word of it. But getting down to brass tacks, the Governor conceded that he could have already killed everyone in the prison. The fact that he hadn’t was evidence that he was prepared to leave them alone if he got what he wanted.

And what he wanted (unsurprisingly) was Michonne. Not only has she ‘killed’ his daughter, she’s also the one responsible for his current Cyclopean state – a lift of the eyepatch to reveal the mess below ramming that home. The ice between him and Rick thawed a little when he related the story of his wife’s (pre-apocalypse) death, which shed some light into his mental state and why he was so attached to his daughter.

It’s a measure of how much Rick has shifted from his pre-apocalypse morality towards the survivalist pragmatism embodied by Shane that he didn’t appear to be entirely ruling out the idea of giving up Michonne. And just when she’s getting properly accepted by the group too. But he’s canny enough to realise that most of what the Governor says is a pack of lies, so surely he won’t just trustingly turn up at their next meeting with Michonne and expect the deal to hold?

Even with those two holding centre stage, there was nevertheless some screen time available for some of the other characters. Both Rick and the Governor had turned up with a small retinue of henchmen, who were obliged to wait outside with Andrea while negotiations took place.

In standard war movie fashion, said henchmen discovered that they were Not So Different, and even bonded a bit. With a certain amount of contrivance, both parties had brought characters who were roughly equivalent in their respective roles. Rick had brought Daryl and Hershel (how did he drive that car with only a left leg?), while the Governor had brought Martinez and Milton.

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Predictably perhaps, each paired off for a bit of bonding with their opposite numbers, and found they had More In Common Than They Realised. After starting off growling at each other, Daryl and Martinez ended up having a Legolas/Gimli style contest over who could violently kill the most Walkers, ending up (sort of) friends. It was nice to see a bit more depth given to Martinez than just Principal Henchman, as he and Daryl had a smoke together and fatalistically concluded that they’d soon be on opposite sides of a battlefield.

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Hershel and Milton too found some common ground, as Men of Learning. They’re also the respective consciences of their groups, though Milton lacks the courage to stand up to his glorious leader the way Hershel does with Rick. Andrea, meanwhile, suffered the indignity of being ejected from the peace talks and faced, yet again, a choice between luxury with a psychopath or hard living with a decent man. Evidently still wearing blinders, it was the Governor she ended up heading off with when proceedings were adjourned.

There was some character conflict going on back at the prison too, as the newly butch Glenn butted heads with loose cannon Merle. Merle was all for taking out the Governor while they knew where he was; Glenn didn’t want to put their friends in danger. Significantly, it took the women to break up their territorial pissing contest, Beth firing a gun to separate them.

Glenn also found time to reconcile with Maggie after their recent disagreements, leading to one of the show’s rare sex scenes. Mind you, given that he was supposed to be on watch at the time, it seemed a pretty dumb moment to let his and Maggie’s youthful passions run free. Another sign, perhaps, that for all his newfound manliness, he’s not quite up to leading the group yet.

Gore of the week

Not much gore this week, given that the ep centred on the characters. That said, there were still plenty of Walkers in evidence (unlike last year), with lots of them clawing at the prison fence. Gore prize, however, has to go to Martinez for his skilful use of a baseball bat to inflict head wounds. Less artful than Daryl’s precisely aimed crossbow bolts, the bat made a right old mess of several Walkers. Who’d have thought the human skull could be pulped quite so easily?

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Despite this being a more thoughtful, slow-burning episode than many of late, it was no less riveting. The parallels to classic war movies were perhaps a little too overt – at one point I wondered whether Daryl and Martinez would suggest a game of football – but still enjoyable for all that.

Nonetheless, the end felt like a foregone conclusion. This war isn’t going to be averted; the Governor’s already setting up plans to ambush Rick at their next meeting. In any case, dramatic convention dictates that after all this buildup, there’s got to be a spectacular climax. Still, this was a quality bit of drama, giving the characters a chance to interact well without interruption from gunfire or zombies. With only three episodes left to go, don’t expect that uneasy calm to last.