Last week’s episode of “The Walking Dead,” “Clear,” was one of the more inspired episodes the show has given us, an episode many (myself included) think was one of the best in the entire series. It was a strong, impressive departure from a storyline that started off as powerful and intriguing but has often reduced itself to drudgery for the second half of this season. It sent a signal that perhaps the show was going to refocus its energies and regain some of the tremendous momentum that it had come raging out of the gate with back in October.
Alas, this was not to be as this week’s episode, “Arrow On The Doorpost” fell victim to the very same mistakes that have plagued the show since its return from midseason break (“Clear” notwithstanding). Instead of regaining momentum, it was a brutally slow, plodding affair that is guilty of the exact same sin that brought down “I Ain’t A Judas” — namely, the events of the episode rendered the entire exercise completely pointless. It was yet another episode where nothing happened, where everything at the end was exactly as it was at the beginning. A show like “The Walking Dead” is a show that relies on change — changes of circumstance, of setting, of character. Living and dying, battling for survival, learning who to trust — these are the things that made this show great. Yet this episode demonstrated none of those traits, and instead simply settled for jamming itself firmly in neutral and grinding the gears for 45 minutes.
Some may say that the issue of trust was brought to the forefront by the meeting between Rick and The Governor. Yet the entire meeting and its ensuing discourse was so forced, so farcically and obviously manufactured, that it ended up being more frustrating than anything. Is there any viewer on this planet who believed for a second that it would end in some sort of post-apocalyptic Pax Romana? This season has constructed its entire existence on this air of violent inevitability, that a war is coming between the prison and Woodbury, that bloodshed was on the horizon and it would be epic and tragic. To even bother with such a pretense felt like nothing less than a waste of time.
Yet all of that could have been forgiven if the scene had been more well-developed. It’s painfully clear that it was meant to be a sort of acting showcase for Rick and The Governor, and by association, Andrew Lincoln and David Morrissey. Both are capable actors, and both have had outstanding moments in this show, but what they were given here simply couldn’t be salvaged. Morrissey’s suddenly hammy depiction of the Governor (drumming his hands on the table and then “I brought whiskey!” made me cringe), and a discussion that was full of purposeless, trope-ridden dialogue about trust and protecting the ones you love when it was already clear that they were wasting their respective breath — it was all just so pitilessly boring. That was the greatest crime of the episode, really — it was simply dull.
Actually, no. That’s not true. The greatest crime of the episode, nay, the entire season, was Andrea. Andrea has become hands-down the worst character on the show. Now that Michonne finally has a personality and speaks in complete (and often entertaining) sentences, Andrea is really the only person on the show that I genuinely loathe. Her character, once a strong-willed, intelligent, complex and conflicted woman, has devolved into someone who is, quite frankly, a fucking simpleton. What could once have been construed as naivete is now willful ignorance with a dash of outright stupidity, and her pathetic attempts to broker a peace are so painfully, shamefully overdramatic that it’s barely watchable. Her divided loyalties are nonsensical and her inner conflicts verge on buffoonish. Laurie Holden is a capable actress, but even the most gifted actress in television couldn’t salvage the absolute quagmire of neurotic, melodramatic pathos that Andrea has been written into.
There were a couple of small bright spots, all separate from the main storyline, and mostly involving the Dixon brothers. Daryl’s encounter with Martinez (played with a refreshingly dry wit and arrogance by Jose Pablo Cantillo) was note-perfect, two men bursting with machismo who slowly enter into a begrudging respect for each other. Their interactions were fun and interesting and demonstrated something that the show has, for reasons unknown, not bothered to do much of until now — which is show us the similarities between the two groups. That’s one of the critical pieces that have been missing in many ways, and it wasn’t really even noticed until this week — the best way to have this conflict feel more real and affecting is to show just how much they have in common. Sure, there was that early commonality between The Governor and Rick, but The Governor has drifted further and further into cartoonish villainy as the season’s progressed. Yet here was a true parallel — in another life, in another set of circumstances, Daryl is Martinez and vice-versa. Two mostly good guys with serious flaws who found their way into a group that needed protection, with a leader that needed a strong arm (a similar parallel was drawn, though slightly less effectively, with the men of science - Herschel and Milton).
As for Merle, bringing him back into the fold was one of the show’s better decisions. The group sometimes feels like it functions best when it has a malcontent in its ranks, and there’s no one better at the part than Michael Rooker. His altercation with Glenn — and subsequently Michonne and Maggie and even Beth (who had a moment of being interesting!) was prime scenery-chewing, yet all grounded in the one thing that has always driven Merle — survival, and his love for his brother. It’s riveting to watch, and his later conversation with Michonne, a discussion with arguably two of the toughest bastards in the group, was equally engaging. That Merle is so singleminded that he thinks nothing of attempting an alliance with a woman he repeatedly belittles and berates — and once tried to kill — is remarkable, made more so by how credibly Rooker passes it off.
I’d talk about Glenn and Maggie mending their fence, but it bothered me more than I care to admit. I liked their conversation, and Maggie forcing Glenn to confront his own selfishness and take ownership of his own blindness, but their sex scene was so contrived and tacky and frankly foolish in the face of the current situation that it smacked of little more than lurid titillation.
Arrow On The Doorpost was a perfect demonstration of some of the worst elements of this season. It was another episode where the writers tried to con the viewers into thinking they’d seen something exciting, some sort of dramatic tour de force full of conflict and complexity. Yet the entire story, from the peace talks to the Governor’s demand of Michonne to Rick’s absolutely idiotic consideration of the offer, all are predicated on the idea that we as viewers are dumb enough to think, even for a second, that this is the direction the show might be headed. We know it’s not. It never would. It would destroy all of the work that has been put into this season thus far, and not only that, it would be boring and anticlimactic and totally contrary to who these people are. Episodes like Arrow On The Doorpost erode my will to keep watching, and damage my ability to empathize with the characters that I usually enjoy so much. The show has built up enough goodwill to keep most viewers going, but these painful stumbles surely do make it difficult.