The Walking Dead Recap: Rick Rolls

Photo: Russell Kaye/AMC

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The Walking Dead
Episode Title
Say the Word
Editor’s Rating

We begin with the Governor brushing someone’s hair. At first we don’t see who it is. It could be the brown-haired woman whom we saw in his bed. It could be Andrea acting out some Lori fantasy role-playing. Then a patch of skin peels off the person’s scalp and the camera pans forward and we see who we presume is the Governor’s daughter, the pause that he never filled in while talking to Andrea about his family. (Side note: I have a friend who worked on that flesh-eating virus movie Cabin Fever, in the sound-effects department, and he worked on that one scene in the movie where the girl who's obsessed with her looks tries to shave her legs in the bath but keeps scraping her skin off instead. They tried all sorts of way to come up with the perfect sound for that and finally settled on a CD being brushed against facial stubble.)

I think this was supposed to make us feel creeped-out by the Governor but, for me, that did not happen. In fact, when that part happened I said out loud to the people I was watching with, “He’s the best.” This is essentially what Hershel and his family did with the zombies in the barn and I had the same reaction that time, too. I didn’t feel nearly as shocked as this show seemed to want me to. These people have been living in a world filled with zombies for less than a year now. There is no guidebook for what is going on. They can’t text ChaCha and ask whether their loved ones will recover once a cure is discovered. So they do what they must to cope, provided it doesn’t endanger anyone’s life. If the Governor wants to chill with his gnarly daughter, in the privacy of his own home, I have no problem with that. But maybe next time he should check that his window blind slats are fully closed instead of weirdly angled so that people on the street can peep right in.

This is the trouble I’ve had with the Governor from the start and it only seems to be getting worse: I don’t have a problem with him. Last night, the show tried to throw everything at us it could to shock us by his behavior. His notebook with a list of names followed by pages and pages of Shining-esque obsessive notches marking the number of days since they’d been infected. The captured zombies. The wrestling match at the end, where a little self-righteous mini-Andrea sits on one of her shoulders while a dreamy, crushed-out one sits on her other, battling it out. I kept waiting for the big reveal to happen, the one where I’d finally understand what was so terrible about this guy, but it didn’t happen. If anything, we’ve gone in reverse from the soldier slaughter of two episodes ago. Nothing he did this episode is different from anything we’ve seen our regular gang do.

In many zombie/plague/deadly virus movies, there is talk of a government refuge. Children of Men, I Am Legend, 28 Days Later, they all have it. And in The Walking Dead’s first season, there was talk of it, too, until they wound up at the CDC and were told that there was no hope. I’m not sure that guy was the most reliable narrator, but considering that our main characters aren’t the most astute judges of character, they believed him. And they need to now figure out a way to cobble out a new existence that can sustain itself, which is why I’m always so shocked when they are so quick to do away with any other surviving humans they meet. If they are convinced there’s no greater system that exists to rescue them, rebuilding should be the goal, not an unending fight for survival.

And so even though I’m sure the Governor’s town has its drawbacks (I’d get tired of strolling up and down a single avenue all day long), it would still take an awful lot for me to prefer the zombie-infested woods over it. So when Andrea and Michonne fight whether to stay or leave this utopian community, it feels impossible to take Michonne’s side. And that’s the only reason we’re given to like her, since she’s now been reduced to nothing more than a furious, furrowed brow. I’m sure if she were to die next episode, Andrea would be talking all about how Michonne used to sit beside blind people while they watched TV, gently narrating the action, but, five episodes into the season, Michonne’s character is frustratingly nuance- and backstory-free.

Sometimes when I watch this show, it feels like themes were placed on the writers board on the first day back and then forgotten about until the week they’re about to shoot. And so solid ideas have to get fleshed out so quickly that they end up just playing on our expectations instead of doing the work of proving to us why things are so. We know the Governor is bad because, if we’re watching this show, chances are we’ve watched other movies and television before. We know how this kind of plot works. We can sense a showdown on the horizon.

The same thing applies to Rick being our continued leader. He was initially put in charge because of his being a sheriff. He represented order and reason in a newly chaotic world. His crew clung to the idea of tradition as a way for them to preserve civility. Along the way, though, he was proven inept at the job and the only person who really stood a chance of unseating him was Shane, who was equally terrible at it. Darryl, meanwhile, regularly demonstrates natural instinct, compassion, hunting and “tracking” skills, fearlessness, and diplomacy while consistently being labeled other. We only think of Rick as the leader because the show tells us to, without ever showing us his job qualifications.

Now, however, Rick’s lost it and I’m curious to see how the show’s going to deal with this in future episodes. I suspect that once we find out who's on the other end of that phone call, he’s going to bounce more or less back to the guy we knew before, although about 20 percent less insufferable now that he can pull the "Lori’s dead" card whenever he wants. Realistically (if that word can be applied to a show about zombies) though, watching your boss go ballistic on the five zombies roaming around halls that just minutes ago were totally clogged with the undead (I mean, honestly) would be a signal that someone else should step in and take over his role. Such a missed opportunity, too, to not have the zombie that Rick stabbed repeatedly and symbolically in his convenient distended belly be Lori. That would’ve been so good and it seemed like such a natural development that I felt like the scene must have been shot and then accidentally left out of the final cut. Like an intern spilled a Diet Coke on the editing board and the scene was ruined or something (yes, this is exactly how editing works, actually).

Can we get back to those uncluttered hallways really quick? Embracing a show about zombies requires, naturally, some suspension of disbelief. I have never once questioned the plausibility of a plague that inflicts people in such a way that they become the living dead. It’s what I signed on for. Happily. But because my mind has to work overtime wrapping itself around this, it tends to be less patient when it comes to the holes that involve the humans. Sometimes it might feel like nitpicking, but even you diehards must have taken issue with the baby-formula run. A week before, the gang was reduced to almost having to eat dog food. We were definitely made to believe that everywhere in the immediate vicinity had been pillaged clean. Based on our having lived on this planet all our lives, we also know that women are pregnant for nine months, which gives them time to prepare for the birth of their child. You’d think at some point in their scavenging they would’ve tried to stock up on baby supplies by, I don’t know, popping out to the local shopping center (which is actually just a fully stocked nursery?) and picking up a few things. Were Lori and Rick planning on using Carl’s sheriff’s hat to diaper the kid? Given how determined those two were to destroy his childhood on top of his already-destroyed childhood, probably.

We have three more episodes of this half of the season to go. Michonne left the complex and I’m betting she’s about an hour away, in TV time, from stumbling upon the prison. I thought that maybe the prison and town were going to converge because of the baby needing milk and all those pregnant women but well, yeah. We also need to find Carol, who I guess hasn’t figured out that that latest wave of zombies evaporated as soon as Lori insisted she be cut open five minutes into her contractions. I’m hoping for a nice stretch of time with the Governor’s science guy, long enough to unveil the results of his ten-day experiment. And of course, there’s the phone call, which could be the government ringing up to tell the prisoners that they have to stay locked up by choice, they’re bad seeds, and there will be no redemption for them. It could be another survivor just randomly dialing phone numbers, and Rick could swing his axe at the phone and try to kill them. It could be Sophia, in which case we, the viewers, would be the ones attacking inanimate objects with weaponry. It could be that opossum in the pantry. It could be Morgan, being all, “Rick, I got your walkie-talkie monologue! Is this a good time for me to talk?”

Whatever the case, I feel the hope.

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