The Walking Dead: Season 4, Episode 8–Too Far Gone

“I need the prison, that’s all. I got people I need to keep alive. No one needs to die.”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)

Well, that was upsetting on several different levels. Real drama, with characters we care about in mortal danger, and  given the show’s usual style, no guarantee who would get out alive. As the ‘mid-season finale’, this episode packed a punch that was bigger than the actual finale of the otherwise excellent third season. Mostly because it felt like it actually was the finale to the third season, the climax that never really came to the story of the rivalry between Rick and the Governor, and their two communities.

Continue reading “The Walking Dead: Season 4, Episode 8–Too Far Gone”

The Walking Dead: Season 4, episode 7–Dead Weight

“You seem different now. Changed. Are you?”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)

It was another Governor-centric episode of The Walking Dead this week, as we followed the ongoing adventures of our favourite baddie and the show continued to tease us as to whether he was a reformed character. More action-packed than last week, it seemed a little more conventional as an episode, though as ever David Morrissey’s performance as the charismatic villain/antihero made up for a lot of shortcomings.

Continue reading “The Walking Dead: Season 4, episode 7–Dead Weight”

The Walking Dead: Season 4, episode 6 – Live Bait

“You can lose a lot of soldiers but still win the game.”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)

If, like a number of people I know, you found last week’s rushed conclusion to the epidemic storyline rather a mixed bag of an episode, this week’s Walking Dead offered something completely different. And, I think, rather more interesting.

Continue reading “The Walking Dead: Season 4, episode 6 – Live Bait”

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…

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.

The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 6–Hounded

“It’s not enough. It’s not safe enough.”

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Another sterling mix of action, gore and character drama this week from The Walking Dead, a show that’s rapidly becoming the best thing on TV all week. This week saw the much-anticipated head to head of Michonne and Merle, Rick coming out of his bottomless pit of despair, Andrea and the Governor getting jiggy – and the two narratives finally starting to entwine in what’s presumably going to end in a violent confrontation. Round about… oh, the mid-season break, I reckon.

At the prison, there was much contemplation and soul-searching in the aftermath of the traumatic events of two weeks ago, even while the gang continued to search the prison for errant Walkers. Daryl’s attempt to make Carl feel better with the heartwarming tale of how his own mother had burned herself to death in bed with a cigarette while drunk was curiously affecting. It’s not a story I’d relate to cheer up someone recently bereaved, but it gave the two a bond they’d never really had, Daryl acting as almost a surrogate father in the near-catatonic Rick’s absence.

Rick, of course, was busy having conversations on the mysteriously functional phone, which had finally caused him to haltingly recover the power of speech. Readers of the comic will not have been surprised at the ultimate revelation of the cathartic caller’s identity, but the show has wrongfooted the expectations of comics readers enough times for it still to have been a point of suspense. For a while, I even started to wonder whether somehow the call was coming from Woodbury; particularly when Hershel, listening doubtfully to the receiver, failed to point out that there was no dial tone.

But no, just as in the comic, the voice on the line was really a voice in Rick’s head – unsurprisingly, the voice of his wife. Thankfully, the episode didn’t play with this plot as much as the comics did, leading to an emotional, but relatively quickly resolved catharsis for our hero. If anyone has the right to snap under the strain, it’s Rick; not only has he had to take responsibility for the entire group, he’s now got to deal with is own failure to even save his own wife. Andrew Lincoln again demonstrated a powerful performance as Rick went from anger to frustration to finally acceptance, as the voice of Sarah Wayne Callies helped him begin to come to terms with his loss. Mind you, Glenn could have thought of reminding him about his kids last week, that might have sorted it more quickly.

Daryl too had a catharsis of sorts, but his had a happier ending, as the previously-assumed-dead Carol turned up bloodied and exhausted in a cell blocked shut by a dead Walker. Their relationship has been building in a nice slow burn since last year, and it felt entirely appropriate for him to pick her up and carry her away in his arms; if a little cheesy. I must say, though, given that it’s only been a couple of days, she’d have every right to be annoyed that the others gave up on her and planted a headstone without doing much in the way of actual searching…

Having learnt the lessons of last year’s tranquil tedium, even this soul-searching drama was interspersed with moments of zombie gore. But the real action this week was over in Woodbury, still seething with dark secrets, betrayal and torrid passion like a Harold Robbins novel. Unsurprisingly, the show opened with the ever-gleeful Merle out on the hunt for Michonne – well, really, did you actually believe the Governor was just going to let her go?

It didn’t take long to find her either, as she was hunting them as much as they were hunting her. Cue a rather excellently choreographed fight, as Michonne easily dispatched two of Merle’s henchmen with that nifty katana. I think this is the first time we’ve seen that she has no compunction in offing the living as well as the dead if they’re a threat; and of course it led to her going one on one with Merle. I was actually rather glad that that was prevented from going the distance by a sudden influx of Walkers, as neither is a character I want to say goodbye to just yet. And in this show, it doesn’t matter how important a character you are, your safety is never assured.

As indeed Merle’s other henchman was quick to learn – or might have, if he’d survived. A nice little one-shot character, ‘Neil’, the young guy with the unpronounceable name (it’s Gargulio, apparently) developed believably from inexperienced terror to adrenaline-fuelled fervour within about twenty minutes. Unfortunately for him, he hadn’t reckoned on Merle’s desire for self-preservation, so his obsession with tracking Michonne to the bitter end was met with a bullet to the brain. It was a shocking moment that served as a timely reminder of just how nasty Merle is; but I rather liked Dave Davis in the part, and it’s a shame we won’t be seeing more of him.

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Andrea continued to be irritating, but at least showed signs of a bit more complexity, as she admitted that, despite her distaste, she’d enjoyed the bread and circuses last week. She’s obviously missing zombie-stomping, as given a trial assignment guarding the Woodbury wall, she was vaulting straight over it to take down a Walker hand to hand. She’s obviously learned a lot from Michonne – not least a genuine thrill in taking down the dead. In her conflict between enjoying the violence while hating herself for it, she’s yet another embodiment of the conflict between the old world’s values of morality and civilisation, and the post-apocalypse realities of pragmatism and survival (themes the show repeatedly returns to).

It still didn’t stop me groaning with annoyance as she inevitably fell into the bedsheets of that old smoothy the Governor. Still, it’s a good indication of how much more subtle the character is than his comic counterpart that that was actually fairly believable. David Morrissey continues to play him as a wily, restrained politician with an undercurrent of mania; witness his just-contained fury as Merle, lying about Michonne’s ‘death’ admitted to failing at bringing back her head for his fish tank collection.

He brought back something else though – the beginning of the season’s two narratives meeting up, earlier than I’d expected. As both he and Michonne searched for cars/bandages in a nearby town, who should turn up but Glenn and Maggie, on the hunt for baby formula. It was a clever diversion from director Dan Attias that, just as we were waiting for the hidden Michonne to call out to them, it was Merle’s voice that rang out in the stillness, much to Glenn’s surprise.

Glenn’s less of a trusting idiot than Andrea, so he wasn’t ready for a moment to take the more psychotic Dixon back to the prison for a joyful reunion with his brother. Unfortunately he’s still no match for Merle, who was holding a gun to his girlfriend’s head in a flash and demanding they all drive back to Woodbury. Merle’s promised the Governor he’ll find out from his unwilling guests where the seemingly nice setup is that Rick and the gang have found. I’m pretty sure that won’t be pleasant, an interrogation under Merle’s tender mercies. I wonder if Glenn’s going to be the next one to die in the show’s ruthless cull of its characters?

Michonne, meanwhile, obviously overheard enough from Glenn and Maggie about a prison to figure out exactly where to go. Covered in zombie guts from the earlier fight, she was able to approach the Walker-surrounded prison fence with impunity, a basket of baby formula held out like a peace offering. But will the recovering Rick find it easy to trust her?

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With Glenn and Maggie over in Woodbury, and Michonne at the prison, it’s not going to take long for each group to start learning the nitty gritty about each other. Will Rick, who seems less keen now on the corpse-littered, blood-spattered prison where his wife died, be tempted by the sinister idylls of Woodbury? And what will the Governor (aka the Anti-Rick) do when he finds out that there’s basically a fortress going begging, and all he has to do to take it is deal with a motley group that’s low on ammo?

As I said, I’m betting that this is all going to come to a head in time for the mid-season break, which looks to be at the halfway point of episode 8. In the mean time, the show is not letting up on the quality; this week had plenty of plot meat along with actual meat from hacked up zombies, while still remembering to delve into the characters whose depth makes the show so watchable.

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.

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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…

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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.