The Walking Dead Watch: Pulling Back the Curtain

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Shortly after Glen Mazzara took the reins of The Walking Dead from Frank Darabont–midway through the first season and in the middle of the “Sophia Watch” blowback–he promised that the new pacing model would propel the show forward as writers figured out the plot along the way. The change was remarkable, and the show continued to crackle forward at a steady clip through the first four episodes of this third season.

Given the rapid developments and big body counts, there was a good chance we were in for a bit of a breather last night. At the very least, the audience needed to catch a quick breath after an episode where a third of the core characters (at least two with one missing) exited the stage. Mazzara granted that, with an opener featuring a tranquil barbecue in placid Woodbury. Then just as we thought it might be a bit of a slow hour, we were introduced to Penny, The Governor’s zombie daughter. There was a clear signal: break’s over.

The Governor is, of course, the character most desperately in need of development. He plays a central role, and yet after three episodes we still don’t know very much about him. Let’s recap what we’re sure of: He’s a charismatic politician with a hell of a golf swing, he once had a lovely wife and daughter whom he clearly misses, and he has a penchant for whiskey neat and decapitated heads.

(MORE: The Walking Dead Watch: Infiltration)

We already knew that The Governor was keeping walkers (sorry, this is Woodbury so we shall call them biters) for experiments. But we learned that, like Hershel, he lost loved ones that he can’t let go. The image of The Governor tenderly brushing his daughter’s hair before accidentally tearing out a piece of he scalp was a vicious, but effective way to introduce his humanity. Then, just as we learned he’s not as sadistic as we imagined, we caught a little bit of what he considers “entertainment.”

Early in the episode, when Woodbury’s resident mad scientist tells Andrea, “Mere words cannot adequately describe the festivities ahead,” I thought there would be some kind of human sacrifice as someone was fed to the walkers. Then I realized they’re trying to expand the population, not contract it. In the end, The Governor’s “entertainment” didn’t quite live up to its billing. Sure, gladiatorial combat with chained, defanged biters is a bit inhuman, but Andrea exhibited outrage best served for an R-rated show when the fight was PG-13 at best.

In the end, as with any good mid-season episode, we were left with more questions than answers. When will we see Michonne again? (Please let it be soon!) Who exactly are the people in The Governor’s ledger, and what’s the deal with the floating decapitated heads? What’s the big experiment they’re running and why is the doctor so keen to finish it so quickly? And finally, for a brief mention of the action back at the prison, who is on the other line when Rick picks up the phone? Only seven more days to until we can find out!

(MORE: The Walking Dead Watch: The Governor Commeth)

Zombie Kill Report: By my count, this is the first episode yet this season where we didn’t break a dozen (it’s close; I saw 11). Michonne displayed some smooth katana swings taking out The Governor’s first plans for entertainment, but the kills of the episode belonged to Rick and his axe.

And the Emmy goes to… Last week I contended that Lincoln’s acting in the scene where Rick learns about Lori’s death and is presented with the new baby was over the top. Several readers disagreed and found his performance poignant and stirring. That’s precisely the point of this forum–a place where we can debate such differences. If Rick’s reaction last week moved you, then he did exactly what he was supposed to. I may be cynical, but I didn’t buy it. I did, however, think Lincoln more than made up for last week’s antics with his performance last night. As he made his way through the bowels of the prison, slicing, grunting and screaming his way through several walkers, it was the perfect rendering of a man possessed. Lincoln managed to convey powerful emotions without uttering a word–that is until right at the 43-minute mark when he picked up the phone and said, “Hello?”

We are indeed in the South. The Walking Dead takes place in Georgia, and the crew shoots in the rural part of the state. Last night we saw two dynamite clues that reinforce the accuracy of the location. The first (and more subtle) was the case of beer The Governor retrieved for the party–Georgia Brown ale from Atlanta’s SweetWater Brewing Company. In a post-apocalyptic world, a case of SweetWater beer might be the most valuable commodity around. (NOTE: If you happen to visit Atlanta, I recommend trying as many SweetWater brews as you can. If you only have time to try one, make it Blue, an ale made with real blueberries. A great friend of mine refers to it as a breakfast beer.)

The second indication that we are, in fact, in Georgia, is the blaring of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Mr. Saturday Night Special” before the zombie cage match. Until next week, we bid you adieu with that little ditty from perhaps the most famous sons of the South.