“Hounded,” the sixth episode of the season, was an interesting episode of The Walking Dead. Filled with moments that didn’t have a great immediate impact, it was instead a transitional episode, one that you clearly see is going to lead us to the inevitable conflict that we’ve been waiting for since we learned about a little town called Woodbury. Perhaps one of the best things about this, in the context of the show’s past seasons, is that the writers have mastered the skill that they fumbled so badly last season — they’re able to create an extended story arc without the middle episodes feeling like filler.
Which is good, because this episode served mainly to set things up. It was a strong episode, no doubt, if unspectacular. What Paul Buchman would have called “a solid seven.” We saw Rick flirt with insanity, only to have his own devastated psyche bring him back from the brink. The entire telephone sequence was masterfully shot, full of desperation and anguish and tension. The viewers fully believed that Rick had found yet another group, and the writers let the entire sequence play out organically, without tipping their hand once. Even Hershel’s brief, concerned appearance was a nice touch, as he knew Rick was on the edge of his own mental abyss, but chose to let him find his own way back. It served as an interesting turning point, one with a clever duality to it. In Rick’s mind, his actions and decisions will either save them or leave them lost and desolate, and in reality, the outcome of his mental struggle will have those very same consequences. It was a smart, subtle, and intriguing bit.
Also, can we all agree that it’s a little weird that the week-old baby looks like she’s six months old already? Yes? OK, moving on.
Meanwhile, in Woodbury, the saga of Andrea continues to barrel towards its inevitable, somewhat idiotic conclusion. Andrea has become the adult, sexualized version of Carl, only instead of not listening and running into the woods/out of the house, she doesn’t listen or read ANY of the signs and runs into the beds of psychotic men. What makes this so interesting, yet also frustrating, is there’s a certain amount of retconning going on with Andrea, as if to try to explain her breathtakingly bad taste in men and her terrible decision-making. Andrea has always been a bit of hardheaded, tough-minded woman, some of it perhaps a cover for a fragility brought upon by the death of Amy. Yet all of a sudden, there’s a bizarre and inconsistent change. Jumping over the wall to engage a zombie up close, a secret bloodlust and love of violence — these are all things that are totally at odds with the character we know, especially one who has been so obsessed with the promised safety and security of Woodbury. And while I find the uncomfortable creepiness of her tryst with the town’s local head-in-a-jar enthusiast an interesting plot device, it was manufactured to be too easily justifiable. In reality, it’s all too obvious that with smarter writing, she should never have ended up in this place.
Yet for every step that Andrea takes backward, Michonne takes a tiny one forward. The show runners have some repair work to do with her character if they ever want us to actually care about her. And while we saw next to nothing in terms of character development out of her this week, her level of badassery is to be seriously respected. Michonne is no joke, a woman with an uncanny gift for violence and mayhem, as evidenced by her tearing through the Governor’s men like someone had thrown a chainsaw at them. It was a bloody, grisly bit of chaos, and I certainly won’t say I didn’t enjoy the visceral thrill of it all. Coupled with Michael Rooker’s continued awesomeness as Merle, AKA The Anti-Daryl? The entire sequence was a brutal thrill.
Yet there’s more to Merle than just simple thuggery. There’s a shrewd wickedness and viciousness in him that is in many ways just as scary as the Governor, and this episode was filled with evidence of that. Slaughtering his own man, lying to the governor, and then his kidnapping of Glenn and Maggie all point to Merle being far more than a goon. Speaking of Maggie and Glenn, kudos to both Lauren Cohen and Steven Yuen for continuing to be one of the more engaging couples right now. Their sweet moment outside of the shop during their ill-fated run was just as affecting and real as their fear for each other when they stumbled onto Merle.
Yet amidst all of this chaos and change, I felt like the greatest moments were found in the prison, as Daryl, Carl and Oscar waded through piles of bodies. For every cruelty and lie that makes up Merle, there’s compassion and wisdom in Daryl, and his scene with Carl really was quite touching. Also, it bears mentioning that the last few episodes have been a veritable sea change for young Carl. Gone (at least for now) is the sullenness, the stupidity, the ignorant and ultimately pointless disregard for safety. Instead, Chandler Riggs has actually grown on me. It feels nice not to hate him anymore. As for Daryl, I don’t think we could ever hate him. Especially with his jaunty poncho from last week.
In the end, “Hounded” represented a smartly built bridge to the next stage of the group’s adventure. It was a gruesome, harsh episode that foreshadows great change and conflict, and while I’ll never really understand the path that the writers have carved for Andrea, the rest of the show is progressing nicely… and bloodily.
PS: I’m just going to leave this here.