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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Walking Dead 3x08: Made to Suffer


 Well, that was intense. Which was expected, but thankfully, it unfolded in some genuinely unexpected ways. We're clearly headed for a war between Woodbury and the prison, but the show is saving that for the second half of the season, instead allowing Rick's raid on the city to come off far more successfully than expected. Similarly, events at the prison were used not to put the characters there in mid-season cliffhanger danger, but rather to introduce another potential batch of characters, and to further illustrate the differences between the Governor's way of doing things and Rick's.

I've mentioned in previous posts that I'm not a big fan of "we've met the enemy, and he is us" style stories in apocalyptic fiction, but so far, Walking Dead has handled the Woodbury vs. Prison plot better than I'd expected. Basically, I figured we'd see more characters behaving like Andrea, idiotically refusing to see Woodbury for what it is and coming into conflict with their former friends who are uneasy (essentially, the Andrea/Michonne plot writ large). Instead, the conflict has become far more external and confrontational, giving Rick and company a genuine, recurring, fully rendered antagonist to tackle. Zombies make a great foil, and its important that the show never loses sight of the fact that they're out there, driving these characters to the actions they perform, always able to pop up and cause problems at any time. But at this point, zombies are an antagonist the way the weather is an antagonist. They just are, and there's no stopping them en masse (at least not until things get more coordinated).

These eight episodes haven't been perfect, but they do represent the show's best sustained run of episodes, and as much as I dreaded it going into this season, a large part of the credit for that has to go to the conflict with the Governor. The show's improved pacing, action quotient and narrative momentum all stem from the fact that there's a wider world for the story to explore, new characters to develop, and a direct, external, and realistically-defeatable antagonist with which the the protagonists can grapple. For a show that was largely coming to be defined by how little happened in it, a ton of stuff happens now. There remains little in the way of overall goals (beyond "survival"), but this is a hell of a lot more entertaining to watch. Here's hoping the show keeps it up in the second half of the season.

Other Thoughts
In many ways, what's happened this season isn't unlike what happened on Lost with the introduction of the Others. It was one thing to watch the characters struggle to survive on the island (or in a world overrun by zombies) for a time, but eventually, you need a more direct foe for the protagonists, so we got the Others (or the Governor and Woodbury). Hopefully, this show sticks the landing when it comes to their newly-introduced antagonists better than Lost did with the Others.

Also, the introduction of this new group at the prison is a lot like the introduction of the Tailies in Lost's second season; another group of protagonists who have had an even harder time of it than our main characters.

I was very pleased that T-Dog 3.0 was reasonable when it came to Carl locking them in the outer cell. He'd led them to safety and put them in a secure place. It's perfectly understandable that Carl would leave them as is until they could more fully assess the situation.

I was also happy that T-Dog 3.0's group was, seemingly, a group of relatively sane individuals with no malice or dark intentions towards the people in the prison. Though with this show's inclination for piling it on, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it turns out that, I dunno, they all want to kill Carl and company and wear their skin or something. 

All that said, man, it's kinda sad how this show seems to think there's only room for one male African-American actor at a time. 

As good as this half-season has been, the the biggest weakness remains how underdeveloped Michonne's character remains. There's no clear reason she ditched Rick's group to go after the Governor (she was mad he sent Merle after her?), and while EP Glen Mazzara has spoken online about how, by the end of he episode, she's realized she needs to be with Rick's group to prevent herself from losing her humanity or some such, none of that has been expressed on screen yet. 

On the flip side of that, it's ridiculous how much Carl's character has improved. The way he handled the arrival of T-Dog 3.0's group was badass, and his response to Beth saying their group should help that group was pitch perfect: not sarcastic, bitter or boastful, simply matter-of-fact. "I did."

I can't decide if Other Prisoner's horniness was meant to be creepy (Beth) or funny (Carol), because it was both. Hopefully just the later, and it won't come up again. 

Once again, a character had Merle in the sights of a gun and failed to pull the trigger. Granted, had she done so, Maggie would have been gunned down by the people coming up behind her, but SHE didn't know that.

That said, I'm glad that Maggie and Glen were active in their own rescue, cunningly (and grossly) fashioning weapons out of zombie bone, and even though they were recaptured pretty quickly, the gunfire they triggered in the process led the rescue party to them. I'm also glad pretty much the first thing out of Glen's mouth was "Merle did this", meaning the character did the sensible thing over the more dramatic thing.

Thankfully, we got a much better rationale for Michonne failing to kill the Governor while he was at her mercy. On Revolution, she'd have just left him there, injured and alive, for no good reason.

As much of an "eff you" as it was, I didn't want Michonne to kill the Governor's daughter because I knew it would just push the Governor over the edge (and sacrifice the one bit of leverage Michonne had - I mean, she probably could have at least convinced some people in Woodbury how crazy he is by revealing her existence). 

So the Governor kept those heads to remind himself what it's like outside Woodbury? Maybe that's all there is to it, but that smacks of BS, especially since he said it to Andrea, the bullshit vacuum. 

The smoke bombs were a clever touch - they were tactically effective within the confines of the narrative, while on the production level, they prevented Andrea from seeing Rick, justified the lack of causalities for Rick's group considering how outgunned they were, and covered up for some of the less-confidant direction in the action scenes (it was sometimes hard to tell who was where relative to everyone else, but again, smoke!). 

Rick's hallucination of WolverShane was a little random, but I appreciate that his mental trauma in the wake of Lori's death didn't end as soon as he realized the truth about the phone call.

Merle ending up in the arena, accused of helping the "terrorists" infiltrate Woodbury, isn't the kind of comeuppance I want the character to get eventually, but it'll do for now (ditto the Governor losing his daughter and an eye). At first, I thought the Governor was pinning the blame on Merle to get back at him for lying about killing Michonne, but it does make sense that he could genuinely believe Merle intentionally sold him out, given the evidence at hand (unless, of course, this is all part of the Governor's plan to pretend to oust Merle, then allow him and Daryl to escape so that Daryl can advocate bringing Merle back to the prison, at which point Merle can betray them to the Governor).

Hopefully, the ending also means the wool has been removed from Andrea's eyes, but it's Andrea, so probably not.

I really hope next season opens with Rick storming Woodbury again for Daryl and getting away with it. I'd hate for Darryl to die, or worse, get left behind and be the ONE person Rick doesn't go back for, especially after Daryl sided with Rick against his brother. 

8 comments:

  1. I'm loving the season so far. I knew that it would after the Govenor showed up, but I've read the comics so it was expected to me. It was a thoroughly tense episode. I like that the Govenor is more subtle in the show, but it's a different medium than the graphic novel.

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  2. @Hannah: I like that the Govenor is more subtle in the show, but it's a different medium than the graphic novel.

    Without getting too many details, I've been led to understand the Governor in the comic is even more overtly batshit crazy. I think I'm glad they toned it down a bit for the show.

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    1. I am too. I think it makes you think, well is he really that bad? It makes the two groups fighting more complex. J and I were discussing the differences between the two leaders after this episode. It was interesting because there's not that much.

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  3. Sorry, "New T-Dog"... One black man at a time!

    These eight episodes haven't been perfect, but they do represent the show's best sustained run of episodes

    I agree with that assessment all around.

    My own leeriness re Woodbury was at least in part because I tend to be a bit resentful of characters like the Governor that we're manipulated to love to hate. You make a good point about Lost's Others; the moment that you made that analogy, in fact, I was prepared to say that the new quartet introduced in this episode could be the Tailies — except, of course, that we don't have a limited number of survivors here to keep popping up — but you're way ahead of me. Despite the Governor's blinding attachment to his daughter being an obvious point of sympathy, however, I would hate for the show to turn him into a Ben Linus in terms of some future alliance magically ameliorating his cold-blooded murder and lies about same.

    I was very pleased that T-Dog 3.0 was reasonable when it came to Carl locking them in the outer cell.

    The acquiescence had (more than) a slight racial undertone for me, although how much of that was intentional I don't know. I'm not saying that Carl was wrong nor that I don't appreciate Black Man Standing being appreciative himself, as what he said to his wife about this being the best they'd had it in weeks made perfect sense. I was just a little uncomfortable.

    I'm with you on the character development and/or lack thereof regarding Carl and Michonne. Carl's really been impressing me. Michonne is definitely one of those characters who could easily become much less interesting if not outright silly once her backstory is unwrapped or we see her too vulnerable (or just too "explained") — I don't know if you watch The Good Wife, but Kalinda's been suffering from some of that this season. However, Michonne can't simply be all glower and maverick decisions all the time if she's going to be a central part of the cast rather than a secret weapon the show uses sparingly; we need to have some handle on her rather than just having to rationalize her decisions as good ones because she's kewl.

    I can't decide if Other Prisoner's horniness was meant to be creepy (Beth) or funny (Carol), because it was both. Hopefully just the later, and it won't come up again.

    While it definitely swung to extremes, I'm guessing that it's mostly meant to be honest.

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  4. I'm glad that Maggie and Glen were active in their own rescue, cunningly (and grossly) fashioning weapons out of zombie bone

    Glen was awesome with that. I wanted Maggie to be a little more proactive too, because even though Glen had been through way more crap than she had at farm time they've all clearly been through a lot between seasons; then again, Glen's character has been depicted as particularly resourceful from the start, and I hate to immediately jump to plot sexism when dealing with mostly well-drawn individuals.

    I'm also glad pretty much the first thing out of Glen's mouth was "Merle did this"

    That pretty much redeemed the eye-roll factor of the immediately preceding scene's smokescreen obscuring the fact that Merle and Daryl were basically face-to-face with each other.

    I didn't want Michonne to kill the Governor's daughter because I knew it would just push the Governor over the edge

    I wonder if it had anything to do with lingering resentment over the fact that Michonne had to behead her two pet walkers when she and Andrea were on the verge of discovery by the Woodbury scout team. Of course it could just also be her being pissy or taking revenge for him taking her sword (and "taking" Andrea) or even, in her mind, doing him a favor; I get the feeling that in addition to her sensing that Woodbury had a creepy underbelly she's just not into pretending that civilization matters anymore. The walkers aren't gonna revert to their old human selves and him keeping Penny is purely a nostalgic attachment — not that it isn't his decision to make or his delusion to have, which she took out of his hands.

    Rick's hallucination of WolverShane was a little random, but I appreciate that his mental trauma in the wake of Lori's death didn't end as soon as he realized the truth about the phone call.

    I still think that there's a shoe dropping there parallel to Shane's agitated state before his death, with Rick hallucinating when his adrenaline is up due to a walker scratch or just the way he's metabolizing the virus that's in all of them.

    This was a very successful first half of the season all told, in toggling between the prison and Woodbury at first as well as in bringing those factions into conflict. I can't believe that we haven't even checked in on Kurt and Rachel in New York yet.

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  5. @Blam: I would hate for the show to turn him into a Ben Linus in terms of some future alliance magically ameliorating his cold-blooded murder and lies about same.

    Agreed.

    I don't know if you watch The Good Wife, but Kalinda's been suffering from some of that this season

    I don't, but I've still picked up on that sentiment via critics/blogs/twitter etc. so I know what you mean.

    I hate to immediately jump to plot sexism when dealing with mostly well-drawn individuals.

    Yeah, like you, I chose to chalk up the lack of equivalency to Glen's more entrenched resourcefulness. And Maggie DID get a hold of a gun and shoot one of their captors, so she wasn't a total damsel in distress.

    I wonder if it had anything to do with lingering resentment over the fact that Michonne had to behead her two pet walkers

    Hmm, that's a good idea. Of course, that would require the show to tell us what those pet zombies meant to her. :)

    I get the feeling that in addition to her sensing that Woodbury had a creepy underbelly she's just not into pretending that civilization matters anymore.

    To that end, she probably could have used the Governor's daughter to at least pull the wool from some of the Woodburians eyes, though again, perhaps she doesn't care too much about making others see the world in her terms.

    I still think that there's a shoe dropping there parallel to Shane's agitated state before his death

    I'm still not sure that I'm on board with this idea yet, but I'm definitely watching for it.

    I can't believe that we haven't even checked in on Kurt and Rachel in New York yet.

    That drew a loud and long enough laugh from me that Mrs. Teebore asked what I was laughing at, but I realized there was no way I could adequately explain it without sucking all the humor out of it.


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  6. I realise this is eight months late, but I'm British, what am I gonna do? Watched this last night, and very much like your take on it. Pretty much everything I'd want to say you've covered.

    Except... I'm not sure the problem with Michonne is that she's undeveloped, so much as she's a horrible, horrible person. I guess we may see explanations as to why, and she may mellow later on, but really, she's just awful. If the show wants me to cut her some slack because it turns out most of her insane baseless hunches actually turn out to have been right, then they've misjudged that pretty badly.

    I'll state for the record here that I'm concerned about Axel's moment with Beth. The decision to kill a second male black character in the space of five episodes is so utterly and obviously clueless that the only intelligent explanation I can come up with is they've got plans for Axel unpleasant enough that they decided swapping his role with Oscar's would just make things worse (someone had to die during the Woodbury raid or it would have just seemed ridiculous). Having him attempt (please, let it just be an attempt) to rape someone might be it.

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  7. @SpaceSquid: I realise this is eight months late, but I'm British, what am I gonna do?

    Ha! No worries.

    The decision to kill a second male black character in the space of five episodes is so utterly and obviously clueless that the only intelligent explanation I can come up with is they've got plans for Axel unpleasant enough that they decided swapping his role with Oscar's would just make things worse

    I won't spoil anything, other than to say killing a second male black character in the space of five episodes does suggest utter and obvious cluelessness on the part of the creators.

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