Previously on The Walking Dead, Rick becomes a new – and single – dad.
For all of its zombie overtones, it’s easy to forget the fact that The Walking Dead is really a show about the trials and tribulations of modern fatherhood. Ha ha ha! No, it isn’t. It’s a show about zombies. Still, daddy issues raise their head in tonight’s episode, and it should surprise no one that Daryl turns out to be America’s New Favorite Post-Zombie Apocalyptic Father Figure.
Over in Pleasantville, everything is hunky-dory. People are gardening and drinking ice-cold lemonade. It’s a festival! Andrea is very pleased, and thinks it’s all very lovely, and says as much to resident mad scientist Milton, who assures her that she ain’t seen nothing yet. “Mere words cannot adequately describe the festivities ahead,” he tells her, and for those of you keeping score at home, that’s 250 points for Foreshadowing. Michonne knows that something is not quite right in Woodbury. “Not quite right” is certainly what I’d call the Gov’s relationship with his daughter Penny, who doesn’t like it when Daddy brushes her hair. Oh, and Penny is also quite undead. Michonne senses what we’ve known from the get-go – the Gov is batshit, if fox-like, crazy. Well, you say, people grieve differently, and perhaps this is how he copes with the death of his wife and the “death” of his child, even if the whole “you need to learn to let go of those you’ve lost” metaphor is in his case not really a metaphor. True, I respond, but later, as the Gov is leading his people in a toast, Michonne sneaks into his pad to get her sword back. And when she does, she finds his diary; it lists a bunch of names, “Penny” being the last, followed by page upon page of ///////////////////////////////////////////. Guess all work and no play also makes the Gov a dull boy. Of course Milton and the Gov show up; Michonne hides and hears them discussing Milton’s “experiment”, which will require a lot of power. It’s all very mysterious.
Following that, Michonne wanders over to another part of the compound, where she finds a bunch of walkers penned up, just like her all-consuming aggression. She opens the gates and releases both, but is caught by the zombie-keeper and brought to the Gov. The two have a nice chat: she lets him know that she knows he’s keeping secrets. “Like Penny.” He offers her a spot on the Research Team; as we’ll find out two scenes from now, these are the guys who go out into the field, trap walkers, and remove their teeth. And somehow I doubt that they’re researching new methods of dental hygiene. She responds by drawing her sword and offering him a shave. The Gov has a problem: while he could conceivably just kill Michonne, he needs to maintain absolute control over his people and situation, and getting rid of Michonne will only bring up more questions. If he lets her go, he runs the risk of her finding another large group of survivors and telling them about Woodbury. Andrea is also becoming a bit suspicious – she asks the Gov about the captive walkers, but he brushes her off. Ultimately, Michonne leaves, but not without putting more doubt in Andrea’s mind when Merle stalls them at the gates, mumbling something about “procedure” and “I need to talk to my supervisor”. We begin to suspect that prior to the outbreak Merle worked for the TSA.
Meanwhile, back at the prison, everyone except Rick is happy about the baby, and is very much aware that the baby will starve unless they get her some formula. With Rick gone, Daryl steps up and assumes command; he offers to go look for formula, and Maggie and Glenn immediately volunteer to join him. Maggie and Daryl head off, leaving Glenn behind to dig three graves. (More questions: did they drag the scraps of T-Dog back to be buried? Did they find some leftover Carol?) Axel and Oscar make a perfunctory appearance, so that Glenn could remind us that T-Dog was a great guy, or something. Maggie and Daryl find a day care center, and weren’t you sitting there thinking “oh, shit, this is gonna get all zombie toddler Pet Sematary awful really quick”? Thankfully, all they find are a couple of cans of formula and a possum, so everyone will be eating well tonight! (Maggie’s “I’m not putting that thing in my bag” line was great on many levels.)
The thread that runs through this episode is tied together in the last couple of scenes. The Gov’s madness stems, it seems, from the sorta-loss of his daughter, and his crazy might be a bit contagious. That big party everyone was getting all excited about? Turns out it’s a weird, gladiator-style pit fight between Merle and his goons, right in the middle of a group of chained walkers. There’s a definite Monster Truck Rally vibe in the air (they even play some Skynyrd, man!) and Andrea is slightly horrified by it – but in an oddly pragmatic way. After the Governor tells her that it’s more WWE than UFC (the walker’s teeth have been pulled out – ah ha! – making them essentially harmless), Andrea seems even more offended, telling the Gov that people are going to think that walkers aren’t a threat, nimbly stepping aside to dodge the giant anvil that falls from the sky. The Gov tells her that this is how the good people of Woodbury “blow off steam”; the zombie fights allow them to vent their aggression and maintain the hope (or illusion) that humanity is more powerful than their undead counterparts.
And speaking of blowing off steam: Rick. Has lost. His. Shit. And of we course we know why. He’s spent the episode wandering through the dark halls of the prison with an ax, looking to kill off the prison’s remaining walker population by himself. (Again, props to Andrew Lincoln’s performance – he only says one word this entire episode, but doesn’t need to say more.) When he comes across the bloated walker sleeping off his last meal, Rick takes a knife and starts a-carving (Carol? Lori? You in there?). And just when we think Rick is going to go full Colonel Kurtz on us and start muttering about seeing a snail crawling along the edge of a straight razor…the phone rings, and Rick gets his only line. “Hello?” Who is it? Who indeed?