Sometimes a television series finds itself in the middle of a season with little more to do than re-emphasize what it's already told us. That was plain to see in "Say the Word," last night's episode of The Walking Dead. After four shocking episodes of us not knowing what to expect, there was some running in place as the episode reiterated what we already knew. We knew The Governor was creepy, but now we know he's REALLY creepy. We knew Michonne was suspicious of Woodbury, but now we know she's REALLY suspicious of Woodbury. We knew Rick was feeling the pressure of a world ripped asunder by zombies, but now we know the dude is really 52 cards shy of a deck.
This doesn't make for bad television by any stretch, but when compared to the blistering, bubbling, burning pace of the first four episodes of Season 3 and much of Season 2, the big takeaway from "Say the Word" was putting exclamation points on things that had already been established.
The 72-point font size exclamation point belonged to Rick. After the death of his wife and the birth of Lil' Shane the Asskicker (we still don't know if she's Shane's kid, but you can bet your ass the show will imply as much and play with the possibility) did what many people do in times of severe stress: cleaned the house. Except instead of going at the place with a Sham-Wow and a spritz of Glade, Rick's cleaning tool of choice was an undersized axe or an oversized hatchet (let's go with hatchet) and the dustbunnies were biters/walkers and that old T-shirt he was looking for was the body of his dead wife.
I tend to wince a bit at these types of drastic character transitions, because they're usually amplified to ridiculous lengths for the drama of television. You know the ones I'm talking about... something bad happens, a character doesn't know how to deal with it so he/she becomes a hollow maniac who goes nutso. But there was more understanding to Rick's complete freak out. His wife just gave birth to his best friend's baby (again, probably), his son shot his wife, he has enough reason to blame himself for the whole mess, and, well, the rest of the world has gone to shit, too. For Rick, catharsis was just a few axe swings away, and killing zombies inside the prison made for the ultimate stress relief. The climax was Rick coming awfully close to pulling Lori's remains out of a walker's belly for one last hug, given that his makeshift "goodbye" to her was a cold convo on the prison bridge. These were strong, powerful moments, and once again Andrew Lincoln delivered the message with force, letting his dead eyes to the talking. Someone buy this guy a drink.
At this point, is it also wrong to say that I found the zombie engorged with Lori's corpse absolutely hilarious? He looked so guilty, like a kid at fat camp caught eating a box of Twinkies. Definitely reminded me of countless Thanksgivings, the puking eater from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, or one of those Far Side cartoons.
I'm not even going to pretend to know who is on the other end of that phone call. Maybe it's the real governor with an 11th hour pardon for that zombie Rick just killed. Maybe it means there is some sort of infrastructure still working out there in the world. Maybe it was the Jerky Boys. My guess is it's Carol calling from another part of the prison, saying, "Ummm, guys, help?" Even though the group dug her a grave, I hope she's still alive. I won't accept that T-Dog gave his life just so Carol could walk a few feet and be eaten by a walker.
In Woodbury, the game of "How bad is this town really?" continued between Michonne and Andrea. At no point should any of us really be taking Andrea's side in this argument, because obviously Woodbury is a death trap in disguise, but we have to watch the two sides unfold and we're being asked to trust a hunch from a character we don't really know. Michonne has certainly gathered evidence that everything isn't as it seems, but her hankering to leave seems to be more about what kind of person she is rather than what kind of person The Governor is. Michonne's a loner who has flourished in this post-apocalyptic world, why would she want to live under anyone else's roof with their rules, regardless of whether their rules make sense or not? She could be in a room at the Ritz with free room service and Netflix and she'd still be eyeing the fire escape. Plus, Andrea's point of view seems completely reasonable to me. Hot showers, cold beverages, and plenty of people to have sex with in the front seat of cars! Why wouldn't she want to stay?
But this is what we've known all along, and the Woodbury storyline seems content to travel as far in this direction as the writers can stretch it. Michonne will say, "We have to leave." Andrea will say, "Chill, girl. Have a Fresca and gin." It's not quite a "stranded on the Greene Family Farm" situation, but right now a lot more forward progress is happening over at the prison. We know that Andrea will slowly come around to realizing what Michonne has assumed all along and it's just a matter of how much bad stuff the two will have to endure before it's absolutely obvious that Woodbury is not a good place to buy a house right now and Michonne can say, "Told ya so, blondie." The details leading us to that reveal are great—The Governor's zombie daughter and the inexplicably stupid fighting arena (what is TV's obsession with fight clubs?)—but we're dangerously close to making twirling motions around an X-axis with our hands, the international sign for "Hurry the F up, please."
That next step is probably just around the corner, as Michonne high-tailed it out of Woodbury solo while Andrea pleaded with her to stay. I get the feeling she won't make it far, though, and I wouldn't be surprised if The Governor wrangled her up as the main event for next week's zombie arena fights. The Governor gets off on the power he has, and in his mind, Michonne is a threat to his idea of absolute power. As we've seen before, The Governor doesn't just let threats walk away. Even if Michonne has a damn fine sexy walk!
"Say the Word" was a buildup episode of The Walking Dead that solidified several ongoing plots. It's never a good for an episode to be labeled "skippable" when you're making a list of essential episodes of any TV series, but "Say the Word" wouldn't make my list. A solid but not exceptional hour of The Walking Dead.
– At this stage in the comics, The Walking Dead became REALLY comic book-y, especially with the arena fighting and the zombie daughter. I was wondering how that stuff would translate to the television adaption, given the TV version will inherently have a more "real" feel to it (as real as zombie shows can get, anyway), and I find myself having a harder time accepting the arena in the TV show than I did in the books. I know the townspeople need to be entertained, but how about something a little less immediately violent toward humans, like a croquet field with zombies chained up on it instead of two of the town's protectors beating the crap out of each other? Or at least change the basis of the arena from two humans fighting each other to one human putting a bunch of zombies back in their graves? Clearly I need to run for Governor of Woodbury or at least join the Party Planning Committee.
– Removing a zombie's teeth would help reduce bites, sure. But what about the scratches? We saw a zombie rip out of his handcuffs and infect Big Tiny with his bone-hand! These people are taking these things too lightly, methinks.
– Maggie and Daryl's trip to get baby formula was the scariest most uneventful thing I've seen in a long time.
– I like how Oscar and Axel are chipping in; they're even willing to do the dirty work. They understand their place in the group. I also like that Glenn wished he'd killed all the prisoners as soon as they saw them. Glenn is going dark now!
– I don't know what types of zombie experiments Dr. Science is performing on zombies, but I know I'd like to see all of them!