Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Walking Dead: "Hounded"

Josh: The overall theme of this week’s episode of The Walking Dead was well indicated by its title: ‘Hounded.’ This was an episode full of ghosts, with remnants of the distant and recent past materializing in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons – some to prompt, others to pursue – but always to hasten the course of events, advancing the survivors they haunt toward some restless ambition. As such, this chapter was something of a compositional exercise, with a lot of pieces being shuffled into place for future payoff. Nonetheless, for an hour rich in conversation and low on combat, ‘Hounded’ still proved a significant and propulsive entry for season three.

It begins in the woods, with Merle and crew tracking the recently decamped Michonne. Just as we predicted last week, The Governor has sent out a posse to find and kill her, and (we later learn) with specific instructions to bring back her head and sword, no less. As if we needed any further proof of his perfidious intentions. Since, you know, our names aren’t Andrea, and we can’t be bought with a couple of cocktails and a date to a dogfight.

Merle, however, seems to be well outmatched, both in wits and ability. Michonne easily psyches out the rest of his b-list team by leaving the gnarliest note in the history of Post-Its, then pops out of the trees like a phantom and quickly reduces his team by half, proving that she obviously has no more qualms about eliminating the living than she does the dead. He does manage to shoot her in the leg before she disappears again, and the chase is on.

Nikki, what did you think of Michonne’s dismemberment rebus?

Nikki: As I said on my Facebook page, I don’t want any bitergrams, thanks very much. A telegram will do. Good god.

I think part of every week’s writer’s meeting is the group of them sitting around, saying, “Okay, somehow we’ve managed to make it to season 3 and we STILL have some audience members who haven’t vomited while watching our show. What can we do to fix that?” The scene of the disembowelment all over Michonne was horrific, and they’ve definitely upped the “slicing heads in half” factor this season, haven’t they? But as soon as Michonne was awash in that walker’s innards, I thought, “Huh. I wonder if she’ll be able to pass as one of them like Glenn and Rick did in season 1?” And sure enough, she did. That scene of the four walkers lumbering towards her later in the episode was great. Did anyone else notice that the four of them looked like they were in a black and white movie, somehow set against the Technicolour backdrop of this show? Weird…

Ah, Andrea. I saw a meme today that had a picture of her and the Governor kissing with “Lori 2.0” written under it. And, because my husband and I have a collective maturity age of three, we were making all sorts of comments during the “courting” scene in his backyard garden. “How long has it been… since… you… um… oh, awkward, um…” And then when she finally succumbed to his charms, “Hey baby, they don’t call me The Governor because of my political rank, if you know what I mean!”

That said, it’s easy to make fun of Andrea here, but she’s been miserable, suicidal, had to kill her own sister, and along comes a hot guy who is actually clean and makes a pass at her. Maybe she’d have different standards in the pre-zombie world, but at this point, she’s in for the fun, I think. Now, I don’t care how much toothpaste he’s hoarding or if he’s the hottest guy I’ve seen in my life, I think the zombie cage match would have given me pause, but he’s lulled her into a false sense of security on that one. “Hey, guv’nah? That whole zombie baiting thing? SO NOT NICE.” “You are right, strange woman. Never again. Hey, check it out, I have clean sheets.”

OK, yes. It’s too easy to make fun.

Back to Michonne, the episode ended with her finding her way back over to the prison, meaning we’re pulling Andrea’s story back together with theirs. Glenn and Maggie hit the mother lode of formula and diapers and food, but we all know THAT happiness isn’t allowed to last, so along comes good ol’ Merle to pull them over to his group. For a half-second, they had the upper hand, but they aren’t willing to do the things that Merle is willing to do. When Michonne has a chat with Rick’s group, I cannot WAIT to see the look on Daryl’s face when he finds out his brother is alive and as well as he can be.

Josh: I can’t help but think that Merle and Daryl’s reunion and the outcome thereof will wind up being the true hinge point for the season this year. The group has suffered numerous losses and setbacks these past several weeks, with the sacrifice of Hershel’s leg, the deaths of T-Dog and Lori, the challenge of providing care for a newborn baby, and the recent lapse of Rick’s lucidity in the wake of it all. And yet, as bad as things have been, they haven’t borne any trial or misfortune that I felt would render them irretrievably broken or otherwise fall beyond their ability to endure, nothing that I thought could be the end of them. The closest they’ve come was Rick’s descent into madness after Lori’s death, and even then, the glue held – largely because of Daryl, his capability and presence of mind. He has become Rick's second in all the ways that matter most, and I struggle to see how the group would function without him in place.

Merle's return to his life will throw everything else into question. We already know from the season 2 episode 'Chupacabra' – in which Daryl wanders hurt through the woods, goaded into fighting for survival by a vision of his taunting brother – that the relationship he shares with Merle is a complicated one, more contentious and adversarial than it is supportive. Still, his brother raised him. Merle was all he ever knew of family before this band of survivors gave him their trust and showed him how it felt not only to depend on others, but more important, to have others depend on you. I'm confident that Merle's own behavior will be what damns him in the end, but until that happens, Daryl faces a formidable assault against his fledgling moral and social framework when his brother reappears, and I think the group faces their greatest challenge yet.

Thankfully, it now seems that the sheriff has returned to the land of the rational, or is at least back in its general vicinity. Hats off to Andrew Lincoln these past few weeks, because the guy has been doing such tremendous work portraying Rick's breakdown. I have to give equal credit to the writers, though, because the material has been superb. I loved the symbolism of Rick unable to leave the room where Lori died, and it was great to go back and re-watch this week's episode after confirming that everyone on the other end of the telephone line had been in Rick's head alone, catching all the little hints those voices left that something wasn't right.

My favorite clues came during his brief conversation with not-Jim. Rick is enquiring about the security of Wherever They Are, and not-Jim says, “No one's died, no one's turned, no one's gone crazy,” as if to imply that, at least subconsciously, Rick knew what he was experiencing was irrational, impossible, delusional. And just after, as they discussed the people he'd killed, this exchange about Shane:

Rick: “He lost it.”

not-Jim: “Lost what?”

Rick: “Who he was.”

He knew exactly what was going on, and he knew what was at stake. It may have been a “crazy” way of facing and dealing with his many compounded psychological issues, but it worked. Even Hershel, who was bound to have realized during their visit in the boiler room that Rick's party line was a figment of his fatigued imagination, also saw that it was something he needed, an unstable way to reach for stability. I got hung up last week, both in the recap and in the comments, on the fact that Rick had deserted his children during this process, but I see now that he had to leave them behind in order to return to them whole.

Nikki: And sometimes that’s exactly what we have to do. Parents have so much burden on their shoulders, and I know so many of them who have said to me that they would do X if it weren’t for their responsibility to their kids. (A friend of mine had a mother who went overseas to take a course that she’d wanted to do all her life, and left her kids home with Dad for six months. My friend has never forgiven her for it. But part of me wonders why we have to give up our lives completely for our children… of course, I say that as someone who is willing to do exactly that, and happily so.) But only by dealing with his shit apart from the kids was Rick able to come back to them.

Now, I would have had to watch that episode a couple of times myself to listen to the phone calls, if it hadn’t been for my very astute husband who, on the first phone call, said, “This is in Rick’s head. No one is calling him on the phone.” So I watched the entire episode thinking of that as the possibility, and sure enough, he was right. Watching it like that, though, you can see the writing unveil, and you see that Hershel had to make an offer, and he had to leave because, as you say, he would have figured out Rick had lost it if Rick suddenly grabbed the phone and said, “Hello??” and it hadn’t rung in the first place.

I agree with you on Lincoln’s extraordinary performance. I had a lump in my throat as he told the ghost of his wife on the phone that he was sorry, and repeated over and over, “I loved you. I couldn’t put it back together.” He had tried, and he failed, and he’ll live with that failure forever. It’ll be interesting to see if “talking” to her helps him move beyond this. (I’m assuming, for the future of the show, it did.)

Now, the Merle/Daryl reunion, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I keep running through my head the events of Daryl wandering through the river and hallucinating that his brother is talking to him, and even when Merle was telling him to do things he didn’t want to do, he did it. That’s his big brother, and he has to obey him. Merle took care of him and raised him when no one else did.

But… Merle threatens this group and this group has embraced Daryl as its second-in-command leader (and, in the past few days, its alpha leader). He takes care of them the way he’d been taken care of, and cares about them.

But… Merle is his own blood. And is that stronger than his friendships?

But… he cares deeply for Carol. Would he let Merle hurt her?

But… it’s Merle versus the entire gang. Doesn’t Daryl always help out the underdog?

Yes, that reunion is going to be a doozy.

Speaking of Daryl, one of my favourite moments this week was the conversation between Daryl and Carl about losing their mothers. Daryl is all business, but tells the story of his mother smoking a cigarette, falling asleep, and burning their house down, with her only ashes. Carl listens to him and bluntly says that he shot his mother in the head, and he ended it before it could begin. They look at each other and it’s not a moment of one-upmanship, or who has gone through more pain, but mutual loss and understanding. Carl adds, “I’m sorry about your mom.” Daryl says, “I’m sorry about yours.”

And they get back to killing zombies. I loved that moment.

Josh: Me, too. That scene also provided an artful way to call attention to just how much Carl and Daryl have in common. We're led to believe that Daryl grew up in a very volatile environment, with alternating stretches where he was presumably unsupervised, left to fend for himself. Carl may have had a dissimilar foundation in the years before the fall, with a life of relative ease and two parents that loved him and set good examples for his behavior, but now he finds himself in much the same situation, where there isn't anything left of the world but volatile environment. Where even 13-year-olds need to know how to kill in order to survive, and sometimes the ones you love the most have to be put down. It's a harsh reality, but it's one that Daryl is well equipped to help him navigate, and Carl will be lucky to have him around.

Because regardless of how the inevitable reunion with his brother affects Daryl, and whichever side he initially chooses to take, Merle's days are numbered now. By choosing to give up the chase for Michonne prematurely and then shooting Gargulio in the head to protect the decision, Merle has condemned himself beyond recall; I'm sure of it. At the time, he may have rationalized it sufficiently to justify the choice to himself, but in truth, he let his fear get the better of him. The fact that he lied to the Governor will be impossible to hide or explain away once Michonne shows up alive before his eyes. To a man like him, that kind of disloyalty is a guaranteed death sentence. Unless Merle can manage to kill him first.

And between the capture of Glenn and Maggie, who were unfortunate enough to be scavenging in Merle's path as he searched for a car to hotwire, and the arrival of Michonne at the prison, fresh with the knowledge of said kidnapping and itching to finish what she started when she held her sword to the Governor's throat, I'd say there's a showdown coming, and soon. It's a guaranteed certainty that whomever represents the prison party will be woefully outnumbered, left with no choice but to try either a diplomatic approach or some kind of covert warfare. Dissension in his ranks may be the only thing that could turn the tide in any serious conflict with the Governor. So who knows? Maybe Merle's deceitful act of self-preservation will be the key to saving all their lives.

Any final thoughts, Nikki?

Nikki: My last thought is also Daryl-related (people will start thinking I have a fixation, and I don’t… but he had the two best moments this week, and oddly enough, they had nothing to do with the main plot or the subplot). We all assumed Carol was alive and the headscarf was just a plot device to make the others think she was dead, and this week we were proven right. However, Carol just didn’t show up, and she wasn’t found. The agony that led up to Daryl discovering her was heartbreaking.

Early in the episode, Daryl sees a door being pushed open, and assumes it’s a walker, and that he’ll come back to it. We immediately knew, as viewers, that this was no ordinary walker, and would prove to be important. Sure enough, when he finds the disgusting bloated zombie, he finds Carol’s knife imbedded in its neck. And Daryl presumes the only thing he can at this point: that Carol’s been turned and is lumbering through the halls of the prison.

Or, more specifically, is the weak walker pushing the door in the hallway.

He leaves the rest of the group and returns to that door, which is still being pushed open over and over, and he sits opposite it. As we discussed earlier, he and Carl had had their difficult talk and Carl told him that he had to kill Lori, the person he loved the most in their camp. And now Daryl is staring at the possibility of HIM having to kill the person he cares about the most, and he sits, driving his knife into the concrete floor over and over, trying to steel himself for Zombie Carol.

Which makes the look on his face, when he finally opens that door and discovers an alive but wounded and weak Carol, even more glorious.

I rarely, rarely ship (I shocked myself a couple of weeks ago when I was watching Homeland and realized I’d become a rather rabid Carrie/Brody shipper… Brarrie? Crody?) but I’ve been wanting to see Carol and Daryl get closer for a long time. And not necessarily romantically. I just love seeing these two together, joking and laid-back, sometimes flirting, and just caring for another person. He’s had an empty and difficult life, and Carol has suffered untold abuse at the hands of the man she once trusted, so to see these two broken souls find each other and become whole in the midst of an apocalypse could very well be what this whole series is all about.

See you all next week! 


Efthymia said...

I said last week that as long as Michonne and Glenn are OK I'm happy, and now Glenn's been captured - darn my jinxin' mouth! (or fingers. Whatever.)
Unless it was a question of an imbalance of awesomeness, and some awesome had to be in the Governor's group.

I hope Andrea's behaviour with the Governor is part of some plan. I'm probably deliriously optimistic, but if it's not so I'll start passionately wishing Andrea dead, and I don't like wishing people (even if they're fictional) dead, it makes me feel bad about myself.

I still really really dread a Daryl/Mearle reunion, but Mearle's lie to the Governor gave me a faint glimmer of hope that things might actually work out in the end (delirious optimism again?).

Colleen/redeem147 said...

Re: The Governor. - I'd do him. :) As I've said before, Blackpool.

Daryl's going to kill Merle, isn't he? I mean, I think structurally he has to.

I do not trust Rick's sanity.

Page48 said...

"Daryl's going to kill Merle, isn't he?"

It sure won't be that bow-and-arrow girl manning the wall with Andrea.

Re: The Governor - I'd......drink his whisky.