So here’s the thing. By the time I got around to thinking about writing individual episode recaps/reviews for the third season of The Walking Dead, 4 episodes had already shuffled by. So much for being quick of the mark. Rather than going back and painstakingly analysing every individual episode, however, instead I will briefly give my thoughts on the series so far, thus laying the basis for future episode reviews. Needless to say, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Lots of them.
Episode 1, ‘Seed’ sees the group together after an indeterminate amount of time (it’s clearly been a while, since in that time Hershel (Scott Wilson) has cultivated decidedly impressive facial hair), although the emotional scars of their past experiences haven’t healed with time; the opening scenes are nigh on dialogue-free, and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) has changed markedly from the affable sheriff of the first season. Gruff and bedraggled, he shuns the opinions and company of wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son Carl (Chandler Riggs) in favour of right-hand man and fan-favourite Daryl (Norman Reedus), while the remaining survivors, perennial sidekick/zombie bait Glenn (Steven Yeun), girlfriend Maggie (Lauren Cohan), her sister Beth (Emily Kinney), widowed/daughter-less Carol (Melissa McBride) and the neglected-screentime-wise-past-the-point-of-parody T-Dog (IronE Singleton) compete for lines with varying levels of success.
With Lori’s sprog (father unknown) about to drop, they need a place to crash, and fast, necessitating the highly risky breaking-and-entering into the prison that was glimpsed at the end of Season 2. Those who complained of the at times lethargic pace and lack of kills of episodes gone by will have more than had their fill here, with Rick and the gang polishing off a truly impressive amount of walkers. It feels a bit videogame-y at times – complete with ‘harder’ enemies; namely walkers in riot gear – but it’s a welcome return to the frenetic action that has at time been lacking, and marks a definite statement of intent, which thus far has been emphatically delivered on. This being The Walking Dead, however, things don’t go smoothly, culminating in a gruesome impromptu battlefield amputation by axe and a shock reveal that widens the net of possibilities even further.
Even so, the emotional undercurrent and deft character touches that pervaded the show are still present: the introduction of new character, samurai sword-wielding, zombie-herding Michonne (Danai Gurira) as the ersatz guardian angel for Andrea (Laurie Holden – separated from the group after the encounter at Hershel’s farm in the Season Two finale – will please fans of the comic, as well as providing a potentially iconic new character. Moreover, every necessary comedic moment (Carol and Daryl’s awkward flirting, Carl’s overly ambitious attempts to flirt with Beth, marked by an amused observation from Hershel) is undercut by a stark reminder of the dread of their current situation, most bleakly emphasised when Lori worries aloud at the possibility of her child being stillborn and eating her from the inside. Overall, it’s a good start.
If the first episode emphasised Rick’s leadership qualities and his ability to convince others to do what’s necessary, then ‘Sick’ serves as a reminder that when he told the group at the end of Season 2 that he was in charge, and “This isn’t a democracy”, he really wasn’t kidding. Having discovered a gang of prisoners hiding in the prison canteen at the close of ‘Seed’, he wastes little time in laying down the law to them – and even less in enforcing it. Even though his actions can be viewed as justified, they all add to the downward spiral of his moral outlook, as emphasised by a subsequent conversation with Lori, where it is clear that he either can’t – or won’t – resume the kind of relationship they had before. As we see later, this will eventually come back to haunt him.
Elsewhere, with Hershel’s life hanging in the balance after losing a leg at the end of the previous episode, we get to see some the most tense non-walker scenes in the series thus far. The moment where Lori gives mouth-to-mouth to a possibly dead Hershel – who could conceivably reanimate at any moment – are some of the most taught and heart-in-your-mouth so far, and are a testament to the writing and direction that such a feat can be achieved.
Third episode ‘Walk With Me’ takes a breather from the Ricktatorship, commencing proceedings by tying up a lose end; namely the fate of the helicopter that inadvertently led the walkers to Hershel’s farm. This being The Walking Dead, it’s not an especially nice one, although it serves the purpose of bringing us into contact with new character the Governor (David Morrissey), who is accompanied by Daryl’s brother Merle (Michael Rooker), last seen chained to a roof in the show’s maiden season, now sporting a lethal-looking weapon-based implement to replace the hand he was forced to hack off. After bumping into Andrea and Michonne, they are escorted to the fortified town of Woodbury, a seemingly safe haven that, under the guidance of the Governor, has returned to a semblance of normality.
Initially appearing affable and benevolent, fans of the comic-book may have been forgiven for worrying that the TV show had gone soft with its portrayal of a character who, in the comics, at least, is an unambiguously sick fuck. By the show’s end, however, you will be satisfied that they show’s creators haven’t pulled any punches, and in the process cultivated potentially one of the most interesting villains to be seen on big or small screen in recent memory. The anarchy of the comic-book may have been replaced by superficial order, but this only serves to make Morrissey’s Governor all the more interesting – he is merely acting like Rick, ie doing what needs to be done to survive, only taken to another extreme. It will be an interesting time when the two finally butt horns, with both actors flying the flag for British actors on the other side of the Atlantic.
Moreover, Merle’s return is handled excellently. Full of choice one-liners and gruff menace, it’s good to see him back again. More interesting still is his dynamic with the Governor; while the first season portrayed him as a borderline-psychotic redneck, here he displays an almost subservient respect for him – a parallel that can be placed alongside his brother Daryl’s relationship with Rick. Coupled with a final scene glimpse into the Governor’s private shop of horrors, and an eerie Day Of The Dead-homaging scene involving potential mad scientist figure, Milton (Dallas Roberts), the possibilities laid down for future episodes are plentifold.
Then ‘Killer Within’ comes along and throws everything up in the air. Having lost Shane and Dale towards the end of the second season, you’d have thought the survivors would have been granted a bit of leeway to stretch their legs? Not so. In what had more in common with a season finale than a fourth episode, a veritable bloodbath ensued that claimed the lives of two characters.
Nothing stays dead in The Walking Dead, which again rang true as characters’ past actions and premonitions came back to stalk them. Rick’s (arguably) needless gittery in locking prisoner Andrew outside in the to get eaten by a bunch of walkers backfires; Lori’s earlier fretting about her pregnancy turn out to not be entirely unfounded, and T-Dog finally learns the perils of being a character with no discernable function whatsoever in a show with a higher than average mortality rate.
Yes, poor T-Dog. Victim of cruel – albeit accurate – internet memes and jokes for doing absolutely nothing whatsoever in Season 2, when he finally does get taken down it’s quite an affecting moment. Having already been bitten, he sacrifices himself to save Carol (who must surely be on borrowed time herself), although even in death he is rendered forgettable by more interesting events occurring elsewhere.
Again, using the character matrix of popularity and overall usefulness, Lori was another character this writer predicted for an early grave; just not this early. Yet, it couldn’t have been handled in a more tender and heartfelt – and coincidentally, more gruesomely horrific – manner. From Lori’s farewells to Carl (who really comes of age in this scene) to the moment itself, this is truly fearless TV taken through to its logical conclusion, making no concessions as it does so.
Coming close to matching this scene for raw emotion is Rick’s subsequent reaction, encapsulating raw, debilitating grief in a naturalistic yet flawless display of acting. The effect this will have on his already shattered psyche remains to be seen, but the Episode 5 preview, showing him pinning a hapless Glenn against the wall, indicates he could become an even harder guy to be around.
Such is the level of carnage of the events at the prison that it’s easy to overlook entirely Andrea and Michonne’s own adventure in Woodbury, where it’s still very much the calm before the storm. The Governor and Merle have a decent exchange, but any craziness bubbling below the surface looks to be laying dormant… for now.
So, four episodes in, and so far, so good. More of the same, please.