It’s a bold move, in the middle of a season just starting to regain its momentum, for a show to take a week away from the central narrative and lurch to a side story. That’s what happened last week, when Rick, Michonne and Carl stumbled upon Morgan and a giant stockpile of weapons. The episode served several important purposes and was well executed. Consider the gamble a victory.
This week’s chapter, “Arrow on the Doorpost” is an equally bold venture, an episode in which two men basically stare at each other and talk. It’s the kind of scene you’ve seen in countless movies and TV shows: conversations that drives plots, sculpt out back-stories, develop characters, and pretty much anything necessary to further a story line. But they can be a bit claustrophobic and repetitive if not handled the right way.
For last night’s summit between Rick and the Governor, TWD’s producers chose an out-of-the-way warehouse that, rather conveniently, has a table placed in the center of the floor (and just happens to be dramatically illuminated). The episode begins with a very effective scene of Daryl, Rick and Hershel arriving at the meeting location. Little else is revealed—we see the trio moving carefully, looking over their shoulders. When Rick hops out of the car and leaves Hershel alone, we are reminded that there was a time when things were scary. Here is Hershel with his one good leg (and, yes, armed to the teeth) —and he may have to defend himself.
As a plot device, the meeting itself was necessary. We’ve already had one battle between the prison group and Woodbury, and every sign points to a final showdown. But we’re not there yet, both in terms of timing (there are three episodes left this season) and story. We haven’t dramatically built up to the showdown, and until last night’s episode, there didn’t really need to be a showdown at all. We now have our catalyst (the Governor’s terms for peace are that Rick turn over Michonne) and a timeline. They’re scheduled to meet again in two days, which means odds are very good that any preemptive attacks will come very soon.
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But the episode also gives us some good backstory and character development. Both inside, where the Governor opens up about losing his wife before the world went to hell, and outside, where Caesar shows some zits of life, we get to know the characters better. Caesar, it turns out, isn’t just a robotic henchman. He lost his wife and children to the walkers and takes out revenge every time he detonates a zombie head with a gun or a baseball bat. We learn that Milton is more than just a nervous amateur scientist; he’s a true renaissance man. When he’s not serving the Governor or conducting scientific experiments, Milton maintains a historical record so that future generations will know how civilization survived in Woodbury.
The reason these developments are important is that it’s very likely we will lose some of these people in the imminent fracas. If Milton or Caesar were to die in the next battle for Woodbury, we wouldn’t care. We still probably won’t care that much, but there is hope we might pause, just for a few seconds, and remember that conflicts have casualties on every side. As much as their deaths may be necessary, there should be sadness if Milton or Caesar die in any final showdown.
Inside the warehouse, when the Governor finally demands that Rick hand over Michonne, the tension peaks. The Governor, we see, after making a big show of removing his weapons at the beginning of the meeting, had a pistol taped to the bottom of the table, out of Rick’s sight. It recalls the famous Mos Eisley cantina scene in Star Wars where Han Solo shot the bounty hunter Greedo under the table (as an aside, I’m going to argue that Han shot first). But neither the Governor nor Rick fire any shots. It’s a scene that will have lingering ramifications in the coming battle that is only a few episodes away.
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Zombie Kill Report: A meager half dozen in the entire episode. We’re just learning about Milton’s methodology of historical fact-gathering when a small band of walkers threaten the security of the meeting. Andrea shows again (as if she has anything to prove) that she’s a badass zombie fighter, but the fun was watching Daryl and Caesar size each other up and have some fun killing the walkers. The scene continues the trend we saw last week of characters barely caring about the zombies. They’re not afraid of them anymore and fighting has become routine. Have they just gotten that good and battle tested—or will one of our main characters pay for their complacency?
Ally or enemy? Two episodes ago, Andrea was the focus of much speculation about which side she’s on. Is she loyal to her original group? Or to the Governor and the people of Woodbury? She sort of answered the question when she chose not kill the slumbering Governor, but her role got a bit of a shake up this week. Confronted with evidence (or at least Rick’s reminder) of what the Governor did to Maggie, not to mention how the Governor shuts her out, Andrea appears to have made a choice. Judging by the last scene between her and the Governor (and the clips from next week’s episode), it looks like Andrea won’t directly join the prison camp, but may act as an inside threat in Woodbury. If she doesn’t take out the Governor herself. Stay tuned.
Past lives; present actions: When Rick and the Governor discuss leadership and how they became the de-facto heads of their respective groups, Rick says to the Governor, “You’re just the town drunk who knocked over my fence and tore up my yard.” When I first saw this scene I read it that Rick had known the Governor before the zombie apocalypse, that in his time as the sheriff Rick had a run in with Phillip Blake. During an IM chat about the episode, Slate’s Chris Kirk suggested Rick was referring to the Governor’s attack on the prison earlier this season. Having watched the scene a second time, I agree with Chris. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.