Everyone seems to be losing their minds as The Walking Dead returns for the second half of series three.
The attack on Woodbury that ended episode eight in a glorious frenzy of bullets and eye-gouging isn’t over just yet. The Suicide King picks up exactly where that episode ended, with Daryl and Merle being forced to fight to the death. Merle claims he has a plan, but luckily for the writers they don’t have to bother coming up with how exactly they would have gotten them out of that impossible situation, because Rick, Maggie and Michonne show up to save them. It was a surprisingly easy rescue mission, but one that gave us some incredibly striking visuals, not least of all the Governor striding out of the orange-tinged smoke, smiling slightly as he watches Rick’s gang get away. The fight isn’t over yet.
After that thrilling opening, things slow down and the episode morphs into an exploration into the damage that humans inflict on each other. Zombies may have brought all this conflict to a new level, but essentially all the worst damage has been human-on-human. Carol muses on the destructive dependency caused by abusive relationships. The Governor grieves dangerously for the (zombiefied) daughter Michonne killed. Rick grieves for his wife and can barely look at his new daughter. Glenn and Maggie are being torn apart by their torture at Merle and the Governor’s hands. Everyone’s so damaged and wary by this point that they can’t even bring themselves to trust Tyreese and Sasha, played with immense likeable charm by Chad Coleman and Sonequa Martin-Green. (Let’s be honest, the other two in their group are totally expendable.)
This episode has some very strong scenes and performances. Daryl slipping away from the group when he’s (inevitably) torn between Rick and co and his “jackass” of a big brother was painful, but weakened by the fact that we know they’ll be back. Even stronger were the scenes of Carol reacting to him leaving. Melissa McBride is, as always, brilliant, and the fact that she still isn’t on the main credits both bewilders and scares me. Steven Yeun has come a long way in his three years as Glenn, and his work in this episode as a Glenn hardened by necessity and pain was excellent.
This episode increasingly pushes the show towards a new equilibrium: The battle between two crazy men (neither Rick nor the Governor are looking particularly hinged right now) with innocent civilians caught in the middle. The assault on Woodbury was all very exciting and everything, but I couldn’t help but worry about the poor residents caught in the crossfire. Now it looks like the tables are being turned, and Rick’s group are going to be the ones to suffer when the Governor comes after them.
Woodbury, unfortunately, is still the weak link in the show. David Morrissey continues to unsettle as increasingly psychopathic Governor, but the other citizens of the town just aren’t fleshed out enough. They’re portrayed as either a baying mob or frightened sheep, and no characters stand out from the crowd. Andrea is also dragging the plotline down. We’re given no logical reason for why she would have stayed with the Governor even after he tried to kill Daryl, and she delivers the worst rousing speech of all time. Tyrion Lannister at the Battle of Blackwater she ain’t. How much of that is down to the writing and how much is a weak performance from Laurie Holden I’m not sure. Also let down by the writing is Danai Gurira. She’s got the Michonne snarl down, but has absolutely no dialogue or character work to back it up. Hopefully we’ll see that developed in the coming episodes.
This was a quieter episode than we’ve had in a while, and the showrunners are treading a fine line with Rick’s growing insanity. At the moment he still has our sympathy, and they need to be careful to keep it that way. To say that the second half of series three is shaping up to be darker than the first seems crazy, given how pitch-black that was, but it does seem to be the case. I for one can’t wait.