I went out of town at precisely the wrong moment (though being in Washington, DC on election night was a thrill) and missed recapping arguably the most important episode of the series so far. Rest in peace, Lori, T-Dog, and Carole (?), and mazel tov on the new addition!
In all seriousness, last week’s episode was harrowing and horrifying. If there’s one thing you didn’t expect (or particularly desire) to see on cable TV, it’s a woman giving brutal birth via amateur C-section on a dirty prison floor while surrounded by the undead. And then, just to twist the knife, the writers put a gun in Carl’s hand, making him shoot his dead mother in the head so she doesn’t wake up and eat him. Admit it, though: you weren’t expecting this, were you? Not after the snail-speed shamble of last season toward an eventual cohesive goal.
Maggie and Glenn began last week’s episode by enjoying a clandestine romp in the guard tower. We modern humans, we have this tendency to like sex and not expect babies out of it – but after her morning delight, Maggie has to cut through Lori’s stomach to retrieve her baby. That must have a profound effect. At first, I thought perhaps the child would be stillborn – but that would’ve ushered us into Precious-style tragedy porn. Maggie taps its little chest until it lets out a weak cry. She walks out of the cell, leaving Carl to shoot Lori, and immediately meets Glenn outside. With a bloody newborn infant in her arms and empty, wide eyes, she doesn’t make the most maternal figure. And when poor Rick understands what’s happened, he lets out a gut-wrenching howl and collapses. End scene. Jesus, AMC.
So after all our group’s struggles to become as one, here we are, lacking one big, strong guy and one resourceful, tough woman. Hershel’s missing a foot (though he is pretty mobile on those crutches) and there’s a baby to care for, one who doesn’t have anything babies need, like, you know, formula. Or diapers. Or a mother – or, it seems, a father.
Compared to episode four, Sunday’s episode, “Say the Word,” is what most would call a “filler” episode. However, the writers are during their damndest to pack each episode with info and action, and there’s a lot to take in. For one thing, we’ve returned to Woodbury, and the contrast between the blood-splattered, dank prison and then sunny, summer-clothed town is jarring and frightening. You can practically taste how cloyingly sweet Woodbury must smell, how freakishly comforting it must feel to someone from the outside. Unfortunately, only Michonne seems to see Woodbury for what it is. Andrea, who evidently can’t look at a power-hungry, slightly-to-totally insane man without getting all doe-eyed, is quickly stepping up to take the coveted title of “most obnoxious” from Lori. From Shane to the Governor, Andrea? You’ve got to be kidding me.
Also, the Governor is keeping his undead daughter in the back room. So there’s that. Even those who seem the most in control, even those with medical experience (ahem, Hershel) cling desperately to the notion there could be a cure – or, at least, that we can train these things. Make them “docile.” At one point, the Governor, Merle, and Dr. Stevens escape to a remote location where they’re trapping walkers. “There’s something interesting in its eyes,” Dr. Stevens says, staring avidly into the gibbering face of a zombie whose lips are entirely eaten away, exposing rows of rotten teeth. Really? Something interesting? Merle, as psychotic as he always was, plays chicken with the creatures, grinning and chuckling as they try to attack. These people aren’t interested in escaping the walkers, or even in merely surviving them. They’re trying to train them, to use them.
When Michonne sneaks into the Governor’s apartment to steal back her sword, she uncovers a journal exposing his secret: Penny. (I can’t be the only one who hears Lost‘s Desmond screaming “PENNEH!” every time I hear this name now, right? Or alternately, there’s Dr. Horrible.) She doesn’t actually know what or who Penny is, but she knows enough to prod at the wound – which may be her undoing. More importantly, she discovers a bigger secret behind the building: a cache of walkers in cages. The good Dr. Stevens is operating and experimenting, trying to discover new ways to control this new world of ours. Michonne releases the horde and takes them out one by one, her satisfied sigh and smile telling. She’s perhaps the only character who’s truly adapted. It’s not “healthy,” per se, but she understands perfectly well the world they now occupy. It is a world of blood and death and fear. Frankly, anyone who says otherwise is merely slapping a grinning mask and spraying perfume on a rotting corpse.
After the Governor struggles to convince her she can’t beat ‘em, so she should just go ahead and join ‘em, she wrests her katana back from his grip and nearly murders him with it. She tries, for a final time, to convince Andrea that Woodbury isn’t what it seems – and fails. For a moment, it appears the two are indeed trapped in Woodbury, but then Merle lets them go free in a clear game of cat and mouse. Andrea chooses to stay, though, as they knew she would. Michonne walks into the distance, her steely gaze betraying no remorse for the loss of her friend. But there’s no way she’s free, not after what she’s done to the Governor.
The Governor escorts Andrea, literally on his arm (ugh), to a grotesque gladiatorial battle between Merle and some kid. It’s MMA, only the kicks and punches are punctuated by the growls and moans of the walkers chained in a circle around the ring. The people of Woodbury, so brightly clad and sweetly kind, turn into monsters in the firelight, with rock music blaring and blood flying. Andrea, though initially disgusted, listens to the Governor’s soothing words. “They’re just letting off steam, they’re just learning not to be afraid…” blah blah. The worst part is, it seems she might actually believe him.
Back at the prison, Daryl and Maggie jump on his bike to get to a day care center, hoping for baby formula. The two of them function as backup and safety for each other, tracking and exposing a noise for the possum it actually is. Tiny paper handprints cover the walls, marked with the names of undoubtedly dead children – it’s a spooky image, only made sadder and stranger when Daryl’s eye falls on a little handprint labeled “SOFIE.” It’s entirely too close to home, though he hardly shows it.
Meanwhile, Rick is shambling around the bowels of the prison, covered in blood and killing walkers indiscriminately. Glenn, digging three graves in the summer heat by himself, grudgingly accepts Oscar and Axel’s offer for help before revealing to Hershel that he wishes they’d shot the prisoners outright. (Whoa, who is this new Glenn?) After handing his shovel to the guys in the jumpsuits, who offer what seem to be genuine condolences for his loss, Glenn tries to retrieve Rick. The former cop, splattered with goo and smeared in crimson, attacks his friend and shows absolutely no understanding. It appears our fearless leader, our heroic antihero, has truly lost his shit.
When Daryl and Maggie return, triumphant with bottles and formula, to the prison, Darryl cradles the baby, popping a bottle into her mouth. “Yeah, you like that, you little ass-kicker?” he says, and it may be the show’s most adorable moment yet (also one of its oddest). His soft spot for the innocent extends far beyond the baby, though. The final scene shows him depositing a gorgeous flower, a spot of clean white inside the walls of the dingy, bloody prison, on Carole’s makeshift grave. (Is there a body in it, though? I get the feeling we haven’t seen the last of Carole.)
After last week’s punch in the gut, this week was a welcome reprieve – but the writers really are keeping it moving, keeping it on track this season. Everything is progressing at speed, sauntering along confidently. This new world in which our characters are learning to survive, learning to control, learning to use their darkest sides to their advantage, is fascinating and horrifying. Rest in peace, Lori and T-Dog. Rest in peace, Carole (?). Welcome to the world, little Lori-Carole-Sofia-Amy-Jackie-Patricia. You’ve got a long road ahead of you.
How did you feel about the last two episodes? Share your thoughts in the comments!