Through two and a half seasons, we've learned that The Walking Dead's quality swings around like a pendulum with little urgency to return. When the show hits a funk, we're never sure how long that funk will last. Two episodes? Half of Season 2? But one thing the show has proven is that when it swings back, it swings back HARD. After one definitely not-that-good episode ("The Suicide King") and one episode of debatable quality ("Home," apparently a Zombie Trojan Horse is enough for some to forgive the lackluster first half of the episode), tonight's "I Ain't No Judas" was The Walking Dead at its best, combining brain-busting violence with some great character moments. YEAH I SAID GREAT CHARACTER MOMENTS! I know, crazy.
This episode was all about perspective and continued last week's literal theme of being on different sides of the fence. At this point, we've known Rick longer than anyone else in this show except for Carl. We know his arc, we know what he's been through, we've seen him kill his best friend, we've seen him put his hands on his knees and make painful faces when he found out his wife died. Dude has put on some mileage in the grieving department, and he's changed because of it.
But some of these other characters in the show haven't been by his side. The moment when Andrea returned to the group and found them almost unrecognizable was powerful. She expected hugs and a lollipop party but the group has changed so much since the Farm that instead she was greeted with a PUT YOUR HANDS UP ON THE FENCE and a vigorous pat down, led by Rick. She got the news about Shane and Lori (oh and by the way, T-Dog died too Andrea, thanks for asking) and it's an excellent reminder of how hardened the group has become. The time on the farm looks like a nice weekend at a Bed and Breakfast comparatively.
Through Andrea's eyes, The Governor's claim that Rick's gang is a trigger happy group of yahoos makes a bit more sense as she's not entirely sure what they're capable of anymore. Don't get me wrong, Andrea's still delusional and a lot of the conflict brewing within her relies on us believing in her relationship with The Governor (which I still don't). But if you can overlook that silliness and just accept that Andrea has a fetish for horrible men or is Ms. Terrible Life Choices 2013, it almost makes all the painful dilly-dallying she did in Woodbury worth it. Almost. She's in a pickle of a situation, caught between The Governor and Rick's group and sitting on top of a pile of questionable information. She's a Hatfield that's been hanging out with The Mcoys. And even if she does wise up to The Governor's true intentions, and it appears she is starting to get there, there are a lot of innocent people back at Woodbury who don't deserve to be caught up in this mess even though they're a bunch of idiots. Andrea even fancies herself a champion of those people, and has started writing her next speech. Excerpt: "Woodbury is great! And so are you! Everyone get in here for a group hug!" Andrea's Messiah Complex is important even if it's silly from an outsider's perspective because taking Rick's side just to be anti-Governor isn't strong enough. This is by far the most interesting Andrea has been since, I don't know, ever?
There was more twisted perspective coming from Tyreese's group when they arrived at Camp Woodbury. Think about what they went through. They came upon this sweet prison and were welcomed in, only to be scooted out by some crazy man who doesn't shake hands and screams at imaginary friends on the second floor. Their idea of Rick falls very much in line with the trashy gossip The Governor is spreading, making them valuable assets in the Great Grimes Smear Campaign. Other people who can validate The Governor's lies? That's like a sack of Twinkies falling into the lap of a kid at fat camp. He loves them! And of course you want the giant, scary black dude running around a battlefield with brains dripping from the end of his hammer on your team.
And so here we are, two sides preparing for war, both with new members who have inside information about the enemy. The Governor is doing his best Sierra Leone Warlord impression by drafting kids to his ranks, and Team Prison is fortifying the compound with pallets and prison trash. This is warfare in the post-zombie-outbreak world.
In the end, Andrea took Carol's advice about humping The Governor into post-coital unconsciousness with the plan to shank him in his sleep, ending this thing without a mess except for some bloody sheets. Even though we knew she wasn't going to do it because we have five more episodes left in the season, there was a moment when she was really convinced she was going to go through with it. I don't know if she stopped because she's got the hots for him or because she's not sure who to trust, but at least we could see her thinking it out. It's the kind of character moment this show hasn't had enough of recently, and a promising sign that the rest of the season is headed in the right direction.
– There was a lot more bite to the conversations between survivors in this episode. Carl and Rick, Carol and Daryl, Hershel and Merle, and Michonne and Andrea all had good chats that brought their characters to life. See, The Walking Dead? You can do it!
– The ending of the episode went all Sons of Anarchy on us, wrapping things up with a musical montage set to the tune of Tom Wait's "Hold On." Though it worked well, it still stuck out as odd because this show just doesn't do that. I guess I'm of mixed feelings about this?
– Ahhhhh! Give it up for Andrea's American History X and Gears of War curbstomp to make that toothless, armless zombie repellant. That is going to be hard for the rest of the season to top.
– Unfortunately, that scene also featured what was probably The Walking Dead's worst special effects. When Andrea was hacking off the zombie's arms, the wide shot looked terrible because of the weak animatronic zombie dummy who just squirmed back and forth rhythmically. A blemish on an otherwise fantastic job by Greg Nicotero and his people.
– Andrea's hatchet appears to be sharpened by Excalibur or a Ginsu knife. She can slice a zombie's face off no prob with half a swing.
– Haha Noah, the 14-year-old boy with asthma. Haha. Mommy have to save from the Governor's Army? Afraid you might fall and scrape your knee? That kid might become a zombie after dying from embarrassment due to his mom's overprotective whining in front of the whole town. I can't wait for him to die. And Ms. McLeod, take an aspirin for your arthritis and go jump on that 50 cal! There's no room for complainers in The Governor's army!
– I discussed this episode with Slate's Chris Kirk, if you'd like to check it out!