There’s a moment you’ll find in many war films when the battle lines have been drawn, and the combatants stare each other down from their respective positions. But then there’s a halt—an agonizing pause—before the first shots are fired and mayhem ensues. Last night’s episode of The Walking Dead was an hour-long interlude that allowed the show’s two camps to solidify their positions before next week’s midseason finale, which promises, among other things, lots and lots of chaos.
Despite its title, “When the Dead Come Knocking,” last night’s episode continued a trend of focusing more on the battles between the living than on skirmishes between survivors and the walking undead. The episode began with Merle’s confrontation with Glenn and Maggie as he tried to get information on their group’s location, then Rick reluctantly took on Michonne as an ally, and The Governor unleashed his inner creep in order to finally break the will of his prisoners.
Taken together, these confrontations revealed little about any of our characters that we didn’t already know. Merle definitely doesn’t mind torturing people; Rick certainly doesn’t trust anyone, but after the gong show riot that cost him a third of the group, including his wife, he’s willing to take a (carefully measured) chance. And given the strange behavior we’ve seen out of The Governor, it’s not at all surprising that he would physically intimidate Maggie by making her strip to the waist. He’s a sociopath, but one who believes that his actions will keep Woodbury safe, and that might be the reason he didn’t go even further and rape Maggie in the interrogation room.
The only surprising scene from last night’s episode was the Rip Van Winkle old man with a shotgun who told Rick’s small raiding party to get off his property or he would call the cops. It’s hard to believe that there’s anyone left in TWD‘s universe who isn’t at least remotely aware that they’re living in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. But they found him, asleep under a blanket, in a cabin in the middle of the woods. But before the situation got really fun, Michonne stabbed him to death in a scuffle.
That’s because the purpose of last night’s episode wasn’t to further develop any characters or invite any more interesting subplots. This week’s installment was the bridge between the beginning of the final showdown and the sound of the first cannon that will signal an all-out war. When we faded to black, Rick and only three other people crouched at the gates to Woodbury, finally realizing the long odds they face to get their friends back. Glenn and Maggie are wounded (physically and emotionally), but still in one piece in The Governor’s custody. And Andrea, blissfuly ignorant to either the presence of her former friends or the nasty side of the man she’s sleeping with, falls into The Governor’s embrace.
There are plenty of conflicts we can look forward to in only a week’s time: the Daryl/Merle reunion; Andrea’s decision about whether to fight her former allies or her current lover; Rick and The Governor in the ultimate alpha male showdown. The scene is set and the war is soon to start, not between survivors and the undead, but between groups of people—all of whom are very much mortal—who simply can’t coexist in the aftermath of civilization.
Zombie Kill Report: After a slow start, there were nearly two dozen walker kills—fence walkers, forest walkers, ever poor Mr. Coleman the cancer victim. The MVP award goes to Glenn for fending off a walker while tied to a chair, managing to break said chair and stab the walker in the head. It was an intense set piece, the kind that make TWD such a thrill to watch.
Experiments in futility: For a few weeks, we’ve seen Milton working on various experiments, presumably to try and find a cure for the zombie-inducing plague. Last night, we learned that he’s been trying something a bit more general: an experiment to see if a person retains their memories, or anything that makes them human, after they turn into a zombie. The premise is interesting, and I thought it would further add to our list of TWD-specific rules. But the answer was a resounding no. Good thing Andrea was there to get her killing reps in and stap Mr. Coleman through the brain.
The zombie buffet: It’s been a while since we’ve seen a horde of walkers tearing some poor human to bits. These ensanguined smorgasbords, which feature lip-smacking walkers elbow deep in organs and flesh, are a hit with fans. How do they pull it off? TWD‘s companion talk show, The Talking Dead, revealed that the fake corpses are filled with silicon intestines stuffed with barbecue, and extras who don’t eat meat get to devour vegetarian stuffing. While it may make for realistic chowing down, that doesn’t mean the gore is necessarily up to snuff. I watched last night’s episode at my parent’s house where I was home for the Thanksgiving holiday. When the walkers tore into the dead hermit’s body, my mother hid her face. My father, a doctor, cooly watched the scene then remarked, nonplussed, “It’s too thin. Blood is thicker than that.” Hey producers: there’s something to work on over the mid-season hiatus!