“Today we celebrate how far we’ve come. We remember those we lost. We raise a glass to us.”
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?
Tangent: CHRIS HARDWICK Y U NO PICK SHORTER HASHTAGS?
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”