Fans of The Walking Dead can probably be forgiven for doing some requisite complaining about last night’s midseason-premiere episode, “The Suicide King.” After all, they’ve endured ten zombie-free weeks wondering what would become of the Dixon brothers; just how nasty the wounded, half-blind Governor would turn out to be; and who among our core group would make it back out of Woodbury.
But what we got last night illustrates the problem with mid-season finales. There were so many moments in December’s mid-season finale—both genuine plot-pivot points and the “holy s–t!” variety—that this episode was bound to be a bit of a hangover. There was plenty of action last night—from the Dixon brothers’ fight to the death-cage match to biters infiltrating Woodbury—but the episode also required plenty of follow-up scenes, necessary to deal with some unresolved plot developments. For a zombie-starved audience, that can make for a tough combination.
Let’s start with what almost worked. Back in December we pointed out how awesome it was to see the first shot of The Governor sporting his eye patch. This new version of The Governor, played to perfection by David Morrissey, combined some of the best features of the old dictator. His speech about fighting off terrorists who want what Woodbury has was all the more chilling with his new look–it’s the more sinister, more sadistic Governor we all knew was coming. For a couple of scenes that’s how it played out, as he set up the gladiatorial bout between Merle and Daryl. But then, as Rick and company shot their way back into the town, The Governor simply gave up.
Not that we can really blame him, because the more time spent with the people of Woodbury, the less I care whether the town survives. In the absence of The Governor’s weight, the town falls apart. People try to flee, forcing his guards to imitate the Grenztruppen on the other side of Checkpoint Charlie. It’s a good thing Andrea was there to restore order, fight off walkers who infiltrated the perimeter, and give an impassioned speech to the throng of scared citizens. They’re like lemmings, waiting for someone to tell them what to do, now that The Governor has checked out and Andrea steps up to the challenge.
Outside the town’s walls, Rick has problems of his own. Having survived the death match, Daryl refuses to return to the prison without his brother and the two saunter off into the woods like they’re on a camping trip. Losing Daryl deprives Rick of a skilled foot-soldier just when he needs it most. Glenn is banged up, Oscar is dead, and there’s a very good chance that The Governor will launch an attack (if he recovers from his malaise, which I sincerely hope he does).
As luck would have it, Carl has come upon a small group of strong and seemingly nice folks who reinforce the group’s thinned ranks. Then again, we’ve seen this before. Rather than agree to some kind of probationary period to join their group, Rick chooses, again, to toss them out into the wild. He seems to have forgotten that he was once a lone traveler, and just as he was about to get torn limb from limb, Glenn stuck his neck out to save him. Thankfully, Hershel appears to have stepped into the role of wise counselor and convinces Rick to give the new folks a chance.
Then just as Rick’s about to come to his senses—BAM!—he’s struck by a haunting image of his dead wife in her wedding dress. Is Rick cracking up? Has the stress and strain of keeping the group together finally caught up with him? Is this perpetual guilt over his wife’s death—or another chance for Andrew Lincoln to overact? Weigh in with what you think is going on in the comments section below.
Zombie Kill Report: A couple dozen, mostly gun and crossbow head shots. The two worth highlighting include the walker that surprised Glenn, forcing him to stomp the guy’s head like it was a smashed pumpkin, and The Governor cooly dispatching a poor Woodbury resident who was bitten by walkers. Okay, the last one isn’t technically a zombie kill, but it was certainly an important moment.
Speaking of important moments: Look for some scenes in the coming weeks where Andrea does some soul searching and decides where her loyalties lay–with Woodbury or with the old group. I always thought the second she found out they were alive and camped nearby she’d rush off to rejoin them, but now I’m not so sure. She tapped her inner lawyer with the speech to the freaked out Woodburians, so look for some early clues about Andrea’s future in the next episode
The deeper question: Every time a new batch of survivors tries to join up with Rick’s group it gives us a chance to pose some deeper questions. As long as there are scarce resources (and the world is a dangerous place), Rick and the others have to view newcomers with some skepticism. But given how long they’ve been at this, it’s worth thinking about something Tyreese said to his group. The moral compromises they must make in the name of survival, he explains, “It’s only making the living less like the living.” From the first episode, the show examined how much of one’s humanity must be sacrificed to survive in a horrible, terrifying world. It’s a question we can apply to the leaders most of all, but to any of our characters in the coming weeks.