Friday, February 15, 2013

The Walking Dead: "The Suicide King"

Welcome back to the second half of the third season of analysis of The Walking Dead, with my wonderful and brilliant co-host, Joshua. (In a zombie apocalypse, I would totally eat your brains first, bud.)

We last left our survivors on the brink, with “Merle ’n’ Derle” in a battle to the death with the Governor acting as the one-eyed referee. He recently lost his ability to enjoy 3D films when Michonne impaled his sinister eyeball, after doing away with his tiny little zombie daughter. So, she’s in the bad books with him, to say the least. 

Tyrese and his trio of survivors had gotten into the prison after losing the mother and wife of the other two, but Carl — who did an immense amount of growing up in the first half of the season, officially sloughing off the mantle of “character we kinda want dead” — is acting as deputy sheriff (he even has the hat, people!) and has locked them away until he can figure out what to do with them.

Rick and his gang had invaded Woodbury, but apparently had shown up with 47 canisters of teargas and used every one of them, so Andrea just started shooting into the smoke, not knowing she was aiming at her own people. Oscar from the prison was killed (because Tyrese was introduced and there’s only room for one African-American on the show at one time), and the others managed to get away. Maggie had been stripped of the top half of her clothing by the Governor, who brought her in to Glenn like that, and Glenn thought Maggie was raped and spilled the location of the prison where the others were. The Governor had only scared her, though, threatening to hurt her but not doing it.

And so, at the beginning of this episode, we end up back in the ring with the two hillbilly brothers. Poor Daryl has been haunted by what he thought was the ghost of his dead brother for a long time, and is now face-to-face with a grotesque mangled version of him, and he’s upset and confused about what to do. Merle jumps right into the fray and begins pounding on his brother, taking out some of his anger for having been left behind so many months ago. But it doesn’t last, and soon the brothers stand together and begin to take out the real enemy — the menacing walkers around them. 

They escape, join up with Rick’s group, and Merle continues to be an utter ass while Daryl just looks too baffled to speak. When Rick knocks Merle unconscious with the butt of his gun, Daryl doesn’t fight him. He’s speechless and confused. Confused because this is his blood, his big brother who probably stuck up for him for a lot of his life. However, he also knows his brother’s a complete dick, and he’s conflicted about what to do. On his own, Daryl has flourished and has been allowed to turn into a real, sympathetic human being who is part of the group. Now he’s faced with a very difficult decision — does he go back to his brother and live separately in Merle’s “us against them” mentality, or does he return to the prison, with a group of people who have become his family? Who accept him as one of them? Who respect him? Who, in Carol’s case, truly care about him?

And in this case, blood is thicker than water. Daryl issues the “No him, no me” ultimatum, and then follows through on it when Rick refuses to integrate Merle back into the group (honestly, while Rick hasn’t made the wisest decisions lately, this is one where you can hardly blame him).

What did you think about Daryl’s decision, Josh, and the return of the show in general?

Joshua: Well, howdy, Nik-at-Nitehawks! Happy Gnaw Year, and welcome back to Georgia. I’ve missed you like a hastily amputated limb, and I am so pleased that the Mayan apocalypse didn’t annihilate us all before we can find out how Li’l Asskicker turns out.

Most of the action from this week’s return came right at the top of the hour, as Rick and Maggie rode in to rescue the Brothers Dixon from the Woodbury lynch mob just in time. But of course, the decision to bring Merle along went over like a fart in church, as my great grandmother would say. And truly, Rick could have expected nothing else – particularly from Glenn, who still bears the marks of Merle’s interrogation, both physical and emotional. I wouldn’t have thought Glenn would come out of their experience more affected than Maggie, but that certainly seems to be the case. Between the brutalities of his treatment, the sustained endangerment of their lives, and his own essential helplessness, Glenn has been pushed to the breaking point since their abduction. Personally, I would give myself a lot more credit if I had managed to kill a walker while tied to a chair and then armed (excuse the pun) my girlfriend with an improvised dagger made out of the guy’s freakin’ ulna. But maybe that’s just me.

Regardless, Glenn has been through the ringer, unquestionably assuming more than once that his death was a foregone conclusion and likely assuming the same for the woman he loves. And yet, somehow, they made it out alive. After all this peril and strain, he’s never been so instable, so vulnerable, and the sight of his friends returning from their rescue mission with his captor in tow almost finished him. We’ve spent a lot of time this season discussing how successful the writing team has been in conveying the emotional fragility of the characters, the fallout from such constant fatigue and the way that feeds into all other aspects of their lives. Everything about Glenn’s desperation and anxiety felt genuine to me, made all the more heartbreaking by the way it served to push our ever-shrinking band of survivors even farther apart.

Case in point: as we all feared, Daryl has chosen blood over community, electing to strike out on his own with Merle rather than abandon his brother for the esteem and purpose he’s found amongst the group. It wasn’t hard to imagine that things would go down like this, but what surprised me was how obviously he wore his heartache. Daryl has always been a closed door as a character, withholding any outward displays of emotion that weren’t aggressive or confrontational, but slowly that has changed. I don’t believe we’ve ever seen him be quite so transparent as he was in his anguish over being forced into this decision, and I suspect Daryl’s grief will manifest itself in some striking displays of anger and resentment toward his brother in the coming weeks. Eventually he’s bound to make his way back, whatever the reason (as a die-hard softie, I’m hoping it’s Carol, but dollars to doughnuts it will prove some random manifestation of Merle’s innate depravity instead). Meanwhile, the others are left to suffer the fallout of his departure.

Which brings me to my pick for episode MVP. Melissa McBride has always done a tremendous job with the delicate balancing act of playing Carol, but since Lori’s death, it seems she’s been slotted into the position of TWD Matriarch. This week’s episode in particular gave her a number of times to shine, and she nailed it in every instance. From her noise pollution soliloquy with Carl at the gate through her gut-wrenching reaction to – and eventual acceptance of – Daryl’s decision to leave, Carol played the heart of the team every bit as effectively as Hershel played the backbone. I love where the writers are leading her, and Ms. McBride is selling it brilliantly.

Nikki:  I so agree with you on Carol. She’s a wonderful character on the show, and was, as you say, a little one-dimensional in the first season (and in most of the second) but in the third, she’s really come forward. I think some part of me will always be haunted by that scene of her last fall where she sat over the dead zombie with a scalpel, trying to figure out how to do a c-section. And the way she played the scene where Daryl doesn’t return isn’t the way you’d expect it to be played: either playing it cool, pretending it’s no big deal and then crying on her own, or else going over-the-top with her emotions. Instead, she’s more confused, “Really? He’s gone? HE’S GONE?” as if she’s trying to figure out how this is possible.

And I agree with you. Daryl will find his way back, but how and why he does will be what I can’t wait to watch.

What I found interesting between Maggie and Glenn is that he thinks she’s been raped, and she knows that she was threatened, but not actually raped. And yet… she hasn’t told Glenn this. Is it because he thinks she’s been raped, and she was too much in shock to tell him the truth, and now it feels like she can’t tell him? Or… has she not told him because she thinks that he went too far in giving the Governor the location of Rick and company, and he only did so because he thought they’d done something terrible to Maggie? And now, if she tells him she wasn’t actually raped, he’ll think that she had misled him by not saying something instantly, not confirming, “I’m OK! They didn’t hurt me, DON’T SAY ANYTHING” as soon as she appeared in the doorway with the Governor? It’s a really tough situation that’s only being conveyed through her eyes and body language right now, but it’s hard to pinpoint what’s going through their minds right now.

I hate seeing Glenn broken.

And now over to Rick. Like Jack Shephard on Lost, Rick is making some decisions that not all fans are going to like, but as a leader, that’s what you do. Unlike Jack, however, Rick took the mantle of leader; Jack had the role thrust upon him. Rick is starting to act less like a leader and more like a dictator. “I give you food and water and save your life, and in return you will listen to me!” I understand this guy has been through the ringer — remember, Lori’s only been dead a few days at this point, though it seems like months to us — and he’s clearly mentally ill. Between Shane and Lori, the ghosts of his past are catching up to him, and affecting his ability to judge what’s real and what isn’t.

I was actually starting to hate him in the scene when he was telling Tyrese to move along, he wasn’t welcome here. I understand the whole “not trusting” thing, but at some point the only way to rebuild your life is to begin trusting other people. And Tyrese seems like a really good person. You can’t just mistrust everyone (for some reason he can trust Lyle but not Tyrese? How is that now?)

But the writers are able to pull us back from the brink of hating Rick by showing just how mentally unstable he is, when Lori appears on the upper tier. You could see by the looks on everyone else’s face that they are equal parts baffled and scared (especially poor Carl, who’s lost one parent and now must fear he’s losing another), and poor Tyrese and his crew immediately assume that when he’s yelling to get out, he’s yelling and waving the gun at them (just facing the other direction for some reason). And, Tyrese not being stupid, they quickly grab their stuff and beat it.

Again, I haven’t yet read the graphic novels (though they’re sitting right behind me as I type this and I’m starting to move my chair closer to them), but I heard a lot about Tyrese before he finally showed up on the series, so I’m assuming that’s not the last we see of him. I’m hoping he’s integrated into the group and becomes a rival for leader. Now THAT would make for some pretty intense television.

Joshua: Depending on the angle they take, there is definitely some interesting stuff coming up with Tyrese. It's impossible to predict what we'll see and what we won't, however, as events have already differed so much between the two versions. For example, Tyrese appears in the comics not long after the group leaves Atlanta, even before they find Hershel's farm, and he has a daughter and her boyfriend in tow but no other adults. He certainly comes across as similar in disposition, but as I said, all bets are off at this point.

As the show progresses, it seems (at least to me) that the source material becomes increasingly less pertinent. It's sort of a butterfly effect: in the early days, any divergence from the comic canon was significant simply by virtue of being different, as the makeup of the group and the circumstances in which they found themselves were still largely the same. Then Shane survived the Atlanta camp, and they decided to visit the CDC, and the divergences gradually snowballed until now the story has come to resemble less what first appeared in the comics and much more its own beast with a somewhat similar shape. That being the case, there's really no way to tell any more what will migrate over and what will fall by the wayside.

Whichever direction they choose at this latest intersection, I think Tyrese is meant to be a big part of it. It's already obvious that the writers are working hard to make him not just likeable but admirable; even in his limited screen time thus far, Tyrese has proven to be calm, perceptive, even-tempered and infinitely reasonable, not to mention perfectly capable in combat situations. And it would certainly appear that Rick would do well to start sharing some of the burden of responsibility, as the stress of leadership continues to push him closer to the breaking point.

Then there's Woodbury, where their leader has already sprinted well past the breaking point and is somewhere out in the no man's land beyond, building a campfire and sharpening sticks for a weenie roast. I loved the various symptoms of his madness this week, from the half-smile that appeared on his face in the arena when he realized they were being attacked again, to the scene in the street after the zombie attack and the brilliant way he trudged out like a sulky teen to shoot the guy in the head, everyone else just standing speechless and staring. And the saddest part is that the citizens are so clueless, they'll still follow him. They've either completely forgotten what things are like outside Woodbury's walls or have been holed up there since the beginning and simply don't realize the way the world has changed, as evidenced by how anxious they are to leave after the attack, their cars all piled with luggage like they're going on vacation. It would almost be funny if it weren't so tragic.

Fortunately, there are still a couple of marginally sane people around, however deluded they may be. I continue to struggle with Andrea's place in all this, as she persists in coming across more like a plot device than a reasonable human being. It's difficult for me to understand why she would feel more beholden to these people – none of whom she knows from more than a handful of exchanged pleasantries – than to the group with which she traveled for so long. But then again, she was also making plans to strike out on her own when they were camped at Hershel's farm, too. I'm sure there's an end point, but I'll be damned if I can see it.

What are your thoughts on Miss The Governor and her place in the inevitable conflict to come?

Nikki: Oh Andrea. You’ve kinda replaced Carl as our go-to Annoying Person. So, to briefly recap Andrea, about 30 minutes before this episode began, she’d walked into the Governor’s room and saw:
-her (now former) best friend sticking a sword through the Guv’s eye
-a dead mini-walker on the floor
-zombie heads floating in some sort of fluid, being kept alive

Let’s just pause and read that last one again. Got it? Good.

And she
-realizes Michonne got him just in time
-screams and runs for her life
-has an understandable moment of confusion before seeing the Governor for the sick fuck he is
-holds a gun to Michonne’s head and helps out her new boyfriend while Michonne, hurt and angry, leaves

Not exactly the decision-maker of the year.

Then she watches the Guv’nah pit two brothers together in a ring, quickly unravel in front of the audience, and turn into a soulless animal who differs from the walkers only by smell (and a tad less rottage).

Does she turn tail and run? Nope. She tries to talk some sense into him. She stays at Woodbury. She becomes a pseudo leader of the people (you can already see the Guv doesn’t like that). And she seems to be in it for the long haul. As  you say, she has no connections to these people, but maybe that’s just Andrea. She just followed the other survivors but didn’t get close to them, and I doubt she shed any tears when she lost track of them. She turned her back on Michonne without a second glance. So why she’s sticking by this sicko come hell or high water is beyond me. But the others were easy: he’s difficult. And maybe that’s what attracts her. She’s going to change him. Because every time a woman has decided to do THAT throughout history, it’s gone very well indeed.

This was clearly a transition episode. My husband watched it after I did, and he was kind of “meh” about it, but that’s what it’s supposed to be. Episode 8 ended in a cliffhanger, and episode 9 is meant to be the spark for the rest of the season. What will happen to Merle ’n’ Derle? What will happen to Tyrese and his people? What will happen to Woodbury, to the Governor, to Andrea? Will Rick EVER stop being a jerk to Michonne? Will Michonne ever feel an innate need to play along with others and, you know, TALK so Rick won’t get so frustrated with her? (By the way, the only scene in this episode I didn’t buy was Hershel poking Michonne and saying she’d gone into a very deep sleep. That woman never goes into a deep sleep, and has probably had no more than two consecutive hours of sleep in the past 18 months. There’s no way she wouldn’t have leapt off that bed and taken his other leg off just for touching her.)

This episode asked the questions, and now we get the rest of the episodes of the season to find the answers.

Josh, any last thoughts?

Joshua: Though I mentioned it earlier in an offhand comment, I'd be remiss if I didn't specifically address Hershel's role this week as resident guidance counselor and all-around voice of reason. Our favorite horse doctor continues to handle each and every situation with a delicate touch and preternatural insight, and I loved all of his exchanges this week. In particular, his words to Rick were always perfectly pitched, equal parts praising and prodding, and I can't reiterate often enough how glad I am that he's still alive. If anyone has the capacity to lead Rick back from the edge of madness, it's Mr. Greene.

Bits & Bobs:

-      Perhaps it was just poor framing, but the unruly mob of Woodburians screaming for double Dixon death in the opener seemed a lot smaller and less threatening to me this week than back at the end of the episode previous. Norman Reedus' panicked performance went a long way toward selling it, but the next time a scene calls for 'murderous,' the extras could definitely step it up a bit. (Also, casting director, I only live a very short drive away from the set. And excel at acting murderous. FYI.)

-       Dead right about the unlikelihood of Michonne sleeping through Hershel's crutch poke. My notes during that scene read, “Whoops – there goes his other leg.” And besides, haven't we been led to believe that Michonne processes her body's need for rest through her vocal cords, manifesting itself in temporary paralysis any time she's asked a pertinent question? I mean, duh.

-       I brought it up in a comment on your Facebook post yesterday, Nikki, but Carol's maroon pants tucked into those black ankle boots make her a dead ringer for a 1st-gen Starship Enterprise crewmember. Cross your fingers she never winds up in a red shirt.

That's all I've got, gang. See you all next week. (We're shooting for at least Thursday...)


Colleen/redeem147 said...

I still think Darryl with have to kill Merle.

Efthymia said...

I hate seeing Glenn broken, too. :(

Well, there's two of you and one of me, so chances are you're the ones right, but wasn't it Maggie who broke and told the Governor about the prison? I remember not being disappointed at Glenn...
Also, Maggie WAS sexualy abused. Body parts don't have to insert other body parts for sexual abuse to happen; she was made to take her clothes off and assume a submissive position and was humiliated under threat of death for her loved one and herself, and that is abuse. Maybe Glenn knows how far things went and chooses to call it rape. Maybe he doesn't, and thinks things went further but Maggie hasn't corrected him because she feels raped.

I'm getting pretty frustrated at Rick, even though I can understand him and find excuses for him.
First of all, the Daryl and Merle thing: of course the others -especially Glenn and Maggie- wouldn't want Merle to join them, but he doesn't even fight for Daryl, he's all "oh, OK, go with your brother, lalala". Merle is a psycho creep, but right now he's also on the Governor's black list, so couldn't Rick (and co.) just make him stay in a different part of the prison, so at least they could still have Daryl close?
And then, deciding to kick out every new person that approaches, which may be a bit understandable with Michonne, who hasn't indicated that she wants to stay with them, but that's definitely not the case with the new group.
But I'm even more annoyed at the rest of "our" people: why do they let Rick do whatever he wants? What, if they tell him "you see, we kind of decided that we want to let these poor fellas stay" he's gonna kill everyone or something? Why is he the boss of everyone? That's not what being a leader is -at least not a good one.

On to Andrea: seriously, woman?! My feelings for her have gone beyond words...

Nikki Stafford said...

Efthymia: You are absolutely correct that Maggie was sexually abused, and I do hope I didn't come across as belittling her situation in any way. What happened to her was terrible, and will haunt her for life. The terror of what *could* happen is almost as bad as if it did.

Colleen: I think Daryl will have to kill Merle, too, and doing that will probably send him to a very dark place.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

Maybe Rick's NOT seeing things. Cause ghosts are crazy but zombies are believable.