It’s mid-season premiere time on The Walking Dead as we countdown the last few episodes of Glen Mazzara’s time as showrunner. So how does the latter part of the third season look? Let’s bitch it out…
‘Suicide King’ picks up right where we left off, with the Dixon brothers Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Merle (Michael Rooker) pitted against each other in a fight to the death: winner goes free. Personally, this whole scenario left me scratching my head: If the Governor (David Morrissey) set the two against each other because he questioned Merle’s allegiance, then why would he expect him to all of a sudden turn on his brother? What’s even more puzzling is that Merle does, proceeding to beat Daryl to a pulp, whispering to his little brother to “follow my lead”. And what lead is that exactly? With all the Woodbury muscle surrounding them (and the introduction of hungry walkers into the fight) it just seemed like a hopeless situation. I suppose Merle gets some points for at least trying something, while Daryl devolves into a character we’ve never seen before: a shrinking violet. Was I the only one surprised with how scared Daryl was? Granted he probably was trying to grasp what the hell was going on, but it isn’t like Daryl f-ing Dixon to cower in fear.
Thankfully Rick (Andrew Lincoln) comes to the rescue launching tear gas and shooting bullets into the unruly crowd with Maggie (Lauren Cohan) serving as backup. Team Grimes manages to save both Dixon brothers while prompting The Governor to take a slow-motion stroll into the chaos, unscathed.The war between Team Grimes and Team Woodbury is officially on (as if we didn’t know it). And so we have the set-up for the latter half of the season – the buildup to the inevitable face-to-face showdown between Rick and The Governor (the promotional material further hammers this home).
Ultimately the problem I had with this episode is the feeling of predictability. We know we have seven more episodes to go before we see this ‘war’ come to fruition, so ultimately, everything is in service to getting us there. What I normally find so intriguing about the series is the inability to know what will happen next, which keeps me on my toes as much as the survivors need to be on theirs. Knowing that we’re working toward this confrontation means I know that Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Tyreese’s (Chad L. Coleman) posse will eventually be folded into Team Grimes in order to defeat the Governor. It also takes away from the shock of Daryl leaving the group in favour of spending forest time with Merle. I’m not certain if it’s a bad thing yet – we still have to get to those touch points, but it does have a kind of, ‘paint-by-numbers’ feeling to it that detracts from the exhilaration of series as a whole.
Although the end goal might be mapped out for us, it doesn’t mean that we still don’t get some surprises and excellent scenes along the way. Glenn (Steven Yuen) is showing some significant character development when he has his little breakdown in front of Rick and Maggie, enraged that Rick wasn’t able to off the Governor when he had the chance. The inability to protect Maggie certainly has done a number on our poster boy for virtue. It’s clear that Glenn is out for revenge as a way to regain his lost masculinity in failing to protect Maggie from being victimized a few episodes ago. I never really cared for the Glenn/Maggie relationship, but going forward, it’s intriguing to see how this pairing will be effected by their time held captive in Woodbury. It’s nice to see that the ramifications of Maggie’s attack are still present and need to be addressed, even though they’re safely back in Cell Block C.
But really, at the heart of this episode is the deterioration of Rick as our leader. Obviously the vision of Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) at episode’s end is the culmination of Rick’s instability. We knew this from his imagined phone calls, and his Shane hallucination, but this little episode holds far more weight as he breaks down not only in front of the Grimes group, but the newbies as well. The Ricktatorship is clearly coming to an end. Rick’s conversation with Hershel (Scott Wilson) preceding the breakdown is telling: Michonne is out like a light because she hasn’t slept for days which had me wondering if Rick could be suffering from the same condition. Is sleep deprivation the primary cause of Rick’s descent? There’s no doubt that Rick is carrying some serious guilt for the death of Lori, but does this all become compounded because he hasn’t allowed his mind and body to rest? I don’t think it’s as easy as saying that Rick has become as unhinged as his counterpart, The Governor (which we’re clearly meant to draw comparisons), as there’s something slightly more ambiguous about Rick’s psychosis.
When he holds little Judith again, he can’t seem to look her in the eye, which was puzzling. I couldn’t help but recall the moment when he held her for the first time, accepting her as the new hope of the group. In contrast, this time Rick appears to be confused – he doesn’t seem to be reacting to her crying, but rather his behaviour can only be read as dubious and perplexing. I think it was a brilliant move on Lincoln’s part to play the scene as he did – as a viewer, I have no idea what’s going on in Rick’s head, but it isn’t as simple as writing him off as a nut job.
Consider Rick’s progression through this episode alone: he definitely proves himself an adequate leader by thwarting the Governor and all the Woodbury citizens by rescuing Daryl and Merle. When Daryl decides to leave, Rick makes a passionate plea for him to stay, but still struggles with finding exactly the right thing to say to convince him. When Daryl grabs the last of his belongings from the trunk, you get the feeling that Rick has a counter argument on this tip of his tongue but can only stare at Daryl wide-eyed as he says his final goodbyes (again, it’s played brilliantly by Lincoln). Then we have the whole business of Glenn all up in Rick’s face, where again, he stands by impotently, unable to resolve the conflict. Finally, we have the meeting with the prison newbies, where Rick overtly struggles with being unable to make the right decision. We all know that Rick is the rightful leader, but it looks as if his subconscious is no longer able to cope with the consequences of being in this role.
When he meekly says “I can’t be responsible…” my heart broke a little. Even though he’s managed to save the lives of his group many times over, it’s the ones that he’s lost that plague him the most. It’s very purposeful that Hershel thanks Rick for taking care of them all winter just before Rick sees Lori. I read Lori’s appearance as Rick telling himself that he can’t do it anymore. Why else conjure her up in her wedding dress (arguably when they were most happy)? It’s as if Rick’s subconscious is telling him to take the weight of the world off his shoulders and return to his happy place. I guess Uncle Ben had it right: With great power comes great responsibility, and poor Rick just can’t do it anymore.
- Andrea (Laurie Holden) continues to annoy me to no end. I simply can’t understand why she hasn’t packed up her shizz and gotten the eff out of Woodbury. The cage match between Daryl and Merle should have been the tipping point, yet she still sticks around and whines to the Governor about why he isn’t ‘opening up’ to her. Really?!
- To that effect, her little inspirational speech to the Woodbury townsfolk is all but laughable. When the hell did Andrea become the spokesperson for fighting the good fight? Wasn’t she the one who dumped Michonne to stay in the town better known as ‘ignorance is bliss’? What’s even more hilarious is that the townsfolk actually buy it. It’s clear the Governor didn’t have to do much to seduce this bunch.
- Speaking of the Governor, his (d)evolution was disappointing to say the least. It’s clear he’s out for some Grimes blood, but the way in which he’s sulking around is more reflective of a kid having a hissy fit rather than an ominous villain plotting vengeance.
- Two points of immense satisfaction came up during this episode: Rick clocking Merle in the back of the head to shut him up and Haley (played by the horrendous Alexa Helen Nikolas) eating it during the cage match raid.
What did you think Dead fans? Think Rick is way too far-gone to be the leader? What’s The Governor’s next move? Will Andrea be the new Mayor of Woodbury? What do we think of a potential Rick/Beth (Emily Kinney) pairing? Sound off in our comments section below.
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The Walking Dead airs 9pm EST, Sundays on AMC.