The Walking Dead’s Daryl and Merle: It’s like Sister, Sister, but with back scars
Photo: Gene Page/AMC
The Walking Dead — both the show and its characters — are currently suffering from similar ailments: a lack of a game plan for how to move forward. They’re also both confronted with the same dilemma: Is it better for the group (and by that, I’m including the viewers at home) to stay put or to keep on moving?
Neither option will be satisfying unless the show decides what the point is of doing either. Rick’s group is in pure survival mode right now, which is causing them to make rash decisions. What’s interesting is that the Walking Dead could stand to be feeling a little more panicked, too. Last week’s mid-season premiere broke cable viewership records, its numbers disproportionate to the episode’s quality. Without any threat of cancellation on the horizon, the show seems content with leading us in circles.
Our main crew originally saw the prison as a chance to rebuild, but that dream was short-lived. Carl barely had a chance to dust off his hat before new strife presented itself inside the prison walls, taking lives and limbs. Now they’re discovering breaches (even though they made a big deal in this season’s first few episodes about making sure their area was secured). Glenn says that with Rick gone crazy and Daryl gone, he’s in charge now, as if he fast-forwarded past season two entirely when Hershel was considered a wise leader type. Glenn’s first plan in office is to head back to Woodbury to finish off the Governor. That was when I started punching questions into Google like, “Is it possible to impeach a fictional character? What if no one officially voted him in?” Thankfully good ol’ Hershel correctly pointed out that, in the last 24 hours, there had already been two failed Woodbury missions already. “You went for a simple baby formula run during a zombie apocalypse and nearly got yourself killed!”
Glenn compromises by saying he’s going for a drive but not to Woodbury. Hershel says, “By yourself? How can you possibly think that’s a good idea?” but then loses some credibility when he, the one-legged man on crutches, volunteers to ride shotgun. Glenn speeds off while Carol flirts with the lone surviving prisoner, Axel, and sets up barricades. He tells her that he was serving time for sticking up a gas station with a toy gun. We like Axel sort of, right? I mean through the prism that we evaluate characters on this show? At least it’s refreshing that he’s making jokes and talking about the world before it was reduced to three different sets.
Getting back to those breaches — the ones that mean there are walkers swarming the perimeters — Rick spends most of this episode wandering just outside the front prison fence. He’s chasing Lori’s ghost, probably to ask: If she was going to spend so much time in the afterlife tromping around the weeds, is that floor-length, white silk dress really the most practical fashion choice? Hershel hobbles down to tell Rick that Glenn can’t fill Rick’s shoes. “He’s reckless,” says Hershel to the man who prefers the company of dead people to living ones, shot and killed his best friend, and just sent a group of kind-hearted survivors to their likely deaths. “I’ve been … I got … stuff out here,” answers Rick (exact quote).
In Woodbury, the Governor tells Andrea that he isn’t fit to lead his people but she is: “Who else can do it? Milton? Martinez?” “So you’re abdicating?” she asks. Which is how I would’ve put it, too. And what about the revenge plot he talked about last week, she wants to know? Nah, he’s all done with that. He’s all about abdication now. Also, one of the slats in that wooden screen in the corner is broken and now he’ll finally have time to fix it. To her credit, Andrea is still suspicious, as she should be, since he’s totally lying. He doesn’t trust her any more than she trusts him, although it’s confusing as to why he is bothering with his ruse at all. He must really like watching her strut with purpose up and down that promenade. The Governor pays a visit to Milton, who is his actual bestie and there’s some talk about how great and loyal Martinez is (eye roll) and also about how not great Andrea is since she was so nice to that jerk Merle. And there’s some business with a walkie-talkie or a ham radio or something and we hear, “Look at this jackpot” coming out of one of them, which may or may not be important. Maybe this is how he learns about the survivors that he ambushes. It’s his way of stocking up on ammunition and supplies. Or maybe he knows about other thriving communities or government agencies that he doesn’t want the inhabitants of Woodbury to find out about.
Daryl and Merle are in the woods, trying to hunt up some food. Daryl is clearly prisonsick and bummed out. Merle is Merle, which means he’s all “Asians! Chicks! My hand!” They come across yet another group of survivors: a family with a baby who drove their car halfway onto a bridge and then decided to stop it for some reason and get out (maybe they were foraging from the other cars when the walkers showed up — maybe). Daryl and Merle help save the family and then Merle tries to rob them until his brother threatens to crossbow him if he doesn’t knock it off. Then they both react the way people on this show always do when they realize the world is a little bit less ended than they thought it was: They let the family go without asking a single question about where they’ve been or where they’re headed.
Daryl and Merle get into a fight. Merle’s missing hand gets brought up several more times, but Daryl says that Merle was the one who always left him when they were kids. Merle takes a swing that somehow rips his brother’s shirt completely off his back (maybe the only torn-up biker tee Daryl could find in his size after the apocalypse hit was in a stripper costume store?), and he sees some scars on Daryl’s back that he’s never seen before (because they weren’t there until this episode?). They’re from their dad. “I didn’t know … ” Merle starts but doesn’t finish, because the trailing-off virus has been going around lately. Daryl takes this as his chance to split and return to the prison. “I may be the one walking away,” he tells Merle, “But you’re the one who’s leaving … again.” I’m not one to normally take Merle’s side, but this is just unfair since Merle’s isn’t allowed at the prison. That’s why Daryl had to make a choice last week. I even feel sad for Merle, as he realizes how difficult he’s made it for himself. He looks scared at the idea of being left in the woods alone. He swallows his pride and follows his brother.
It looked like Carol was finally going to get some action, with Axel, but instead we get a surprising death. We haven’t had someone just die mid-sentence like that in a while, I mean. Bye, Axel, we’ll miss you. Sort of. It’s the Governor. Hershel was right about his coming for them and their needing to be ready, and Glenn was right about needing to take the Governor down before that happened, but since neither of them really made a proper plan, they both ended up being wrong.
The Governor has a machine gun that he is really, really into shooting. Sometimes he just fires it into the air. There was definitely some pillow talk that went on between him and Andrea about guns. Loyal Martinez is there, too, although I think he gets shot, as well as a couple more of the Governor’s men. The gun fight goes on for a while. Carol has to use Axel’s body as a shield. Rick snaps to his senses and joins in. An armored van busts through the prison’s exterior fence and a dude wearing body armor and a helmet jumps out. He opens the back of the van and dozens of walkers spill out. Then that guy disappears or escapes? And Glenn drives in and also Daryl and Merle. Merle kills a bunch of walkers, trying to earn his keep. The Governor shoots his gun one more time, a nice long burst, and then it seems that his plan must have many parts, since he leaves before killing hardly anyone or storming the prison.
The walkers from the van are left behind and the group seems really freaked out by them, as Rick, Merle, and Daryl are left outside. They lace their fingers through the fence holes and dramatic music plays. I don’t know, though, are a couple dozen contained walkers that big a deal? Can’t they shoot them or stab them like they always do? I’m going to choose to believe that the tension, that music, comes more from the threat of the Governor’s return and the fatigue of always having one more problem to deal with, of never being able to get ahead.