Walking Dead S3:E5, “Say the Word”

“Today we celebrate how far we’ve come. We remember those we lost. We raise a glass to us.”

Axel and Oscar are joining the group. First order of business: We bury our dead.

Amidst an idyllic scene at Woodbury that could have been a flashback, Milton laughs at cold drinks as a misuse of  generators and explains to Andrea, “Mere words cannot describe the festivities ahead.” One assumes the festivities are related to the little girl GOV is meticulously grooming, until a patch of her scalp tears off and it is revealed she is a walker in a straitjacket. As GOV looks out the window and realizes Michonne has seen him (possibly also him stuffing his undead daughter’s head into a bag), he realizes more action is needed.

At the prison there’s the antithesis of an idyllic scene; Rick is still losing his goddamned mind. Everything he hears is static. Daryl shows unexpected sentimentality toward the baby–presumably a transference of his grief at ‘losing’ Carol–and takes Maggie in search of baby needs (though they had been searching for months, the stores were picked over and they remained unprepared). While stand-in-parents Maggie and Daryl are being responsible, Rick takes an axe on a murder bender; perhaps he’s looking for Lori, or perhaps he is secretly courting death.

While GOV delivers a speech, Michonne sneaks around. She retrieves her katana and tries prying into GOV’s Man-Cave-full-of-heads-in-aquariums, but finds a notebook instead. The last name in a long list is Penny, and what follows are pages of scribbles, reminding one of an insane person’s tics. She sneaks out a window when GOV comes to get beer, but not before overhearing Milt’s pleas to postpone ‘tonight’ in favor of his experiments.

Outside, Michonne finds walkers in cages. She kills them but is discovered by a person coming to feed them. Just how much do the townspeople know? What is their level of complicity here? GOV takes Michonne’s katana again, and after he asserts he’s got nothing to hide she points out, “People with nothing to hide don’t usually feel the need to say so.” His face when she mentions Penny is the first moment his emotions look genuine, and he also looks completely unhinged. The way he tells Michonne she ‘fits in’ is downright creepy, especially in how it implies she is no better than GOV himself; he adds, “This is a real problem for me. People follow the rules, and whether or not it’s true, they believe it’s what keeps them alive.” This makes Michonne a problem; she has broken his rules in a way he can’t tolerate. He can remove the problem by chasing her out or by making her part of the ‘solution,’ offering for her to join the ‘research team.’

Michonne’s suspicion seems reasonable, except she is not privy to all Woodbury’s secrets. Our omniscience paints her as hysterical and jumping at shadows, and takes credence from her instincts even though they’re correct. As she stares down her katana to where its point rests under GOV’s throat there’s a possibility she’s gone too far and her emotional reaction has weakened her moral stance. Merle comes in with excellent timing (just like Daryl) and GOV insists he can handle Michonne; she has just played herself right into his hands.

Glenn, digging graves because they bury their dead, is approached by Oscar and Axel. When Oscar says he has only had one friend his entire life that he cares for like the group, Glenn hands them the shovel and says, “I need two more.” On the surface he’s talking about graves, but it also serves as the prisoners’ initiation into the group and suggests they can become two new family members. He tells Hershel he wishes they’d killed the prisoners on sight, saying he’d “trade any number of people for one of ours any day,” and adding some heartfelt reminiscence of T-Dog to prod wounds still fresh from T-Dog’s tragic demise in “Killer Inside.”

GOV manipulates Andrea and regains control of the situation, pitting her against Michonne. The two women present opposite but equally unreasonable ends of an emotional spectrum–Michonne suspicious and unable to trust even when it might save her life, and Andrea so desperate for the oblivious comfort Woodbury offers that she turns a blind eye to things she should honestly notice. The 8 months between seasons have been hard on Andrea; with Michonne she pleads not to argue after ‘everything’ they’ve been through, implying something more significant happened than life on the run and sleeping in a meat locker. They want different things for their own reasons; Michonne, at heart, seems to prefer leaving to prove her strength and independence, while Andrea is tired of the day-to-day survival struggle (with Woodbury she has been presented an option to ‘opt out’ without suicide). Her romantic interest in GOV also makes her earlier refusal to fall into the traditional gender roles of washing laundry and making meals seem like a bratty phase;  now that Andrea has met a man that interests her she can finally outgrow feminism, ready to settle down and become a real lady at long last. It is a bitter pill to swallow, and has me eagerly awaiting why GOV is so eager to keep her around.

Glenn finds Rick covered in gore with a dripping axe. His attempts at reason are a miserable failure; this husk that was once a leader has been hollowed and filled with grief, disoriented by rage. He can’t be reasoned with and has the look of an utterly broken man; Rick’s only moment of weakness even close to this might go all the way to the beginning of S1 when he was faced with the possibility he’d lost Lori and Carl. This is a pivotal moment for Rick; in the tradition of Propp’s Morphology of the Folk Tale, Rick is being tested and from here will ascend to hero status, or descend into failure and misery. This is his golden shining chance to pull back from the abyss he’s been staring into all season.

The ‘research team’ is hunting walkers. Milt is looking for something specific, and determines one of the captured has something ‘interesting’ in its eyes. Merle is a man who has clearly found his niche and purpose as he wrestles it to the ground so they can pull its teeth.

Daryl and Maggie find a daycare. Eerie children’s handprints are on the wall. Predictably one is Sofie; in his quiet way Daryl is grieving, and it reminded me when a younger Carl asked to name Lori’s baby after Carol’s lost daughter. The sentimental moment is countered by a noise (my hopes for an undead baby reanimate!); Daryl opens a closet, finds a possum and proclaims, “Hello, dinner,” to which Maggie deadpans, “I’m not putting that in my bag.” They find bottles, formula, and diapers in addition to ‘dinner’ and offer some needed comic relief, showing that you don’t need to be a total idiot to survive the undead apocalypse.

Michonne and Andrea attempt to leave so the former can prove to the latter that they’re not allowed. Merle tries to cajole them into staying and Andrea begins to grow suspicious that Michonne is right, but as Merle lets them go Andrea still wants to stay, explaining, “I’m tired. I don’t have another 8 months in me, not like that.” GOV twists the knife, observing that to lose someone by their own choice  is difficult, and he thought those days were over. Then like a frat-boy cliche, he tells her to have a drink.

Glenn hears Maggie and Daryl, using Oscar and Axel in a seamless system to get the pair in without Daryl having to stop. Daryl takes the baby in an oddly paternal moment and bottle-feeds it with a nurturing smile. Between Rick’s mental breakdown and intentional withdrawal from the group and Daryl caring for Rick’s child (plus the earlier scene of Daryl’s precise organization of labor and foraging), there is a symbolic transition of power, and for the moment at least Daryl has become the group’s patriarch/leader. Carl runs through possible names, all of which are dead female group members, and Daryl coos, “You like that, little ass-kicker?”

A gore-covered Rick finds a bloody trail and scratches on cement. There’s a spent shell but no Lori. When he finds a bloated walker he cuts it open, reminiscent of Daryl’s search for Sophia in S2:E1, but devolves into a grieving stabbing tantrum.

“Mr. Saturday Night Special” blares through Woodbury, the atmosphere that of a county fair. GOV leads Andrea by the hand into makeshift haybale bleachers to witness a brawl between Merle and Martinez, surrounded by walkers on chains. Andrea is not entertained by this spectacle; between the cold drinks and the diversion it is a classic “panem et circences,” and she points out that even using toothless walkers to ‘stage’ Gladiator fights, GOV is “teaching them walkers aren’t dangerous.”

The sun rises behind the prison. Daryl is at the new gravesite, laying a Cherokee rose on what what is presumed to be Carol’s symbolic grave. Rick is leaning against the wall with a blank catatonic stare. The ringing in his ears has become the phantom crying of a baby, but gradually the ringing of a phone penetrates his fog. He stands to answer it, and his only word of the episode is a hoarse, “Hello?”

“Say the Word” seems to deal with the idea that the idea of a refuge as an inspiring hope for the future is always better than the refuge turns out to be in actuality. Whether this is the quarry, the CDC, the farm, the prison, or Woodbury, the overarching theme is one of ambitious hopes that can’t be fulfilled by the reality of a place. There are obvious parallels between GOV and Hershel, each of whom believe walkers might be redeemed (the former through science and the latter through God), and have an idyllic and plague-free place with walkers concealed in their midst. That seems to be where the comparison ends, though, as Hershel is a rational man who cares about the living where GOV seems like a sociopath using the living as tools and nothing more. Interestingly Andrea, who could not be mollified about the barn full of walkers, can be convinced to sit and deal with something not entirely different in Woodbury. As before, there is tumult and change, but can there be any kind of stability or social hierarchy in such a world?


Need more reading?

Walking Dead, S3:E4 “The Killer Within”

Walking Dead, S3:E3 “Walk With Me”

Walking Dead, S3:E2 “Sick”

Walking Dead, S3:E1 “Seed”

16 thoughts on “Walking Dead S3:E5, “Say the Word”

  1. Robb Zahm says:

    Finally had a chance to see this episode. My take on the pages of slashes in the GOV’s notebook was that they were kill scores. Before Penny, he had kept a list of names, however brief. But hers was the last name; after Penny fell, I think it became quite likely the GOV continued recording those who were lost, but simply stopped caring enough to record the names.

    If my guess is accurate, the multiple pages filled with slashes that follow Penny’s name have a homicial signicance sufficient to impress the most prolific of mass murderers.

    Incidentally, Fission, you were not alone in experiencing a renewed hope that an ankle-biter might make an appearance during Daryl and Maggie’s run.

    Regarding Rick’s descent, the scratches on the ground looked almost like his name, scraped into the cement, but that might merely have been a delusion manifesting from my unwllingness to let go of Lori’s place in all this. It seems almost as though the writers are cheating if they don’t torment Rick with a Lori-
    Walker, or, alternately, kill and animate little Carl. As far as Rick has fallen, even Morgan from the series pilot had to deal with watching his wife walk around the streets outside the house, a scenario that ultimately resulted in shooting the woman in the head, and Morgan seemed far more balanced than Rick is at this point. Not that I dislike Rick or have anything against the guy, but I want to see him face a little more of a trial before truly reaching such a tipping point as this episode suggested he has approached.

    Finally, getting back to Andrea, I don’t know that she has fully given up her strong, counter-gender role identity. After all, though she may be allowing the GOV to try to win her over, she seems pulled in more by the serenity of Woodbury itself than by the man who runs the faux-topia, and you don’t exactly see her running to fetch a wash bin so she can start doing the GOV’s laundry. Sure, Andrea seems to have gotten a little myopic after her time in the wild, but she still argues against the GOV’s WWE-style Biter Lumberjack match between Merle and Martinez, suggesting she may not have gone totally blind to the the GOV’s insanity. She’s not as paranoid as Michonne, but I can’t help but think back to when she asked for a little more evidence to go on before following Michonne through the gates – hopefully, she’s starting to see some of that evidence. Now, the question is what she’ll do with the information she’s learning.

    To that end, I can’t help but wonder – if Andrea’s misgivings are stemming from an event the GOV freely shares with her, will she begin to suspect there might be darker secrets he’s not sharing, or will she assume he’s not hiding anything from her and thus continue to be surprised as she learns more of just how purulent Woodbury truly is?


    • fissionerror says:

      I mean… there were a LOT of slashes there… And the Governor doesn’t strike me as the sort who values human life enough to commemorate it with even a single mark. It reminded me of Craig Toomey from the Langoliers more than anything; one of those things insane people do while they try to wrangle their minds back under control. I guess we’ll see. If you’re right and it’s a commemorative pride thing… he’s an even more fucked up character than I’m already giving him credit for.

      I’ll have to go back and rewatch for those scratches! I’m curious now. I keep reading that Lori is DONE DONE, but unless she made those scratches while Maggie was cutting her open it does seem like they want us to THINK carl didn’t kill her right. I really like your points about Morgan! I didn’t even think to make that connection.

      The Andrea/Michonne bits I’m really really not enjoying at all, and I keep waiting for them to come around and make them each a little more identifiable.


      • Robb Zahm says:

        Is it bad that I find Merle and the GOV the most compelling characters at Woodbury? Even Milton is a more fascinating character than our two heroine. I really want to like Michonne, especially – she’s competent, insightful, self-sufficient. Sadly, she is also brooding, paranoid, and emotionless. She’s kinda like a Final Fantasy lead character, only female. At this point, I could either really grow to like her or just be sad when she finally (presumably) kills the GOV. This is not a spoiler, but rather a half-hearted prediction. It could just as easily be an enlightened Andrea who pulls the trigger or throws him to the biters, but either way, I don’t expect him to survive the season. Merle, however, has to reunite with Daryl, hopefully walking in while Daryl is holding the Little Ass-Kicker – that would be a scene to watch.


      • fissionerror says:

        Agreed on all counts! I am really interested in Merle/Milton/and GOV, and what secrets Woodbury is hiding. I hope Andrea and Michonne get it together a little because I’m finding it so hard to care about their predicaments. Michonne has GOT to have some fascinating backstory that I’d love to know.

        and that Merle/Daryl reunion that they’re shaping up is going to be priceless, especially with how in charge Daryl is now–he’s a Man with a capital M, and Merle has another thing coming if he thinks he can walk in and treat him like a little kid some more.


      • Robb Zahm says:

        The one thing that keeps me interested in Andrea and Michonne at Woodbury is that they will be the main impetus to bring together the jail community and the Woodbury barbarians. That dichotomy in particular is what I most enjoy about this season: you have Rick’s group, which consists of a group that, at its core, consists of good people trying to do the right thing but who face an unwinnable, continuous struggle because those people are unwilling to be ruthless enough to ensure their safety. At Woodbury, however, the GOV has built an idyllic setting, but that home only exists because of the GOV’s uncompromising removal of any possible threat to his authority, and the colony now thrives on barbaric practices underlying a peaceful surface culture. Bringing the two groups together is going to be explosive – possibly quite literally, given the hardware the GOV has collected around Woodbury. Sadly, this is likely only going to happen at the end of the season, similar to the discovery of Sophia’s fate, or the final showdown with Shane last season.

        This style of storytelling does not well cater to my impatience.


      • fissionerror says:

        They’ve got to unite the groups eventually; the split storyine makes a timeline that is already questionable still harder to keep track of. Plus there’s too little challenge in each group independently; these people have spent too long working together and are functioning too smoothly for maximum drama. the question is, what will happen to make one group or the other leave their safe haven, and which will it be?


      • Robb Zahm says:

        I kind of hope it will be Michonne who forces the groups to come together, since she has abandoned Woodbury. My guess is the GOV will see her as a threat and seek to have her eliminated, inadvertantly driving her toward the jail. In that scenario, Rick, would probably advocate for leaving her to her own devices, and Glen’s recent comments to Herschel suggest he might not be too sympathetic, either. Still, If Michonne actually speaks a few words to the jail, any mention of Merle or Andrea would be enough to pique interest sufficient to bring out an expeditionary force. I realize, however, how foolish it is to rely on Michonne to provide exposition to anyone other than her two now truly dead brothers, so perhaps Merle will be a part of the squad sent to hunt her? If that brings him to the jail, I don’t know how likely he would be to suggest a family reunion back at Woodbury, as I’m not sure his loyalty to the GOV would be so easily shifted.


      • Robb Zahm says:

        Hmmm. I don’t like it. If the previews are showing it, I must be wrong – there must be some kind of catch… and yes, I prefer to guess what will happen next, rather than be told. Previews are just a horrible idea, as they always leave me imagining the next episode will be better than it ultimately proves to be.


    • fissionerror says:

      I agree! I think this was one of the best episodes of the entire show so far, even though I’m still having some feelings about Michonne I can’t quite find the words for yet… Maybe next week!


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