If you're looking for a solid blueprint for future "non-event" episodes of The Walking Dead, you can't do much better than "When the Dead Come Knocking," a flat-out entertaining hour that put things in place for a midseason finale that appears to be only the beginning of the impending war between Team Prison and The Woodbury Militia.
Just as humanity has been ripped out of many of our characters as they struggle to survive this kill-or-be-killed world, so too has subtlety been ripped out of the show. There aren't many original philosophical questions left for The Walking Dead to ask, so the future of the series will rely a lot less on thought and more on cracking skulls as it transforms into the ultimate road-trip-without-a-destination horror movie.
"When the Dead Come Knocking" understood this notion and had a blast being sinister, particularly in the scenes with Maggie and Glenn in the post-apocalyptic world's lamest bed-and-breakfast. Merle and The Governor were just plain rude to the little lovebirds, throwing punches instead of saying "please" and playing one-sided strip poker with heavy implications of savage rape in an attempt to learn the location of the rest of the group. Credit where credit is due: Glenn showed a lot of moxie by not giving up the details of the prison even as Merle threatened to cut off his schnozzle and later gave him a hungry new roommate; the latter event resulted in one of The Walking Dead's best sequences ever as Glenn became a man and a half in taking out that walker while duct-taped to a chair. What a frickin' badass! And that roar he let out after putting the chair leg—which was still taped to his arm—through the zombie's temple was a proud moment for breaking stereotypes of Asians on television everywhere. I kinda wish he had said some cool one-liner, like "Have a seat!" or "Chair today, gone tomorrow!" when he killed the zombie, though.
Maggie also held her ground for as long as she could and steeled herself to be forcefully "governed" rather than give up the location of the group. That scene in which The Governor made her strip and pushed her head onto the table could have gotten real bad real quick if he'd actually gone through with it, but it appears that even the television version of The Governor has limitations on what he is and isn't willing to do. The Walking Dead under close watch for its gratuitous violence, and adding a rape would only draw the wrong kind of attention to the show. Those who've read the comics know that a similar scene didn't pull up short, so I'm assuming there was some discussion of what should have been done here and it was the right decision. No one wants to see rape except for virginal Japanese business men with schoolgirl and tentacle fetishes. Rape sucks. There, I said it.
It was only when The Governor put a gun to Glenn's forehead that Maggie reluctantly blurted out "prison." If we're being honest here, I probably would have spilled everything as soon as Merle started taping me to a chair because I have hairy arms and that stuff hurts coming off! But seriously, in this day of every man for himself, the amount that MagGlenn was willing to endure earns mad respect. The real scary part, which I'm surprised the episode didn't focus on more, was that Maggie and Glenn could hear each other while they were in separate rooms. I don't like to commend despicable behavior that often, but that was some good torturin' and Merle and The Governor each deserve a raise.
The same cannot be said of Milton, The Governor's head scientist who's been forced to test his hypotheses the same way wizards did in medieval times. His haphazard experiment to find out whether old Mr. Coleman would retain some of his human consciousness after he turned was about as well thought out as an experiment to determine whether an alligator would eat steak off your face. Maybe it's just me, but I would have restrained that almost-corpse a lot sooner than they did. And if raising a hand was the key signifier in the experiment, why not restrain Old Man Coleman just above the elbow rather than unshackling his attacking arm? Now Milton has zero data to publish for his weekly 'zine and the wait for another Woodbury resident to come down with cancer will be unbearable. The blasé attitude toward zombies by some characters on this show can be maddening at times, and no quest for knowledge is worth letting a zombie flail freely. That's how these zombie apocalypses get started in the first place. C'mon, scientist! I'm beginning to doubt you were even a scientist before the dead started rising.
Back at the prison, not everyone was getting along. It's hard to tell if Carl made the call on his own to save Michonne, who picked the perfect time to faint from her wounds after her long walk to the prison. Upon her arrival, she was treated erratically, with Rick offering help one moment then squeezing her bullet wound the next. Michonne kind of deserves it with her bitchy attitude, which is becoming quite the chore as the season progresses. We don't know her anymore than we did when she was a hooded figure saving Andrea at the end of Season 2 and the only thing I've learned about her since is that she has a nice butt. I'm still not sure why she agreed to go back to Woodbury with Rick and company given her loner attitude. Michonne, you are truly an enigma that I am not going to try to solve.
That scene in which Rick, Daryl, Oscar, and Michonne stumbled into a hermit's hideout and stabbed him in the back after he made a break for the door is a pretty good indication of how far this series (and its characters) has come since its first one-and-a-half seasons, and it may be my favorite scene in the whole episode despite it being a throwaway. In the old days, there might have been a lot of contemplation and discussion of what to do with this innocent crazy loner who thinks he's still fighting the Civil War that may have dragged out for a few episodes, but now the apocalypse veterans stab first and save the moral dilemmas for how to kill people and not if they should kill people. This show is done playing around, and the indications are very much that Rick and his group are done saving people despite our first reaction to be "Save the Humans!" I don't know what the hermit was doing in that cabin or why his dog was taking the "play dead" trick that seriously, all I do know is if some strangers came into my house and woke me up while I was trying to sleep I'd run for the door too. R.I.P. clueless mountain man, we'll miss you.
"When the Dead Come Knocking" successfully set up the finale without feeling like it was doing so. Every story was interesting (the lack of Andrea and The Governor's developing love story helped a lot) and chugged along nicely, leading to a finale where both parties, unbeknownst to each other, are ready to attack. Will the two assault teams meet halfway between their home bases or will Carl have to defend an assault by The Governor? All this is going on and there's still half a season left? Keep moving this fast, The Walking Dead.
– Imagine how proud the grandchildren of the man who played Mr. Coleman must feel right about now.
– If there's one chit-chat that just made me laugh, it was Rick and Carl talking about naming the baby. You earned so much respect from me by shooting your mom in the head and then you undo it all by asking that your baby sister be named after your third-grade teacher? Nerd alert! C'mon, Carl. In a world where half the people who started on this little adventure have died in the last year, maybe you should pay some respect to them instead of your dead teacher. And what's wrong with "Asskicker Grimes"?
– I was really impressed with Bear McCreary's score in this episode. He hit both the chilling and touching scenes really well, and his work in this episode was his best on the series so far. The pounding fuzz at the end of the episode was particularly outstanding. Between McCreary and Breaking Bad's Dave Porter, AMC has the lock on outstanding modern original scores.
– Hello, Andrea putting on pants.
– Maybe "Hounded" should have been called "When the Dead Come Calling."
– It's a wonder that the rest of Woodbury is ignorant of all The Governor's evil practices, but fresh meals and springtime cocktails must help keep people looking the other way.