“The Walking Dead” returned for the second half of Season 3 with a midseason premiere, “The Suicide King,” that had a slightly different feel from what we’ve seen so far. All the recognizable landmarks were there — Woodbury, the prison, baby Judith and Tyreese’s band of newcomers — but this was a more restrained, character-driven hour that dared to split the difference between the “slow” elements of Season 2 and the action-driven approach of Season 3.
To be sure, Season 3 of “The Walking Dead” has had plenty of conversation, character and emotion, it’s just been frequently overshadowed by jaw-dropping action, thrilling twists and turns and an unstoppable momentum. “The Suicide King” reversed the formula with just a bit of action — Rick and Maggie’s rescue of Daryl and Merle kicked off the episode in characteristic style — and otherwise took a step back to really consider what the characters have been going through and where they’re at now.
If you prefer “The Walking Dead” in heart-stopping ass-kicking mode, this may not have been the episode for you. But it was in every other regard a very solid installment, reflective of the expansive world the first half of the season helped establish.
There were three important questions to answer after Merle and Daryl were rescued:
Would Rick, Glenn and Maggie accept Merle back into the fold? Nope, and the decision cost them Daryl too.
Would they accept Michonne? Tentatively, although Rick isn’t thrilled about keeping her around once she recovers from that brutal showdown with the Govenor.
Would Andrea forgive the Governor for pitting Daryl against Merle in a fight to the death? Not really, although Woodbury is in such a state of chaos she had bigger problems on her mind — like the zombies who broke through the walls and starting eating townspeople causing a full blown revolt.
Most of “The Suicide King” dealt with characters’ worlds turned upside down (Michonne, Merle, Tyreese’s group and the residents of Woodbury are all facing radical changes to what they’ve recently been accustomed to) and the overpowering desire for revenge that will likely lead to more action down the line (Glenn and the Governor are specifically bloodthirsty after recent events), but the real revelation was just how untethered Rick has become.
No one knows the risks of trusting the wrong people better than Rick, but his lingering guilt over Lori’s death has pushed him to a point where he may not only be an unfit leader for the group but also an actively dangerous one. While Carol and Hershel pleaded with Rick to listen to Tyreese and consider letting his people into their fold — especially given the dwindling numbers, and the possibility of retaliation by the Governor — all Rick could see was another potential threat or another potential group of people who’s blood would be on his hands if things didn’t work out.
Tyreese revealed that his group numbered 25 people at one point, and is now down to just four. That’s how this world operates. But Rick is starting to crack under the pressure — first the phone calls, then the vision of Shane, and now visions of Lori haunting the prison where she met her end.
At one point the group could’ve trusted Rick to make the tough calls about how to handle strangers in need of help. Now he’s starting to lose that trust. “I’m telling you,” Hershel pleaded. “You’re wrong on this. You’ve got to start giving people a chance.”
And what did Rick do in response? He completely freaked out (because of Lori’s ghost) and forced Tyreese and company out of the prison completely. What are the odds this decision comes back to haunt him too, in an entirely different way?
– Maybe Rick has reason to be worried about Tyreese’s group. Before Rick returned from Woodbury, Allen and his son Ben suggested jumping Carol and Carl and taking their weapons. Tyreese and Sasha shot it down, but how will they feel after Rick’s tantrum?
– Melissa McBride’s performance was a solid reminder of how Carol has turned into one of the show’s secret MVPs. When Rick asked Daryl how he thought Carol would feel about his decision to leave, Daryl simply responded: “She’ll understand.” At first, Carol was understandably anything but understanding. But in her later discussion with Beth, Carol revealed that Daryl was dead on: “Daryl has his code,” she reasoned with Beth. “This world needs men like that”
– The Governor was mostly quiet in this episode — he let Andrea pick up the slack of inspiring the residents of Woodbury to press forward and respect the life they’ve created — but his centerpiece scene was literally a killer: He put a bullet in the head of Rich Foster, the Woodbury citizen who fell victim to a walker intrusion, in front of the whole town.
– For anyone wondering how baby Judith is faring so far, Hershel reports she “eats like a horse and sleeps like a rock.”