The big shift in Rick this season has been how he’s gone from being the man who deliberated over taking a human life to one who now doesn’t hesitate to do so, as long as it will help keep his own people together and safe. He views anyone outside their circle as a potential enemy, likely to bring them harm. Considering that Rick’s initial group wouldn’t have survived if Hershel and family hadn’t taken then in, it’s interesting that he’s strayed as far away from the compassionate route as he has. Then again, that was so many months ago, before they encountered countless unspeakable hardships (and I mean that literally, since the show has never told us how they managed to survive intact that whole time). Everyone’s become a lot more comfortable with admitting that all they care about is each other. They no longer talk about finding an antidote or a government refuge. They dream of smaller things now, like planting a garden or being able to call a prison home.
I used to wonder why it was that this group cared about sticking together as much as they do. Personally, I would’ve taken my chances on my own. But looking at them through their eyes, they’re united by the belief that they’re the good guys. That line has blurred more than ever this season but they’ve been too busy trying to stay alive to notice. The very place that was supposed to allow them time to catch their breaths and relax a little has proven to be more deadly than the outside world. Their few moments of joy are tainted by loss. The birth of the baby, Judith (that dialogue exchange between Rick and Carl, by the way, was definitely written in under five minutes, while the cleaning crew was vacuuming under the writers’ feet and the rest of the staff was in the car out front, honking, in a hurry to get to the bar. And that scene later on with the survivalist whose lived in a cabin in the middle of zombie infested woods for a year without sensing something odd was up was written at the bar.) Or Carol’s reunion with the group, after hours spent not searching for her. There was a brief feeling of celebration, lots of hugs and tears before Carol realized she didn’t feel any irrationally untethered long hair brushing against her arm. She looked at Rick and his nod brought her up to speed, “Yes, Lori was gutted by Maggie after having one contraction and then shot in the head by Carl before being eaten, skull and all, by a single zombie. It’s very sad.”
Michonne has been weary of being trapped in any place, by anyone, all along, and it has helped her survive as long as she has. Now she has walked with free will out of one prison and straight into another. Considering they haven’t given us quite enough to work with this season when it comes to her character, we have to just assume that her motives are mixed: a desire to rescue and reunite with Andrea combined with wanting to take the Governor down. She trusts Rick, or at least enough to enlist him to help her, even though he literally locks her in a cage. In fact, that’s probably the reason she does; unlike the Governor, he’s not trying to dress up their hellish world as anything other than it is. You never saw Michonne brushing the hair of those pet zombies of hers.
This show works best when the plot encompasses as much territory and characters as possible, and this episode excelled at that. There was a whole lot going on. Our main group has splintered into three smaller sects: Glenn and Maggie being held captive in Woodbury; Rick, Daryl, and anyone else with a bicep attempting to set them free; and then a still traumatized Carl, back at the prison, who’s been charged with protecting a newborn baby, a one-legged man, and a couple of womenfolk who have a history of just falling unconscious. As much as I honestly do think it’s a good move, narratively, to split the group up, when Daryl was loading up that sparkling Honda, doing inventory of their supplies, I did wish someone had shouted, “Wait, we forgot to pack our strategy!” You would think that Michonne would’ve at least suggested her nifty new smeared zombie guts trick, since the one thing there is no shortage of is zombie corpses (well, that and stores full of baby formula). Maybe she did but Rick was all, “Nah, we tried that already. It worked perfectly so we inexplicably abandoned it.” I thought her description of the Governor as a Jim Jones type was unfair, in that it actually gave Jim Jones too little credit. The real man had to first convince his followers that a nuclear war was coming that only he could protect them from. In the Walking Dead universe, the world has already ended, and so even if you had half the Governor’s charm it doesn’t seem like the hardest sell to convince a bunch of people to choose between being eaten by zombies or coming to live inside a fully fortified and stocked paradise, that seems to consist primarily of sunlight-dappled promenades.
Glenn and Maggie have yet to take a stroll down those yet. As far as they know, their new prison digs are as depressing as their old ones (although with 20 percent more vintage-store flair). This show has been trying to pose the question of whether the monsters or the humans are a bigger threat for a while now, in a way that to me has always felt forced. The bad guys have just been too broadly drawn. In this episode, they kept things simple — a zombie attacking Glenn in one room, the Governor threatening Maggie in the other — and it worked beautifully. Both scenes were terrifying, but Maggie’s was scarier since you had no idea what kind of evil you were about to see go down. At this point, it’s pretty hard for a zombie to surprise us with new moves (and when they do, it always feels more like an accident on the show’s part than a deliberate development).
That scene with Maggie finally turned the Governor into a villain, even though he never actually hurt her (in the physical sense). Those interrogation scenes also helped remind us (or, if you prefer, me) of why our main group should win. Neither Glenn nor Maggie gave up their people when threatened with harm to themselves. It was only when Maggie saw Glenn’s life in danger that she broke. The Governor’s reaction to this was interesting. He rewarded them both by letting them be with each other. He seemed impressed by their bravery and threatened by the idea of this unseen group who overtook the entire prison on their own. That part, though, I feel is again the show telling without showing, since there is nothing about Rick’s crew that makes them extra special in the zombie-fighting arena. I don’t believe that Merle’s men wouldn’t have been able to empty that prison out, too, if they had tried, especially since they believe in collateral damage in a way that Rick does not. And when it comes to long-term strategizing, the Governor clearly has Rick’s group beat out, too (they of the daily shopping trips where a single hand basket is filled up in lieu of an entire car).
Where Rick does have the Governor beat, though, is loyalty. For whatever reason, Rick loves his group and will do whatever it takes to protect them. The Governor uses loyalty only as a weapon, in order to wield his will. If he actually cared about Merle, he’d help him find his brother instead of forcing him to side against him. He obviously doesn’t care about Andrea, either, although the full extent of his plans for her has yet to be unveiled. He does seem to love his daughter, but who knows what their relationship was like when she was alive? Her being a mindless creature completely under his control might be a best-case scenario for him.
I fear that that’s the last we’ll be getting of Milton’s backstory, since time is running out on this half of the season. Which is a real shame, because it was maybe the only time a character’s prior life was told in a way that wasn’t coated in melodrama. We learned that he was an only child who was alone when the zombie virus struck. “I telecommuted,” he tells Andrea with a shrug. He’s Woodbury’s Daryl when it comes to comic relief and the show needs much more of that. His relationship with the ailing Mr. Coleman was probably the perfect sort of friendship for a man like him — quiet, subdued, full of conversations about science. Again, this mirrors the Governor’s relationship with his daughter. I wish they hadn’t rushed the reanimation of Mr. Coleman the way they did, killing him (twice) as quickly as they did. The science stuff is more interesting to us than the show (or Andrea) seems to realize. We still don’t have answers to even the most basic questions, like what the hell is this plague anyway? Now that we’re halfway into the third season, it feels like we should be less in the dark. Except when it comes to more love scenes between the Governor and Andrea. Those I’m totally fine with the lights being out for.
All pieces are in place for a big showdown next week. Now that the Governor is dispatching a team to the prison, perhaps Rick’s crew’s chances are better than they would’ve been if Maggie hadn’t talked. Unlike Rick, though, the Governor probably didn’t send his strongest fighters off to scope out the situation. He has the advantage of more resources, but he also tends to have more of his wits about him when it comes to these sorts of things. I’m hoping that when the standoff does happen, the show doesn’t cut corners too much. It’d be nice if it really did come down to a battle between good and bad intentions, and whether those even matter in an apocalypse, instead of just a messy gunfight where you can barely tell what is happening. I don’t only play someone who is for gun control in real life, but on television, too. It’s a no-brainer really, just like the zombies.