Thursday, November 01, 2012

Walking Dead S3: "Walk With Me"

Nikki: Welcome back to our rundown of The Walking Dead. As we enter the third week, the action slows down a little bit so we can catch up on the one that got away: Andrea. We’ve been waiting to see some serious Michonne story ever since she showed up with her two jawless, armless zombie pack mules at the end of season 2, and we caught a brief glimpse of her and Andrea in the season premiere (seven months in, they appear to be very close friends) but nothing substantial. This week the entire episode is devoted to them.

First of all, every time I see those two walkers of hers I shudder, but they are absolutely BRILLIANT. As the Governor says when he sees them, she’s taken away their ability to bite and eat, and they’ve therefore lost the desire to.  But they make an interesting observation in this week’s episode: they appear to be people Michonne has a connection to (and she becomes very quiet when they make that suggestion). I’m going to suggest brothers, but I guess we’ll see. I hope.

Michonne is very quiet, distrustful, quick with a sword, brooding, and smart. She takes a while to suss out a situation before acting, and when she does act — like when she decapitates her walkers — she does so swiftly and assuredly, like she is doing the only thing possible in that situation. When everyone else around her is trying to find happiness, she views everything that seems too good to be true with absolute suspicion. And rightfully so.

When she and Andrea enter Pleasantville, I have to admit it looked like a paradise to me. People sitting on park benches not worried to just be living their lives; armed guards keeping the baddies out; a pillow, a warm bed, electricity for god’s sakes; fresh food that doesn’t look like a squirrel cooked over a small fire, which is probably what they’ve been living on for months. But Michonne is not happy. She knows something is terribly wrong with that place.

And the thing that is terribly wrong appears to be the Governor.

What was your overall take on this week’s episode, Joshua? And does Michonne remind you at all of Agent 355 in Y: The Last Man? Because I can’t stop comparing the two in my head…

Josh: Good call on Agent 355! (Boy, I wish they'd make THAT show already.) I came late to the Brian K. Vaughan Appreciation Society, so I was already well into 'The Walking Dead' comics when I read the adventures of Yorick and his baton-wielding bodyguard badass for the first time. Her appearance certainly predates Michonne's introduction, though, and you're right that it's difficult not to see a similarity.

Of course, the resemblance is merely cosmetic. I wouldn't exactly call 355 jovial or anything, but she does possess a certain glib levity. Michonne, not so much. Didn't I tell you the snarl never leaves her face? That austere inscrutability is all very true to the character in the comic; Kirkman is past 100 issues now, and we still have no real idea of Michonne's backstory. And with all the ways that the show's writers play fast and loose with the original mythology, I'm glad they have decided to keep that element as-is. I enjoy imagining for myself what kind of person she was before the sky fell and the many ways those details might play into her skepticism and disdain. And, you know, her fondness for ancient bladed weaponry.

It would seem fairly obvious that there are lots of reasons to be suspicious, too. Unless your name is Andrea, queen of suckers. I guess we could blame it on her fever or something, but I'm kind of disappointed by how easily the Governor managed to sway her. Perhaps, after so much time on the run, she just needs the rest. I can easily see how someone in this kind of relentless nightmarish situation could be overcome with eagerness to simplify their existence, to let someone else worry about the details and just relax and do some gardening for a change. But relinquishing control requires trust, and trust has to be earned, no matter how seductive is the siren song of a hot shower post-apocalypse.

He's baa-aaaaack...

 If nothing else, I would have thought the placement of Merle in a prominent leadership position within his militia would have been all the damning evidence against the Governor that Andrea would need. Surely she hasn't forgotten how he was in the days before this group brought him in and the Governor began to temper his less acceptable impulses. I really enjoyed Michael Rooker's performance this week and the polish Merle's temperament has received, which seemed to me a necessary element of the character's reintroduction in terms of narrative sustainability. Merle was so unpalatable as originally represented – such a blatantly despicable, weakly sketched stereotype – that, for me, it ruined all the malice and dread that was possible, killed the tension with its simplicity. But this time is a different story.  Those old urges of his may be restrained, but it seemed clear that they're still simmering under the surface. It's only a matter of time before the soup bubbles up through that skin.

What did you think of Merle's return to the story?

Nikki: I agree. Merle did feel very different this week than when we last saw him, and his character, as you say, was very black and white when we last saw him handcuffed to that rooftop. Daryl was originally painted the same way, but we’ve seen a different side to him and he’s become a fan favourite. In doing so, the writers have made it plausible that perhaps there’s a deeper layer to Merle as well, and just as Daryl came off like a yahoo racist but deepened into someone richer and more complex, so too could Merle have just been showing one side of himself to everyone just to make them think that was who he was so they’d stay away from him. Now it’s less obvious what his motivation is, which, as you say, makes him far more frightening.

Did it surprise you at all that Andrea immediately began telling him EVERYTHING as if they were old survivor buddies rather than enemies? The look on Michonne’s face, staring at Andrea as if willing her to SHUT THE HELL UP while still trying to size up the situation and her exact relationship with him, pretty much mirrored my own face in that moment. But perhaps Andrea was being a little wilier than it appeared in that scene. Maybe she saw the crack in his exterior, and knowing that they learned how to appeal to Daryl, maybe she thought she could gain his sympathy by simply telling him the truth.

I’m also not sure Andrea’s completely drunk the Kool-Aid on Pleasantville yet, either. (Although she did drink the tea, which I was convinced was poisoned at first since no one else was drinking it.) When she was flirting with the Governor, I felt like she had an ulterior motive, more of a “keep your enemies close” kind of mentality. I’m not sure she’s ready to kick up her feet and start joining the Pleasantville 4-H Club just yet (even though it’s clear there’s a part of her that wishes she could); I think her time with Michonne has taught her to ask questions. Of course, there’s that scene where she and Michonne are talking and Michonne is immediately suspicious of this town and Andrea’s all, “Why, what’s so bad about it??” But I feel like they had to insert something like that in there just to voice what some of the fans might be thinking. My husband, for one, said, “They have ELECTRICITY. Stop asking questions and blend in. Enjoy your pillow.” So they had to have some sort of conversation about it or it would have been left unsaid.

Now as for that Governor… what the hell is up with that guy? He has zombie heads in a room and watches them in lieu of television (but looks like he has to force himself to watch); he pretends to be all nice but HE’S NOT ALL NICE; he blows away an entire army rather than showing them the small paradise he’s created and asking for their help… why? My thinking is he’s playing god with the new town, and any army guys would immediately try to take control of his little town. HE is the one in control, and he’s the Governor in spirit as well as in name. I’m thrilled they’ve cast David Morrissey in the role. He’s that guy you’ve seen in every great British miniseries — State of Play, Sense and Sensibility, Five Days — and he was also the “Next Doctor” in one of the Tennant Doctor Who Christmas specials. He’s a fantastic actor, and brings the right amount of density and vagueness to the role that you can’t quite put your finger on what he’s all about, but he scares the bejesus out of you anyway.

What were your thoughts on the Governor?

Josh: The fact that I've read the source material made it impossible for me to enter into this season without any preconceived notions. As I've said before, the storyline encompassing Woodbury and the prison is a very significant one in the comics. The show is a separate entity, at least to a point, and its writers have certainly diverged from that antecedent chronology in many ways while at the same time honoring, and staying largely congruent to, the broad strokes of its overarching mythology. That being the case, the introduction of the Governor inspired lofty expectations from anyone familiar with the character. And certainly for my part, those expectations were met and exceeded.

In much the same way as he has guided the reform of Merle's disposition, the Governor projects one person outwardly but is someone else on the inside. He  exudes an air of calm and reason, is a picture of moderation and stability amongst the greater part of his populace. But from the later scenes of his unbalanced behavior and propensity for calculated slaughter, we know that there is something much more sinister that has brought him the kind of unqualified deference he receives. His authority is no accident. It wasn't thrust upon him like Rick. He saw an opportunity, and he seized it. With gusto. And will do anything to preserve it.

I can't say enough good things about David Morrissey in the role. He does such a tremendous job of portraying the charisma and veiled menace of the Governor, and I am thrilled about where we go from here. Thrilled, and also terribly concerned for our somewhat-heroes. Because, in your words, HE'S NOT ALL NICE. Maybe not even a little. Their world just got quite a lot bigger, and I don't think they'll be happy about the new borders.

Which brings me to my favorite part of this season thus far, and that has been how much these events are serving to broaden the canvas of this story. It's one of the things that drew me to the comics in the first place, this notion that a vast majority of zombie tales take place soon after their respective cataclysms and detail a very limited subsequent scope. Kirkman's interest was in what happened much farther down the road – not just the idea of survival but the concept of endurance, and all that it entails.

Last week we discussed how surprising we both found it that the convicts had no idea of what had happened in the outside world. This week we find nothing less than the rebirth of civilization, including jobs, laws, medical care, even a dedicated (albeit secret supercreepy) science lab investigating the plague (and taking special care, I noticed, to mention families having babies). The larger that these concepts are writ, the greater are the possibilities, and this opens up the potential of the show in an incredibly exciting way.

Nikki: Absolutely. We always assume the rebirth of a new civilization will be like a glorious utopian phoenix rising from the ashes of our historical mistakes, determined not to repeat any of them. And that just doesn’t happen, because it’s those filled with power-hungry greed who will try to snatch the reins the moment they can, and the Governor is the one with the backbone and the nerve to do just that. Something terrible has happened to him. Perhaps like Holtz in season 3 of Angel, he saw his entire family destroyed by undead creatures and it turned his heart to stone, vowing to avenge their deaths. Notice how quick he is to find out if Michonne had a connection to her pet zombies, as if that connection is something he could use to bring her over to his side.

At the end of the episode, when he sat down in the chair and didn’t immediately look up — and when he did it was while wincing, and looking like his heart was being ripped in two — I was convinced he would be staring into a white room with a glass wall at his zombie family. I thought perhaps he would be keeping them alive, and that’s why he has a scientist on staff to dissect other walkers: he’s trying to find a cure for them. But then again, that would be a bit of a retread of Hershel’s m.o. last season, and the writers would probably want to avoid that. So what was it? What made him like this? Is it just a natural thing for the Type A personality to rise up and assume leadership of a people who can’t find the stamina to do it themselves?

He’s starting a Fearful New World (they don’t yet have the distance to be Brave) and as with everyone, he has to show one side to the public, as you say, and only we get to see the other side. Even the most evil person probably had moments of self-doubt. When Andrea asks him his real name, he says he never tells anyone what it is. She tilts her head to one side and says flirtatiously, “Never say never.” He smiles back, moves in, and with a smile says, “NEVER.” Don’t dare this man, because he will meet that dare and one-up you every single time. But he’s vulnerable, just like everyone else. At what point will that vulnerability be his undoing?

I remember years ago when I watched The Wire for the first time, when it was first airing. In season 3 I said of Stringer Bell that on this show, the only thing more dangerous than a crime lord is a really intelligent and educated crime lord. What’s interesting about the threat on this show is that the walkers aren’t intelligent at all. They’ve lost the ability to think, and act on instinct alone. And that’s proving to be just as scary as an intelligent monster. But the Governor has shown that with time, effort, and resources, you can build an infrastructure to keep the stupid monsters out and stay on top of it. The problem is, they appear to have locked the intelligent monsters inside with them. They just don’t know it yet.

Any final thoughts until next week?

Josh: I know I'm beginning to sound like a skipping record, but I can't overstate how pleased I am with the direction this season has taken. The writing and direction, the cast's performances, the visual characterization of the new locations, every element seems to have been reevaluated and improved to strike an equilibrium I've always craved from this show. 'The Walking Dead' has always been great at generating tension and serving up the gore, but I've never been so satisfied with everything else. The team has pulled together and maintained a level of quality through these episodes that not only feels for the first time like it adequately justifies the unprecedented popularity of the series but also begins to truly fulfill its potential as a new genre champion.

That auspicious new countenance could always falter, of course, but with prospects so strong, it would take a succession of serious missteps to throw things off course now. Their nature has kept the two halves of this season's story estranged so far, but we all know the time is coming when they overlap and collide. And oh, it promises to be Shakespearean, Lady Stafford. When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.

Have a great weekend, everyone.


Chris in NF said...

I have to say, after being quite disappointed last season by this show, I am LOVING this season.

One question, though ... is there anyone else who thinks, as good as David Morrissey is as the Governor ... that Kyle Chandler (aka FNL's Coach Eric Taylor) would have been frakkin' AWESOME in that role?

Just askin'.

Batcabbage said...

Great write up, guys!

I can't say that I've ever seen any similarities between Three-Fifty and Michonne. It actually never even occurred to me until I read it here. I can understand how you might make the comparison, Nik, but I've gotta agree with you, Josh, the similarity is purely cosmetic. But at this stage in the show, we've barely even scratched the surface of what they're going to do with Michonne, so I guess the comparison is understandable. I've just never done it, which I'm finding weird.

Something that contributes to that stance (that Three-Fifty and Michonne are nothing remotely alike) is that I've read the comics. There's a phrase that used to get spouted pretty regularly in our house - "That's not how they did it in the book." For me, it happens with TWD, and for my lovely Batkitty, it happens with True Blood. But it got to the point where we both realised we were becoming those wankers who constantly spout "This is nowhere near as good as the book!" all the time (although, Batkitty stopped thinking that about True Blood a long time ago). The point is that up until now, although I've been watching TWD every week, I've always felt that it had the potential to be great, but it just wasn't getting there. In fact, I was thinking of dropping it altogether. Then season 3 started, and from the first scene of episode 1 (which is quite frankly the best scene of TV I've seen this year) it was like I was watching a different show. And this third episode? Fantastic. The return of Merle is great. David Morrissey is always brilliant (check out the mini-series Blackpool). The scientist guy with the walker heads attached to wires, all twitchy? Excellent! All that scene was missing was Jeffrey Combs. I will say that the way Andrea has taken to the place was a little jarring, but to be fair, we don't really know what's happened to her in the months since she hooked up with Michonne, apart from just surviving. The allure of electricity and pillows, as your husband says, Nik, must be pretty overwhelming.

A great episode, in what I'm hoping will end up being a great season. Thanks for the write up, guys!

Oh, and @Chris in NF: Hell, YES! Coach for Governor! I'm halfway through a FNL rewatch right now (JD McCoy has just been humiliated by his knob of a father for getting drunk - MAN, I HATE THAT GUY!), so your casting choice resonates with me. Nicely done, sir!

Nikki Stafford said...

Blech. McCOY! Just saying that name makes me want to spit. I think Kyle Chandler is brilliant in just about anything, although I must admit seeing him as a potential baddie would hurt. A lot. But I can just see it: "Scratched eyeballs, non-beating hearts, MORE BRAINS!!" (Somehow not as effective as his FNL chant.) Heehee...

As for Agent 355, I fear both Batcabbage and Josh think I'm making the comparison purely because it's an African-American woman with weaponry. That's not it at all. Yes, personality-wise 355 is leagues away from Michonne; what I meant was Michonne is the savvy one who has been at this as long as anyone else has, yet who seems like she's been fighting zombies all her life. Similarly the men died on the same day for 355 as for Yorick, yet it was like she knew absolutely everything in the world. He relied on her as heavily as Andrea relies on Michonne, and hides behind her the same way Andrea hides behind her bodyguard. Michonne does act as much like a bodyguard/confidante as 355 does.

But yes, as you say, Michonne has zero sense of humour, and 355 is pretty frickin' hilarious in her deadpan way. But the "cosmetic" comments have me worried you both think I'm talking about her skin colour, and I meant it more in the bodyguard and hierarchical sense.

But yes, I'm sure I'm missing something not having read the books. YET.

Did I mention that, much like Game of Thrones, I actually have the Walking Dead books? I've just never read them because I worry it would put Josh and I on the same page and I want our opinions to be slightly different; just as I haven't read GoT so Chris can be our literary expert and I can talk about the shows.

Oh the sacrifices I make for these partnerships!! (And they are so worth it.) ;)

Batcabbage said...

At the risk of this turning into an 'I hate the McCoys!' back and forth, I HATE THE MCCOYS! As we watch season 3, I've been saying to Batkitty that for all our fave characters on FNL, this year is like 'The Year of Hell' that the crew of Star Trek Voyager has. Everything bad you can think of happens to everyone we love. I hate it, and yet I love it, and can't stop watching. Stupid Tyra! Doesn't she realise Landry is the best guy EVER???!!!

...ahem. Sorry.

As to the bodyguard thing, I honestly haven't seen Michonne that way simply because Andrea has been so adept at the wasting walkers (yay alliteration!) thing in the past (well, apart from that time she needed rescuing at the end of season 2, but still). Basically, I just saw Michonne as looking after a sick friend in these episodes, and if Andrea was at full strength, she'd be in there mixing it up as well. But now that you've pointed the bodyguard view out, I totally get where you're coming from.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

I don't understand people's problems with McCoys. I love Deforrest Kelly.

I'm so excited about David Morrissey being on this season. Blackpool is amazing, and it made me fall for David Tennant before I saw hi as The Doctor.

Can't think of anyone more charming and more dangerous they could have cast than Mr. M. The Gambler- Blackpool

Batcabbage said...

Every rule has its exception, Colleen, and Bones is the McCoy's. (Speaking of which, Batkitty and I, just last night, finished our rewatch of every Star Trek TV series and movie - including the original series cartoon. In star date order. It took a year. Her nerd-transformation is now complete!)

Blackpool was the first time I ever heard Tennant's actual accent, which was just so amazingly cool. And I kinda fell in love with the mum in that show (which was fine, since Batkitty spent most of Blackpool making 'oooooh!' noises at the Doctor). Am I right in thinking they did a sequel to Blackpool?

Nikki Stafford said...

Blackpool has Morrissey AND Tennant????? Now going to watch. NOW. How did I not know this? Ack, I remember when it was airing on BBC Canada years ago and I didn't watch it, but I had no particular interest in either of those actors. DW, of course, changed that!

Austin Gorton said...

Great write-up, per usual.

As you said, I really like the way the Governor/Woodbury opens up the world of the show and puts a wider focus on events independant of Rick and company's "we're just trying to survive" narrative.

That said, I remain very wary of the inevitable "we have met the enemy, and he is us" confrontation between Rick and the Governor, but at least in the first three episodes of this season, I have more confidence in the show's ability to handle that confrontation in a pleasing way than I would have last season.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

There is a sequel to Blackpool, and it kinda sucks. Stick with the original.

Sarah Parrish, who plays the wife, is the big spider in Doctor Who - Runaway Bride.

Nikki Stafford said...

Question: Is Blackpool only available in PAL format? (I have an international player, but I would prefer NTSC...) I will get it either way, though!

Batcabbage said...

As far as I can tell, Nik, it's only out on region 2 (Europe) and region 4 (Australia, which is amazing, because we always seem to get shafted in the dvd availability stakes).

Colleen/redeem147 said...

A friend got me my copy on eBay as a gift. Since it's the Emmy reel it MIGHT not exactly be kosher. :)

I hate the new validation code thing here. They're almost impossible to read.