After a prolonged, anxiety-inducing hiatus, AMC has ushered us back into the postapocalyptic wasteland of “The Walking Dead.” In the last episode, way back in December, Rick’s posse stormed Woodbury to save Glenn and Maggie from the Governor. Michonne, who led the crew through the cracks in Woodbury’s walls, went…well, a mite overboard in her vengeance against the Governor. She lay poor Penny to final rest and took out the Gov’s eye in a vicious fight. When Andrea came to rescue the Governor, she let Michonne go instead of killing her.
After his inevitable capture, our hero Daryl was finally confronted with the conniving, one-handed brother who’s only appeared to him in hallucinations since their separation in Atlanta in season one. The Governor scapegoats the Dixon brothers for the attack on Woodbury, and well, he has a point. After all, it was Merle who let Michonne go in the first place, and Daryl who led the charge on the village. The Governor, always classy, arranges a fight to the death, brother against brother. Surrounded by the gibbering, gnawing dead and the gibbering, pitchfork-wielding living of Woodbury, the Brothers Dixon are forced to do battle.
After three months of waiting, last night’s episode fits all the pieces of the season three puzzle together at last. For the last eight episodes, we’ve been watching separate factions creeping closer to an inevitable battle, sneaking toward each other without full knowledge of the enemy. These warring tribes are not comprised of villains or heroes but confused, desperate people fighting for their very lives. “The Suicide King” brings everything into focus for all the characters, but disappointingly we’re not much closer to closure.
The Dixon duo begin by throwing punches, but shortly it becomes clear their chances of survival improve exponentially if they work together. “Follow my lead, little brother,” Merle says, his hands wrapped around Daryl’s neck. “I’m gettin’ us out of this right now.” Before the battle is really underway, Maggie and Rick jump into the fray with smoke bombs and machine guns. In the midst of this civilized savagery, the Governor stalks calmly through the noxious smoke, smiling to himself. In the aftermath, a cyclopic walker sneaks in the crack in the wall, shambling into the idyllic main street of Woodbury.
Outside the village, Rick’s posse find themselves at odds when Michonne and Glenn, both of whom had stayed back due to injuries at the hand (rimshot!) of Merle Dixon, see that Daryl’s brother is the crew’s newest addition. Straightaway Merle, always a charmer, reveals the connection between Michonne and Andrea. In case you forgot he’s a horrible racist, he inserts a jibe about his “Nubian Queen” and makes a snarky joke about lesbians. You’re hilarious, Merle, really.
Merle and Michonne are the wild cards; what’s the Sheriff to do? He can’t very well welcome Merle into a cell block with women, children, Glenn, or Maggie. Likewise, Michonne’s ominous silence and obviously dangerous demeanor make her an iffy prospect (far, far less iffy than Merle, if you ask me, but Rick doesn’t know that). Well, if Merle isn’t welcome, says Daryl, then it’s back to the beginning for the Dixon brothers. “It was always just me and Merle before,” he tells Rick as he leaves the group behind. Rick makes one of the first outright references to Daryl’s relationship with Carol, reminding us that the two had a sweet, uncomplicated affection for one another. “She’ll understand,” Daryl says, but he doesn’t mean it.
Back in prison, Hershel is busily patching up Tyreese’s crew. The other group reveals that they’ve lost over twenty of their people, that they assumed they’d never see another baby. In a gentle, much-needed bout of jest, Tyreese remarks that he “must be the first brother in history tried to break into prison.” Axel, handing him a bowl of soup, returns, “Which makes me the first white boy didn’t want to break out.” Hershel, with a slight smile, warns them that their fate doesn’t lie with Hershel; it’s Rick’s decision.
Tyreese’s companions take a quick break from burying their friend to discuss taking guns from Carol and Carl and laying waste to the Tribe of Rick. Suddenly, though, Beth and Axel arrive bearing shovels and asking if they need any help burying their friend. Tyreese, anyone who’s read the books will know, is the kind of man who knows the importance of “a little common decency.” He talked down his friends, but for how long?
When Glenn, Maggie, Michonne, and Rick stop briefly on the road back to the prison, Glenn goes totally apeshit on a walker and then screams at Rick, who let Daryl just walk away after all that death, all that strife, pain, and anguish. Their hollow-eyed, fearless leader just “let” Daryl walk away after spending all that manpower to attack Woodbury. Maggie sides with Rick, trying to calm Glenn after he’s spent a long, brutal minute stomping the head of a walker – but calm isn’t what Glenn wants, and a rift forms between the lovers.
Meanwhile, back in the village, the citizens of Woodbury, once dressed in summery, shimmery clothing, gossiping about one another, and congratulating themselves on the state of their sunny little town, now fear for their very lives. They’re climbing the walls, drawing walkers with strident car horns, trying in vain to escape. Little did they know, they’ve been trapped since the beginning. There are now walkers within the borders and the Governor is in hiding. Andrea appears to be the strongest and sanest person left. She tries in vain to keep the peace after the Governor appears briefly, shoots a dying man in the head, and wanders back upstairs. From the privacy of his apartment, the Governor watches his girlfriend give a rousing speech, quelling the masses: “They will write about Woodbury. We persevered.” Smiles and hugs all around – but Andrea’s uneasiness, her mistrust, could be the downfall of the Governor yet.
As Carol, Melissa McBride puts in another subtly emotional performance. When she discovers Daryl left her, her sadness and dismay is palpable in just a few words and expressions. “Daryl has his code. This world needs men like that,” she tells Beth. She picks up the makeshift cradle Daryl made for Judith, her unglamorous nickname, Lil’ Asskicker, Sharpied onto a mail bin. Daryl, this symbol tells us, truly loves that baby. Something tells me he won’t be gone for long.
Hershel tells Glenn he’s like his own son, tries to patch the growing rift between Maggie and Glenn. It doesn’t work. Rick examines Tyreese’s group, refuses to shake hands, and tells them to leave. Hershel, truly the new and improved Dale, pulls Rick aside to gently remind him, “You’ve got to start giving people a chance.” But before Rick can truly contemplate this bit of wisdom, an unexpected visitor appears.
Lori’s phantom, shimmery white gown in silhouette, stands silently on the prison railing. Rick doesn’t take this development terribly well. Suddenly, the fearless leader is nothing but a gun-wielding madman. How many more sucker-punches to the morale can the group stand?
What do you do when the most powerful among you has lost it completely? Both the citizens of Woodbury and those in the prison are forced to confront the possibility that the people they trust most to lead are not in any shape to do so.
After such a long, grueling wait, I had higher hopes for this episode. Taking into account the fact that the writers still have at least three more episodes in which to finish up the season, more still could’ve been done at this point. So far this season has been moving along at a breakneck pace, and this vignette was a little slow. The season started off with a bang – how will it end?
What did you think? Share your opinions in the comments!