The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 14 – Prey

“I knew Philip before he was the Governor. That man still exists.” – Milton

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After In the Flesh, it was back to more conventional zombie fare with the latest instalment of this year’s much-improved Walking Dead. Watching the show after BBC3’s innovative version of the zombie myth brings home what a trad take on zombies The Walking Dead is, more so even than George Romero’s later instalments. Contrary to whatever Milton and the Governor may think, these zombies are simply mindless killers, with no ‘spark’ left of their former selves.

Not that this is a bad thing; The Walking Dead is still one of the best dramas on TV right now, and certainly the most indepth exploration of a premise that’s normally confined to 2 hour feature films. Still, as my friend Matt pointed out the other day, it’s getting so involved in the conflict between the human characters that the Walkers are getting treated rather inconsistently. They vacillate between being major threats or minor inconveniences as the story demands.

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Hence, this week, Andrea was able to stroll around among them without much of a problem, but when a bit of tension was required, suddenly she found herself grabbed by one and unable to get free. Except by ramming her knife into the other ones attacking her that is. And that’s another thing; aren’t they getting easier to kill? I’ve alluded to this before, but the human skull is actually quite hard. Pushing a knife through it seems easier here than it should be (eye sockets excepted). Still later in the ep though, they became a major threat once again…

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This week was primarily about the machinations in Woodbury, and very involving it was too. So much so that, in fact, it wasn’t until near the end that I realised we hadn’t actually seen any of the gang from the prison this week.

True, we did see Michonne in a pre-credits flashback, which threw a few more hints about the origin of her now properly deceased Walker companions (“They deserved what they got. They weren’t human to begin with”). And Rick popped up for about ten seconds, but didn’t get any dialogue. No, we were definitely focused on one side of the coming war this week; I’d guess that next week we’ll see the prison group’s side of the preparations, and that the finale will be The Final Conflict. It has a degree of predictability, true, but it’s fun to watch it unfold.

As is often the case, the machinations of the ‘villains’ were more intriguing than the arguments and angst of the ‘heroes’ (though one of this show’s strengths is that neither group strictly fits into either category). Over in Woodbury, the Governor was gearing up for war, with Martinez loading an awful lot of heavy weaponry onto a truck – just as a “precaution”.

But the Governor’s followers aren’t quite the mindless puppets they were, and this week he faced discontent from several directions. Tyreese, plainly more perceptive than Andrea, has already begun to smell a rat (and a pit full of Walkers). Milton, perhaps bolstered by his chat with Hershel, appears to have grown a spine, and is no longer shy about telling his maniac boss that the upcoming fight is a Bad Idea. With predictable results.

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And Andrea (finally!) has realised that her boyfriend is a psychotic nutter. What clued you in, Andrea? The zombie daughter in a cupboard, the fish tanks full of served heads, the constant propaganda lies? No, it was Milton’s shaky revelation that the Governor has a dentist chair equipped with handcuffs. The relish with which our eyepatched antagonist fondled his torture tools was truly disturbing – especially his lingering delight at the dental pick. Perhaps the first question he’s going to ask is, “is it safe?”

Anyway, this was the final straw for Andrea, a woman who apparently takes a lot of pushing, and she reached for her gun. Unfortunately, Milton wasn’t prepared to let her go that far; fortunately for us, as it would deprive the viewers of the Big Finale. No, Milton still thinks there’s a decent man in there somewhere. Thankfully, Andrea finally doesn’t, so she was straight on to Plan B – leg it to the prison and warn Rick that the proposed deal was off.

Tyreese, meanwhile, was somewhat disturbed at the proposed tactic of letting another phalanx of Walkers loose at the prison. Rick may not have impressed him, but he wasn’t keen on turning a group including women and children into zombie chow. Allen (even more of a dick here than his counterpart in the comics) didn’t agree, and plainly has issues with Tyreese – issues relating to his recently-deceased wife.

It was good to get a bit more background on this gang; we still haven’t learned much about them, and if the comics are anything to go by, Tyreese at least will be a major player. And he’s currently fulfilling the show’s apparent quota of one black male allowed as a major character – let’s hope for his sake that Morgan doesn’t turn up to join the cast as a regular.

Thankfully, the resentment between Tyreese and Allen didn’t simmer on for countless episodes as with Rick and Shane. They got straight to addressing their differences, by means of Tyreese dangling Allen over the pit of Walkers.

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I’m guessing that showrunner Glen Mazzara, who co-wrote this episode, has recently watched Romero’s 1986 classic Day of the Dead, as this was obviously a moment lifted from that movie – specifically, the bit where the angry Steel dangles Miguel over – yes – a pit of Walkers. And it wasn’t the only moment lifted from that movie this week – I counted three.

The others came in a genuinely tense sequence as the increasingly barmy Governor chased Andrea down to an abandoned factory infested with Walkers. I thought I’d had my fill of people stalking each other round abandoned factories after 24 and Homeland, but director Stefan Schwartz managed to wring some real tension out of it. The Governor had a spade, and plainly was going to use it; his hollow attempts at persuasion (“Come back… Woodbury is your home now.”) being pretty unconvincing.

Andrea, for her part, kept having to deal with those inconvenient Walkers. Until they swung once again from being an inconvenience to a genuine threat. Having discovered a stairwell chock full of them, she pulled the door open and hid behind it to unleash them on the Governor, in an obvious ‘homage’ to the moment in Day of the Dead when villainous Captain Rhodes opens a door to find a horde of zombies ready to engulf him.

It was a tense sequence, spiced up by the knowledge that in this show, anyone can die at any time. So for a while, I wondered if the Governor genuinely was going to bash in his former girlfriend’s head; then I wondered whether he’d find himself overwhelmed and bitten or eaten. The script cleverly cut to another scene before we found out, eking out the tension. But no, the Governor’s too good a villain to die offscreen, and he was back just as Andrea reached the prison (which obviously is within walking distance), in time to grab her before she had a chance to call out to Rick. And with the inevitability of a Chekov’s Gun, she ended the episode strapped into the dentist chair. That’ll teach her not to notice she’s shacked up with a sociopath.

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Gore of the week

I wasn’t expecting much gore this week, in an episode where it seemed that the humans were the real threat. Thankfully, this year the show has remembered to include some actual zombies in every episode, and in the end I found myself torn between two choice gore moments.

The first was yet another Day of the Dead tribute, as the Governor borrowed one of that movie’s methods of zombie dispatch and offed a Walker with a nicely-aimed shovel through the mouth:

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But that was rivalled a mere few minutes later, as we saw the aftermath of a mysterious ‘somebody’ (let’s face it, it was Milton) having torched the Walker pit. A tangled mass of charbroiled zombies were still feebly flopping around in a scene that probably topped the mouth/shovel interface:

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Only two more episodes to go, and the show’s plainly ramping up for the final act. This was another gripping instalment, with David Morrissey at the top of his game as the Governor’s façade of sanity began to seriously crack. The way he’s crumbling cleverly mirrors what happened to Rick, but Rick seems to be pulling himself together in the face of a seemingly overwhelming threat. Perhaps his only chance is if the Governor (or the ‘AntiRick’) loses it altogether. But I wouldn’t count on that happening before the season finale…