Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Walking Dead S3: "Killer Within"

Whenever I ask myself, “Can this show possibly get any more intense,” the answer is always, always, “Yes.”

Watching ‘Killer Within,’ this week’s new episode of The Walking Dead, was one of the most harrowing television viewing experiences of my life. This production team is peerless when it comes to escalating tension, but the cumulative potency of what went down in the prison this week left me not just shaken but physically shaking, as if from a chill in the air but in a perfectly temperate room. While wearing a sweater. Obviously there will be spoilers aplenty here, but folks, if you happen to read these recaps before seeing the episodes, I implore you not to do so this time. You owe it to yourself to witness these events unspoiled. Because yet again, nothing will ever be the same.

From the first moments, we know that something is wrong. Juxtaposed with beautiful misty shots of the prison at dawn, we see a hidden figure drag the body of a dead deer back toward the compound. This is not conventional hunting, however, as the carcass is torn open at its middle, and the figure is also carrying a gas can. Quickly it is revealed that the unknown figure appears to be using the smell of the blood and meat as a means of herding the walkers in the area, like leading rats through a maze with cheese. But to where are they being led? Who is doing this, and why? We see the figure open the prison yard’s outer gate, and as the theme music begins its slow fade in, their hand places an unmistakable shape into this open space – a small, blood-wet heart.

In retrospect, the image of a heart on the ground was excellent foreshadowing for what was about to happen to me.

Nikki: No. Effing. Kidding. I did NOT see any of this coming. It was as if they’d killed Kate off Lost. Or Xander off Buffy. Or Ned Stark off Game of Thrones. (Oh… wait…) I thought Sarah Wayne Callies was in this show for the long haul. I just assumed Lori was in for the long haul. Here we’ve been waiting for Carl to bite it, and while I was looking the wrong way… wow.

Let’s get this part out of the way, because you have it SO RIGHT when you say you were physically shaking, Josh. I was sitting on a couch with a throw over me, and I was shivering like I was sitting in a blizzard when this scene started, because a part of me knew it was coming. Hell, just beginning to type this paragraph my hands are going cold and I’m getting the shivers all over again. I just… can’t believe… that happened. When she said “Ooh, the baby’s comin’!” and then darted into the boiler room and began lying down on the floor my husband and I were actually chuckling. I wrote down in my notes, “Typical TV birth: First labour pain: 3:48 p.m. Baby arrival: 3:51 p.m.” And then Maggie told her that if she cut her, it would kill her. I kept thinking nah, someone will come to their rescue, don’t you worry about that. And then Lori gave the big goodbye speech to Carl. And I felt my blood run cold. Holy SHIT they were actually going to do this. No… no no no…

Because, here’s the thing. Anyone following these recaps will know there’s no love lost between me and Lori. But this week when she glanced over at Rick and smiled coyly, and tucked her hair behind her ear and he sort of half-smiled back, I felt a thrill run through me. I actually WANTED these two to make it. I wanted them back together. Dammit the writers knew exactly what they were doing. It’s like when they finally got Tara and Willow back together in “Seeing Red.”

Seriously, why do I keep watching TV when TV writers love stomping all over my emotions like this?!

When Maggie cut into her, I thought she’d passed out from shock — there are lots of stories of women giving birth under the Taliban, for example, with no anaesthetic, but they survive. Barely, but they survive. Then the baby came out… and then Carl did… that.

I’m getting emotional again, so it’s time for you to pick this one up and tell me your thoughts as the scene was happening, Josh. I kept seeing Carl as one of my kids, and my chest hurt thinking of a child going through that kind of pain. But then again, Carl’s no longer a child after going through what he just did.

Josh: No, he isn’t, and that is just one of the many ways that these events change everything from this point forward. But I’ll come back to that in a minute. You mentioned the lovely moment when Rick and Lori exchange that look across the yard, which was sort of the final grace note in that brief sequence wherein the group – separated into small clutches by fencing but still in relatively close proximity (and together, as it turns out, for the last time) – was watching Hershel up on his crutches and making his first courageous attempt at being mobile since the amputation. Everyone seemed to be taking a breath, not necessarily reveling but at least enjoying the moment, perhaps even entertaining the possibility that things could be different here, that things could be ok somehow. If only this was some other tv show.

From my notes: “Hey! Folks are smiling. Something terrible must be about to happen.”

Cue the shambling background. And the alarms. And the screaming. Cue the consequences.

As we learn soon thereafter, it was Andrew – the convict Rick had locked outside with a group of walkers just after dispatching ponytailed creep Tomas, the same convict that he (and I) naturally assumed was dead – that we saw with the deer in the opening segment, setting exactly this trap in revenge, intending to kill them all. And this, boys and girls, is what happens when you assume. The group scatters, with Glenn and Beth hustling Hershel to safety, Maggie and Carl rushing another way with Lori, and T-Dog and Carol going yet another. Oscar (the big guy) leads Rick and Daryl toward the generator to shut down the alarms, where they find Andrew lying in wait with an axe. As Daryl fights with the walkers at the door, unable to answer Rick’s cries for help, Oscar comes to the rescue, shooting Andrew in the head and then ceremoniously passing the gun back to Rick. For whatever it’s worth.

Because the damage is done. On the upside, we confirmed new loyalties and gained both Oscar and Axel (he didn’t die, right?), the other two convicts, as seemingly trustworthy allies. On the downside… well, there’s quite a lot of downside.

In their flight back toward the cell block, T-Dog is bitten, shortly after which he nobly sacrifices himself so that Carol can escape the group of walkers they encounter. We’ve discussed on many occasions how T-Dog seemed to be marked for death for ages now, as evidenced by the relative triviality of his characterization, but at least he got a heroic sendoff. Carol’s fate, however, is notably left uncertain at episode’s end, establishing just the kind of ambiguous dangling plot thread that I love the most. I can’t imagine she won’t return in some respect – she’s been too central a character for too long to think otherwise – but the diverse possibilities for that outcome are compelling, to say the least.

Lori’s fate, on the other hand, could not have been more explicit. Like you, I thought for sure her contractions would turn out to be a stress-induced false alarm or that someone would swoop in at the last minute to rescue them. And then things went the other way. At a sprint.

I’ve talked a lot this season about how effectively the writers re-shaped my feelings about Lori, and all of that fresh sympathy (along with a consistently excellent performance by Sarah Wayne Callies, which reached its definitive peak here) turned her death into the most poignant moment the show has ever given us. Everything about the way that scene played out seemed designed specifically to reduce me to a quivering wreck. Carl’s disbelief, then acceptance; Maggie’s panic; they way Lori guided her, reassured her. The speech… God, that speech. The shot of her slack face after the screaming stopped, and the limpness in her body as Maggie worked to pull the baby free from below the edge of the frame. And then, as if that all weren’t enough: “She’s my mom.” Good grief, man.

What an awful, phenomenal, emotionally draining composition. What a dreadful, powerful experience. Having been in the operating room during my wife’s second Caesarean didn’t help matters. Still, through it all, I somehow managed not to cry. Until the baby did. And that sound, that declaration, the definitive assurance that her sacrifice had not been in vain, undid me.

As you said, for anyone with children, it was likely impossible not to insert yourself into the situation. It’s hard to imagine the fallout of this tragedy – for Rick, for Carl, or for the group at large, which now has a motherless infant to keep alive. But perhaps the most troubling thought is the way this will impact Carl. During her farewell, Lori said, “Don’t let the world spoil you,” but it’s difficult to conceive how a 13-year-old boy can put a bullet in his mother’s head and remain unspoiled, a concern made all the more troubling by the fact that his father’s state of mind will doubtless be compromised as well. Watching Rick react to the news of Lori’s death in the episode’s final scene, I found myself mumbling, “Hug your son. Hug your son,” under my breath, but to no avail. How can this broken family possibly survive?

Nikki: Carl says goodbye to his mother, wipes away his tears, and helps deliver his sibling into this world before standing up, remembering his father handing him a gun and telling him it was time to be a man — and then he does the only thing he can. He makes sure his mother isn’t coming back as a monster. He enters that room a panicked boy, and emerges a broken man.

Rick, on the other hand, turned off his emotions several months ago when he told everyone that they were infected, and that he was the new leader. He has led them with a sharp eye and brain, and pretended not to notice the wife and son tagging along. But in this moment, he’s thrown right back into his former life, remembers he’s not just a leader but a husband, and absolutely falls apart. He sobs uncontrollably, loses control of his body completely, and crumples to the ground and curls up in a fetal position. Where Carl grew up, Rick devolves from a man into a baby, with so many warring emotions he doesn’t know what to do with them. I was doing the same as you were, begging him in my mind to HUG THAT BOY, but I knew he couldn’t. He didn’t even know Carl was there. He didn’t know anyone was there. All he knew was that Lori wasn’t there, and that he never had the chance to tell her she was forgiven. The only performance that came close to Sarah Wayne Callies’ this week was Andrew Lincoln’s as Rick.

I can’t even imagine what happens next week.

A quick aside here: Entertainment Weekly had an observational (but ultimately inconclusive) article about how we tend to hate the wives of shows, regardless of how bad the husbands are. That we love to hate Lori and forgive Rick; that fans heap vitriol on Skyler while standing behind Walter; that we couldn’t believe Carmela would accept jewels over fidelity despite the fact her husband was a mob boss… that we always go after the wives as if they’re somehow holding their evil husbands back from their evil. It was an interesting observation (too bad the article didn’t look at reasons why, THAT would have been even more interesting). But I think a lot of it is perspective: we are put into the mindset of the men early on, and when they’re frustrated by their wives, so are we. (That said, I’m a fan who loved Skyler this past season on Breaking Bad. But back over to Walking Dead, where the “troublesome wife” is now the dearly departed.)

I don’t believe Carol is dead; as you say, we’ve marked him in every episode, and the one time my guard was down, THAT was when the guy finally goes. (You know, when he actually has an opinion earlier in the episode and for a brief moment you think they’ll assign this character a personality, FINALLY.) But he dies a hero, as you say. Carol was wearing a scarf for the first time ever in this series. It seemed a little strange at first, like she was a cancer patient hiding the fact she’d lost all her hair, and I remember thinking, “What’s with the uncharacteristic headgear?” but it was a purposeful prop: she was wearing it simply so she could leave something behind. She’s alive. I have no doubt. But where is the question.  She could probably get over to the woods using her savvy (Andrew got over there and he wasn’t nearly as experienced as she was; we can assume he was the guy peering through the trees at the prison two episodes ago). Or maybe she’s just somewhere else in the prison.

And now over to Pleasantville. (OK, I looked it up, it’s called Woodbury. I prefer Pleasantville.) This week the Governor hands Andrea some scotch instead of tea, and I STILL thought it was poisoned. And then he tells her his name — Phillip — attempting to instill some trust in her. And it works. (Though we don’t trust him for a second!) What’s his motive? Why does he want Andrea in particular to stay?

Josh: The Governor is a megalomaniac in the truest sense of the word. And with special emphasis on the ‘maniac.’ Even if the reasoning were as simple as the guy just wants to control everything that’s left of the world, then that would be enough to adequately explain to me his focus on Andrea and winning her over to his cause. But I think, in this case, his interest is more multifold.

First, there’s Merle, who appears to serve a relatively significant role in the Governor’s militia. It’s obvious that Daryl is still forefront in his mind (well, right after wanton lechery, anyway), and that’s a potential problem. The obligation Merle feels toward the Governor for saving his life is strong enough to keep his worst tendencies in check but could certainly be supplanted by the desire to reunite with his brother, and the Governor knows it. Add the wrinkle that this long-lost sibling may well still be running with the very faction that left him for dead, against whom he yearns for vengeance, and a simple dispute quickly becomes a complete division, costing the Governor not only his general but whomever else Merle convinces to go along. He can’t afford for the situation to spin out of his control, and Andrea is yet another means of insurance, in terms of both knowledge and familiarity.

Second, there’s Michonne, who continues to be woefully transparent in her distrust of this new foe. Doesn’t she know this guy’s frickin’ crazy? He may be nuts, but the Governor is also wicked smart and certainly not to be underestimated. After just a day or two in her company, he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the sword-wielding stranger will never be swayed to his cause; moreover, she is on to his duplicitousness like flies on a cow’s butt, and dissent is not his favorite sound. In fact, I think it’s a good way to wind up with your dreadlocked noggin in his freaky scarequarium. He views keeping Andrea close as another way of keeping Michonne close. And he wants to keep a very close eye on her indeed. Right up until he makes her disappear.

Before I pass it back to you for the wrap, Nik, I’d be remiss if I didn’t call special attention to the series’ first appearance of the ancient art of golf. Two questions: Can Rob hit a moving zombie in the head at 150 yards? And secondarily, what do you think would be the viability of a driving range devoted to training just such a skill? I know a guy with a big backyard.

Nikki: First of all, scarequarium!! HAHA! I will totally be using that word from now on.

And secondly, you have definitely guessed how excited my husband and I were to see the golf scene. (As some of you might know, my husband is a golf writer with pretty much no handicap, and is obsessed about golf architecture the same way I am about the minutiae on Lost.) We see the Governor hit the ball of the top (and bean the zombie, HA! I laughed out loud on that one) and my husband’s comment was, “Nice swing!” The Governor says at one point, “You should see Augusta.” And I looked at Rob and grabbed his arm and gasped, saying, “Oh my god, in a zombie apocalypse you could TOTALLY PLAY AUGUSTA.” He suddenly had a look on his face like he was desperately trying to figure out how to bring on a zombie apocalypse.

Here’s what I loved about Morrissey’s portrayal of the Governor this week: that facial twitch. Did you notice every time something happened that wasn’t going his way, there was a very, very slight facial twitch just under one eye? It was brilliant. He wouldn’t make a very good poker player.

I, too, am really looking forward to the eventual reunion between Merle and Daryl. Daryl has changed (or maybe he was always this kind of guy, and was just acting the part of the hick-boy redneck to appease his older brother) and I don’t think Merle will take too kindly to this brother, who probably now aligns himself with Merle’s traitors more than he does his own brother. But there’s a possibility we’ll see Daryl switch, too. As we saw in the hallucination sequence last season, Merle still has quite a hold over his brother’s conscience. I wonder if the two extra inmates (who are quickly growing on me, by the way) would align themselves with Merle over Rick’s people, who keep leaving them behind?

Next week: The characters deal with two — possibly three — deaths in their small unit. 


Unknown said...

So, was Killer Within a reference to Andrew, or to the baby?

Efthymia said...

Andrea is stupid. I think Michonne should just leave her there and go.

I cried so much in this episode, and I didn't even like Lori.
Regarding the Entertainment Weekly article about the wives, I don't believe the viewers alone are to blame, at least not usually. As a feminist, I always try to think hard why I dislike a female character, and I 've reached the conclusion that female characters are just often written as more obnoxious, and, practically always, the funny, geeky character that the majority of viewers will love is male.

Personally, I dread a Daryl-Mearl reunion.

Ugh, I knew I should have never begun watching this show! It's LOST frustration all over again!

Colleen/redeem147 said...

Justin - yes.

I think it's the way wives are written. They're more of an obstacle to the husbands freedom than characters in their own right. Lori seemed to be there to undermine Rick and to have had an affair to upset him.

I wonder how people feel about Scott Speedman's wife on Last Resort, who is very supportive of him. Though again, that seems to be her reason for existence.

Re: Lori. I had Darla flashbacks.

I watch The Talking Dead after and they read people's tweets. One was 'Someone better start lactating. I'm looking at you, Hershel.'

Anonymous said...

He knew Carl was there, knowing that his son had to shoot her, is what drove him over the edge. He quite clearly said something along the lines, of "NO, OH NO", when he reached out to Carl, Carl kept on walking. That's when Rick completely fell apart. I would have too.

Anonymous said...

Was I the only one hoping for z zombie-baby ala the Dawn of the Dead remake in 2004?

What a great season.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention two of my closest friends who are African-American noted that as soon a second AA joined the group the first one had to die as if you can only have one on the show at a time. Hmmmmmmm.

Thank you so much for the write-ups.

-Tim Alan

Nikki Stafford said...

Justin: Great question, and it's interesting because as I was writing down the title while Josh and I were handing this back and forth, I started wondering where that came from... and then by the time I got it back over to me, I'd moved on from that thought and didn't incorporate it into our discussion.

I think it's a great title for this episode: Andrew is the killer within the prison; the baby inside Lori is what ultimately killed her; the Governor inside Woodbury has a killer buried deep inside him (or maybe... not so deep) and the actual zombie that exists in every single one of them is the reason Carl had to shoot his own mother. He had to stop the killer within from emerging. It's a fantastic title.

Nikki Stafford said...

Efthymia and Colleen: Yes, I completely agree on the wives thing (I think that's what I said on the blog, too, that they're written in such a way that we see the man's perspective first and then the wives come off as people standing in their way). Interesting comment on Last Resort, because I actually do like his wife a lot. And I actually like Jess on Homeland, too. I wasn't aware people were hating her until I read it in EW.

Page48 said...

So, presumably T-Dog will up and about shortly. I don't think anyone took him down with a brain shot, did they?

Is that the Governor's last bucket of balls, cuz if it is shouldn't he be blasting them somewhere toward the center of Pleasantville where it's safe to bend over and pick them up?

Couldn't Carl the Walking-Shane-Killer have shot Mommy first so she didn't have to endure the torture of being carved up like a Thanksgiving bird? Different story if they were 'shallow cuts', but this was never going to end well for Lori.