The Walking Dead Review: Episode 9 ‘The Suicide King’

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TWD‘s midseason return netted the show its highest ratings ever (score!), even if it was an uneven episode with plenty of story beats but little consistent rhythm.

Not a bad or unwatchable episode, in my opinion, but more of a necessary evil, lighting a number of fuses that will pay off much later in favor of a self-contained sense of single-serving gratification.

Spoiler warnings, obviously:  if you’re looking to avoid finding out what happened in the midseason premiere, or you’re still catching up with The Walking Dead, you should back out slowly, and try not to trip over any twitching corpses.  We’ll still be here when you’re ready, the generator is all gassed up and ready to roll.

The highlights:

Super Dixon Bros. 2

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Picking up from the midseason cliffhanger, Merle and Daryl faced off in mortal combat in the old Woodbury Thunderdome.  After slapping Daryl around for a little (for authenticity’s sake, I’m sure . . . not that Merle’s a sociopath or anything), the two team up to fend off a group of not-faking-still-with-teeth Biters and get rescued in the nick of time by Rick & co., who manage to put down several Wooburyians in the process.

Needless to say, the Governor is not pleased.

I still have a bit of a hard time with the whole staged pit fighting thing: the comic really never sold me on the idea all that well, either, although The Road to Woodbury novel by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga did get the closest to having solid enough logic behind it.

I get the idea that it’s a commentary, the staged fights the equivalent of the mindless lowest-common-denominator pablum we force-feed ourselves to pass the time, but the TV version of Woodbury is just too perfect, too post-apocalyptic Mayberry RFD, which really seems to single out the idea as not being all that palatable.

Even in the comic, Woodbury had a sort of hastily-scrabbled together yet permanent refugee camp feel which provided the proper Mad Max sort of atmosphere, along with a very different take on Philip Blake.

I very much prefer the show’s Governor over the stringy-haired biker Major Bludd lookalike of the comic — actor David Morrissey is far more believable as a snake charming politician of sorts who has selflessly taken the burden of leadership upon himself, but in enjoys the power and control.

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But at the same time, Morrissey’s Governor also seems like he might be more subtle  . . . I’d have bought that they gathered neutered, teethless zombies together in a pen and let the community take out their frustrations on them throw objects at them and generally torture them, but the faux UFC gladiatorial combat just seems like it exists just to give us an easy reason for us to dislike the residents of Woodbury rather than a more natural slide toward savagery and poor choice in leadership.

Anyway, after putting some distance between themselves and the town walls, and reuniting with the injured mostly-due-to-Merle Michonne and Glenn, tensions get high and everyone ends up pointing guns and swords at one another.  Merle can’t keep his mouth shut, and in a move that gathered applause from across the globe, Rick knocks Merle out with cheap shot when the big man isn’t looking.

After a short and snarl-filled discussion, Rick makes it abundantly clear that Daryl needs to choose a side, and he can’t be with them and have his older brother, too.  Daryl picks his kin, and the Dixons split off from the shocked Rick, Glenn, Maggie and the now estranged Michonne.

I thought the idea of Daryl not willing to give up on Merle, not even if it meant turning his back on the group is a great one, but the issue I had was with Merle not being willing to keep his mouth shut long enough to get himself into a more advantageous position.

Not that Mrs. Dixon’s eldest is a rocket scientist, but Merle’s conniving enough to realize if he just played along and leveraged Daryl against the others, he could’ve at least gotten himself into a better position to stick it to ‘the sheriff’, if nothing else.

Maybe Daryl will eventually show up with Merle in tow and try to broker some sort of truce — and who doesn’t want to see Merle try running his racist mouth with Tyresse in the room, and see how Merle likes being toothless and mostly brain dead?

(Actually, my guess is Daryl and Merle are going to get wind of an impending attack on the prison, and Daryl will at least try to warn his old compadres, which ends up with Merle throwing in with the group simply for his own survival during the free-for-all — and Merle’s going to end up being a victim of friendly fire: possibly from Rick, who did something similar in the comic, but I’m betting here the errant gunslinger will be Carl.   Daryl won’t know the truth, but someone else will, maybe Michonne, who keeps it quiet and thereby earns Rick’s respect.  Second choice is Glenn, seeing a chance to even the score with Merle and then being haunted by the decision down the line.   Anyway you slice it, I’m not seeing Merle making it into Season 4.)

All Hail Andrea

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While the erstwhile Governor is licking his wounds, literally, Andrea has to step up as the voice of reason when some of the residents of Woodbury decide the town is no longer the safe haven they were promised and clearly the wreckage-strewn, zombie-infested wasteland that begins, oh, say ten feet outside the town walls, is a better choice.

Andrea’s rousing speech to the assembled masses (a bit on the schmaltzy side, perhaps — I almost expected a post-apocaylptic ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ to start playing in the background) brings up an interesting possibility: no one in Woodbury has challenged Philip Blake’s leadership . . . what if they decide that a coup is in order and Andrea is the next best choice to hold office?

It’s not unthinkable that Martinez and Milton might back Andrea, if she were to make a play for the top spot — and the irony is, if it did work, would she be able to broker a peace between Woodbury and the prison crew with blood being spilled, even if it was the result of the deposed Governor’s actions?

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Also, what if Andrea nabs control of Woodbury but is unwilling to punish the Governor for his ‘war crimes’ with the capital punishment many would seek?  That’s not exactly going to endear her with her old friends and may form an irreparable rift between she and they.

I just get the vibe that no matter what happens to Rick & co. in the next season, Andrea’s not necessarily going to be a part of it, having chosen to stay behind in Woodbury . . . and given her choice in romantic companions as of late, maybe wait until Hannibal Lecter or Charlie Manson wanders into town for a hook-up.

The Sheriff Has No Clothes

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Last but certainly not least, Rick’s grip on sanity hasn’t been fully restored, as evidenced by a hallucination of what appears to be Lori (I wondered why Sarah Wayne Callies was still appearing prominently in the opening credit sequence) as a spectral figure in bridal gown-like garb while a terse meeting with Tyresse and his quartet about assimilating themselves into the larger group.

Wanna bet we get this at some point in the next few episodes?

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This is where some serious cracks in the foundation are about to start.  Rick’s clearly right to distrust them, given his responsibilities as leader, but with Daryl gone and the threat of retaliation from the Governor so thick you’d need Michonne’s katana to cut it, along with Hershel openly disagreeing with Rick’s impulse to push the newcomers away, here’s where the downhill slide starts, as no one, including himself, can really trust Rick,  and it’s only bound to end in tears and torn out throats for everyone.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill: ” It has been said that the only form of government worse than Ricktatorship is all others that have been tried. ”

Glenn has pushed his luck time and time again and this time both he and Maggie came up short, and he’s clearly not going to rest until the Governor’s dead, and anything that stands between him and that goal — including Rick — is not going to be welcomed with open arms.  With Rick in the corner muttering to himself and waving a pistol, and Daryl not around, Glenn’s kind of next in the line of succession to be in charge, which probably isn’t going to end well when the only thing he’s really concerned about is payback.

The situation is made worse in classic TWD comic style, with the other two member’s of Tyresse’s band, Ben and Allen, almost going cutthroat and seeing their opportunity to seize control of the prison by eliminating Carl and Carol and taking their weapons to get Amy, Axel, and Hershel out of the way before the rest of the group arrives back from their rescue mission.

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Tyresse and Sasha are able to talk them down, but this puts them in the situation of not even being able to fully sell Rick on the idea of trusting them as newcomers when they clearly can’t trust the moral fiber of their own subset.

If Ty isn’t honest with Rick and the others, then he and his daughter’s future may land directly in the hand of two survival-of-the-fittest cowards that may be undependable if put into a situation where any degree of personal risk is necessary to further the goals of the group.

This is exactly what I love about Kirkman’s storytelling sensibilities from the comic, which have deftly imprinted themselves in the show’s DNA: we, as the audience, are made privy to a crucial piece of information the other characters aren’t, which ratchets up the tension ten-fold in each subsequent scene until revelations come to light.

It’s almost an open invitation to openly yell at the screen and try to warn our protagonists of the hidden dangers right underneath their noses.  You gotta love that.

The various bits and bobs of ‘The Suicide King’ might not have hung together as well as some episodes of The Walking Dead do, but there’s always going to be a slower episode now and again — you have to work your way up through the lower gears before you get the vehicle moving at top speed.

— mal

 

Thanks for stopping by Public Domain!  Here’s hoping Rick gets his stuff sorted out before, y’know:

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