|By Rich Handley|
As The Walking Dead‘s third season returns from its hiatus, Governor Philip Blake (David Morrissey) forces Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) to prove his loyalty by facing his brother Daryl (Norman Reedus) in an arena death-match. Merle beats Daryl fiercely, whispering for him to follow Merle’s lead so they can both get out alive.
In the confusion, the four make their escape, rendezvousing with the injured Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) back at the car. Rick and Glenn refuse to let Merle live at the prison, deeming him dangerous and untrustworthy, but Daryl chooses to leave his friends behind rather than again abandoning his brother.
Back at the prison, Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson) gets to know Tyreese (Chad Coleman)’s group, warning them not to get comfortable since Rick may not let them stay. As the newcomers bury Donna (killed during the previous episode), her husband, Allen (Daniel Thomas), suggests they steal guns and take over the prison. Tyreese and his sister Sasha (Sonequa Martin) disagree, preferring to cooperate with who they believe to be good people.
Rick’s group finds a truck with a Walker inside. Overcome by the stress of recent events, Glenn snaps, stomping the zombie’s head to gory pulp, and then yelling at Rick for failing to kill the Governor after what he did to Maggie. They then return to the prison, where Rick gives Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) the news about Daryl’s departure.
Several citizens storm Woodbury’s gate, determined to leave since they no longer feel safe, but the guards refuse to let them pass. Walkers break through a barricade, biting a citizen. Andrea (Laurie Holden) kills the zombies, but the man is badly suffering, and she considers for a moment what to do. To the townspeople’s shock, the Governor walks out of his office, coldly shoots the man in the head and heads back inside. Andrea confronts him, but he no longer cares about maintaining Woodbury’s false paradise, saying, “Those people have had it easy. Barbecues and picnics—that ends now.” With Blake clearly unstable, Andrea reassures the masses that they’ll persevere and rebuild.
Hershel asks Maggie and Glenn what happened to them at Woodbury, but neither will discuss her sexual humiliation at the Governor’s hands. Rick asks how soon Michonne will be able to leave the prison, and Hershel says it’ll be a few days, as she may have a concussion. Rick meets Tyreese, but refuses to shake his hand or let his group stay. Hershel urges Rick to change his mind, but the sheriff sees Lori’s ghostly image, pulls out a gun and begins acting like a lunatic, screaming for Tyreese to leave. Fearful for their safety, Glenn and Hershel rush the newcomers out the door.
A lot happens in this episode, the first to air in more than two months. Among the highlights: the Governor’s swift, wordless shooting of a Walker-bitten follower; Hershel telling Glenn he considers him a son; the characterization of Tyreese, who seems poised to become a worthy addition to the show; Axel (Lew Temple), no longer clad in prisoner garb, now serving as a full member of Rick’s group; and, most of all, Glenn’s confrontation with the increasingly ineffective Rick.
A common theme permeates, as one character after another loses control, unable to handle the building stress and horror. Rick, in particular, teeters on an emotional precipice, in danger of harming himself or others as Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies)’s loss poisons his psyche. When Daryl chooses to leave with his brother, Rick looks scared and desperate, openly pleading with him not to go.
As he later holds his new baby, an odd detachment crosses his face and we hear the infant’s cries echoing distantly in his head—an indication that he sees Shane (Jon Bernthal)’s face instead of his own, perhaps, or that he may blame the child for Lori’s death. When he rejects Tyreese’s group, he does so out of fear, unwilling to take responsibility for any more people’s lives.
And when it all becomes too much, he hallucinates Lori’s silhouetted ghost taunting him from above.
Just as Shane unraveled the season prior, Rick, too, is beginning to grow unhinged, brandishing a gun and screaming at unseen phantoms. It seems inevitable—particularly given the episode’s title—that Rick is heading for a complete breakdown, possibly even suicide. Would the writers have the chutzpah to kill off the show’s heroic lead? It seems unlikely, since Rick remains the comic’s main character to this day—but, then, the TV series has diverged greatly from the comic, and the writers have already killed off fan favorites Shane and Dale. Rick could very well be next.
While I consistently enjoy Andrew Lincoln’s performance, Rick’s arc this season has led him down a dark, disturbing path, making him a liability. There’s a very real possibility, giving how oddly Rick has been acting, that he may be succumbing to the plague, just as Shane did. As much as I wouldn’t want to lose the character or the actor, I’d be OK with the writers killing him in the finale, provided it was done with dignity—and by his own hand. While tragic, it seems a fitting end. J. Michael Straczynski, upon killing Marcus Cole on Babylon 5, is reported to have told Jason Carter that he had to kill Marcus not because the actor had not done a poor job, but because he’d done such a fantastic job that Straczynski had to see his character’s story through to its natural conclusion, even if that meant losing him. The same may well be true for Lincoln and Rick.
Glenn, too, is showing signs of strain. Compared to his lighthearted introduction in season one as the survivors’ optimistic, helpful scout, Glenn has changed dramatically over the past two and a half years. No longer meekly accepting what others tell him to do, no longer paralyzed with fear at the sight of the undead, Glenn now reacts decisively in the face of danger to protect those he loves, and is unafraid of standing up to those with whom he disagrees. But Glenn’s transformation has taken its toll. Maggie’s near-rape during the season’s first half incensed him, and the formerly passive, naïve young pizza-deliverer now aches for revenge.
Steven Yeun’s performance has been riveting—believable, sympathetic and multifaceted. The character was already a favorite among comic fans, but Yeun deserves much of the credit for making the televised Glenn just as popular. It will be fascinating to see where his journey will lead. Whereas Rick’s emotional damage seems to be making him a weaker man, Glenn’s has made him stronger. If Rick grows unable to function as the group’s leader (or even dies), we could see Glenn poised to replace him. I, for one, would welcome such a development.
Then there’s the Governor, who in this episode, having lost his eye, his zombified daughter and now the loyalty of those living in his faux paradise, appears ready to break. Like Rick back at the prison, Blake has become so unhinged, so detached, that he’s no longer capable of making the rational decisions needed for his people to survive. In supplanting his authority by proving herself better-equipped than he to comfort them, Andrea may have put herself in grave danger.
The parallel between Rick and the Governor is clear, each spiritually damaged by the loss of a wife and the heavy burden of leadership. Despite what the audience knows about the Governor—that he kept his undead daughter hidden in a closet, maintained fish tanks filled with Walker heads for his macabre amusement, murdered others to steal their supplies, subjected people to the horrific zombie arena and repeatedly lied—we somehow still feel sorry for the man.
It’s a testament to actor David Morrissey, a brilliant addition to the series, who has expertly treaded the difficult line between cultish tyrant and sympathetic villain. But that sympathy may soon fade, as Blake has now crossed over into full-on psychosis. The series has never had a more compelling villain, and although it’s likely that he’ll be dead by the season finale, the build-up to that eventual demise promises to be a thrilling one.
That’s not to say the episode didn’t have its weaknesses. It did. Merle’s betrayal of the Governor in the arena was obvious and predictable. Andrea’s sudden emergence as Woodbury’s de facto protector was unconvincing. And Beth’s scenes with Carol and Baby Grimes dragged the pacing to a crawl, as actor Emily Kinney continues to have precious little to do—with T-Dog (IronE Singleton) no longer on the show, Beth has replaced him as the most under-utilized cast member.
What’s more, the concept of Ghost Lori is more than a little cringe-worthy. I’m admittedly not a fan of the whiney Lori Grimes to begin with, and was relieved to see her killed off; for her to stick around as Rick’s personal guilt-induced Obi-Wan Kenobi is not a development I relish.
When a feverish Daryl hallucinated Merle last season while a zombie gnawed on his boot, the scene was intense and creepy; in Lori’s case, it just comes off as corny. Hopefully, the writers can make it work, because it’s not likely to be a one-time deal.
Still, season three remains the best to date, with “The Suicide King” providing a solid return after a painfully long absence. As we anxiously wait for Daryl to return to the fold, for Rick to either get his act together or blow his own head off, for the Governor and Merle to receive their comeuppance, for Michonne to begin living up to the character’s as-yet-unfulfilled hype, and for the rumored, long-anticipated return this season of Lennie James as season one’s Morgan Jones, one thing is clear: The Walking Dead is alive and running.
Rich Handley is the editor and co-founder of Hasslein Books (hassleinbooks.com), the managing editor of RFID Journal magazine, a frequent writer for Bleeding Cool magazine and Trekweb.com, and the author of Timeline of the Planet of the Apes, Lexicon of the Planet of the Apes and The Back to the Future Lexicon. Rich has written numerous articles and short stories for the licensed Star Wars universe, and was a columnist and reporter for Star Trek Communicator magazine for several years. His most recent work was a short story for John Ordover’s sci-fi anthology, Baconthology.