“For all we know, your brother’s out there searching for them now. Blood is blood, right? Makes me wonder where your loyalties lie.”
Another thrilling missive from the post-zombie apocalypse world this week, as The Walking Dead continues to be compulsive viewing. This episode had the feel of an endgame, moving the pieces into place for next week’s big mid-season break, but managed to be just as exciting and creepy as ever. Along the way, there was the requisite amount of gore, death and betrayal, as the Woodbury community and the prison gang dealt with the newcomers in their midst.
As I’d expected, Glenn and Maggie did not have a nice time at the tender mercies of their Woodbury interrogations. Locked into a windowless room, Glenn had to deal with a brutal beating from Merle, whose final gambit was to unleash a ravenous Walker in with him. Steven Yeun got to be brilliantly hardass as he had to fight it off with his arms duct taped to a chair – which saved him from a nasty bite – before smashing the chair to bits and ramming its fragments through the corpse’s head. It was another demonstration of how the characters have hardened over the months since the last season, and a thrilling sequence to watch. Given the show’s high body count of late, the suspense over whether Glenn would make it felt very real.
But he didn’t give away his gang’s location, so it was up to the Governor himself to have another try, this time with Maggie. And boy, was that worse. Aptly described by Michonne as a “Jim Jones type”, his interrogation of Maggie was, if anything, nastier than Merle’s straightforward brutality. He started off trying the smooth, seductive technique that worked so well on the gullible Andrea, but when it became clear that wasn’t working, went straight to the sexual humiliation, forcing Maggie to strip before shoving her down and (presumably) raping her. It was probably the nastiest thing we’ve seen him do yet, and it was notable that not even this show actually depicted it happening. Blood and guts might be fine, but some things, it seems, are just too uncomfortable even for a cable network to show.
Given that not even this could persuade Maggie to spill her guts, the Governor ended up taking what would have been the logical approach to try first – threatening to shoot one of them if the other wouldn’t answer the question. But it was a nice subversion of the expected trope that it was Glenn who was threatened and Maggie who had to answer. Which, finally, she did.
So now the Governor knows about the prison, and seems incredulous that such a small group could have cleared the place of Walkers. And there’s a hint that he was interested in it himself – for what, I wonder? Mention was again made of “the red zone”, which has yet to be fully explained, but I’m guessing it just means “area with a lot of Walkers in it”.
He’s interested in Walkers, the Governor. This week we got some enlargement on that, after the recent hints about Milton’s experiments, as we got to see his “scientific method” in action. Ably assisted by the glamorous Andrea, he was conditioning a dying old man to respond to repeated stimuli, in the hope that his revived corpse might have some memory of its former identity.
Andrea did try telling him that this wasn’t going to work, though for some reason she failed to mention that she’d seen some far more detailed research on the subject at the Atlanta CDC. But their conversation as they waited for the old man to turn gave us some revealing background on Milton – only child, parents already dead when civilisation fell, worked from home and had no friends. The perfect background, basically, for a sociopath, however mild-mannered he may seem, with no empathy for his fellow survivors.
Speaking of sociopaths, this pointed ever more obviously to one of the Governor’s larger motivations, made more explicit here than in the comic. He’s plainly hoping to somehow ‘bring back’ his undead daughter; I wonder how many in Woodbury know that he’s keeping her walking corpse locked up in his rooms?
Over at the prison, there was much debate about the recently arrived Michonne – once they’d made the decision to actually let her in. Michonne, for her part, was surprisingly trusting of another group she’d just met, considering her nous in immediate suspicion of Woodbury. Yes, she was a bit hostile – that’s basically her character – but she didn’t immediately wonder what Dark Secret Rick and the gang were keeping. Yes, we know they’re good guys, but it seemed a tad unlikely for Michonne, without the information we have, to be so trusting.
I also found myself constantly anticipating when/if she was going to let slip that ‘the enemy’ over in Woodbury included their old friends Andrea and Merle. She must be aware that this is the group they were both previously with, from the conversations we’ve seen them all having – is she keeping the information back for some reason of her own?
At least Rick was a bit suspicious; but trusting enough that soon he, Daryl and Oscar were accompanying Michonne on a trek to Woodbury to retrieve Maggie and Glenn. The trip took a peculiar sidestep when they found themselves surrounded by Walkers and took refuge in a nearby shack, which turned out to be occupied by a reclusive fellow survivor. Since he was making enough noise to wake the dead (or at least, attract them), Michonne took the lead in despatching him with a quick swordthrust.
I was again surprised at the level of trust Rick extended to somebody he’d only just met, in allowing her to keep a deadly sharp sword. But the scene showed again Michonne’s level of ruthless pragmatism, a level it seems Rick has yet to achieve. While he, Daryl and Oscar dithered over dealing with the shouting hermit, it was she who took the lead in, basically, rejecting the now useless morality left over from before the apocalypse.
It also provided a handy escape route – and this week’s gore highlight – as the gang used the fresh corpse as a tasty snack to distract the Walkers, making a sneaky getaway via the back door. The gruesome gut-ripping, courtesy as ever of KNB Effects, was definitely up there with the greats of zombie classics like Day of the Dead.
The episode climaxed with Rick, Michonne, Daryl and Oscar hanging furtively around just outside the Woodbury wall, while behind it Andrea lurked unseen. The stakes have been made clear. Andrea doesn’t (yet) know that Merle has found the remnants of her former group, while they don’t know that she – and Merle – are within the walls. Merle doesn’t know – yet – that his beloved little brother is about to break into his stronghold. And I’m betting, that with the mid-season break after next week, we’re going to see a bit of a confrontation between the two groups’ diametrically opposed leaders.
Will Rick and the Governor annihilate each other by existing in the same space? Where will the loyalties lie of all the former allies and relatives, now on opposite sides? Like all the best zombie movies, The Walking Dead this year has come up with a group of human antangonists as the true villains, since the Walkers themselves can have no motivation and exist as a basic hazard of the post-apocalyptic world. Last year, for a human villain, we only had Shane – yes, a powerhouse performance from Jon Bernthal, but characteristic of the soap opera approach the show took that year as Shane was motivated by jealousy, obsession and lust. This year, the Governor and the Woodbury group are arguably nastier, with their greed, lust for power and honest-to-goodness insanity.
With what it seems we are now obliged to call the “mid-season finale” next week, the pieces are in place for a high stakes cliffhanger ending. The tension ratcheted up by Bear McCreary’s pulsating, pounding score (incidental music is a rarity in this show) has wound up the suspense to fever pitch. Since we know a lot of the stakes already, there’s likely to be less of an unexpected shock than last year’s mid season stunner of the undead Sophia’s reappearance – unless the showrunners have something to pull out of the hat in addition to the drama we already know about. Whichever, it looks like we’re in for quite a ride next week.