“Walk With Me,” the third episode of this season of “The Walking Dead,” was an unusual and unique episode, quite unlike anything else the show has had so far. Completely ignoring the ongoing saga of Rick Grimes and his self-imprisoned companions, it instead chose to focus on their old friend Andrea and her mysterious newfound ally, Michonne, as they discover a completely new and different group of survivors.
One of the frequent criticisms of “The Walking Dead” is that sometimes it doesn’t know how to handle its quieter moments. The entire farm saga of last season was a drawn out affair that should have wrapped up much more quickly, and its quieter moments felt less like breaks and more like drags. At the same time, when the action picked up, it was riveting, and as I’ve said before, the show is easily at its best when that sense of desperation is so pervasive. “Walk With Me” is a curious amalgam of all of those facets, a slow-burning story that unfolds more like a mystery novel than a horror comic. Andrea and Michonne are waylaid by the man known as The Governor (David Morrissey), an enigmatic and strangely charismatic leader of his own little stronghold of survivors. Backed by a group of violently loyal enforcers, The Governor shares a surprising number of similarities to Rick — a strong, determined man who refuses to let outside influences jeopardize his plans.
Of course, the mystery of the episode is just who he is, and what is he doing. The first red flag is, of course, the return of the fantastic Michael Rooker as the sociopathic Merle Dixon, the long-lost and thought-dead (and now sporting a nifty Ash Williams-esque prosthesis) brother of Daryl. Merle’s overt, wiggly-eyed lunacy has been dialed down, and he now serves as a sort of lieutenant to the Governor, yet there are still traces of his old crazy self banging at the gates of his brain.
What made the episode so effective was the decision to use the slowly diverging relationship of Michonne and Andrea as the sort of Greek chorus of the story. Each of them looks around Woodbury and sees something completely different. Andrea sees a potential safe haven surrounded by strong protectors, something that she’s wanted to be a part of in the past. Michonne trusts nothing that she sees, suspecting that that safety and stability in this world of undead chaos is likely too good to be true. Little bits and pieces — Michonne’s skeptical eyeballing of their guard, Andrea’s furtive smiles and casual flirtations with The Governor — all serve to create two different sides to the story.
And of course, we learn that there’s so, so much more to Woodbury than we thought, and that’s where the gruesome fun begins. Obviously, The Governor is not man with whom one should fuck, yet there’s a strange appeal to him, one that gradually unravels. That was the beauty of “Walk With Me.” There was a sense of unbalance, a discomfort that slowly and somewhat inexplicably leeched its way into the viewers’ heads. First, Woodbury was a little too pretty and neat and clean, as if Mayberry had been dumped into the midst of Armageddon. Then, there’s his curious pet scientist who studies the walkers a little too intently (and provides another interesting explanation regarding Michonne’s undead pack mules).
Then, the wheels really start to come off, and we learn that The Governor isn’t just a little too intense. He’s vicious and unrepentant, tricking the helpless pilot into giving his friends’ location up, and then slaughtering them wholesale without so much as a hint of hesitation — or regret. Yet even then, we’re tempted to pass him off as little more than an amoral control freak, an alpha determined to keep everything within his tight control. And then, slowly, gently, the brilliant reveal at the end which suddenly made the entire season instantly more interesting.
The Governor isn’t a control freak. He isn’t just a bad guy. He isn’t just the boss of a rival faction. He’s smart, organized, ruthless, charismatic… and completely and utterly psychotic. He’s a man who enjoys a pretty woman, then pouring a couple of fingers of whiskey and quietly sitting in a room full of heads in jars.
All of this made for a terrific episode despite the lack of too much zombie mayhem. It was a plot builder episode, but one that didn’t feel like filler for a moment. Morrissey played his part brilliantly, allowing the uninitiated to slowly learn the depths of his insanity, never showing his hand too much until the very end. Rooker’s Merle was slightly subdued, but no less entertaining than he had been back in season one. If there was one slight disappointment, it’s that I’d like to see more out of Michonne. Danai Gurira is clearly a capable actress, and I understand the character being portrayed as a strong, stoic and silent one, but I’d like to see her do a little more than glower. Though I must admit — she gives good glower.
The stage has now been cleverly and intriguingly set for an entirely new kind of conflict, the kind that the show has to have to prevent it from becoming too dependent on running and hiding and ohmygodmorezombies. Instead it’s once again about people, and now we’re finally getting a taste of what happens when the ball rolls down the other side, when the darkness wins out. And so far, it tastes pretty good.