Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Walking Dead: "I Ain't A Judas"

Biblical quotes, child soldiers, jockeying for position, friends turning into traitors, massive mistrust, defanging zombies, (almost) cauterizing eye sockets, and sweet-voiced girls singing Tom Waits… yes folks, it’s another episode of The Walking Dead! And as usual, I’m here two days later with my co-host, Joshua Winstead, to write all about it.

Let’s start at the beginning, which continued on from a discussion Josh and I were having over last week’s episode, which was: who should the leader be? Rick’s out of his tree, Glenn’s out for revenge, Hershel’s not physically able to lead… and yet we both agreed he was the best candidate. Well, this week we saw the next best thing (actually, possibly the BEST thing): Hershel using his strength — his powerful words — to yank Rick out of his funk and tell him to get the hell back in the game. What a moment. It’s somehow escaped my notice until now, but Hershel points out the very accurate fact that whenever the discussion gets rough, Rick turns on his heel and walks out, which is never helpful. This time Hershel won’t let him, and yells at him to get his ass back over there right now. “You said this was not a democracy,” he says firmly, “Well now you have to own up to that. I put my family’s lives in your hands so get your head clear, and DO SOMETHING.”


And with that, Rick actually goes outside and looks at what’s in front of him, and begins planning. And not only does he begin planning, but he pulls others in to help him. There’s a roundtable discussion (minus the table) between him and Hershel, Glenn, Daryl, and even Michonne (though she keeps her distance) and he actually turns this into a democracy after all. For the moment, anyway. For, the moment Andrea comes back, Rick once again becomes quiet and glowering, refusing to trust her, and when she doesn’t answer a question the way he wanted her to, he turns on his heel and walks out. Again. 

That said, if you put yourself in Rick’s position, and know what you know about Andrea and the Governor, would you trust her?

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

Joshua: This was another of those necessary shuffle-and-deal kind of episodes, consisting largely of pieces being shifted into place as we continue to build toward the inevitable clash between the prison posse and The Governor's citizen army. And while there were parts of this episode that I found enormously frustrating – not all of which felt earned – I thought it did a great job in general of ratcheting up the tension, deftly handling several complications that I thought would get much messier and issuing some delicious surprises in the process.

This episode was written by Angela Kang, formerly of the writing team for my beloved Terriers (R.I.P.) and author of several previous TWD installments, including last year's 'Judge, Jury, Executioner,' which brought us more excellent dialogue in the big debate over what to do with Woodbury captive Randall (and ended with Dale's shocking death out in the field). I can always tell how much I enjoyed the writing of a particular installment by how many out-and-out quotes I record in my viewing notes, and there were a lot this week. Obviously everyone's treading lightly with regard to Merle's presence (including Merle himself, for a change), trying to prevent a grossly uncomfortable situation from spiraling out of control, but it made for some terrific exchanges, from his hamfisted effort to broker peace with Michonne, to the sweet conversation between Carol and Daryl about what constitutes a home, to he and Hershel's impromptu Bible study.

Hershel, ever the knowing, rational observer and absent the damning previous experience so many of the others have shared with Merle, approaches him right away, attempting to feel him out a bit, to probe just enough to get a better idea of how reasonable this guy is and how nicely he plans to play. They bond somewhat over their mutual amputations, and then Hershel uses that to segue into a fairly gentle acknowledgement of the general consensus about him – namely, that he's trouble, and that trouble breeds. The verse Hershel quotes (Matthew 5:29-30) is from Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount, and the gist is this: if one among you is inciting discord, cast him out, for it is better to lose one person, or two – no matter how valuable – than the body entire.

It was less surprising to me that Merle could quote the Bible chapter and verse as it was just how deftly he handled their encounter on the whole. First impressions are crucial, and I think it was quite canny of Merle to play nice here, keeping the more abrasive aspects of his personality in check. He obviously recognizes that Hershel could prove to be a valuable asset, and his conspiratorial assessment of The Governor and his character worked perfectly to both ingratiate himself and also play on Hershel's love and concern for both his remaining family and his friends.

Honestly, I was kind of amazed by how subdued Merle was overall this week, considering I fully expected him to jump at Rick like a man possessed just as soon as he had the chance. Perhaps he took the dressing-down he received from Daryl last week to heart, or at the very least perceives the precariousness of his own position and is willing to do whatever proves necessary to keep it.

Nikki: I think Merle has always been smarter than the gang gives him credit for. Just because he’s a redneck doesn’t mean he’s stupid, and he definitely proves that this week, as you pointed out. I, too, enjoyed the scenes where he was trying to ingratiate himself to others, especially with Michonne. He tries the old “I was just carrying out orders” card, and Michonne sees right through that one: “Like the Gestapo.” But Glenn refers to him this week as “a snake in the nest,” and he’s right. However, his idea to use him as a bargaining chip isn’t very smart; doesn’t Merle know a little too much about their position to just send him on back?

And that’s where Tyrese (yay!) and his gang come in, when they show up in the woods amidst Andrea and Milton turning one of the zombies into a Michonne puppy. Just a sidenote on that scene: This is how it played out in my house:
Me: Oh god, are they going to smash his skull on the rock? What the…
Husband: No, they’re going to turn him into one of those Michonne walkers.
[Andrea sets up the head, grabs the rock]
Me: (holding one arm over my face) AAAHHHH… [thunk sound on the TV] Did she do it?
Husband: I don’t know, I was covering my eyes, too!
[THUNK on the TV again]
Me: AAAAHHHHH, did she do it??!!
Husband: YES, oh aaaaauuuuugggghhhhh, oh my GOD!!!

So yeah. Can’t tell you what that scene looked like, but both my husband and I were in stitches at the end of it, mostly due to his reaction. BUT ANYWAY… back to Tyrese and company… I was pretty put out by Rick forcing them out of the prison and back into a world of danger just because he can’t get his shit together, especially when the group he’s now in charge of accepted him into it through Lori. It should be a world of Humans Vs. Walkers, and he’s dividing the humans. AND he’d already accepted Oscar and Axel, a couple of prison convicts. His reaction to Tyrese and his group made absolutely no sense.

But what it DID do was create an enemy out of Tyrese. He turns to the Governor, who brings him in, gives him a warm bed to sleep in, and offers him a car and a way out (of course, WE know he never had any intention of them taking that car and moseying on their way, but they don’t know that) and then the Governor “lets slip” that they have crazy enemies. Oh, it’s RICK, you say?? Yeah, that guy IS a crazy bastard. Let me help you take him down.

Tyrese actually did the thing any of us would have done in this situation, methinks.

Which brings us back around to Andrea. While we’ve come down hard on her, I’ve been thinking about her a lot this week, and I keep wondering what I’d do in her situation. She’s spent a year with Michonne watching her back, sleeping with one eye open, separated from her friends (who made absolutely no attempts to find her, by the way), and fighting zombies. Now along comes a really good-looking man who’s developed a town with a wall, with safety, who gives her a bed, lets her sleep through the night, and then develops a physical interest in her (something else she hasn’t had in a very, very long time). Would we say we’d be strong enough to say no to that?

And that leads to her ultimate decision to NOT kill the Governor at the end of the piece. I’m sure it elicited a lot of groans from the audience, but if she kills him, where does that put her? Exiled from Woodbury for killing the leader (or worse, executed), and pushed back to the prison, where everyone there has no time for her, distrusts her because of what Michonne told them, and she’ll be alone in the world again. Maybe a future with the enemy is better than no future at all?

But we should talk about the actual discussion between Andrea and the prison folk. Your take on that scene, Josh?

Joshua: Actually, my take was a lot like you two's reaction to the walker de-fanging...


This is the frustration to which I earlier alluded. And it ain't the first of its kind, by a long shot. I quoted my post-scene notes to you in an earlier email exchange between us, but for the benefit of our readers, what I wrote was: “Well. Super-shitty job of arguing your case to the other side, everybody. Way to suck.”

The tone is glib, but I truly mean it, with every ounce of sincerity I can muster. What the bleeding hell is wrong with these people and their feeble communication skills, that they repeatedly have such difficulty conveying salient details to one another? Is straight talk such a Herculean task? Jiminy crickets, man – SPEAK. Use your words. This is Andrea, your old friend, who pretty obviously wouldn't be there if she were wholeheartedly converted. Help her understand! Sure, she should have figured it out by now without any further details; I get that, believe me. But why would you withhold anything now? What do you have to lose by detailing her lunatic boyfriend's transgressions? Sure, I  see why Merle didn't say anything; he's a dick. But Glenn? Maggie? Michonne? Or how about just treating her like you're halfway glad to see her alive and well. That in and of itself might earn you who knows how many points, and certainly much more than angrily throwing her to the ground and frisking her like a suspected terrorist.

But no matter her treatment, Andrea's certainly complicit in the spectacular failure of their diplomatic efforts, too. She has never been more suspicious of The Governor, knows for a fact that he's feeding her lie upon lie, just watched him draft asthmatic children and arthritic old ladies into his crackpot militia, had to resort to stealth and deception just to get out of Woodbury in the first place, and yet she never voices any concerns whatsoever during their discussion? Why not? Who's she protecting? And what does she think would make them act this way towards her in the first place? Mass hysteria? Or legitimate terror? The way the whole thing played out, I couldn't help but wonder afterward why she even bothered to go at all.

Look: the world's gone crazy, I know. The paradigm has radically shifted, and healthy paranoia is the new normal – the only way left to survive, in fact. But has civility ceased to exist altogether? Rick's intractable attitude toward Tyrese is about to backfire on them in a huge way (i.e., that gigantic hole in the side of your fortress, kids; remember?); they know they're outmanned and outgunned by a significant margin; they're low on supplies and lower on morale; their choices have dwindled to nothing but bad and worse; and yet they choose to squander this spectacular, unexpected opportunity to win favor inside the very walls of the enemy's camp, for what? Petulance? Spite? Maybe I'm being unduly harsh, but I just don't get it.

And maybe that's the point. Maybe all this frustration is engineered, and we as mute viewers are supposed to bounce up and down on our couches in anxiety and helplessness by design. If that's the case, then I gotta say it's working like gangbusters, dude.

Nikki: You know, sometimes I just wish you’d stop holding back and tell us what you really think, Josh. ;)

But seriously, nail, head… you hit it perfectly. After Hershel stops Rick from storming out of yet another argument he can’t win, Rick turns heel and walks out again, as I mentioned earlier. And this could be one of the most important conversations of his life. Andrea saved many of their lives, they watched her lose her sister, they watched her relationship with Dale, and she spent countless hours sitting atop the RV with a gun in her hand, watching for walkers. No, she wasn’t perfect, and yes, Carol and Lori and Hershel’s girls couldn’t forgive her for not being in the kitchen waitin’ on the men like a good little girl should (no, I will never forgive them that chauvinism), but to grab her, throw her down on the ground, frisk her like a criminal, mutter, “Welcome back. GET UP.”, yank her up by the collar, toss her into the room and make her feel unbelievably unwelcome and dirty? Rick is starting to act less human than the walkers.

Thank goodness for Carol. Well, sorta. On the one hand, Carol reminds Andrea she does have friends in this group. But on the other, she tells Andrea that Rick is broken, exposes any weaknesses Andrea may not have gleaned for herself, and tells her everything about their lives. That said, it’s Carol who just comes out with it, and tells her she must kill the Governor. And Andrea almost does it. But as you say, she would have done it if she had known that:
-he didn’t just show up, guns blazing, but brought others with him and shot the place to hell… and maybe they should have put her together with Hershel, so he could have a heart-to-heart with her and ask what kind of man does something like that but reassures his girlfriend that he wouldn’t? (Remember: Andrea told him she didn’t know about it.) Maybe she would have started to think. Hell, Hershel could tell me calmly to walk off a cliff and I’d probably think, “You know, that tone of voice is very convincing. I could probably fly anyway, right?”
-he walked into an army camp a few weeks ago and killed every last soldier, people who could have been an immense help in the zombie apocalypse
-he sexually assaulted Maggie… THAT would have been a pretty important detail to tell Andrea… you know, his new sex partner?!
-remind her that he pitted Daryl and Merle against one another

Instead they just kind of stare at her and give her the “you’re no longer one of us” speech, which puts her on the defensive AGAINST THEM (not what you want, Rickie boy…) and makes her point out Merle and quite rightly ask why HE is allowed back in and SHE isn’t. Good question, there, Andrea. What do you think, Rick? RICK? Oh where the hell did he storm off to now?

And Michonne, SERIOUSLY, your “I’m not gonna talk unless it’s important” act is very grating. People loved her character in the comic, but even not having read it, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest they’re not doing as good a job with her on the show. She tells Andrea something about the Governor, but not everything. Michonne is angry and sullen, and Andrea probably chalks up her, “he would have killed you, too” story as just her being vengeful. I know I would have. (By the way, my notes during the Michonne/Andrea scene: “I never realized how much these two reminded me of Xena and Gabrielle!”)

However, in the end, they give her freedom to leave, and even give her a car to ensure her safety. The Governor wouldn’t allow her to go, and certainly didn’t make her journey easy on her. She might have ended up alone by killing him, but by leaving him alive, she maintains her position as his prisoner.

For the record, I closed my eyes during this as well...

Meanwhile, over at Woodbury, the Governor is putting together an army, including anyone 13 and up. One of the mothers objects (interestingly, she’s standing apart from the potential soldiers… why isn’t Mom considered able-bodied enough to be among them??), but as the Governor puts it, he’s not a child, he’s an adolescent. And in our world, I’d be objecting, too, but this isn’t our world. As undesirable as the Governor’s wishes are, he’s right. I mean… look at Carl.

And in the end, Andrea climbs back into bed with him, intent on killing him, but can’t bring herself to do it. He’s not a walker, and she’s never killed a human being in cold blood. As Tom Waits sings, “You share my bed, you share my name…”

Joshua: You're absolutely right to highlight the fact that Andrea has dispatched plenty of walkers, but she's never killed another living human being before. Even if she finally sees The Governor's madness for what it is, and even if she thinks he must be stopped, she simply isn't ready to take a life yet. Perhaps her own will have to be in direct jeopardy for her to make that leap. And with the way things are shaping up, I don't think she'll have to wait for long.

Though I may have given the impression I'm harping on this episode with my tirade, I really did thoroughly enjoy this week. The writers do a terrific job of manipulating my emotions – whether it be irritation over poor decision-making, or disappointment over unnecessary hardships, or heartbreak at tragic losses suffered, or utter disgust in the face of magnificently convincing horror – and I'd be lying if I claimed not to love every minute of it. I couldn't be much happier with the way this season has been building, and whatever they have planned for these next several weeks, I have no doubt it will be absolutely riveting.

Bits & Bobs:

• As you've mentioned: excellent choices on the music this week. It was great to hear Emily Kinney sing again; she has such a beautiful voice. (And The Mule Variations is one of my favorite Waits albums; I even named my dog Tallulah after the Louisiana town he calls out in 'Pony.') But let's not forget Chopin's Prelude No. 15 as well, which was playing on the reel-to-reel in The Governor's apartment when Andrea returned. The so-called 'Raindrop' prelude, intended to inspire feelings of solitude and inner contemplation, was supposedly composed while Chopin dreamed of drowning.

• You brought this up already as well, but Carol's awesome 'kiss me deadly' plan? Holy crap. Didn't know you had it in you, gal. Right on. As she was saying, “Give him the night of his life, and then kill him,” I had this incredulous look in my eyes but a huge smile on my face.

• Okay – this is really nit-picky, I know. But I'm pretty sure that knife Rick gave Andrea was a Benchmade. Which is, like, a hundred and fifty dollar pocketknife. I see them all the time in the movies and on tv, and it strains credulity every time. Remember that rusty piece of crap that Maggie used to operate on Lori? Or the raggedy one of Carol's that Daryl pulled out of the walker before he found her half-dead of dehydration in the cell? Unless they raided a pretty fancy store in the interim, where the heck did they get that thing? Hollywood: I realize they're beautiful, bad-ass looking knives. But the likelihood of anyone in this kind of situation (beyond maybe John Locke) possessing one is virtually nonexistent. Stop it already, will you?

• The line that elicited the biggest laugh of the night was from Milton: “I wouldn't advocate a move like that. It's just posturing.” Ha! Like it makes any difference what you advocate, Miltie.

• I will be very, very sad if Tyrese winds up on the wrong side of this thing. Fingers crossed he figures it out before it's too late.

Until next week, folks!


Efthymia said...

I think Michonne's anger and enmity towards Andrea is perfectly understandable and a lot more excused. She saved her from zombie death, was her only company for months, tried her best when she was ill, and then Andrea chose Woodbury and the Governor without hesitation and without taking Michonne's concerns seriously, and again sided with him when she caught them fighting on the floor among floating heads and a dead zombie girl. Well, f*** you very much, Andrea! Michonne didn't feel she had to discuss the rest of what happenned with her, because what Andrea already knew was enough.
As for the rest of them, since her first question was "Where's Shane?", maybe they thought "Oh, right, she's the idiot who kept telling wonderful Dale off and directing her anger at him while she always sided with psycho Shane, how much sense do we expect her to have?". Or maybe that was just me.

I'm very sad about Tyrese and sister (I don't remember her name, I'm afraid) joining Woodbury, particularly because I can be neither angry nor disappointed at them -they have every excuse. I do also hope that they'll realise that the Governor is an even greater psycho in time, and then perhaps it will be Woodbury with the snakes in the nest.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

A little song for Andrea: The Snake

yourblindspot said...

Efthymia: Yeah, it's hard to be very sympathetic toward her, and you're right that it's been that way for a long time -- pretty much since she got pressured out of her plans for a fiery suicide by Dale back at the end of season one. And in Michonne's case, in particular... "You chose a warm bed over a friend." Ouch. So cold, but so dead right.

Colleen: Northern Exposure just made my morning.

FYI for everyone following the ongoing saga of TWD's fluctuating leadership gig: next week's episode is written by the new showrunner they've elected for next season. High hopes...

Joel said...

It's interesting that you mention Angela Kang as the writer of both this episode and "Judge, Jury, Executioner". Wasn't the whole point of that episode Dale's insistence that "we don't kill people". It's fitting then as Andrea struggles with that same question. Also - wasn't Andrea a human rights lawyer? Confirmed - walkingdead.wikia.com states that Andrea was "successful civil rights attorney". So add that to the mix for her reluctance to end The Governor's life.

yourblindspot said...

Joel: You're right about her former profession; I had completely forgotten about it, but we should absolutely be taking that into account. Great catch.

yourblindspot said...

Nikki: I just noticed you typed "I Ain't No Judas" in your title line. Which is awesome, because the episode was called "I Ain't A Judas," but I've been saying "I Ain't No Judas" ever since I first saw the name last week, because... I don't know why. It just feels like... a more correct error? A right-er wrong? Anyway, you are hereby officially declared an honorary redneck. Says me.

Nikki Stafford said...

Ha!! Yeah, me and Merle? We're *like this.* Thanks for the heads up, it's now changed!

Austin Gorton said...

I pretty much share Josh's tirade word for word. One of my biggest pet peeves in fiction is when characters end up in the same room together but still avoid sharing pertinent information because the plot won't allow it yet, and this episode was a text book example of it.

I'll grant that there isn't the time, nor would it be terribly exciting, to watch the prison group go over everything with Andrea, but there's a hierarchy to this stuff, and I'm pretty sure "your boyfriend sexually assaulted Maggie" is pretty high on the list of things Andrea needs to know. Of all the things they didn't discuss, that was the one that bugged me the most.

Also, I'm really hoping that Tyrese, at least, quickly sees that he's simply traded one crazy for an even crazier crazy. This show isn't very good at developing new characters, and Tyrese seems like someone who could quickly become a fan favorite because he's sensible and not 100% morally compromised, so I'd hate to see him get wasted.

yourblindspot said...

Teebore: It happens far too often on this show -- and far too transparently -- not to be pretty frickin' exasperating this far along. Doesn't torpedo my enjoyment altogether, but I refuse to believe there aren't much smoother and more reasonable methods of facilitating whatever plot machinations are needed to carry us from point a to point b. Perhaps this is one of the ways in which fallout manifests from the perpetual showrunner shake-ups they've suffered; I'm relatively clueless about the inner workings of television production, but such signs would seem to indicate the likelihood of heavy meddling from the network, despite the spotty-at-best success rate for that brand of micromanagement. But as I say, that's fairly empty pontification on my part; I just know it makes me nuts to watch.

Fortunately, it's hard to screw up the dramatic simplicity of a zombie apocalypse.