So… I’m guessing there’s going to be a few less comments about how hot the Governor is.
“When The Dead Come Knocking,” the seventh episode of “The Walking Dead,” was another prime example of how the writers have abandoned all pretense of a world with hope and kindness in it. It was an idea I’d briefly wondered about last season: all of these people that Rick and company had encountered — the Latino gangbangers, Hershel’s family and friends — all kind and helpful souls. Sure, there was Shane serving as the worm in Rick’s apple, but otherwise, the end of the world was looking like something that brought out the best in people. A scenario that the cynic in me finds highly unlikely.
Yet up until now, that was how they played it, with the exception of the two gentlemen encountered in the bar last season… and, of course, Merle. Ah, Merle. Michael Rooker is having entirely too much fun with the character this season, and it’s been a sick, uncomfortable joy to watch an actor so completely embrace his role. Merle was a fascinating figure this week, a kidnapper and torturer, without pause or mercy, yet also methodical and contemplative at times. One can’t help but wonder if his occasional quiet rebelliousness towards the Governor on the subject of Daryl will eventually lead to a reckoning.
Rooker wasn’t the only one acting his ass off this week. Yet again, the pairing of Lauren Cohen’s Maggie and Steven Yuen’s Glenn continues to be an absolutely riveting one. Yuen shone this week as Glenn, presenting an entirely new side to himself, as noted shrewdly by Merle. Gone is the timid wallflower of the past two seasons — Glenn, through action and experience and perhaps most of all, his relationship with Maggie, is a fully realized character now, capable of love and determination and, as we saw here, an all-encompassing fury. His bound battle with the zombie was an exercise in violence and desperation, a seething, rage-filled cage match.
And for every ounce of rage we found in Glenn, we found defiance and courage in Maggie. In one of the most uncomfortable, disconcerting scenes ever, Maggie is forced to sit and helplessly hear her lover beaten and tortured, only to then have to endure the absolutely horrid encounter with the Governor. That moment, where she strips for his cold, dead eyes was filled with a combination of anger, vulnerability, shame, and loathing, and Cohen managed to convey each and every emotion with a handful of looks and a few lines of dialogue. Between that moment and her moment of presenting the baby to Rick, Cohen has proven herself to probably be the best actress the show has to offer.
But nothing could prepare most viewers (the non-readers, at least) for just what the Governor was capable of. He was an absolute monster in this episode, and David Morrisey is, no pun intended, absolutely killing it this season, proving to be one of the more memorable TV antagonists in quite some time. It’s not that he’s dangerous or evil. It’s that he’s cold. Cold, and calculating and remorseless and entirely without conscience. The dichotomy of his tender moments with Andrea versus his manipulation and unflinching humiliation inflicted upon Maggie shows a man with nothing but darkness inside him. If you were wondering what the real Governor is, we can’t help but think that that one, the one we saw gazing at Maggie like a piece of meat, the one who considered brutalizing her not even for a moment’s pleasure, but simply to get what he wants — that’s the real one. What Andrea and the rest of Woodbury sees is a brilliant, devastating facade, one that scares the hell out of people.
Speaking of Andrea, I actually thoroughly enjoyed her scene with the nebbish, dysfunctional Milton. It was a strange interjection into the show, a curious bit of pseudo-science and philosophy mixed in with all the torture and violence, yet also an oddly welcome respite. Milton is creepy as hell and I wouldn’t drink anything he offered me, but actor Dallas Roberts is doing a fine job with the character, and the scene was riveting and smartly written, even when it was a little sad.
But there was more to the episode than Woodbury, and there were some uplifting moments back at the prison. Carol’s return was sweet and touching and genuinely heartfelt, and Melissa McBride has finally been given a chance to do something more with her character this season, to our benefit. Rick’s solemn moment with Carl and the naming of the baby were solid moments and demonstrated that Chandler Riggs is also developing his character — Carl is actually becoming not just tolerable, but likable. I swear, I never thought I’d see the day. And the expedition to Woodbury was a gruesome affair, particularly their tragic encounter with the hermit in the cabin (though seriously, what was up with the dog?).
And then, there’s Michonne. Unless the writer’s pull their heads out of their asses, she’s going to go down in show history as the first character ever that fans desperately want to love, but end up hating. The writing for her character is inexplicably flat-out abysmal. She had a moment, a shining moment in the final seconds of last week where she showed a heady combination of courage and a desperate need for help. And then this week, it’s back to stupid, cryptic proclamations, an unwarranted obstinate arrogance, and a refusal to use anything resembling logic. The greatest stupidity of all is this: Why does she never mention Andrea? Are we expected to believe that in the many months she spent with Andrea, they spoke so little of Andrea’s experiences that she can’t make the connection as to who these people are? Because the alternative is that she understands who they are, yet doesn’t want to… what? Play her hand to soon? They helped her, and then she chose to go back to Woodbury with them. And then to never mention Merle’s or Andrea’s names at any point?
All of those things are possibilities, chance oversights by Michonne, a character under great stress and pressure. Yet to have all of them happen at once is a classic example of writers who are forcing drama. Manufacturing it at the expense of character development. If they have reasons for Michonne’s continued recalcitrance, I cannot understand them. If they have reasons for her cryptic nonsense, for no one being able to connect these critical dots, they simply aren’t good ones. It’s done simply to force a confrontation later down the line, yet it hurts the story now. I’ll continue to hold back on judging Gurira’s acting, simply because the show runners seem intent on writing her into a hole that no performance can climb out of. For the love of God, at least let her use another facial expression.
Michonne was the painful reminder of the shows flaws in the wake of an otherwise excellent, thought-provoking, and terrifying episode. It’s a shame. Because there is a hell awaiting Rick and his companions, a hell that even Michonne doesn’t fully understand. That hell will be found in the Governor’s men when he takes off the mask, and I fear it will be horrific and have far-reaching consequences. There’s a cold determination driving the Governor, a determination to destroy anything that he can’t control, to subjugate and torture anything that stands in his way.
Oh, and then there’s the whole zombie daughter and head collection thing.