The world of “The Walking Dead” is a harsh, pitiless one. We know this. We’ve seen the bodies, the devastation, the decrepit remains of a society destroyed and a people lost. The band of survivors that we follow each week, for better or worse, knows how precarious their fates can be, and we watch each week with bated breath to see how they’ll narrowly escape their next encounter with the walkers. Yet they are survivors, and Season Three has shown us that in spite of these seemingly insurmountable odds, they will survive. We’ve come to understand that despite all of the obstacles, the monsters, the horrors that haunt them, we take a sort of solace in the fact that ultimately, they’ve got the wits and strength and the bonds of love and friendship to survive.
“KIller Within,” the fourth episode of “The Walking Dead,” was easily one of the most intense, emotionally affecting episodes thus far. It wasn’t just about the tension of the chase, the thrill of the hunt. It was about a family torn asunder, bloodily and with horrible finality. The episode was a bit of a con game, starting out with such positivity. Hershel, finding the will to heave himself off of that dirty mattress and take his first three-legged steps. Glenn and Maggie, taking comfort in each other whenever they can, and Daryl showing a rare burst of gentle, ribbing humor at their expense. Rick and Lori, sharing a distant look that spoke volumes about how they’re slowly healing the jagged wound that was their relationship.
On the other end of the spectrum, Andrea begins to take comfort in the town of Woodbury, being increasingly charmed by Governor’s image of strong, watchful protector. She’s finding the home, the community, that she’s been seeking and had never quite found with the old group. And while we know that there’s several large, critically important screws loose in the Governor’s brain, without that knowledge, who can blame her? Even Merle is beginning to cut a more sympathetic figure, and despite that boiling hornet’s nest he has for a brain, his sense of brotherly love still drives him. Yet the not-so-metaphorical yang to Andrea’s yin, Michonne, sees more seething beneath the surface of both Woodbury and its viperous leader than Andrea can, and unlike last week, her suspicions now appear logical and ingenious. Michonne is more than a glower and a sword — she’s got a keen eye that kept them alive before, and she hopes will continue to do so.
But Woodbury was the secondary story this week. The prison is where the world of “The Walking Dead” fell apart, completely and totally, without warning or mercy. It was there, as the trap was sprung and the group fractured into smaller, panic-stricken herds, that the show truly shone, and make no mistake, this was another of the show’s best episodes. The intensity, the frantic, gut-churning hell that each character was put through, was almost too much to bear, and the sense of desperation — there’s that word again — was a visceral, physical thing that felt like it was in the room with me, digging into me as I watched.
Yet what made the episode so remarkable, so absolutely stunning, was that for once, there was no narrow escape. There was no safe haven, even in the end when the corpses of the undead littered the grounds of the prison. The damage was done, and our group became a little smaller. And this wasn’t the loss of Sophia, a minor character on the periphery at best. This wasn’t the loss of Andrea’s sister Amy. This resonated even more than the abrupt and tragic loss of Dale in Season Two, albeit one of them more so than the other. T-Dog’s death — I have a great many thoughts about it, and I won’t fill this space up with them (there will be an additional post tomorrow dealing with T-Dogg and some other problems on the show as a whole). Suffice it to say that at the very least, they gave him a hero’s death, not some ignoble passing that would have been the final insult heaped upon a historically neglected character.
But Lori’s death was, quite simply, brilliantly written. It strayed substantially from her death in the books, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Lori has been one of the most divisive characters — on the show and among the fans — and yet one cannot deny the critical role she’s played (good and bad) in getting them where they are today. Strangely, much like T-Dog, this was the first episode where she felt like a fully-realized person, where both characters showed a full range of emotion. Lori’s final moments were heartbreaking, painful, brave, and awful, and that scene, with its strange combination of ugliness, beauty and horror, was one of the best the show’s had. More critically, it was without question the best acting we’ve seen out of young Chandler Riggs, both before, during, and most devastatingly, his deathly quiet moments after. Most notable was the final two minutes of the show, a scene with minimal dialogue but maximum emotional impact. Rick’s staggering and ultimate collapse, Carl’s white-faced shock, Maggie’s trembling, barely-keeping-it-together visage, Glenn’s gentle touch, Daryl’s stoic face — all were brief but wonderful little bits of acting.
My only issue is, quite honestly, that we had to wait until the day of their deaths to get engaging, well-rounded performances out of Irone Singleton and Sarah Wayne Callies. But we did get them, to devastating effect. “The Walking Dead” has a curious way of telling its stories, and you keep thinking that you’ve settled into a rhythm and then they yank the rug out and push you to the ground. Like the show’s characters, you dust yourself off and think after a time, you think you’ve found solid ground again. You haven’t. They haven’t, and they won’t. The world of “The Walking Dead” is brutal and messy and relentlessly cruel. “Killer Within” took that to whole new levels, and now we really know that no one will ever be safe again, no matter how high a wall they surround themselves with.