One of the potentially interesting ideas behind the writing in “Prey,” the 14th episode of this season’s “The Walking Dead,” was to remove the episode from the prison almost entirely (save for a handful of seconds at its conclusion). It’s a tactic that the show uses on occasion, with varying effectiveness, that allows them to really focus on and drill down into a specific set of plot points or characters in order to better tell their story. It’s worked well in the past, and here… the results are mixed.
On the one hand, I’m always in favor of more Tyrese. He and his small group have been underutilized right from the start, and instead of being treated as characters or as parts of the story, they’ve been treated as tools. Tools to be used to move the plot in a particular direction, but with very little about them as people ever being established. This week, that changed some, and while his screen time still seemed lacking, there was a depth to his character that was finally revealed. Tyrese is a genuinely intelligent, rock-solid guy, one who is contemplative and compassionate, yet also tough when necessary, and he’s a welcome addition. I may not have enjoyed all of “Prey,” but the glimpses into Tyrese and his group were certainly welcome.
Yet every group has its malcontents, and every leader its challenger, and as such Tyrese’s two showdowns with Allen (one of the show’s more intriguing pseudo-antagonists) made for some solid dramatic material. Allen, while singularly annoying, is also a refreshingly honest and realistic character, one who wants nothing but safety for himself and his boy, but also one who is more than willing to abandon any societal norms or personal morality in order to ensure that. Whether that’s plotting to take the prison from Rick’s weakened party, or throwing in with the Governor’s goon squad while they prepare a particularly gruesome weapon for the upcoming battles, he’ll gladly cast his lot with whomever increases his odds of survival. His confrontations with Tyrese revolved around both his status as a man and a father figure, as well as over ensuring the safety and security of his family, and I enjoyed their conflict immensely.
Of course, those stories are ancillary (for the moment) to the stories of The Governor, Andrea, and Milton, who have become representative of the various states of the human condition that run through Woodbury. Each is a deeply flawed human being, damaged in their own way, trying in their own way to do what they think may be right. Regardless of how poorly the show has handled the writing of these characters at various points, there’s no denying the unique set of perspectives that they provide. The Governor, for the first time, seemed to show a sort of logic to his madness. Oh, he’s always been a bit psychotically daft, sure. Heads in jars, bitey daughter, all of that. But of late, he’s turned a corner that planted him squarely into Crazytown, and for once it was almost — almost — understandable. His grim conversation, wherein Milton admitted to the possibility that there is indeed a shred of humanity lurking behind the undead eyes of this world of walking corpses, spoke volumes for his vendetta against the prison and Michonne in particular. It’s a world without order, without love or life or hope, except for this one small, tiny thing that he has to cling to. He held tight to the chance that his daughter — the last good, sane thing he thought he had — is still there and that she could possibly be brought back. And then, Michonne’s katana put a gruesome end to that. As such, the Governor’s fury is total and his thirst for vengeance ravenous. More on this in a moment.
Before we can conclude the discussion about the Governor, we need to talk about Milton and Andrea, an unusual study in contrasts if there ever was one. Much like the Governor believes that there was still a spark of life in his daughter, Milton holds fast to the belief that his friend can be brought back from the depths of madness he has waded in. It’s a unique position to take, and a sort of weird variation of Andrea’s. Andrea has been willfully ignorant when not being outright stupid in her dealing with the Governor, choosing to ignore all of the mounting evidence and then trying to play the oblivious peacemaker in an obviously hopeless situation. Milton, rather than being blind to Phillip’s growing insanity and twisted proclivities, has known (or suspected) all along, yet stayed out of a combination of loyalty, cowardice, and a hope that things will simply get better. This eye-opening honesty, while misguided and dangerous, has helped make Milton a far more compelling character (also bolstered by a strong performance by Dallas Roberts). Milton is easily perceived as weak, soft, and a follower, yet there’s an unexpected depth to his character. Yes, upon knowing the truth about Phillip — that he plans on betraying the truce, that he hungers for revenge, that he plans on a horrific torture for Michonne — he stays by his side. But one gets the feeling that it’s not a decision reached lightly, even going so far as to stop Andrea from ending him.
Andrea, unfortunately, is a whole other conundrum. She’s consistently gotten the short end of the stick, writing-wise, for this entire season. Watching the opening scene, a flashback of her time in the wilderness with Michonne, makes her character’s arc all the more asinine and frustrating. “Prey,” however, felt like the first episode where she began to actually act rationally — finally, finally understanding the stakes and the truth about Woodbury and the Governor in the context of a worldview beyond her own. She finally begins to make the right choices, to try to make allies and forego the idiocy of brokering peace, of being the voice of reason. She finally acknowledges that Woodbury is a paradise lost, a town with a rotten core that she must either join and accept what comes with that, or abandon and try to salvage her friendships with Rick and company — and hopefully save them in the process.
Of course, it doesn’t go as planned. It was a gripping bit of theater, the Governor’s hunt for Andrea and her efforts to evade him. Unbelievable and ridiculous and corny and stupid in some ways, but gripping nonetheless. Her solo zombie brawl in the woods was intense and well-shot, but the scene of her racing from the truck was pure movie cliche. The inexplicably zombie-filled warehouse (that is also conveniently packed with zombie-killing implements) made for a tautly-paced, silent chase, yet her simply walking away without confirming his death? Really? After all of this, after all we’ve seen and done, you’re just going to assume he doesn’t make it? It was another moment of manufactured drama that the showrunners threw in for effect, but ultimately took me out of the episode — especially since it led to the ludicrous finale with the Governor quietly hunting her down at the prison gates. It was all so forced and obvious and rife with predictability and cliche that it near-ruined an overall decent episode.
And in the end, we’re left with Tyrese trying to decide which side is the side of the angels, with Allen doing whatever he can to stay safe, with Milton beginning his own not-so-silent rebellion. Yet most distressing was Andrea’s fate, one that frankly left a bad taste in my mouth. I haven’t enjoyed her character in a long time, but this? To be trussed and tied by the man she cared for and abandoned in a torture chamber? Is this what we wanted? For anyone? Instead of creating any kind of dramatic effect, that final, chilling shot only served as yet another instance of an entire season of a character being abused and lazily neglected by its writers. You give her the worst excuse for character development in the show’s run, and then end with her in chains. It just felt awkward and tasteless. Yet all is not lost and Andrea lives on, as do the rest of them, as the show alternates between storming and stumbling towards what will surely be a grim and terrible conclusion.