While I can say with much conviction that last night's episode of The Walking Dead wasn't my favorite episode of the season so far, I'm having an impossible time figuring out where to place it. "Hounded" was 99-percent set-up, putting people back in their places (Rick) and moving pieces around the board (Glenn, Maggie, Michonne) as we prepare for the inevitable showdown between Team Prison and The Governor's hoity-toity summer camp of love.
I'm not sure what "Hounded" was about, per se, but the most important thing it accomplished was ending Rick's bad day. Despite what the foundation of NBC's Go On would say, on a series like The Walking Dead, Dead Wife Grief Hysteria should last a maximum of two episodes, and Rick came out of this episode cradling his newborn baby (I'm going to name her Shania, if that's cool with you) and at peace with the horrible events of "Killer Within." The Andrew Lincoln crazy eyes are gone, replaced with those of a proud papa, and this is a great thing. There's enough craziness in the world of The Walking Dead that we don't need to see Rick crying in the corner by his lonesome. The show is stronger when Rick's at the front leading the charge, and while this two-episode detour of lunacy was necessary for continuity (his wife died, after all) I didn't want to see another hour's worth of sulking. Lori's death will sting for a while, but hopefully it can be used to motivate Rick into moving forward.
But the best method of fixing Rick is up for discussion. I'm going to lay it all out and state something y'all might not agree with: I can't stand hallucinations on television. Or dream sequences. Or hallucinogenic-induced vision quests (unless they involve Homer Simpson). All those things are especially tricky to pull off when they're played off as trickery intended to dupe its audience into thinking what they're seeing is real. The problem is that revealing hallucinations to be hallucinations, especially after we've become invested in thinking they're real, is incredibly anti-climactic, and that's exactly what happened in "Hounded." The ringing phone was such a huge moment in "Say the Word," but now if we ever go rewatch that episode we'll groan and grumble about the fakeout because it amounted to an empty cliffhanger. However, Rick does love to monologue into inanimate speaking devices, so talking with dead characters at peace in Heaven does fit well into the series' canon. Also: With those dead people telling Rick that essentially he would be joining them in the afterlife soon, were they calling from the finale of Lost? Hey Lori, put Sawyer on the phone!
What Rick (and The Walking Dead's writers) need to do is give Carl a little more attention. When Carl left the room after shooting Lori, it was such a powerful glimpse of innocence utterly destroyed that I was sure it would dominate later episodes. But since that traumatic event, the emphasis has been on Rick. Daryl's story about his own mom is the only therapy Carl has received, and Carl's response was a dry, "I shot my mom." There's so much drama to play with here, and so many ways to handle it. I like that Carl being unaffected is an example of what it's like to grow up in this world, but that's something the show has mostly glazed over. I'd like to see Carl talk about what he did and absolutely lose it. Let's see Chandler Riggs show off some acting chops and break out the water works or stare blankly into the face of his shattered childhood. At the very least, let's see something. Rick's biggest concern right now shouldn't be Lori's loss, it should be the potential loss of the son he once knew. The son who shot his mother in the face!
Thank goodness Merle Dixon got a lot of action in the episode, because he's as real as it gets. Michael Rooker is cementing himself as one of genre TV's all-time best nutjobs, and his unpredictability is keeping things fun. His methods might be questionable (chasing a katana-wielding maniac in a forest full of biters and attacking two people with guns trained on his head weren't exactly smart moves) but that's just how Merle rolls, and as long as the writers keep him consistent we should all just eat some popcorn and let him go as crazy as he wants.
Taking Glenn and Maggie hostage and bringing them to Woodbury catapulted the story into the next gear, but for all of Merle's entertaining theatrics (tattlers stay in the woods, Neil!), we were left with the feeling that not much else happened. Ditto goes for Andrea and The Governor, who spent the hour yapping and flirting their way into bed. It's not easy seeing Andrea engage in adult wrestling with the man we know keeps heads in tanks because a) Andrea is fine and we want to hit that for ourselves and b) it just seems so, I dunno, irresponsible and dumb? But again, this is Andrea. The woman can't wait to move her panties to the side in the presence of powerful and mysterious assholes, and we all know this can only end badly.
Huge, important things happened in "Hounded," but they happened in largely unexciting ways. We may be seeing the strains of The Walking Dead's expandsion to a 16-episode season as things move forward at a slower pace. But at least things are in place and the forecast calls for a shitstorm.
– I imagine Rick seeing Michonne just walking around among zombies falls somewhere between seeing Bigfoot and a unicorn. Rick's mind = blown. And how badass was it that she delivered the baby formula? Eat it, Pink Dot!
– How did Neil go from being a pants-peeing scaredy cat to WE MUST HUNT HER DOWN IN THE WOODS so fast? I can't say that I'll miss him.
– Sooo... Carol was just hanging out in a room this whole time? Hopefully there will be more to the story than just, "I was hiding from zombies." Good to have her back, though!
– With Michonne now at the prison, does that mean we definitely won't get that horrific scene from the comic book?
– Will someone give Beth something to do please?
– Maggie, don't say "It's a great day." That's a jinx, don't you know that by now?
– Think of all the fun bitergrams you can send to your friends by following Michonne's "Go Back" lead: Lend me a hand, break a leg, use your head, etc. What fun!