With only one episode left until “The Walking Dead” takes a midseason hiatus, tonight’s penultimate installment did quite a lot to raise the stakes and the tension for the inevitable showdown between Rick’s crew and The Governor’s small army.
The hour opens with Merle (Michael Rooker) interrogating Glenn (Steven Yeun) in the Woodbury holding cells, and Merle makes it very clear he still holds a grudge over what happened back in Atlanta. “People wouldn’t do that to an animal,” he tells Glenn about being left on the roof, but Merle’s only too happy to hear T-Dog is no longer living. (Fortunately, Glenn doesn’t give Merle the satisfaction of hearing all the details.) What Merle really wants to know is the group’s location, but Glenn isn’t talking no matter how much Merle tortures him.
Meanwhile, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) is being held separately in an adjacent room and can hear everything that’s happening through the paper thin walls. The Governor takes on Maggie’s interrogation himself in an increasingly unnerving scene that builds to and then pulls back from the threat of rape. He rattles her enough that by the time he reunites her with Glenn and threatens Glenn’s life, Maggie immediately gives up the survivors’ location: the prison. The Governor can’t believe a group as small as ten people cleared and secured the prison (especially when Merle apparently told him the prison could never be secured), but it gives him some idea of the threat headed his way if someone’s coming to rescue Glenn and Maggie.
The unhappy ordeal of Glenn and Maggie in Woodbury overlaps with two other related storylines: Andrea (Laurie Holden) helping Milton (Dallas Roberts) with one of his secret projects and Michonne (Danai Gurira) forging an alliance with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the prison crew.
Bringing Michonne into the fold turns out to be a perfect showcase for both the show’s badass action and its character dynamics as Michonne and Rick suss each other out to see if each can trust the other. Even with a gunshot injury slowing her down, Michonne remains a killing machine as an obviously impressed Rick observes before she collapses in front of the prison. He brings her inside and she’s not happy that he holds onto her katana, but when she gets a glimpse of the group’s reunion with Carol (Melissa McBride) it’s pretty clear that Michonne’s instincts tell her these are good people.
Rick wants to offer Michonne some food and water and send her on her way, but she tells him about Glenn and Maggie and those plans change fast. She fills the group in on Woodbury and The Governor (her description of him as a “pretty boy, charming, Jim Jones type” pretty much nails it), and Rick decides to head up a rescue mission. Interestingly, Michonne never mentions Andrea and we don’t know yet if she realizes or even cares she’s among Andrea’s friends.
Andrea, obviously, has no idea any of this is happening. She’s still blissfully enjoying her blossoming romantic relationship with The Governor (David Morrissey). But she spends most of the episode with Milton, waiting out the death of Mr. Coleman, an elderly Woodbury resident whose battle with prostate cancer has come to an end. Milton seizes on the natural death as his opportunity to test out a theory that walkers still retain subconscious memories of their human lives, while Andrea thinks the idea is completely ludicrous: “When they turn they become monsters, that’s all. Whatever they once were is gone,” she tells him.
Andrea knows from experience, but Milton has never even seen a human go through “the transformation.” At least until it happens to Mr. Coleman, and Milton discovers that Andrea knew exactly what she was talking about. Milton nearly gets himself bit before Andrea saves him with a knife to Coleman’s head.
Andrea’s a little freaked out by the whole thing, but she still feels safe with The Governor. When Andrea breaks down after the experience with Coleman, The Governor comforts her in the exact same creepy sleazeball way he kissed, touched and tried to calm Maggie while she was still shell-shocked from seeing Glenn’s life threatened.
Someone really needs to do something about this guy… and conveniently lurking right outside the walls of Woodbury are Rick, Michonne, Daryl and Oscar.
– Carol’s reunion with the group was one of those great quiet moments that packed an enormous emotional punch. The masterful sequence quickly shifted from Rick’s joy at seeing someone he thought they’d lost to Carol’s mixture of delight and grief at discovering Lori gave birth but didn’t survive. And every turn was largely communicated without dialogue thanks to the excellent performances from all involved, especially McBride, Lincoln and Chandler Riggs as Carl.
– Another great moment came via Rick’s talk with Carl before heading out to Woodbury. Rick finally manages to bring up Lori’s death (a grim fatherly duty that previously fell to Daryl) and tell Carl he’s sorry the boy was ever in that situation. But Rick also makes it clear that he trusts Carl completely and respects him as an important member of the group, assigning him the job of keeping everyone safe while the rescue team is gone. (Just moments before Daryl had reassured Carl that he’d keep Rick safe while they were gone, another example of how the family bonds within this group are tighter than ever.)
And there’s another important issue to address: The baby’s name. When Carl tells Rick that Daryl has been calling the baby “Asskicker,” Rick offers Carl the chance to suggest a proper name. Carl’s idea: Judith, the name of his favorite teacher and a reminder not of any of the group’s fallen females (as he had previously suggested) but of the pre-walker days. Rick thinks it’ll work just fine.
– Before the rescue team gets to Woodbury they take a the brief detour in an isolated cabin, which provides both a nifty little action set-piece and another example of the series’ show-don’t-tell character development. Michonne unapologetically kills an unfriendly stranger and the group throws his corpse to the walkers as a distra
ction before escaping out the back door. That gives us one more hint of Michonne’s survival strategy and gives Rick a better indication of who this mystery woman is. I’m pretty sure he likes what he sees.