No matter how many zombies roam the world, no matter how many impromptu C-sections or people getting eaten alive we have to see, nothing will ever be scarier than a human with an ego and a cruelty streak. In this ep, we got both frights in spades. I had to watch it twice, once because I got so sucked in that I was shivering by the end of it, and then again so I could actually do a review.
On the whole, not much actually happens in this ep, but individually all the parts felt busy in the best kind of way. Basically, the prison dwellers go on the rescue while the Woodburians plan a counter attack. In the prison, Hershel patches up Michonne so she can lead the men on a kamikaze mission to rescue Glenn and Maggie, leaving the kids, the amputee, and the mom behind. They are surrounded by a herd of roamers, take shelter in a hermit’s cabin, kill said hermit when he blows their cover, feed said hermit to the roamers, and continue their journey. Back in the little town that Satan loved, Andrea is knocking boots with Sexy McPsycho. She goes off to babysit Milton as he documents “the transformation.” Of course Andrea ends up killing their guinea pig, an old man dying of prostate cancer, and of course Milton almost pisses his pants. Merle keeps busy torturing Glenn and trying to turn him into zombie noms while the Governor wins an award for Lord of the Creepers by making Maggie undress and threatening to rape her. The whole thing wraps up just before Rick and the gang launch an ill-planned attack on Woodbury.
Before I delve into all the stuff I liked, let me just say how stupid that whole hermit nonsense was. It was so obvious the writers wrote themselves into a corner. He served absolutely no purpose except zombie fodder. What was he doing out there hiding in a bed with a dead dog? Why was he ackin’ so cray-cray? How the hell did he survive that long? What was his name? What was his favorite color? Was he Team Edward or Team Jacob? We’ll never know because the writers needed someone to bait the zombies and thus the hermit was created and killed.
On one hand, you could look at the Governor’s allowance of Milton’s science experiments as a good thing, something akin to Dr. Jenner from the CDC. Both were trying to find a cure (or at the very least a cause) for reanimation. But like everything the Governor does, his altruism is always a side-effect—albeit carefully calculated for maximum benefit—of his own selfish needs. Woodbury is safe and prosperous, sure, but only because it’s vastly easier to be an autocrat when your subjects don’t know they’re subjected. Bonus points if you can convince them your tyranny has their best interests at heart. Philip doesn’t care about Mr. Coleman’s memories; he only cares insomuch as it relates to Penny, his dearly departed daughter currently rotting in his closet. If even a fraction of Penny remains, he has the chance to bring her back, but if she’s really dead then all he’s left with is a cannibal corpse.
The worst part of this episode—and by worst I mean most emotionally taxing, not repugnant or terrible—was the scene with Maggie and the Governor. Being trapped in that big empty room tied to a chair, the overhead lamp squeaking as it swung in a faint breeze, the sound of the door creaking open, Maggie in a revealing outfit and him decked out in weaponry. The TV audience still doesn’t know just how horrid this Governor will be, and the comic fans are just as in the dark. I know what he does in the comics, but the TV show is playing a different game with their antagonist. I’m sure we’ll end up in virtually the same end point, but the routes to get there are diverging more and more.
When the Governor got her alone in that room I instantly flashed on the comics and it scared the living crap out of me. I’m not going to get too rant-y here, but lemme just say that sexual assault is an ever-present fear for many—probably most—women, regardless of whether or not they live in an oppressive society. That episode of Law & Order: SVU where Det. Olivia Benson is almost raped gave me nightmares for weeks. “When the Dead Come Knocking” wasn’t nearly as visceral, yet still unsettled me enough to have to pause after that scene and hug my rats and remind myself that the world isn’t all darkness and evil. Just because he doesn’t rape her doesn’t make the threat any less terrifying. (Bear McCreary’s score certainly wasn’t helping.) Even worse, the way he “comforted” Maggie was almost identical to the way he comforted Andrea, except where the former recoiled in fear, the latter practically threw herself in his arms. And Maggie isn’t the only female character feeling the Governor’s wrath. Rick’s offer to help Michonne sounds suspiciously like the Governor’s—and don’t think that isn’t intentional. It’s far from subtle, but hell if it ain’t effective. Woodbury was a figurative prison, and the prison is, well, a literal one. Both are ruled by dictators with a distorted sense of morality and ethics, only one of whom looks hot in tight pants.
I have frequently complained that The Walking Dead is a show that can’t manage good dialogue. Too much talking and the show buckles under its own hubris. Too little talking and it buckles under blood and guts. “When the Dead Come Knocking” is the perfect balance of the two, and given its placement in the timeline, it’s not surprising that it works so well. One thing this show does really well is beginnings and endings…it’s the middle bits that drag everything else down. We’re almost at the end of the first half of the third season, which means certain things have to happen, and they’re the worst possible things. This means the writers have an endgame, which means there are goals, objectives, and, most importantly, risks. Risks make the audience care about the characters. I may not have cared when Lori died, but I’ll be frakking furious if they let Glenn and Maggie get KO’d.
- “There’s a town. Woodbury. ‘Bout 75 survivors. I think they were taken there…It’s run by this guy who calls himself ‘The Governor.’ Pretty boy, charming, Jim Jones type.”
- “Bring ‘em back.”
- “Stay safe.” “Nine lives, remember?”
- “No? Fine. Let’s try something else.”
- The scene where Rick and Carl finally talk about Lori’s death and name the baby (Judith), all I wanted was for them to hug. A little familial bonding, is that too much to ask?
- Hi Tyrese! Please don’t be a token black character, please don’t be a token black character.
- Speaking of sadistic bastards, David Morrissey did a fantastic, spoiler-laden interview on his freaky character.
Alex Brown is an archivist, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.