“Daryl has his code. This world needs men like that.”
After a midseason break verging on too long for my liking (American Horror Story, by comparison, took a break, resumed, and finished in the time Walking Dead was off the air), The Walking Dead has returned. In case you missed it, S3:E8’s “Made to Suffer” ended on an emotional high; Michonne has killed Penny, the Governor’s walker-daughter, fan-favorite Daryl has been both captured and reunited with his brother Merle, Rick waffles on whether he can trust Michonne, and the Governor gives a rallying political speech decrying the actions of ‘terrorists.’ Oh, and there are new people in the prison, including graphic novel fan-favorite Tyreese.
Daryl looks suddenly young, reunited with his brother and surrounded by villagers with pitchforks. The Governor continues his politicking from the previous episode, forcing a fight to the death. “I asked you to where your loyalties lie…. You said here. Well prove it. Prove it to us all. Brother against brother. Winner goes free. Fight to the death.”
Merle gets some quick dirty shots in on his brother, who seems almost unwilling to raise a hand against him, before leaning in, “Follow my lead, little brother. We’re getting out of this. Right now.” They switch from fighting each other to attacking the pit walkers. Maggie and Rick arrive with cover smoke/fire just in time; the Woodbury people are helpless and terrified, and while the smoke creates chaos it obscures friends as well as foes and leaves a few walkers alive in the mix. GOV has an eerie calm in his eye and a smile as he dispatches one of the walkers. Daryl snatches his crossbow from another man’s hands as they bolt.
Outside Woodbury’s perimeter, cooperation devolves almost instantly into The People vs. Merle Dixon (meanwhile walkers begin helping themselves into town). Rather than playing nice so he can stay with Daryl and Rick’s group, Merle chooses to antagonize, baiting about Andrea, calling Michonne ‘Nubian queen’ and wisecracking how it’s ‘ironic’ that she had walkers in chains. Rick knocks him out, and even Daryl doesn’t argue its justice, calling his unconscious brother an asshole.
At the prison, Hershel tends the newcomers. Tyreese makes small talk about how few decent people are left while his
wife (sister? sorry) Sasha, amazed to see a baby, thinks it’s Beth’s and makes it weird. Tyreese tries diplomacy, sympathizing they’ve been ‘through the mill’ before quipping, “I must be the first brother in history to break into prison.” His charm works on Hershel, but thanks to the Ricktatorship Hershel tells him, “It’s not up to me.”
The argument about Merle continues. Glenn takes a stand; after what Merle has done to Maggie, he understandably would sooner see him dead. Still, he cares about Daryl. “You’re part of that family, but he’s not.” Daryl refuses to leave Merle. “No him, no me…. Carol will understand…. Don’t ask me to leave him. Already did that once.” In spite of Rick’s earnest efforts to keep him, Daryl leaves with Merle. Rick is also unwilling to keep Michonne the ‘last samurai,’ promising to treat her wounds but then she’s gone. In spite of how useful and strong she is, he can’t trust her because of how she vanished in the middle of the Woodbury siege.
Tyreese and company go to bury Donna. Allan and Ben begin plotting, viewing Carl and Carol dismissively as a weak link they can take guns from so they can seize the prison. Tyreese and Sasha are against the idea, and the group debates human decency vs. ruthlessness, “You’re living in the past, Ty. So are you…. This is survival of the fittest. In here we live, out there we die.” Beth and Axel arrive with offers of shovels and assistance. Awkward.
Returning to the prison, the gang stops to move a truck blocking the road. Glenn melts down, murder-stomping a walker to death before confronting Rick. Merle aside, Glenn is pissed Rick didn’t kill GOV for what he did to Maggie, going straight past concerned partner to offensively smothering. They’ve been through a lot, but Glenn seems to be handling Maggie’s sexual assault worse than she is. “After all that effort, all the risk we took, Daryl just takes off with Merle.” The Ricktatorship is falling apart. Tempers are short and Rick snaps, “This is the hand we’ve been dealt.”
An exodus attempt at Woodbury is not going well. Faced with blaring horns and angry villagers on one side and walkers on the other, the men on the wall are edgy as they perform damage control. Phil is sequestered in his apartment, ignoring the chaos reigning in his tiny world. The walker that snuck into town attacks, and while the people beg for someone to help the victim and Andrea stands by in horrified indecision, GOV strolls out, puts a bullet in the man, and leaves again.
Andrea storms after him and they argue. “Don’t blame them for the mess that you created.” GOV comes clean about Glenn and Maggie, and blames them for Woodbury’s deaths. When she asks why he didn’t tell her he’d found her friends, he replies, “You’re just a visitor here. Just passin’ through. So why should I tell you?”
Carl and Carol are on gate patrol when Rick’s group returns to the prison. Carol is concerned for Daryl, and shocked and distraught to find him gone. Carl remembers to ask about Oscar (remember Oscar?). Hershel is relieved Rick has returned with Maggie and Glenn. He’s grateful, “You came through. Like always.” His words suggest perhaps the Ricktatorship isn’t as sick as it seems. Rick briefs him about GOV.
“What kind of a sick mind does that?”
“The kind this world creates.”
Rick looks at his baby like she’s an alien, either because he can’t bond with the infant or because Beth has said she thinks Lil Asskicker has Lori’s eyes. It could be stress or sleep-deprivation, but his disorientation as the sound of crying warps around him is reminiscent of “Say the Word;” Rick might still be a little toys-in-the-attic.
Milton tries to settle Woodbury, but Andrea takes over with some oration:
Every one of us has suffered. We don’t even have funerals anymore, because the death never stops. We’re never gonna be the same. Ever. So what do we do? We dig deep, and we find the strength to carry on. We work together and we rebuild. Not just the fences, the gates, the community, but ourselves, our hearts, our minds… And years from now, when they write about this plague in the history books, they will write about Woodbury.
This is her counterpoint to The Governor’s rallying cry against terrorists; in this moment they are like President and First Lady, one being the force and the other the finesse.
Carol and Beth have a makeshift crib for Lil Asskicker, and discuss Daryl. “Men like Merle get into your head, make you feel like you deserve the abuse.” Heartachingly, Carol wonders if, no matter how much she’s grown, she’d be able to tell Ed to go to hell if he came back for her. It’s a hard cycle to shake.
Hershel tends Glenn’s injuries. “You’re like my own son, Glenn.” But happy as he is to see them returned, he can still notice the tension between Maggie and Glenn. He tries to get the information from Maggie but she won’t budge either so he settles for praise. “I rest easy knowing you can handle yourself. You’ve got your mother’s spirit… And her stubbornness.” He moves on to tending Michonne before Rick locks her in. Carol comforts Axel as he deals with the loss of Oscar. Rick looks to the others for input a lot for a dictator, further proof he’s cracking under the pressure.
They go to see the newcomers. Rick refuses Tyreese’s handshake/introduction, instead grilling him on how they got into the prison. Tyreese pleads their case to stay. “We’re no strangers to hard work. We’ll go out, get our own food, stay our of your hair. You got a problem with another group, we’ll help with that too. Anything to contribute.”
Rick insists he can’t be responsible, but in an echo of Rick’s own words from Season 2, Tyreese observes, “You turn us out, you are responsible.” Hershel takes a stand against Rick, pulling him aside to counsel, “You’re wrong on this. You’ve got to start giving people a chance.” Before he can give the matter consideration, though, he sees the ghost of Lori on a catwalk and goes batshitcrazy. Remember Rick imagining he saw Shane in Woodbury? His hallucinations are getting way worse, and can no longer be considered isolated incidents.
There are issues of belonging at work here. Whether it’s Andrea, who is only ‘passing through’ Woodbury because she doesn’t truly fit there, or Tyreese and his group, divided between assimilating and taking over. There’s also the pressure to choose between blood family and chosen family; is Merle worth more to Daryl than Carol and the others, simply because they were born into each other’s lives, or are the relationships he’s worked to nurture worth more? Michonne, whenever conversation turns toward her relationship with Andrea, grows more laconic than usual; she is unwilling to admit any emotional vulnerability even if it means she can fit in somewhere. She and Rick have so much in common–their unwillingness to trust others, their inclination to shoulder heavy burdens, and their need to protect those less able.
There’s also a running theme of doing what’s right vs. doing what’s necessary. Common decency is equated to ‘living in the past,’ while cutthroat ruthlessness is simply survival. The grey areas are fading to black and white, and Rick is a perfect example of this; he has realized this world makes it painful and difficult to make judicious decisions, so he vacillates between overwhelming compassion and stubborn resistance. Still, it’s against his nature to take such a hard line–we see him weaken again and again, second-guessing himself with disastrous consequences like Tomas and Oscar and Shane. His compassion is a proven problem, but then again so are his infrequent moments of steely decision–shooting the Philadelphians in Season 2 without thinking brought down a serious fire fight that put everyone in danger. Just as the Woodbury model isn’t sustainable or practical, neither is Michonne’s lone-wolf system. The extremes aren’t working because they can’t be fluid and adapt to circumstances. There’s no room for growth or change. Survival of the fittest and basic human decency can’t be mutually exclusive.
Finally, considering the leaders of the two groups, Rick and Phillip are both coming unhinged. The Governor is preparing for the war he intends to continue, while Rick seems stuck playing defense. Each has their voice of moderation (currently being filled by Hershel and Andrea, respectively) that, at present, is failing to dam the insanity flood. Phillip keeps loading guns, while Rick yells at the ghost of his dead wife.
That said, a few notes:
- That Daryl/Merle showdown should have been bigger, given how long I had to think about it.
- The prison group is finally looking apocalypse-scruffy.
- Why would you slam car doors and yell so much when noises attract walkers?
- If Rick is only acting extra crazy so Tyreese won’t want to stay, that would be AWESOME.
- Is Ghost-Lori wearing her wedding dress from the storage locker in the Walking Dead webisodes? And why is Rick so freaked out to see her?
- Also can we talk about Sasha’s awesome Southern Gothic Revival shirt? Like Clutch, another win for Walking Dead on the music score.
Let’s talk! What are your feels?
Fuzzy on earlier episodes?