There’s nothing like a statement of intent to keep things fresh. Actually, that’s a bit unfair, since the entire season so far has been one big, fat statement of intent. While the last season was content to let whole episodes float by with little to latch on to, this time around even the relatively uneventful episodes have their moments – previous episode ‘Say The Word’, for example, wrapped things up with a walker-enclosed wrestling show.
There are no such theatrics here, however, as Merle (Michael Rooker) is sent out to recapture an unwilling Michonne (Danai Gurira). What happens when samurai sword meets deadly looking arm-substitute weapon implement? You’ll get your answer here.
What you don’t get many answers to, however, is anything definitive regarding Merle’s motivations. Having been previously depicted as loyal to the Governer (David Morrissey) almost to the point of subservience – perhaps even fear – he is nonetheless willing to lie to him.
Then again, maybe Merle is just a one-note psychopath, as evidenced by his spontaneous capture of Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan). His actions seem geared solely towards getting what he wants – in this instance, his brother Daryl (Norman Reedus), but it makes for a very one-note character – even if it is punctuated by the occasional excellent one-liner or outburst.
Another character who’s getting hard to figure out is Andrea (Laurie Holden). Having openly deplored the walker fights of the previous episode, she manages to ignore all prior warnings and end up in the Governor’s bed. Her new-found gangster moll status probably won’t last long, what with the numerous box of undead secrets strewn around the Governor’s residence – although considering her horrendous taste in men (Shane wasn’t exactly setting the bar high) we wouldn’t put any further errors of judgement past her.
Back in the prison, however, is where some of the strongest moments of characterisation take place, with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) having answered the ominous ringing telephone of last episode’s end. Once again, Lincoln delivers the episode’s stand-out performance (surely he has to be a shoe-in for ALL the leading man nominations come award season?), being utterly convincing as a man of the edge of his sanity, struggling despite himself to scramble away from the precipice, knowing full well what will happen if he tumbles over it.
One man on a telephone may not allow for the most action-packed of scenes, but it does allow for some truly excellent moments, most notably when Hershel (Scott Wilson) picks up the phone. We can’t hear what he hears, but it’s painfully obvious what the answer is.
Despite the odd unintentionally funny moment – Daryl’s rescue of Carol (Melissa McBride) is constructed like a music video, complete with a Bodyguard-aping carry-me-home moment, but otherwise it is one of the most affecting episodes yet – with yet another dramatic final act coda, it would appear that things are just getting started…