The Walking Dead Recap: Arms Race

Photo: Gene Page/AMC

From the moment it started, last night’s episode filled me with more dread than I’ve ever experienced watching this show. More, even, than during season one, when the zombies were still novel. I’d seen enough reruns of the Twilight Zone “To Serve Man” episode to know where things were headed with the Governor, but I kept hoping I was wrong. Because in the same way Andrea can’t face sleeping another night in the chilly woods, I can’t face going back to our regular gang. Not after an episode like this one, with characters who felt real and engaging. All I ask is for a little more time. One season. Or two. Three at the most.

I haven’t read the comics, so I don’t know if in those you’re rooting for the Governor to triumph or be stopped, but I’m going to guess it’s the latter. At least after the initial thrill. If Rick represents good, I’m thinking this guy is supposed to stand for the opposite, in an “it’s complicated” kind of way. The thing is, though, I can’t see ever rooting for Rick over the Governor, and that’s going to be a real problem down the road. On Lost, even though I loved watching Ben, I didn’t want him to actually kill Sawyer or Jack or Kate. I can’t say the same for this show. Unless we decide to give the Morgan treatment to our main characters for a while and really let this new story line play out.

Everything about this episode felt fresh. It starts with a group of soldiers in a beat-up military helicopter, up in the sky. They’re talking on their headsets, so it seems at first that they could be part of a larger operation. Perhaps it’s the U.S. government scouting for survivors, looking to ferry them away to some sort of safe haven. Almost immediately, though, the helicopter goes down and my heart leapt when it did, both for their sakes but also mine. I thought that’d be it for new characters on this episode, the quota had been filled, and we’d spend the rest of the hour watching Andrea sweat. She and Michonne (and their two zombie slaves) see the helicopter go down and then watch as some more men drive up. There are suddenly a lot of living people in the world, which makes it seem like Hershel’s farmhouse was even more remote than it felt during that long, hard, perfectly room-temperature season.

The men take out a few zombie stragglers using a bow and arrows and some bats. One of the men from the helicopter was severed in half by the crash, and he’s turned into a zombie since dying. Andrea and Michonne watch in confusion as the Governor stabs a man they think is dead in the forehead. They’ve spent the last seven months only with each other, so they don’t know about the whole “there is no stopping this thing, even in death” thing. Not to nitpick here, when things were going so peacefully, but it is strange that the people who die of natural causes turn into zombies shortly after they die, but the people who are actually bitten by zombies, like Andrea’s sister, take much longer. I mean it took Amy a whole night before she turned. You’d think a zombie bite would activate the dormant virus even faster. Or else that, early on, Robert Kirkman would’ve whispered into the ear of one of the writers and said, “Psst. Everybody is infected” so that these later episodes would track more with those first ones. But whatever to all that, for now. We’re in a happy place with this show today.

Andrea and Michonne’s zombies are chained to a tree, and they’re making a whole lot of noise, so she eventually cuts off both their heads “without giving it a second thought.” I’d been hoping we’d dispense with those two quickly, after the cool factor wore off, because they just seem like so much of a hassle to cart around — and also, they’re gross. We got a much better look at them this week, close enough to see that their mouths are missing in addition to their arms — something that rendered them harmless. Without the ability to eat, they apparently lose interest in doing so, which seems like a valuable clue to have during an apocalypse of this sort. The reason Michonne kept them around (other than personal reasons that it seems we will be getting to in later episodes) is that they acted as “repellant,” making it seem like she and Andrea were zombies, too.

Michonne and Andrea end up getting found out anyway, by Merle of all people. You remember him, right? Daryl’s one-handed brother who in season one seemed like a Central Casting redneck cliché but who we’d now take in a heartbeat over one more scene with Lori? I was expecting that once he got back, he’d be a little Darryl-fied out, less rough around the edges, and I’m pretty sure I was right, although honestly, it’s been so long since we’ve seen him that I can’t exactly remember what he used to be like. I liked the scene between him and Andrea because it was a conversation where characters asked the kinds of questions you would during these kind of situations. I know my bar is pretty low here for what qualifies as an entertaining scene, but with all the fighting over talks that are never had on this show, very little information is ever actually communicated. So it was nice to just have two survivors fill each other in on what’s been happening in the other’s lives. And not just kill each other right away, which is what normally happens. The way Andrea delivered the line about winding up in a farmhouse made me think that the director, Guy Ferland, had wanted her to roll her eyes while saying it but then thought that might be too much.*

I also really enjoyed Andrea and Michonne’s interactions this week. It’s the most I’ve ever believed two people on this show cared about each other. As glad as I was to see Andrea and Merle talking, I equally appreciated what went unsaid between her and Michonne. I don’t need to hear exactly what they were up to these past seven months — I just need to believe that whatever happened forged enough of a bond for Michonne to risk her independence for her friend. And besides, I’m pretty sure I can imagine what most of their initial conversations went like anyway.

Andrea: “I love guns. You?”

Michonne: “Nah, I’m more of a sword person.”

Andrea: “Cool, cool. But you know, guns are really great too.”

Other than that one moment when Andrea seemed a little weak in the knees over the Governor’s arsenal, her character is becoming much more developed. I think this is a combination of being given better lines and motivation but also, in this episode, not having to act in a vacuum. It’s amazing how different that breakfast scene between her, Michonne, the Governor, and the science-lab guy played out as opposed to similar ones we watched at the farmhouse.

The Governor is played by British actor David Morrissey. I’ve never seen him before, but he’s got the kind of features that make me feel like I have. In general, he makes me feel in surer hands than anyone else on this show, except for Daryl and, weirdly, Merle, since I always felt like Michael Rooker would know how to act real if given permission. The Governor is intent on building a utopia out of a cleaned-out ghost town. “We’re the seed,” he tells Andrea. “Now winter is past; it’s time to harvest.” The town seems filled mostly with women and children (one teenage girl kept distracting me because she had this ambling kind of walk that made me feel that she’d originally been cast as a zombie and then worked her way up until she was allowed to be unseen sans makeup.) There are a few dudes, too, but they seemed extra extra-y, if that makes any sense. Just a lot of cargo shorts. There’s one pretty woman who gives the lay of the land to Andrea about how great the Governor is and all the big plans he has. She says there’s 73 people in all and then points to a pregnant woman whose “about to pop,” which would make it 74. Even before I saw that belly, I was wondering if that’s why Andrea and Michonne were brought there. On the walkies driving into the compound, someone mentions how they were bringing in two females and that seemed suspicious. It hasn’t been said yet, and I could be wrong (again, haven’t read those comics and if you have, make sure not to put any knowledge you have about this in the comments, if you don’t mind), but I feel like we have a Big Love meets the third act of 28 Days Later situation on our hands. The Governor’s wife was blonde, which makes me worry for Andrea (who might as well be doodling his name in her Trapper Keeper, thats how cool she’s playing it with him), and I didn’t like how that one guard was checking out Michonne. Athough I’m more worried for the guard than her, though. Michonne’s tough.

The “twist” of this episode is that the Governor gets the helicopter pilot to tell him where his men got “jammed up on the highway.” Then the Governor and his men take a nice drive through the country, not a cloud or a single other car in sight and find a group of soldiers waiting for their orders. The Governor waves a white flag, tells them he’s come in peace, and then has his men kill them all. Then they all drive back to the town triumphant, with their new tanks and ammo and guns.

The Governor mutters to Merle to take care of the helicopter pilot. (And I’ll write another time on the science-lab guy, who I haven’t talked about enough, but trust me, I love him and want him to be in every scene of this show from here on out. Does this mean Obama’s going to win if even The Walking Dead is making science seem more appealing than God all of a sudden?) I’m not sure exactly why the Governor took out those soldiers, but I feel like it’s because he needs to be surrounded by men who will do his dirty work and military men, who follow a code of honor, would’ve tried to put a stop to that. The Governor seems to be the type who believes he is doing the right thing for the greater good and that sometimes the blood of innocents has to be shed in order to accomplish this. Even though what he did is terrifying and delusional and that I’m sure we’re going to see him do much worse, I have a feeling I’m still going to have trouble opting for Team Smug over at the prison when things come to a head.

Andrea watches, swooning, but it’s that other pretty woman who ends up under the covers of the Governor’s bed that night. He walks past her with a glass of bourbon, unlocks his man cave, takes a seat, and there in front of him are rows of fish tanks with floating zombie heads inside. Michonne’s two zombies are one tank. Up on the top, in a tank all to himself, is the head of helicopter pilot. The science-lab guy has a theory that the zombies carry remnants of memories, a sense of who they once were, inside their chewed-away brains. That’s not the same as their being able to think, but if that floating pilot’s head could form a thought, I’m pretty sure it would be something along the lines of “Well, of course, it could be worse. This could be Carl Grimes’s room.”

* This recap initially stated that Ernest Dickerson directed this episode.

The Walking Dead Recap: Arms Race