Mar 11 2013 10:30am

The Walking Dead, S3 E13 “Arrow on the Doorpost”

The Walkding Dead TV Season 3 Episode 13 Arrow on the Doorpost

“Arrow on the Doorpost” was never going to be as good as “Clear,” and, of course, it wasn’t. But it was a lot better than the last few episodes. Thing is, “Clear” was as good as it was because it functioned as a standalone. It tied into the main arc only barely—Rick needed to build up the armory, Michonne needed to get in good with the group so Rick’s eventual/potential betrayal would mean something—but it set out to tell a complete story about three people on an adventure in the zombie apocalypse. “Clear” was a palate cleanser after several bad appetizers, and “Arrow” is the first glimpse of the main course.

Not sure how much time has passed between “Clear” and “Arrow,” but at least a few days, enough for Andrea to get her boys to agree to a sit down in a neutral location. Rick, Daryl, and Hershel scouted out the barn, but the Governor was already lying in wait. He made a big show about disarming, then sat himself on the side of the table where he’d stashed a gun. What the point of that was, I haven’t a clue. It’s a literal Chekhov’s gun, and nothing came of it. Same with the whisky. Why make such a big deal about getting Rick to drink a bit of moonshine if there’s no meaning behind it? The Governor never even attempted to reach for the gun, and the whisky turned out to just be whisky. Rick never gets drunk, irrational, or overly emotional, nor was the liquor poisoned. The Governor seems as pleased that he drank it as he was that Rick maintained his faculties, so what was the point? Why waste screen time with lingering shots of the empty glass and the hidden weapon?

The Governor’s little speech about his wife’s unexpected death was sweet, and probably sincere, but that doesn’t automatically mean her death meant anything at all to him. It’s all a smoke screen. He’s trying to confuse and distract Rick, but he’s also toying with him. The Governor doesn’t have anyone he loves back in Woodbury or anywhere, now that Penny’s re-dead. He doesn’t have anything to lose by betting everything. Rick left out info to his group about the Governor’s intentions toward Michonne, but not out of any malice or Ricktatorial manipulation. Michonne is family now. As Hershel said, “she’s earned her place.” Rick may have decided not to give her up, to stay and fight, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t secure in his choice.

Anyway, the Governor and Rick’s chit chat was only part of the story this week. Merle put aside his racism and sexism to stall in a failed attempt to sneak attack the Governor. Glenn, Maggie, Michonne, and Beth put the kibosh on his one-man coup and he spent the rest of the ep whinging about it. Glenn finally admitted he was an ass for his behavior toward Maggie, though I’m not sure we needed to see them go straight from “I’m sorry I was a jerk about your sexual assault” to “let’s get naked for sexy fun times.” (Not to mention their violation of one of the most blatant horror movie tropes.) Good news is now that he’s over his issues, Glenn is proving to be a pretty good lieutenant.

At the meet-and-greet, Andrea is the worst in the meeting, then the worst outside the meeting, then the worst in general existence. Her getting kicked out of the meeting was awfully amusing. She and Hershel had a much needed heart to heart, and though she left with the Governor, her nod to Hershel made it clear she isn’t playing on her lover’s team anymore. Too bad she doesn’t realize the Governor doesn’t care which side she’s on. She’s meaningless to him, and that makes her nothing more than a tool he can use to put the squeeze on Rick. Daryl and Martinez tried to out macho each other and ended up getting to know each other over a lovely date of zombie guts and menthol cigarettes. Andrea’s eye roll at Daryl and Martinez’s zombie killing pissing contest was the first awesome thing she’s done in an aeon. But she’s still the worst.

The Walking Dead TV Season 3 Episode 13 Arrow on the DoorstopLike I said, this ep wasn’t bad. Comparatively speaking (not counting last week and the pilot), it was quite good. At least it wasn’t boring. The episode wasn’t filler or wheel-spinning. People weren’t shuffling around in groups yelling at each other about who should go where. Everyone had a purpose and every scene had a point. The pawns have been placed and now the final moves are being made. This is a very good thing. The Walking Dead never fails harder than when it can’t decide what it wants to do. War is inevitable at this point, no matter how much Andrea hopes the two leaders can work out their issues as if they were two middle school boys fighting over a toy. The only things left to sort out are who will attack first and how.

Which brings me to my biggest problem with “Arrow”: the Governor. At first, I thought David Morrisey, while a great TV actor, was woefully miscast, but once we got a look at how the show was developing the character and how different he initially was from the comic version, Morrisey made more and more sense. Now, I genuinely enjoy him as the Governor, and like what he brings to the table. My problem lies not with how Morrisey portrays the character but how the writers have written him. Some weeks he’s a parallel dimension Rick. They have interesting and conflicting ideas about how to survive and thrive in the zombie apocalypse, and both men are wrong as often as they are right. Under this model, the Governor serves as a cautionary tale for Rick. It also allows him to become Phillip, a real person with real concerns and real issues. Other weeks the writers decide he needs to be a psychotic Bond villain. He watches heads in fish tanks like regular people watch television, keeps his undead daughter chained up in the closet, and threatens to rape and torture kidnapped women. While this version makes the Governor a lot more frightening, it also makes him two dimensional and predictable.

The writers did the exact same thing with Shane. Sometimes he was a bullying, rape-y, cockwaffle and other times he was a decent guy trying to survive the only way he knew how. You could extend my complaint about inconsistent character development to everyone on the show. Andrea used to be a capable, intelligent woman and now she’s little more than a mewling idiot. Michonne can either glower or make silly jokes about cat statues, never anything else in between. Lori was alternately Lady MacBeth or a nice woman who did a lot of laundry. The only ones who don’t float with the tide are those who aren’t shaded enough to show any dimension (Carol, Beth, Tyrese, etc.) and Daryl. There’s character development/growth, and then there’s inconsistency. The Governor isn’t a complex person but a Big Bad the writers haven’t figure out how to make work with the story they want to tell. I wish they’d veered from the comics a little more. It would’ve made it easier to create their own villain rather than trying to mimic Robert Kirkman. There’s no way AMC would allow Mazzara to replicate in any way the consequences of the Woodbury/Prison arc from the graphic novel, so why bother heading down that path at all? Why not forge a new one and do something interesting with it?

Final Thoughts

  • “So you’re the Governor.” Yes, thank you, Captain Obvious.
  • “I thought you were a cop, not a lawyer.” “Either way, I don’t pretend to be a governor.”
  • “You’re the town drunk who knocked over my fence and ripped up my yard. Nothin’ more.”
  • “They need to be scared.” “They are.”
  • The smart thing would be not to fight but to sabotage. Rick could launch a stealth attack on Woodbury using zombies and sit back and watch as the town falls apart. No reason they can’t use the Governor’s own Trojan horse plan against him.
  • We’re nearing the home stretch, so please be extra cautious with your spoiler warnings...let’s not ruin it for the virgins.

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.

1. Herb85
This episode would probably make a pretty good teaching tool for a film school class on suspense. Virtually every shot and event seemed designed to raise the suspense. Not just the gun and the whiskey, Hershel looking down at his leg, the truck rolling up, Daryl stepping in front of Martinez, Maggie and Glenn ignoring watch duty for a few minutes, etc. And most of all the use of voyeuristic shots (e.g., from the gap in the ceiling of the building they met in, through the silos, etc.). It had me on the edge of my seat, but I'm not sure how I feel about not getting any payoff. I am happy about the direction things seem to be going in.

Merle, of all characters, has been one of the pleasant surprises of season 3.
2. Susurrin
The focus on the whiskey isn't wasted. The Governor is using it as a guage to measure where Rick's head is. Rick doesn't drink there is no trust won/given. Rick takes a drink, and he knows he's planted the tiniest seed of doubt in Rick's head, created the smallest kernel of rapport. That's why he's so glad when Rick takes a drink, because from his viewpoint he's just won. Rick was willing to swallow at least some of what the Governor had to offer (Figurative and Literal for the win!)
Harry Burger
3. Lightbringer
Sokol many let-downs. Governor never touches the gun, nothing funny with the booze, no consequences for leaving the watchpost... many tropes subverted, but with so many, you'd think at least one would pay off to keep the audience on their toes. And why do they let Merle touch the guns? And the way Michonne ended talking to Merle, I expected him to go all Rambo.

Why is it now trivial to drive through the pack of walkers outside the prison without killing any of them or making a distraction?

Though I'm glad Glen finally got a clue.
Bill Capossere
4. Billcap
Yep—not as good as the last one but still much better than usual.

Despite that, I’ve got some nagging issues with the underlying basics. I don’t get why the gov. doesn’t just kill Rick. He’s planning betrayal, planning on killing them all (based on the show; I’ve never read the graphic novels). Why wait? What’s the point of getting there and setting up a handgun rather than an ambush? He’s amoral and doesn’t care about risking his people, so why not just take out Rick (and Rick’s best fighter) and then kill the relative amateurs left behind? I’m missing Rick not just killing the gov. as well. This is the problem with portraying the gov as he is. Killing him isn’t like killing a decent or even flawed man to save more; it’s putting down a mad dog who is going to get a lot of people killed. It’d be one thing if Rick didn’t know what he’s like, but he does. Why does it make sense for him to seriously consider killing Michonne, or to basically kill that hitchhiker a few days ago (because he’s under no illusion over what giving her up/ignoring the cries for help mean), but it doesn’t make sense for him to just put a bullet in the gov? He knows the rest of the town isn’t like him so killing him is problem solved. In this world, for this character, it makes sense to just shoot him. It’s easy to see Rick taking that burden of “guilt” on himself, but seriously, if they had a group meeting, who would argue against it? Merle? Michonne? The woman he threatened to rape? Her lover? Darryl? Carl? Where’s the argument?

I also know I’m supposed to feel Rick being torn about Michonne, but it seems a relative no-brainer: you don’t save your group that way, you lose it. Who’d follow someone who is willing to give up someone he’s fought beside and who has saved him and his people because the person doesn’t “equal” his people? Because let’s face it, none of them “equal” his son or daughter—so why wouldn’t he give them up too if push came to shove? Not to mention of course the most obvious reason is that the guy who promised to “leave you alone” watches f—ing severed heads like they’re M.A.S.H. reruns.

The same with the idea of “war”—it only makes sense in our world. You’ve got seemingly an unlimited supply of cars and gas based on these last few episodes. Set up a few with flammables (probably a lot of gas grill propane tanks back in Rick’s town just down the road), let them go at the town’s barrier, and then sit back and let fire and the zombies deal with the asthmatics. There’s no fire department gonna come and put out the flaming buildings. Who needs a shooting battle anymore?

I did like this episode mostly—especially the little human moments (which only serve to make the point that killing the guv is the way to go) between characters, so it was successful on that level (though the “I’m sorry I was such an ass about your near-rape, now let me penetrate you happily” was a little clumsy). Thought there was a nice balance of tension and lightness and it was visually well done. But the above were a constant nagging presence.
5. Eric Saveau
I loved that Glenn 'fessed up to being in the wrong. But then my wife and I both started saying "Hey, you're on watch. No, really; you're on watch. Look, make-up sex is great but there's a psycho out here with a zombie army and YOU"RE ON GODDAMN WATCH!!"

Yeah, a better episode than most this season but still full of many of the things that are wrong with the show. Though Daryl continues to be made of win.

And I hated that every time Merle opened his mouth I was nodding and saying "Yep. He's absolutely right." How awful is it that the hateful racist thug is the most sensible guy in the room?
Jan Kafka
6. JanKafka
After a couple of seasons of Game of Thrones you'd think I'd be able to spot a subverted trope when I see one. But I was left with a "What the hell?" feeling as horror trope after horror trope and every single too-small frame didn't "pay off." (Although it was amusing to think of Rick as the dumb blonde chick for a time. And it's not that I enjoy horror movie pay-offs - I actually don't.) The confusion lasted until coming here. So good to be able to read intelligent discussion of this show! And yes to Chekov's unfired gun. It was also fun to realize the Gov might be a Star Wars fan. Lots of amputation foreshadowing - or so it seemed - made me want to scream (spoiler space) ("Keep your hands off the table, Rick!") Very suspenseful indeed, especially when the too-small horror frame involved Daryl's head and an unseen baseball bat somewhere behind him. I was prepared to riot. Thanks for another good review, Alex Brown!
Alex Brown
7. AlexBrown
@Herb85, Lightbringer, Eric: Yes, exactly. This is where it gets really problematic. The suspense of whether or not Rick and the Governor might actually be able to work it out is immediately negated by the latter's declaration of war to his team. Which makes Rick's subsequent conversation to Hershel about whether or not he should stand his ground at the prison moot as far as the audience is concerned. All tension is let out of the balloon as soon as the Governor reveals his dastardly plan, so now I don't give two hoots about any of Rick's hemming and hawing. His decision should've been the kicker of the episode (and the Governor's reveal should've been moved to the next episode, or, better yet, not mentioned at all until the double cross actually takes place, that way we get 3 episodes of being unsure what he's up to) but instead it meant nothing.

@Susurrin: But he gets that same inkling of doubt when Rick sits down inthe first place, and then continues to stay in the barn. More importantly, whether or not Rick has any doubt has absolutely NO MEANING to the Governor at all because he's planning on killing them all. If Rick shows up in two days with Michonne in tow or not, the Governor is planning on - is very excited to - kill them. The barn makes the killing easier, but he'll go to the prison if need be. Which means all that suspension was for nought. See above response for more explanation.

@Billcap: Exactly my problem. I don't get why no one just outright kills each other. I mean, I do get it. If they did, the season would've ended 6 eps ago. The writers need to fill the episode order for the season, so we're stuck watching Rick and the Governor circle each other for a few rounds. There is no real reason behind holding the truce except for good old plot contrivance. Realisticaly Rick and company would simply leave the prison. He's got two kids and several "weaklings" against the Governor's fully fortified town of heavily armed adults. There are other prisons in other towns. That wouldn't be as dramatic as a battle scene, but I think it would have more interesting long-term consequences. The last thing I want to happen is them to survive the battle and settle back in at the prison. Then we're stuck with Hershel's farm 2.0. The only way out of this is for both groups to be decimated and both hideouts to become overrun with zombies, forcing everyone back on the road...

@Jan: Thanks and welcome! I personally don't mind tropes - if they didn't work they wouldn't keep using them. All this episode was missing was a nice Dutch angle. That being said, it's 2013. If you're going to pile on the tropes, at least attempt to do something with them. The Governor not using his stashed gun isn't subverting a trope, it's forgetting you made a plot point and then running out of time to address it. Having Rick drink one suspicious glass of whisky with absolutely no consequences isn't subverting a trope, it's being boring.
8. Susurrin
@AlexBrown I am gonna disagree on it having NO MEANING. Its an easy kill versus a long protracted and bloody conflict. The fact that Rick drinks the whiskey indicates the easy kill route i.e. Rick is gullible and easily swayed so he will march his people into a deadly scenario where the Governor sets the tone and scope of the conflict. (Pretty much what the governor does by agreeing to this meeting in the first place.) This is a pissing contest between thes two, where they are both evaluating the other. The Governor's hidden gun is there to illustrate that he's ready for things to go worse.

As for not killing one another outright, well there is one reason why they are not doing just that, and that is the person they sent packing from the room. (Rick is honoring the deal and trying to make it so both groups can coexist...somewhat, and upholding his word because he gave it to Andrea. The governor probably just wants to keep his snuggle bunny happy for yet another day so he can get some lovin') I do think that they really should have highlighted THAT in this episode as I am just guessing that's the reason Rick and the Gov don't try and kill eachother.
Bill Capossere
9. Billcap
"There are other prisons in other towns"
Wasn't that a line from a classic romance film? "We'll always have that prison in Woodbury . . . "

I just can't buy those reasons for not killing. One is because I don't buy that Andrea is that important to either of them. And two because I don't buy that Rick thinks they can coexist or there's any deal to honor. We're only one episode removed from Rick leaving the backpacker to die and kicking out Tyr. and his group, which is showing us he doesn't honor the basic compact between people--if you're in trouble I'll help. And those are either decent people or neutral people.

Maybe if all he knew about the governor was that he was a town strongman who is kinda tough. But he knows much, much more--chained up zombie kid, experiements, severed heads, rape as weapon, zombies as weapons, shoot up prison time, lots of lying and going back on "deals", Merle's stories that you know he's told them, obssessed with vengeance on those who defy him (which would of course include Rick and his crew beyond Michonne), etc. He has four people on his team who have direct knowledge of the gov, and every single one would tell him the gov is a crazy sick pyschof--k who can't be trusted for one second and should just be put down. So there's no reason at all for him to think he can live with the gov. And if there's no reason for him to think that, there's equally no reason not to do one of two things: simply leave, as Alex says. Or simply kill the gov. here and make overtures to the town.
10. ernst blofeld
What did us as the audience ever do to warrant the infliction of that amazingly awful corporate hipster noise some might call "music" right at the end??

The dialogue is wooden enough - without having to hear it with added aural poison in the background.
Alex Brown
11. AlexBrown
@Susurrin: Gonna have to go with Bill on this one. Your suppositions work great without that scenes at the end where the Governor reveals his evil plot to the audience and where Rick announces he knows the Governor will never accept peace no matter what he says. Which means that whole accords thing was simply delaying the inevitable. Rick knows he can never live side by side with the Governor, not because he doesn't necessarily want to (I think the offer of dividing the territory was genuine even if he knew his enemy would never accept) but because he knows the Governor will never allow it.

@ernst: Felt the same way about the music. Sometimes the show revels in natural sound (like the mostly silent cold open), and other times it's like they think the tension isn't strong enough so they pile on some loud music. Even the score was too heavy-handed this ep.

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