I feel like I've been pretty positive about the past handful of episodes of The Walking Dead, focusing on the things the show is attempting to do well rather than pick apart some of the old bad habits it just can't quit. But that's because those episodes had some positive parts to elevate above the rest. "Clear" was obviously fantastic all around, and the two that bookended "Clear" had their moments that were worthy of discussion and at least some praise so as not to dump all over everything else. But there's a sense of impatience building up (and for some of you, already flowing over), and The Walking Dead needed a strong episode to pull it out of the muck.
Tonight's "Prey" was not that episode, nor did not have those good moments to mask the bad. In fact, it was pretty horrible through and through. "Prey" should have been called "Opaque," because it was the exact opposite of "Clear" (I know, *groan*, I can't even believe I typed that). It staggered around aimlessly and repetitively like a Biter/Walker/Zombie on a NASCAR track, dropping us off pretty much where it started with just minor discontent for The Governor among some Woodburyites and Andrea about to get BDSM'd as our payoff. Sometimes when nothing happens, some interesting things can still come out of it like a good speech about drunk neighbors or an unlikely character interaction (Hershel is still waiting for that drink, Milton), as parts of the nowhere-fast "Arrow on the Doorpost" showed. But "Prey" was a negative byproduct of expanding the show to 16 episodes (when condensing it would provide better drama), and one of the biggest wastes of an hour in this inconsistent Season 3.
The tiny wave of momentum created by Rick declaring WAR in "Arrow on the Doorpost" was squashed underfoot when the episode never revisited our prison buddies putting on war paint and drinking deer's blood or whatever it is people do to get pumped up for battle. Instead, we spent "Prey" hanging out with everyone's favorite flip-flopper Andrea as she, for the umpteenth time, tried to leave Woodbury, this time with the intent to defect and warn Rick and his peeps to hit the road.
I know I've been something of an Andrea apologist around these parts, in the sense that I don't hate her nearly as much as the rest of the world does, but good God "Prey" certainly didn't help my case and I think I'm beginning to see the light. The problem with Andrea is less about what she does and more about how she's being used for the story The Walking Dead wants to tell. In an ensemble drama like this, I tend to look at characters as parts that serve the story rather than rational human beings, and aside from Andrea seeing how much Rick's group has changed in "I Ain't No Judas," she's been as useful as a coffin in a zombie apocalypse. In "Prey" Andrea tried to go to the prison and got caught. That's it. That's how we spent our hour. Maybe she finally waffled over to definitively realizing her boyfriend Philip was a terrible, horrible person, but beyond that, she essentially got caught sneaking out of the house like a horny teenager and shall now pay for it by being subjected to the tools of a disgruntled dentist or a gynecologist with female issues. It won't be pretty.
Bright side alert: There was a lot of accidental entertainment value in Andrea's great escape, however, as "Prey" devolved into a low-budget horror movie financed by foreign oil tycoons. While ducking away from Martinez and his men (because she was trouncing down the MAIN ROAD IN PLAIN SIGHT), Andrea ran into the woods and was ambushed by four zombies. Again with the zombie ambush! Walking Dead writers, you do realize that the way survivors avoid zombie ambushes is by keeping their eyes and ears open, right? These undead dudes aren't exactly masters of stealth, what with the gurgling and the moaning and the shuffling. Twigs still crack and leaves still crinkle under the foot of a zombie, even if they were ballerinas when they were alive. Anyone who gets sneaked up on by a zombie at this point in the show deserves to die right away. Ray Charles wearing Bose noise-canceling headphones would have known those zombies were coming. ENOUGH WITH ZOMBIE AMBUSHES WE AREN'T THAT DUMB OR DESPERATE.
Later, Andrea was jogging (she did a lot of jogging this ep) through a field when The Governor and his Mad Max truck tried to run her down by going the exact same speed that Andrea was running. But Andrea found some trees to run into and The Governor stopped pursuing her because he's scared of trees I guess? Or maybe there was a really good song on his radio and he didn't want to leave the truck? Whatever the reason, it felt like the crew just decided to shoot this scene on the way to shooting another scene and stuck that in there. There was really zero purpose for it other than to stretch out "Prey" to its required length.
Then Andrea popped out of the woods later that evening and what do you know, The Governor was pulling up in his Destructo-Truck, too! Good luck and timing on his part, I guess. Andrea ducked into an abandoned building, and Andrea and The Governor did their version of Homeland's regrettable Carrie vs. Abu Nazir in the warehouse scene, but this one went on for way too long because this filler episode needed some filler of its own. After Andrea stopped kicking buckets full of tools over, she did a cool, if unbelievable, trick to get away from The Governor by hiding behind a door that led to a stairway full of zombies. The zombies went after him, and Andrea escaped. But nothing about this scene was exciting unless you were trying to pick up on some hide-and-seek strategy. Walking Dead web series idea: flashback to how all those zombies ended up in that stairwell.
Run away from The Governor once, good on you. Run away from The Governor twice, shame on him. But run away from The Governor three times, shame on The Walking Dead, so just as Andrea was approaching the prison, The Governor popped out from nowhere like a ghillie-suited sniper and grabbed her. Nice try, Andrea! All you had to do was scream to Rick or, you know, pay attention to your surroundings. In the final scene, we saw Andrea chained up in The Governor's kinky room, prepped for a good old torture scene. Something tells me that maybe now Andrea believes The Governor is a bad guy, but I still wouldn't be surprised if she slept with him anyway because she's the hottest of hot messes.
You'd think that because Andrea's near escape took up so much of the episode, it'd be memorable, but I only know what happened because I took notes. I've had trips to the bathroom that were more tense than these scenes. It's too bad, because with just a few strong creative choices, they could have been at least entertaining on purpose. Instead, bleh. Andrea murdering some zombies in the woods was tacked on. The chase through the field was lame. The game of hide-and-seek in the warehouse was directed so poorly that suspense never entered the scene. And The Governor popping out from nowhere to catch Andrea? Is he Rambo now? This is the laziest this show has been in a while.
But dare I say that Andrea's storyline might be better than what was given to Tyreese? With the stupid mostly knocked out of Andrea, someone else needed to play the role of clueless character who was unsure about The Governor. Tyreese and Sasha were more like new-to-Woodbury Michonne actually, with Allen, the worst character in the show by far, playing the part of new-to-Woodbury Andrea. Allen: Don't mess this up for me, I like it here! Tyreese: I think The Governor might be a mass murderer! Allen: Who cares, I like it here! Yes, once against it's back to the recycling machine to find a storyline, only this involves characters we barely know (and one we can't stand) who drummed up old jealousy issues as their source of conflict. Tyreese really should have done us all a favor and held Allen's head a little lower over the pit so the zombies could eat his scalp, because the sooner Allen is horrifically murdered, the better this show will be.
Tyreese had concerns about the tactic of using Zombie Warfare, but the smooth-talking Governor quelled his fear by saying he was just gonna use the zombies to scare Rick and his group. Tyreese said, "Oh okay, that's okay then." And that was that. That's like me saying, "I'm not actually going to eat this delicious looking burrito, I just want to hold it." It's pretty weak overall, and not the way we wanted to spend more time with Tyreese.
I guess we should also talk about Milton, who is now mid-Season-3 Andrea. He knows enough to realize The Governor should be stopped, but he can't allow him to be killed. And he's the worst liar in the world, barely able to hide the fact that he burned the zombies and that he told Andrea everything. There, we talked about Milton.
"Prey" needed to follow the tiny sliver of momentum of the last episode and build up the inevitable final battle, but instead, we chased a blonde through the woods and played the "good guy or bad guy?" game with Tyreese and Sasha the contestants. Even though the episode was mostly confined to Woodbury and Andrea, two of Season 3's biggest problems, it wasn't those two factors that made "Prey" such a chore. That blame falls to the storytelling, which was just an hour of chasing Andrea. I'm quickly joining the ranks of the frustrated as even I can't talk myself into thinking the season is in a good place.
– If Season 3 ends with Rick and company needing to save Andrea from The Governor, I'm going to throw my TV out the window. More likely, either Milton or Tyreese will help her escape before the big battle with the prison.
– Yes, I will have a GIF of Andrea tripping and knocking over a bucket soon! (Edit: and it's here, plus her late episode trip!)
– How sneaky was Andrea when she was about to shoot The Governor through those wide-open blinds? And how blind was The Governor not to see her?
– The episode opened with a flashback to Andrea and Michonne in the woods with Michonne's pet zombies, and I still have no idea what the purpose of the flashback was except to be the first half of a match-cut with the zombies' chains and the chains used in The Governor's torture chamber.
– Ummm, since when are Andrea and Milton so close that she'd kiss him on the cheek?
– So I guess The Walking Dead is ending most of its episodes with music from small artists now? In anticipation of the release of its crappy soundtrack? Tonight's song was "You Are the Wilderness" by Voxhaul Broadcast.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter if you want to: @TimAtTVDotCom