Friday, November 30, 2012

The Walking Dead: "When the Dead Come Knocking"

Welcome back to this week’s Walking Dead recap, as always with my co-host Joshua Winstead. I apologize for the lateness of this post. Between me having a bad head cold and Josh being buried in work deadlines, we weren't sure we'd get it out at all. But we're hoping to get this Sunday's post out either Monday or early Tuesday. 

In the last week before the “mid-season finale” (god, I’ve come to loathe that empty phrase), Rick has magically regained his sanity, Merle is starting to lose his, Glenn proves himself to be TRULY BADASS, and Maggie is forced to strip in a humiliating way.

But let’s start with Glenn, because that scene had me on edge. Merle remembers Glenn as the scared little boy who may have been the one to find Rick and bring him into the fold in the first place, but he was always scared and barely able to handle the walkers on his own. He was super smart, but figured out how to handle the zombies from a distance.

No more.

After Glenn refuses to budge one inch as Merle is torturing him to give up the location of the others, Merle first beats his face into a pulp (with Maggie listening the entire time… an admittedly brilliant tactic, since I was certain she was going to break long before she did) and then brings in a walker and sets it upon Glenn, whose arms are duct-taped to a chair. Now, at first my husband and I were watching with about the same glee as the Governor’s people watched the zombie cage match a few episodes ago (making me a total hypocrite for talking about the audience the way I did), saying, “Come on, Glenn, Buffy found herself in a situation like this once! Turn the chair around, smash the legs and then run backwards to use them as a stake, you can do it!!” Glenn looked like a goner for part of this scene, but I knew he’d make it (while he might seem like he’s on the edge of the action, I still feel like he’s pretty central to it). And when he finally smashed the chair so completely that his arms were free, he gouged the walker in the eye with the piece of wood still attached to his arm — ironically, turning his arm into the same sort of weapon that Merle’s now is.

Maggie, on the other hand, was at first handled with kid gloves by the Governor, who entered the room and was extremely polite before telling her in no uncertain terms to take her top and bra off. He is SO hard to read that even Maggie didn’t know what to do. Did he mean to rape her? Was he going to get off on it? Was he just trying to humiliate her? What the Governor ultimately seemed to want to do is strip her down to the point where she’s completely vulnerable, and as he paraded her back into Glenn’s room, Glenn took one look at her and we could tell he was thinking the worst (especially when the Governor started hugging and kissing her face to calm her down, and she reacted like she was going to be sick).

And then, surprisingly, in that moment it was Maggie who finally gave up the location, not Glenn. It would have made sense for Glenn to do it, but maybe deep down he knew if he had done it, she’d never forgive him for giving up the location of her father. Only she could do that, and in a moment she decided Hershel still has a fighting chance with the others at his side, but if they shot Glenn, that would be the end of both of them.

Whew. And that was only a small part of this week’s episode. There’s so much else to cover. Josh, where would you like to start?

Josh: I'd like to start by WATCHING NEXT WEEK'S EPISODE RIGHT NOW PLEASE. I don't know about you, but 'When the Dead Come Knocking' felt very much like the first hour of a two-part episode to me, not in the sense that it was light on content but rather maddeningly short on resolve. All the interrogation scenes with Glenn and Maggie this week were terrific, as you said, tying my stomach in knots and giving both of these characters an opportunity to shine in the worst possible circumstances. Glenn's brawl with the walker while strapped to a chair was one of the highlights of the season for me so far, and its resolution gratifying for so many reasons, not only justifying Glenn's decision to stay mum in a thrilling, visceral way but also proving both to Merle and to himself that he is far from the guy our bayonet-fisted sadist used to know, once upon a quarry.

And Maggie... poor Maggie. Her visit with the Governor fortunately fell short of being needlessly exploitative, but his actions were plenty sufficient to prove that Philip is every bit the sick twist we've suspected, and above no means of psychological torture to reach his desired goal. Maggie's response was agonizing but tough as nails, and it's no wonder she caved so quickly when she was finally reunited with Glenn, only to see a gun put to his head. The big problem with her confession in my mind is that it surrenders the biggest reason Merle and the Governor had to keep them alive. After what they've been through, they'll certainly never agree to (and probably wouldn't even be candidates for) citizenship, and considering what they know of the Governor's fallacious benevolence, their prospects are dire, to say the least. Short of trying to use them as a bargaining chip with the unknown force at the prison, the Woodburians have no more use for the prisoners. Just keeping them hostage, especially with Andrea roaming around, is a lot more dangerous than risking reprisal from Rick et al by simply disappearing them and being done with it. But maybe the rescue team will begin their assault before it's too late; I'd hate to see either of them wind up in the feed trough for those toothless arena walkers.

Now, about that rescue effort: is it just me, or does this operation seem half-baked? They've done no reconnaissance whatsoever, are undermanned and outgunned, and really have nothing on their side but the element of surprise. We know from Andrea's “training” on the wall that their soldiers aren't as capable as they might think, but their sheer numbers are enough to make me very worried. Add in the as-yet-unknown variables of Andrea's discovery and Daryl's inevitable reunion with Merle, and this fly-by-night mission begins to take on an unmistakable air of tragedy.

What do you think, Nikki?

Nikki: “Tragedy” could very well be the theme of next week’s episode. I agree that they seem woefully unprepared, and they had Michonne right there and didn’t even pump her for information. In fact, when she started to speak, Rick hit her in the leg, Daryl practically poked her face with the arrow coming out of the crossbow, and both of them swore at her and treated her like garbage. Even though she was opening up to them — and trusting them, despite them treating her worse than the Governor did at first (AND taking her sword to boot) — far more than she’d ever trusted anyone in Woodbury. And why was that? Michonne isn’t stupid; she knows this is Andrea’s former tribe, I’m certain of it. Andrea probably described each one of them to Michonne. If she didn’t know who they were, she would have continued on her way and patched herself up alone (she’s fiercely independent and probably didn’t need anyone’s help to fix her leg up). Or, if she thought she DID need the help, she would have hobbled to the prison and gotten it. But she wouldn’t have dragged along the baby formula, which is quite heavy. She told Rick and Daryl a few things about Woodbury, and that their friends had been captured. But because, for lack of a better word, they acted like a pair of dicks to her, she didn’t tell them, “And oh, by the way, the head of security is this redneck pig with one arm named Merle. And… funny thing… he blames YOU GUYS for losing that arm! Know anything about that?”

It’s like she decided, “OK, for Andrea’s sake, I’ll give them the basics and hand over this formula and tell them where to find their friends. But… I’ll leave out the fact that big angry brother is in that camp. Wouldn’t want to ruin that surprise.”

We thought the reveal was going to be this week, but obviously they’re building that one up until next. I really REALLY hope they don’t hold it out until the end as a cliffhanger. I want to see the fallout now. (And you’re right, it will feel like the second part of a two-parter.)

And what of Andrea? She seems to have casually fallen into a routine of, “Hey honey, I’m home!” even though the old life is still very much a part of her (see: jamming her knife into the head of Mr. Coleman). What do you think of her this week?

Josh: Andrea still feels like something of a narrative means to an end to me. I enjoyed her scenes with Milton this week as he further tested his theories on trace consciousness with the gentle, determined euthanasia of Mr. Coleman. The sequence was filled with great touches, from the singing bowl to the inclusion of Jo Stafford's “It Could Happen To You” playing throughout, providing a nice counterpoint to their true purpose (and the title of which was a clever nod to the same). In fact, I think Milton's storyline in general, and the interest in more deeply examining the scientific aspects of the plague, has been a great addition to this season.

However, it hasn't proven much beyond the notion that he and the Governor are rather deluded in their views. Obviously the Governor's feelings for his zombified daughter are influencing his interest, and I would assume there is something yet unspoken in Milton's history that affects him similarly. Andrea's previous experience waiting by Amy's side until her sister turned, though unbeknownst to the Governor, gives her special insight into the situation, and hopefully her actions to save Milton's life will bond the two of them rather than drive him away in disgust. But other than that subjective experience, she really could have been anybody with a knife.

If nothing else, Andrea's presence in Woodbury has provided the writers a good way to keep the audience involved in those aspects of the story this year, revealing the larger truth slowly, and at least somewhat through her eyes. But of course we know the ugliest bits, whereas Andrea is still largely oblivious to the Governor's dark heart. My fear is that his veiled nature will only be revealed to her after she has sided with him in some awful, immutable fashion, once she has already made some terrible mistake that she can't take back. The blindness of her actions thus far seem to be servicing just that kind of dire eventuality, and I think it may finally break her if it comes to that.

Nikki: Now that I’m trying to think of another topic, I realize we’ve covered the main points of this week’s episode. So I’ll just point out a few things that were highlights for me:

-Merle hearing of T-Dog’s death and saying, “I hope he went slow.” Ouch.
-I didn’t write down who said it, but at one point someone asks for “Water and a towel.” And I misheard it (I blame the cold) and said to my husband, “Water and Nutella?!”
-Somehow in a zombie apocalypse Andrea has a perfectly fitted thong and an absolutely white bra.
-In that scene where the guys are emptying their trunk and there’s a walker lumbering up the road behind them, they completely ignore her. And, oddly, I felt sorry for her. Here’s her big chance to be all badass and scary, and they look at her like she’s nothing. I hope she wasn’t a wallflower in her previous life, because that would suck even more.
-I loved that the Governor is really upset to hear that 10 people took the prison, and that it was his original target to set up Woodbury but he’d been advised there was no way they could take it.
-That pounding heartbeat-like music that played at the end made the situation even more tense, and it was perfect.

And you, Josh? Any final thoughts for you?

Josh: I neglected to mention that strange interlude with the crazy dead dog guy in the cabin out in the woods, which I thought played as completely needless save illustrating to Rick and his team that Michonne isn't above killing the living when necessary (and maybe that animals are unaffected by the plague, not that we wouldn't have otherwise seen a zombie squirrel or something by now). Also, I heard that the American broadcast immediately followed those nasty final shots of the zombie mob devouring the poor lunatic with an ill-timed ad for Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is kind of hilarious. Still, I thought the whole sequence felt really off the wall and out of step with the rest of the episode.

There were also several lovely character moments scattered throughout, my favorite of which was Daryl's reveal that he'd found Carol, dehydrated but very much alive. It hadn't occurred to me that she knew nothing about Lori until it played out, and the sweet, sad, mostly wordless way they conveyed it, mostly in looks between Carol, Rick and Carl, broke my heart all over again. I was glad that Rick and Carl got a moment alone together as well before Rick headed off on the rescue mission. The father-son relationship that develops between the two of them is bound to be a significant part of the rest of the series, and I thought their conversation here, with Rick entrusting Carl to keep the others safe in his absence, then accepting Carl's thoughtful suggestion of a name for the baby, was a good next step.

The last came between Rick and Daryl on their walk to Woodbury, with Rick acknowledging “I know what you did for me” while he was working through the emotional fallout of Lori's death, and Daryl's straightforward “That's what we do” in response. It was a minor exchange in the grand scheme of things, but it spoke volumes about the way the dynamic between the two of them has developed. We discussed Daryl's position in the group at length last week in anticipation of his finding out Merle is still alive, and this was a great reminder of exactly what's at stake.

And I think we have to assume that revelation is on its way in this weekend's episode, as I can't imagine they can infiltrate Woodbury without encountering Merle at some point. Whatever happens next will likely determine the course of the rest of this season. With the deck stacked so heavily against Rick and his ragtag group of survivors, I'd say the outlook was grim at best.

Be safe out there, everyone. We'll see you next week.

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! 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Walking Dead: "Say the Word"

There are so many different kinds of love in this world. The love we have for our parents, for our siblings, for our friends, for our extended family, for our significant others, for our pets. I’ve felt all of them, and they’re all a different sensation. It’s a love that’s tested, that’s easy, that’s difficult, and sometimes, sadly, it’s a love that ends.

But to me, and to many others, the love that transcends them all is the love that we have for our children (I hope I don’t alienate any readers by saying this, because no offense is intended to those who don’t have children). There is nothing you wouldn’t do for them. It’s a love that sometimes is easy (from the moment you see that heartbeat on an ultrasound) and sometimes is difficult (when you don’t immediately feel anything for this new foreign being, and then they grow on you, and then you can’t imagine life without them). They will test that love beyond anything you can imagine. I have loved so many people, and have loved more people since having children, but nothing compares to those little people. Before I had kids, I could only imagine what it felt like. I loved my cats with all my heart and treated them like others treat their children. And then I actually had children. And all the imagining in the world couldn’t compare to the reality.  

Now, I referenced this a few weeks ago, but I’ll talk about it again (Warning: Spoilers for season 3 of Angel in this paragraph; skip to the next if you don’t want to see them). Before I had kids, I watched Buffy and Angel. To me, Angel became a masterpiece that rivaled its counterpart for the depths of emotions it could mine through the character of Holtz. Played by Keith Szarabajka (who, incidentally, not only appears in Argo but whose voice is in the Skylanders game; imagine my surprise when my son and I were playing the Dragon’s Peak level a couple of weeks ago and the bad dragon began speaking, and I thought, “Is that…?” And checked the credits and indeed it was), Holtz is a vampire hunter from the 18th century who found a way to follow Angel to the 20th century (long story, watch the show) to continue to hunt him. In a devastating backstory, we see that Angel and Darla had hunted and killed Holtz’s family, but turned his daughter into a vampire. There’s a scene that still hurts me, where he finds his daughter and knows she’s been turned, and he holds her and sings a lullaby to her before throwing her outside in direct sunlight, watching her burn to the ground. It’s horrible, and even before I had children it made my chest ache. So a couple of weeks ago when we first saw the Governor and I knew something terrible had happened to him, I said that maybe he’d had a Holtz situation on his hands.

And this week, we discover that’s exactly what happened to the Governor to make him like this. He also has a daughter who was turned, and presumably the rest of his family was killed (was his wife a walker? Did he have to kill her or was she destroyed in another way?), but he keeps his daughter close to him because she’s small and he can control her, so far. Mostly that means putting a bag over her head so she can’t bite him, or holding her body between his legs while he combs her hair, which is now coming off in clumps (taking her scalp with it). It shone a whole new light on the Governor, and as we suspected before, this is why he keeps a scientist close to him. Clearly he’s studying them for some sort of cure, or at least looking at ways in which he could neutralize her in a way. No wonder when he saw Michonne with her two pet zombies that he concluded they must be related to her. He knows what that feels like.

He has learned to deal with his pain, even if his way of dealing is deeply disturbing and involves zombie heads suspended in water-filled jars. Rick, on the other hand, deals with his new raw emotions this week, and the result is utter chaos.

What did you think of this week’s episode, Josh?

Josh: Due to inexplicable technical difficulties, I watched this week’s episode in fifteen-second chunks that gradually stuttered out onto my monitor’s screen over the course of about four and a half hours. This was a challenging method of viewing, to say the least – sort of like translating the broadcast from Morse code. As a result, it’s somewhat difficult for me to judge the overall pacing of ‘Say the Word,’ which came across as a bit uneven in light of the measured stride of recent weeks. Acknowledging the possibility that this perceived imbalance could have simply been the result of my jacked-up connectivity issues, however, I thought the episode was pretty great regardless, advancing the story in several significant ways despite perhaps being less propulsive than what we’ve come to expect thus far from season three.

Most important of these in terms of the breadth of its implications is the fact that Lori’s death has pushed Rick past the breaking point. The sheriff, it seems, has lost his everlovin’ mind. For how long, and to what degree, we don’t yet know. I loved the way Rick’s descent was portrayed, with its unrestrained violence and expressionistic sound design and utter lack of dialogue up to that final cracked “Hello” into the telephone at the end. It’s impossible to imagine the cumulative effect of being adrift in a world so nightmarish and untenable and utterly relentless, but madness seems one of the more likely cerebral responses.

That being said, I would love to offer unreserved sympathy in the face of such horrific circumstances, such senseless traumatic events. But the timing of your breakdown? Could definitely be better, dude. I don’t mean to sound callous, but there’s kind of a zombie apocalypse going on right now, you know? You have a group of survivors that counts on you – a group comprised of one young man, two young women, a senior citizen with a recently amputated leg, and oh yeah, YOUR TWO CHILDREN, one of whom is a newborn infant and the other is a 13-year-old who just shot his own mother in the head to prevent her inevitable rebirth into the legion ranks of ravenous undead – and they are currently under the supervision of two prison inmates whose transgressions are completely unknowable and a former meth head who, however trusted and capable he may be, is still just one guy with a single-shot crossbow and a knife.

Speaking of whom: by my measure, Daryl earned the MVP award for the episode in a big way. Last week we touched on just how far his character has come since his introduction, and Daryl’s actions in response to the bloodbath of ‘Killer Within’ were conclusive testament to that metamorphosis. Before anyone else had even lost the stunned looks off their faces, he was seizing the reins, mounting a run for baby supplies, even delegating psychological outreach for Carl. I never would have expected it, but Daryl has become the backbone of the group and – in light of Rick’s descent into hysteria – its de facto leader.

Nikki: Absolutely. Rick tried to stay strong and suppress his emotions for the group, but now that he’s needed by two people as a father, not their leader, he can’t step up, and instead every emotion he’s kept down over the past several months comes pouring out and then some, like a tidal wave that threatens to take down not just him, but everyone else in its riptide.

Daryl was definitely the hero of this set piece, as you say. The scene where he and Maggie go to the daycare was terrifying, and I was so caught up in the sadness of the picture — the empty cribs, those little paper handprints on the wall, the heartbreaking silence — that I was missing the obvious. As they rounded the corner and you could see the pantry door shaking, my husband gasped and said, “Baby zombies!” I shrieked and covered my eyes. I can handle just about anything, but not baby zombies. Thank god it was just a damn possum.

Formula, bottles, diapers… what a goldmine these two landed on. While the world is imploding around them, it’s these little mercies that make Maggie smile, an hour after she’d witnessed something brutal and horrifying. That said, I had to giggle when my husband — now an expert of feeding small children — said, “That bottle contains four times the amount of formula a newborn baby would require!” Hahaha…

Poor Carl, as you say, is in shock, and standing there trying to comfort his little sibling while being the big man and trying to name her in the absence of any parents in that moment. He goes the memorial route, suggesting Sophia, Carol, Patricia, Amy… and Lori (and many more, reminding us of just how many people these characters have lost). In my heart I was hoping he could be steered away from this thinking. This baby is brand new, born into a world that’s utterly changed, where you don’t have time to properly mourn the dead and probably don’t want to be reminded on a daily basis of how they went. It’s why Daryl’s suggestion — Lil’ Asskicker — is not only humorous, but apt. It seems like the perfect new name in this new world.

Back over in Woodbury, the Governor takes Andrea out to a special event involving UFC-style fighting (that’s scripted like the WWE) in a zombie cage match. All he needed to do was throw in a line of cocaine and a monster truck rally and it could have qualified for most romantic date EVER. On a scale of one to totally fucked up, where would you rank that one?

Josh: You left out the Skynyrd. Seriously, though… I can maybe halfway understand (though still disagree strongly with) the Governor’s psychological viewpoint, that desire to put people at ease by defanging (sorry) their aggressors. That being said, could they have chosen a more repulsive way to realize the idea? And frankly, the fact that he seemed to think Andrea would be into the whole spectacle as entertainment in the first place was either incredibly shortsighted on his part or further indication of how far to the right of reality his mind has slipped. Never mind that fear of the walkers is not just natural but the only healthy response to a creature that once was human but died, then rose from the dead and now wants to eat you. Never mind that the crowd at their homespun arena battle is making enough racket to ring the dinner bell for a good half mile in every direction. It was the sight of Andrea looking over at the cheering kid on his father’s shoulders that really sold it for me: “This place is not what they say it is.” There is nothing normal about it, despite the convincing fa├žade, and Andrea should know that with all certainty now. Now that it’s too late, and Michonne has already left her behind.

The big question in my mind is what Andrea does from here. With her traveling partner gone, she has no options left other than to stay and try to make the best of it. I’m convinced the Governor plans to go after Michonne – she’s been much too blatant in her sneaking around, much too transparent about her suspicion and distrust, and he’s bound to see that as a threat, particularly with her out there running free. I think he makes a habit of tying up loose ends like her, and I think he has every intention of doing so.

But then again, I don’t really expect Michonne to just leave Andrea in the wind, either. As viewers, we may not have been privy to the 8 months these two shared in one another’s company, relying on each other and keeping each other alive, but Michonne doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who would just disregard all that shared history based on the other’s susceptibility in the face of temptation. Her Lassie routine with Andrea at the gate may have fooled her, and it may have fooled Merle, but it didn’t fool me.

On the subject of off-screen events to which we weren’t privy: did Glenn’s speech about the Amazing T-Dog at the fence with Hershel ring hollow to anyone else? Not including his defense of the convicts in conversation with Rick during the last episode (which, being a direct textual prelude to his death, I don’t think should count), when was the last time we saw T-Dog do or say anything significant at all? When he sliced his arm open in the season 2 premiere? I suppose I can see, at least in theory, how the other members of the group might have considered him a valuable part thereof, but the audience was certainly never shown anything to indicate it. And simple inference just isn’t enough.

Nikki: I can’t remember exactly what he said to Hershel, and when I just went to check I realized my husband had erased it from the PVR [shakes fist at the sky] but he said something like, “He was such a good guy, and saved my ass a million times.” I added aloud, “Too bad he didn’t have a personality of any kind, or ever came off as a particularly useful part of the group.” The writers really failed with T-Dog.

But luckily, they’ve succeeded with so many others. I agree with your assessment of Michonne. Andrea had that look on her face like, “oh… oh sh–” throughout the zombie-laced Thunderdome spectacle, as if she’d missed her chance to get out of the madhouse by mere hours. I don’t see Michonne leaving her behind; she cares about Andrea. I disagree with the Governor’s actions on this one. Not just because of the noise (what about the humans outside of his wall, desperately hiding in trees and such because they can’t get into Woodbury, suddenly hearing fireworks and cannons being shot off, which would attract walkers for miles around?) but because by defanging the zombies, as you put it, he’s giving them a FALSE sense of security. Fear of those walkers is what has kept Rick and his crew alive. The moment you start to feel less afraid, you put your guard down. And when you put your guard down, you get killed.

Bringing it back around, as you say, I’m not sure if this will be Rick’s crew anymore. Can he come back from the nervous breakdown he’s had in this episode? When he walked into the boiler room I muttered, “Oh god… he’s going to… see her. WE are going to… see her.” And then we saw chunks on the ground and my husband said, “She’s been eaten!” Pull back camera to reveal a bloated walker who’s had his fill of Lori. And Rick went apeshit. And just as the zombie was sitting there, unable to move after madly gorging on mama meat, now Rick sits there, wild-eyed and unable to move after madly slicing up the contents of the walker’s stomach. And then… the phone rings. I half expected a voice on the other end to say, “Do you know where your children are?”

Gasp… the call is coming from inside the prison!!!!

Or, perhaps, the call is coming from that guy way back in season 1 who was talking to Rick on the walkie-talkie. Could it be? Could that man still be alive??

Any final thoughts, Josh?

Josh: I’m afraid I can’t comment on the telephone; as a reader of the comics, I know exactly who’s on the other end of that call, and offering any input at all would ruin a pretty delicious surprise. (And really, what I should say is that I think I know, barring one of those deliberate curve balls from the writer’s room designed specifically to confound we old-timers. Which they admittedly love to pitch at us.) But I will say that regardless of my foreknowledge, the moment still took me completely off guard, and after Rick’s demented exstabaganza, merely the sound of the ringing was so unexpected and incongruous that it made all the hair on my arms stand up. What a perfect cliffhanger to keep us talking and string us along until Sunday night.

Bits & Bobs:

-       When Merle and his crew went out to round up walkers for the arena to replace the ones Michonne dispatched, exactly what was that big crazy cylindrical metal thing with the anemometers at the top? I’m assuming that Milton the creepy scientist dude rigged it up to collect data, but it also seemed to be making some kind of sound, like a combination wind flute/music box, playing an eerie little tune presumably to attract walkers to the trap.  What. The. Hell.

-       Also: Milton the creepy scientist dude? Really gives me the heebie-jeebies. Like, worse than the Governor, who’s all huggy with his toothless, bag-headed zombie daughter and watches decapi-teevee. Wonder when the other shoe’s gonna drop with this guy.

-       You know Michael Rooker has SO much fun on this show. Sometimes Merle’s awfulness is lost in Rooker’s glee playing the part.

-       “Hello dinner.” “I’m not putting that in my bag.”

-       Special recognition goes to Andrew Lincoln this week, whose desperate, unhinged performance sold Rick’s divorce from reality brilliantly. Those empty eyes were chilling. And also to Bear McCreary, whose music is always terrific, but in my opinion tends to kind of dissolve into the background on this show more times than not. His work really stood out this week, I thought, and bettered the scene every time it appeared.

And that’s all for this time, gang. Be careful out there, and we’ll see you next week.