'The Walking Dead' returned to televisions in February, and after the explosive ending of the mid-season finale (my review here), everyone knows that there is a battle brewing between Woodbury and the survivors holed up at the prison. There are two real questions to ask here: one, when will the battle take place, and two, how long will this show drag its feet and slowly shamble toward it? Question one is easy: the season finale, almost certainly. Question two is also relatively easy: excruciatingly, painfully slow. Fans of season two will remember how endless the time on the farm seemed- this is even worse, as nothing loomed on the horizon then. Still, let's take a look at the first four episodes since the mid-season finale and see where the show's headed. Before reading, check out reviews of episodes 1-3 and episodes 4-6. You can also check out my reviews of seasons one and two.
The Suicide King
The show picks up right where it left off at the end of episode eight, with Merle and Daryl (Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus) being shouted at by an angry mob. The Governor (David Morrissey) pits the brothers against one another, as a test of Merle's loyalty; Merle plays along at first, but forms a plan with his brother; the prison survivors, led by Rick (Andrew Lincoln) then shows up and rescues the two and they all escape. This was a fantastic sequence, full of great tension- every bit as good as the end of the mid-season finale was, for the most part, of course ignoring the fact that the zombies attracted by the noise of the shootout was maybe a handful.
Of course, since Merle isn't exactly the most pleasant person in the world, Rick and company lay down the law to Daryl and tell him that Merle can't come back to the prison. It's good to see Daryl's loyalty to his brother is still strong, but this is a baffling writing choice given that there's no way Daryl won't eventually end up back amongst the prison crew; he's a member of that "family" as Glenn puts it. Daryl ends up leaving with Merle so the two can fend for themselves, leading to a massive temper tantrum from Glenn.
Now, Rick's been under a lot of stress since being liberated of the burden that was his manipulative wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), and maybe this is the first time this reviewer has noticed, but why does Andrew Lincoln play Rick with ridiculously frantic gestures and deep, guttural screaming? It comes off as over-acting to the worst degree, something this show is already rife with, and now the lead actor is throwing his arms around and getting in everyone's face. Dial it back a notch, Mr. Lincoln. This show has enough bad actors as it is.
Speaking of which, after the attack, the residents in Woodbury are frightened and want to leave- some zombies even manage to breach the fence and attack some of them. The Governor is a little busy missing an eye, so Andrea (Laurie Holden) steps in and gives a speech and may as well be the de facto leader of the town. Of course, her face is still frozen in the same bewildered scowl, and apparently everyone in Woodbury is a permanent follower and unable to stand up without someone telling them what to do.
Back at the prison, it's time to decide if Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) will stick around. The group seems to just about have Rick convinced before the visage of Lori appears, and Lincoln does his frantic screaming and flailing around since that's how he convinces the audience he's going crazy- Tyreese and company run for their lives, since they're the smart ones on this show, and Rick is pretty much left to babble as the episode ends.
Overall, this episode started out great, and then immediately returned to classic 'The Walking Dead' about ten minutes later- slow, with poor acting and even worse writing. At this point, Rick isn't much fit to run a police department fundraiser let alone a group of survivors at the end of the world, but his group is filled with followers, wastes of space, and Carl. Episode Rating: Three and a half out of Five Stars.
Predictably, the episode begins with Rick wandering off into crazytown, still unable to deal with the guilt of Shane (Jon Bernthal) and Lori's deaths. He finds ghost Lori in her wedding dress and wanders off into the wilderness with her. Again, the episode starts off really well, with some great acting on the part of both Lincoln and Callies.
The episode then jumps quickly to Woodbury, where the Governor asks Andrea to be the temporary leader of the town. Hopefully no one asks her any pressing questions about anything going on in the town, since she'll only return the same befuddled gaze back at them no matter what they want. Of all the characters on this show, Andrea needs to get booted to the wayside, and quickly. The amount of focus on her is just bewildering with so many other better characters to focus on, and seriously, Laurie Holden just phones it in every time. Watching her interact with other characters is about as thrilling as watching bags being tossed into a garbage truck, but at least the garbageman's face probably changes expressions from time to time.
Glenn is still upset that Daryl is gone and that no one charged into the center of Woodbury and blew the Governor away since he's convinced that he raped Maggie (Lauren Cohan). Herschel (Scott Wilson) does his best to try to talk him out of going on a rampage, but ultimately fails. Credit must go to Steven Yeun for the great work he's done in the past few episodes, transforming into a stronger, more central character on the show. If anything on this show is going in the right direction, it's him. Ditto Wilson, who has become something of a wise old mentor for the group. He steps in to fill the void while Rick is off battling zombies, or his demons, or learning how to act without flailing his arms all over the place and screaming like a deranged lunatic.
A massive shootout then begins at the prison, shocking the show out of its unbearably slow pace just in time to return a pulse to it as the Governor and his troops come by to show them that they mean business. Poor Axel (Lew Temple), the last of the prison survivors, is killed, but the remainder is just a lot of fireworks since if you put these perfect sharpshooters against enemies who can shoot back, their hit percentage drops from 100% to 0%. The wayward Daryl and Merle predictably return (their scene earlier is so laughable it is barely worth mentioning), and Glenn returns as well. The episode ends with the survivors staring at maybe 12-15 zombies, widely spaced apart, wandering around in the prison yard, with the survivors looking on as if they were staring down a thousand of them.
Normally, the zombies in the prison yard wouldn't really be much of a problem, but since this show has a writing consistency problem with zombies (are they attracted to noise, can they smell humans, their intelligence level, etc), the survivors are overwhelmed with the issue of how to deal with them. They are spaced apart, and given the group's skill with zombie murdering, this should take a couple of them maybe two or three minutes. Stop acting like there's an army beating down the prison gates. Episode Rating: Three out of Five Stars.
I Ain't a Judas
The producers of this show should be required to purchase anti-nausea medication for the entire viewing population as long as it insists on forcing the ridiculous relationship between Andrea and the Governor down our collective throats- these two have as much chemistry as a pile of wet rocks, and yet here they are again, making out and just... ugh. Show them walking toward one another with romantic intentions and cut away to a herd of zombies eating someone. That is much less disturbing or disgusting... but this review is getting ahead of itself.
After the attack on the prison, Rick and company are a little rattled, and Herschel sets Rick straight by telling him that he named himself dictator of their little entourage, and by God, he needs to start acting like it. They review their options, now assuming that Woodbury is going to arrive in force to attack the prison and kill every last one of them. This assumption is pretty much validated back in town, as the Governor begins to assemble an army of any able-bodied man and woman. All except Andrea, of course, who misses her first group and wants to go back to the prison for a friendly hello. She does, and they treat her like one would expect, and she goes back to the Governor for a sweet little makeout session, now knowing that the prison survivors are planning to build an army of their own.
There's not really much of substance that happens in this episode. This is every bit as slow and excruciatingly boring as the farm was last season- it is full of scenes of tense character relationships or of character introductions or of Andrea catching up on the latest gossip back at the prison, but almost nothing happens in terms of A.) actual character development, save for Andrea choosing Woodbury over her original group, and B.) actual plot development. A battle is brewing between the prison and the town, which everyone knew prior to this episode. Episode Rating: Two out of Five Stars.
What battle can be fought without weapons? Rick takes Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) on a field trip back to his hometown (last seen in the series premiere) to finish cleaning out the guns at the police station where he used to work. The episode takes time to focus on fewer characters and a straight-forward plot, much to its credit- this is one of the best episodes this series has ever produced.
Rick and company find the guns and ammo are gone, but more than that, they find that the town has been turned into a booby trap of epic proportions by Morgan (Lennie James), the first survivor Rick met back in the series premiere, who has been driven a little more than insane in the time that has passed. Rick and Morgan have a discussion about being crazy, with the former trying to bring the latter back to reality, at least enough so as to get another gun in the guard tower when the inevitable battle begins. Morgan, however, is beyond saving at this point, having now lost his son because he never had the strength to kill his wife after she turned. This whole sequence between the two of them is fantastic. Very well-acted, especially on the part of James, who plays Morgan not so much as crazy as he is just broken by the world around him. Being alone in a zombie-infested apocalypse can't be too good for one's mind, and James does a great job conveying the sense of loss that his character must feel. Andrew Lincoln, on the other hand, flails around, but his sense of loss is just as great, yet Rick must hold together because so many depend on him. Despite some misgivings about his overly-dramatic acting at times, Rick is a deeply-layered character with great nuance, and Lincoln gives some of his best work here.
Meanwhile, Michonne is trying to make herself into a permanent member of the prison group, and proves her worth by accompanying Carl to get a crib for the baby- though this is only his secondary goal. He actually works to find a photo of his parents with him when he was a baby, hanging in a restaurant/bar in town, and the two go to get it. This touching gesture, meant for his little baby sister to know what her mom looked like, also plays out really well, and young Riggs acts it very well. Michonne, for her part, seems to let down her rugged, impenetrable exterior and actually opens up to Rick and especially Carl, and Gurira also does a great job in this episode. The audience knows that she is going to be indispensible later on, and she's a great character, so the writers make a strong and convincing case for her to Rick, who will not even think to send her on her way now.
The only downfall of this episode is the sloppy writing of the zombies. When Carl and Michonne go to the restaurant, there are an untold quantity of the undead within, all just casually sitting at tables or on the floor, not moving, in some kind of dormant state, like they're just waiting. The fact that these zombies wouldn't have forced open the incredibly flimsy doors of the restaurant and left in search of food is ridiculous to believe, and like the school back in season 2, they're just sort of waiting at the restaurant to create tension and for the plot to need them. When will the writing ever get consistent when it comes to them? Never, one should guess, since the writers continue to make ignorant writing choices about them. Or are there two types of zombies, one being an active, shambling type that is always looking for meal while the other just sort of sits around? No, is the answer. Not at all. The icing on the cake is that the horde is unable to break the single pane of glass on the door while other groups of zombies have broken through much tougher materials (such as the plate glass window of the store in season 1, episode 2). For this show to go from good to great, the writers need to set down a clear-cut set of rules governing the behavior of the zombies and never stray from it. Zombies just happening to show up wherever and whenever and following completely contradictory sets of rules are a detriment to the show and an insult to any viewer with a shred of intelligence. Episode Rating: Four out of Five Stars.
Some thoughts going forward... the stage is set for a big battle between the survivors at the opposing camps, so look for the show to slowly drag itself toward the inevitable conclusion during the last four episodes. Of course, the writers could always surprise everyone and things wouldn't turn out exactly as anyone could predict, but this show has never been known for shocking twists and turns. The writing for the zombies needs to improve, and Andrea needs to go. Without her, the show would have a (mostly) interesting cast that has more range than a board with a face painted on it- then again, Plank was a great character. Season Three so far: Three and a half out of Five Stars.
By Nicholas Haskins
How do you think the third season is going to end? With 'The Walking Dead' already renewed for a fourth season, what does the future hold for Rick and company? If you'd like to discuss this and more, leave a comment or contact me on Twitter. You can also follow me on Facebook. If you are a fan of my reviews and articles, please subscribe to them and share them with your friends; your support means the world to me! Don't miss a single article or review- insightful reviews and thorough analysis of releases new and old.