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.
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.