Goodbye, Ricktatorship. Hello, Governor. “The Walking Dead” switched it up this week and gave us an entire hour devoted to Andrea (Laurie Holden), Michonne (Danai Gurira) and the introduction of Woodbury and The Governor (David Morrissey), while remaining as tight and propulsive as we’ve come to expect from the season so far.
There’s a lot of information thrown at the audience in this episode, but it’s consistently fun to watch. We’re ready to see this world expand. If Season 1 was about bringing the characters together and Season 2 was about letting them establish their relationships and fool themselves into thinking there could be peace and normalcy at Hershel’s farm, Season 3 seems to be about grappling with the very clear and present threat of the walkers, and how that’s changed society. That means more action and it also means more exploration of life outside the group, as we saw tonight.
How would you react to a place like Woodbury? It’s easy to understand the appeal it holds for Andrea, especially when she updates Merle (Michael Rooker) on the list of everyone who has died since the group left him behind (“Jim, Dale, Jacqui, Sophia, Amy” — she doesn’t know about Shane), and later discovers that Woodbury hasn’t had a casualty in months.
Of course, we also know more than Andrea does about what kind of guy The Governor really is. So it’s just as easy to identify with the way Michonne views everything in Woodbury with caution and distrust. She certainly doesn’t appreciate The Governor taking away her katana. One of the few things we’ve already learned about Michonne is that she’s a woman who can handle herself, and probably prefers it that way.
The Governor’s scientific adviser Milton (Dallas Roberts) is impressed with the strategy Michonne displayed with her pets (remove their arms and jaws, take away their ability to eat and they become docile, while the odor of their rotting flesh serves as camouflage from other walkers), but they’re no longer in the picture since she sliced off their heads without hesitation in a futile attempt to prevent The Governor from discovering Andrea and her in the first place.
The real identity of Michonne’s pets, the details of Milton’s experiments and even The Governor’s overall game plan remain questions to be answered at a later date. But we finally have some resolution as to where Merle’s been since Rick and Daryl found his severed hand on the rooftop. Merle seems totally at home in Woodbury as a faithful servant of The Governor. But what kind of guy accepts someone as troubled and confrontational as Merle, but wipes out a troop of soldiers to commandeer their supplies, weapons and vehicles? Probably the same kind of guy who keeps the severed heads of his victims in fish tanks on display in a private lair for his viewing pleasure.
The Governor is a real piece of work, and the most intriguing thing about him is that we’re just figuring him out. Morrissey’s performance wastes no time in firmly establishing he’ll be a valuable addition to the show. (Ditto for Gurira, who was extremely powerful with very little dialogue tonight, Roberts and the returning Rooker. Holden also deserves special mention for her work holding down the center of this episode extremely well. She remains one of the strongest members of the core cast.)
The Governor delivered a charismatic speech to the people of Woodbury after returning with the soldiers’ spoils (“We’ll honor their sacrifices”; “Be thankful for what you have and watch out for each other”), looking an awful lot like a cult leader working his magic. While Michonne clearly isn’t falling under his spell, Andrea just might. That’s a scary thought.
– Another mystery solved: Who was in the helicopter. The answer also provided the episode’s best walker when the soldier sliced in half (presumably by a helicopter blade) re-animated in front of Michonne.
– Andrea learns an important piece of information from The Governor that she missed out on by being separated from the group: Everyone’s infected.
– Merle’s response to Andrea telling him Daryl became a vital member of the group: “He’s always been the sweet one, my baby brother.”
– Milton: “Do you think they remember anything? The person they once were?” Andrea: “I don’t think about it.”