Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Walking Dead: "Home"

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to our weekly recaps of The Walking Dead, featuring the impromptu compositional stylings of myself, Josh Winstead, and your fabulous host, pop culture den mother and sovereign ruler of the Niktatorship: Miss Nikki Stafford.

This week's episode, “Home,” was a diverse one, giving us everything from flirty sweetness to sweaty madness and all manner of in-between. It also presented several series firsts, including Daryl and Merle together in both conversation and combat, Michonne volunteering helpful information, Rick expressing awareness of his ongoing breakdown, Andrea appearing to finally (maybe) pick up on the Governor's duplicitousness, a minor character embellishing his/her backstory as precursor to being unceremoniously slaughtered... wait, scratch that last one, because that happens EVERY TIME. Still, lots of great stuff to discuss and dissect, so let's get to it.

The top of the hour picks up right where we left off, with Rick still firmly in the grasp of a prolonged mental collapse. While on patrol at the front of the compound, he again sees Phantom Lori, wandering about the grounds wearing the same ethereal white satin dress in which she appeared on the prison walkway in last week's episode. He follows her out and into the woods, leaving unlocked gates behind him as he goes. Which, considering his position as leader and gate guard – not to mention the whole zombie plague thing going on – is rather inadvisable, really. But fortunately for Rick, Michonne was nearby to secure the gates, having taken up in an overturned bus out in the prison yard when he kicked her out of the big house for what I can only classify as exasperating social ineptitude. (I should probably note, however, that her absence of communication also extends to people who aren't there, too, so who's inept now, buddy?)

The ongoing situation with Rick hemorrhaging marbles is at this point most astutely observed by Hershel, who continues to be the smartest guy in every room this season and the only one of the survivors, even after last week's wild outburst, who knows the full depth and breadth of Rick's impairment. The group has probably never needed Rick more than they do right now, and of course that means he's never been less capable. Glenn, spurred somewhat by necessity but more by his anger and frustration over what happened to he and Maggie during their incarceration in Woodbury, is trying to take the reins, but his rage is clouding his judgment. Hershel, of course, knows the secret of Glenn's motivation (not that he's trying to hide it) and is desperate to pull the sheriff off the disabled list and put him back in the game. But Rick's illness will not be easily resolved, and at some point his inadequacy will need to be addressed, or I fear that it will cost them much more dearly than Axel's life.

I loved the debate between Hershel and Glenn about what to do next, anticipating the Governor's retaliation for the rescue mission against Woodbury. Both made excellent points during the discussion, and though there was not necessarily a 'right' answer, they certainly settled on the best crappy option by choosing to stay and try to defend the prison. The scene played beautifully, I thought, reasoned and organic, whereas comparable encounters in the past have struggled to find a similar authenticity. In light of the surprising events at episode's end, however, I'm no longer sure how much a difference reason and preparation will make in the coming conflict.

Nikki, what are your thoughts on the group's struggles for leadership in the face of this building storm?

Nikki: The theme of leadership was definitely front and centre in this episode. Whether it’s the Governor oddly stepping down in Woodbury or the question of who is next in line at the prison, leadership is definitely in flux. And it begs the question: what makes a good leader? Is it someone who can fight? Not really, because there are plenty of soldiers in any battle who can fight better than the leaders. A leader is someone who can make decisions.

Glenn and Hershel talk about leadership, and Glenn says flat out that Rick is basically batshit crazy, so that makes him the de facto leader. And I couldn’t help but think, really? Why isn’t anyone considering Hershel? Is it because he’s missing a leg? That doesn’t seem to have affected his calm, his reason, and his decision-making. He can tell a liar from someone who is trustworthy, and has a sixth sense better than anyone. He sees right to the heart of everything: he knows his daughter has been abused in some way, and while that must tear him up inside, he’s giving her the room she needs to deal with it. He knows that Glenn is going through horrible guilt and confusion of his own, and he’s let him know that he’s like a son to him, that he can talk to him whenever he needs to, and again he’s let him have his space. He knows that Rick is out of his tree, and he’s the only one not scared to approach Rick about it. When Rick comes clean (in a way he never would with anyone else in that compound), and tells him that he can see Lori, but he knows she’s not real (a VERY important admission, and one that gives us hope for Rick yet), Hershel immediately asks if she was also the one on the telephone. He’s putting together all of the events in the prison, and knows what people are thinking and feeling. He enters the picture to give advice and to listen, and leaves them alone to come to their own conclusions.

He’s a truly amazing character, and one that they all need at a time like this.

Merle and Daryl, as you say, also have an incredible heart to heart. LOVED that scene. I never thought they could humanize Merle, but they do. And all it took was for him to see his little brother’s back. He’s been so filled with hatred for all of them for abandoning them that he never realized it was HE who abandoned them. That he’d already abandoned Daryl to a much worse monster years ago — an abusive father — and poor Daryl returned to his big brother after that and continues to stand by his side. But it doesn’t take long for Daryl to realize that some things are hopeless, and he decides he’s better off with the group. “I might be walking away,” he says to Merle, “You’re the one that’s leaving. Again.” And he leaves.

And Merle, who saw the back and immediately stopped jabbering, who was silenced for the first time in the series, who actually apologized (!!) and saw the truth of the situation, stays alone for a nanosecond before realizing he will not abandon his brother again.

Last week we were all entirely convinced Daryl would have to kill Merle. And this week there’s a shocking possibility that Merle might be a part of the group (which, to be honest, is a more interesting turn of events!) I’m looking forward to seeing what happens there.

Joshua: Seeing Merle and Daryl on screen together has been something we've all been waiting for, and despite high expectations, Sunday's fulfillment of that longstanding wish did not disappoint. At all. And part of the reason for its unqualified success, I think, is that nothing about their time together played out quite like I thought it would. Daryl's anger and frustration toward his brother was a complete surprise, and I loved the way the progression of their scenes gradually changed the audience's perception of the source of that anger.

At first, it seems that Daryl is not so much upset with Merle as simply resentful of being forced into the decision to separate from the group – the real 'home' of the episode's title – and is taking it out on his brother as a convenient target. Then, as Daryl seeks out and assists the family under attack on the bridge, we're led to believe he's upset to find just how little Merle has changed in their time apart, that his brother is still every bit the bigoted opportunist sleazeball he used to be. And finally, in their near-throwdown afterward, all of Daryl's pent-up rage comes boiling out, and we learn the full extent of their complicated relationship in just a few well-crafted lines of dialogue.

I figured that it wouldn't take Daryl very long to be reminded of who and how his brother really is and just how much he was leaving behind when he elected to sacrifice his place within the group, but I never expected it all to happen so quickly. The downloads of exposition were never overplayed, and the acting between Reedus and Rooker was fantastic. So many moments – Daryl's gradual decision on the bridge to end Merle's ransacking of the family's car at gunpoint; the reveal of the Yellow Jacket Creek sign at the end, proving Daryl was right in their navigational argument; the look on Merle's face when Daryl says, “You lost your hand 'cause you're a simple-minded piece of shit!” – combined brilliantly to make the interplay between these two everything that fans hoped it would be.

And now, as you say, we have Merle's attempted integration to look forward to, and it's gonna be one hard sell, regardless of how hard up they are for trigger fingers and whatever possible tactical insight he might provide. Will he even be willing to commit to them at all, or will we instead find him playing double agent for The Governor, despite his ousting and Daryl's obvious allegiance to the opposition? It seemed like the attack on the prison at the end of the episode was more about The Governor testing the waters than anything else, evaluating their defenses and trying to put them on edge, and they proved ill prepared at best. Does that step up his timeline, or is it exactly in keeping with his suspicions? His smug smile certainly seemed to indicate satisfaction with the results.

Regardless, it would appear that he intends for Andrea to play a role in his plan of attack, however willing she proves to be. She's proven herself to be easily manipulable so far, and while there's still the possibility that she might grow a brain and find a way to help her old friends instead of continuing to play into the hands of her lunatic boyfriend, I'm not exactly holding my breath.

Nikki: During the prison ambush, I particularly adored the visual gag of the postal truck crashing through the gates and making a special delivery… of walkers. Brilliant. But, to your last point, I’ll admit that there was a moment when the driver jumped out — and appeared to have a woman’s build — where I thought, “Oh my god, is that Andrea?!” But the thought was momentary, and I pushed it away. I wouldn’t think Andrea would turn on her friends and shoot at them. She knows they’re good people, fighting to survive. Now, the Governor could skew it. He could tell her they came after him or come up with some argument, and she’s a little too gullible to see through it, despite the fact she’s spent a long time with those other people and fought by their side through thick and thin. But part of me just hopes that old Andrea is there somehow; would look at Carol and remember the abused wife who lost her only child; would look at Carl and marvel at how he’s grown; would notice Lori and T-Dog are missing and would mourn them; would remember how they all stood together to remember Shane, and Dale, and her sister, and everyone else they’ve lost. That she would look at Rick and be shocked at how far he’s fallen, and hope that he’ll be OK. That she’d notice Hershel’s leg is missing, that Maggie and Beth are still alive, and be sad that their sister and her husband are gone. That she’d notice how quiet Maggie is and how beat up Glenn is, and perhaps realize that it was Woodbury that did that to them.

Just as Daryl is heading back home, so too were these people her home once. I’m hoping against hope that she’ll remember that when it matters.

The Governor’s discussion with Andrea was false, as was everything he says. He reassured her that he wouldn’t retaliate against the prison (lie) and that he wants her to be the one in charge (lie). “I’ve done some terrible things,” he tells her. “I’m not fit to lead these people. You are.” Despite the fact that she’s not fit to lead a sing-along, the rest of his statement was true. But insincere, since he doesn’t actually believe any of it at all. Instead, he gives her the nerve to take charge, but then tells bumbling Milton to keep an eye on her. Andrea’s not in charge at all, and never will be.

The attack on the prison was shocking and exciting, especially with Rick trapped outside the fence. The Governor comes off as a crazy, insane bastard, the same way he pulled up and took out the army men in the first half of the season. Only with just one eye and shooting randomly in the air, he comes off as even scarier.

Was he trying to scare them only? He takes out Axel on his very first shot, from very, very far away. And then, after that, not a single shot actually hits anyone. Were they meaning to miss, or was this just classic television where a thousand rounds go off and everyone is a terrible shot, or was he really just lucky on the first one because Lyle was an easy target and once everyone hit the ground they were legitimately tough to hit? I loved Daryl and Merle jumping into the fray, bringing them back into the fold right away, and Glenn driving in with that “WTF?!” look on his face.

And then, just like that, they were gone again. What will this do to our survivors?

Joshua: Despite the fact that The Governor's raid was reasonably successful inasmuch as it took The Prisonaires off guard, wrecked a fence, and claimed a life,  I'm not so sure it will have the effect he intends. He thinks he's shaken them up, but I think he's only squandered the element of surprise. Remember, this is the same team we saw performing so efficiently at the beginning of the season, moving from place to place like a post-apocalyptic strike team. These are the same people who cleared the overrun prison and claimed it for their own, who snuck into Woodbury in the middle of the night – with no reconnaissance, no concrete plan of attack, led by a stranger who quickly abandoned them – and with a team of just three people, executed a successful rescue mission against a well-armed platoon of guys. They've suffered heavily this year, in a myriad of ways, but even in their current compromised state, they are not to be underestimated.

My hope is that this rather half-hearted preliminary attack will be just the impetus for focus and reconsolidation that they needed, because without question, they're fighting a madman. The detail that stuck out most clearly to me about The Governor's behavior during the attack was not his firing willy-nilly or that loopy grin on his face but the fact that as the bullets rained down on their truck, he never ducked, never flinched, never took cover. I believe the loss of his zom-baby also cost him his will to live, and since he already assigned no value to anyone else's life beyond whatever purpose they serve, now he's just a walking black hole – feral, irrational, unyielding and endlessly hungry. Our heroes better get ready, because I think the next assault will be very different indeed.

A couple of quick things I wanted to highlight for their specific awesomeness before I turn it back over to you for the wrap:

• Carol using Axel's body for cover was brilliant; her presence of mind here lately continues to impress the hell out of me.

• Daryl Dixon: redefining the term 'vehicular manslaughter,' one zombie at a time.

• So, are Tyreese & Co., like, gone gone? I thought for sure they'd be camped out by the fence like Michonne, but apparently Rick's breakdown was scarier than I thought, because they were nowhere to be seen this week. I predict they show up again just in time to save someone's life down the road... Carl, perhaps? We surely haven't seen the last of them.

• “You know I wouldn't have hobbled all the way down here if it wasn't important.” Made me laugh out loud.

• One last prediction: either Andrea is the one who kills The Governor, or he kills her. I feel it in my bones.

That's all I have this week, ma'am. With only six more episodes left this season, what do you think is coming next?

Nikki: You’re right about how savvy our survivors are. I loved the final image of the episode, where Rick, for the first time in a long time, looks straight ahead with a head full of resolve. The Governor’s raid just might have knocked some sense back into him. He’s still mad, but now he’s a madman on a mission. And that could be amazing to watch. The Governor, on the other hand, has gone wackadoo, and that will hurt him. I like the idea of Andrea and him going head to head.

As my final note I wanted to point out some of the production things that happened this week. That first opening POV shot through Rick’s binoculars was fantastic, because we could only see what he could see through that narrow lens, and his slow pan across the grounds of the prison made the opening very tense, because you couldn’t help but think there was evil lurking just outside what those binoculars could pick up, but he wouldn’t move the lens fast enough for us to see what was happening next. (Yes, I’m that person who would be snatching the binoculars from him and looking for myself. You don’t want me in your survival group.)

Secondly, the music seemed particularly extraordinary this week. From the haunting sounds we heard when Rick saw Lori, to the mournful song that played as Rick talked to Hershel through the fence, to the fast-paced sounds pounding through the ambush scene, it really stood out for me, and didn’t fade into the background as music so often does. In most cases, you want it in the background, buoying up the action, but every once in a while, I appreciate it when it jumps to the foreground.

And lastly, while I agree that Carol is kick-ass, I must ask: in an apocalypse, where the hell is she finding hair gel to spike out her coif, and where did she find that new purple embroidered top in a men’s prison?! Her new look is amazing, but I don’t see any shops in the immediate vicinity. But maybe they’ve made a run into town that’s off-screen. (Yes, I’m trying to come up with stupid answers to my own nitpicky questions.)

See you next week, folks!


Page48 said...

"the postal truck crashing through the gates and making a special delivery… of walkers"....and they arrived on time and under-budget!

Glenn's assessment of Rick's current location: Crazytown. I love it. What do you really think, Glenn?

The Guvna and his crew couldn't hit anyone except Axel, but they hit him a hundred times. Fortunately for Carol, no exit wounds. At least Axel died knowing how to use a pistol, in theory anyway.

Daryl and Merle, in the woods, spittin'. It's a guy thing.

They should all get together and flip Michonne's bus right side up. Tyreese could probably do that all by himself.

Efthymia said...

This was an episode that made me feel ashamed of myself twice. First, with the Daryl/Merle situation: I feared their reunion all season because I thought Daryl would pledge his allegiance to Merle and start going back to his old self, and this episode proved that I consider Daryl to be a far weaker person than he is, and why didn't I believe that he, after all he has shown us this past season-and-a-half, would be the one to influence Merle? Why did I consider him the weaker of the two brothers? Shame on me!
The second time was with poor Axel. I thought there was something rapey about him when he was with Carol, and when she showed him how to use the gun I was convinced he would end up turning it against her, but the poor guy just ended up being Governor fodder.
I need to trust fictional people more (then, of course, I see Andrea, and there go my arguments...).

I think Glenn considered himself the de facto next-in-line because, other than Carl, he is the only one left from the original (Season 1) group. Or it's possible that I find excuses for him because I like him so much.

Ah, Michonne, Michonne... When she was running through the yard beheading walkers I realised I'd go gay for her.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

I was watching the Big Bang Theory episode where Leonard told Penny how be became Sheldon's roomie. And when the previous roomie left, I discovered that Glenn can handle walkers, but not Sheldon Cooper.