I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of the comic book version of ‘The Walking Dead,’ and as such, it can sometimes be difficult for me to judge the show on it’s own merit. That said, it’s done a decent enough job of distancing itself from the books and showing that it’s its own creature. However, going into this week’s episode, I certainly had some concerns. The Governor is a huge presence in the comic, and one of my favorite villains ever, so I was admittedly quite nervous that they were going to mess him up, or stray too far from what made him so deviously fascinating. Well, they certainly changed him a fair deal, but so far, I’m definitely on-board.
Let’s back up a bit: ‘Walk With Me’ features none of the main cast members apart from Andrea and Michonne, and never once checks in at the prison, which is perfectly alright. Woodbury is such a strange, big idea in the world of this show that it makes sense that it would take an entire episode to establish. There are new characters to meet, new places to see, and old friends to get reacquainted with. ‘Cause really, who could forget our old buddy Merle?
We haven’t seen Merle since the second episode of the first season, and ‘Walk With Me’ wisely wastes no time bringing him back. The episode opens with a tense sequence in which Andrea and Michonne go to check out a crashed helicopter, only to hide when the Governor and his men arrive to do the exact same thing. This sequence exists not only to provide a nice bit of suspense, but to establish the Governor and his crew of heavy hitters. There’s a dude with a baseball bat, a dude with a bow and arrow, and, as luck would have it, a dude with a knife for a hand.
As soon as we hear the voice of the mysterious stranger who got the drop on Andrea and Michonne, it’s apparent that the brother of everyone’s favorite crossbow-wielding redneck is back and ready to stir sh*t up. He has a cool hand contraption, and as soon as he recognizes Andrea, she passes out.
This episode has a tricky job, because the denizens of Woodbury need to be vaguely threatening the entire time, while also appearing as the most functioning, civilized souls we’ve met since the series started. It’s pretty apparent from the start that they’re bad news, (after all, Merle is with them) but the episode only works because it does such a good job of making us think that, hey, maybe these guys aren’t so bad after all. And then the Governor kills a bunch of soldiers in cold blood. But I’ll get there.
There’s a lot of character stuff in ‘Walk with Me,’ which always makes me nervous, as it’s never really been the show’s biggest strength. Fortunately, a lot of it works quite well. Most interesting, surprisingly, is Merle, who seems to have softened up a bit since last we saw him. He’s still pissed at Rick for the loss of his hand, and he’s still Merle, but he seems to have lost the directionless hillbilly rage that he had when last we saw him. He misses his brother, is resentful of the things that have happened to him, but grateful to the Governor for giving him a second chance. The fact that he actually came off as a human in this episode rather than a screaming stereotype is a pretty big achievement.
We meet a couple new characters in Woodbury as well, but none of them really make an impression. There’s a doctor, who seems decent and boring, a lady who gave Andrea and Michonne a tour (and is, I believe, boning the Governor), and a scientist named Milton who is doing experiments on the Walkers. I like the science angle, but something about Milton didn’t really sit right with me. I don’t know if it was the performance or the writing, but I’m not quite buying Milton as a human yet. I hope to be proven wrong, though, as the season wears on.
For being an episode entirely about Andrea and Michonne, Michonne barely says anything throughout. She mostly just asks for her sword back a bunch, and is clearly distrustful of the Governor, while Andrea is being won over. I’d love to get some development for Michonne, because while she’s certainly awesome, right now that’s pretty much all she is. Some awesome lady with a sword, which I suppose is enough, for now. The contrast between her and Andrea in this episode was pretty nice, especially in the scenes with the Governor. The man is a good talker, and you can see in Andrea’s eyes that she wants to believe everything he’s saying.
Apart from Andrea and Michonne, the episode really belongs to the Governor. Once he gets the girls back to Woodbury, we mostly follow him as he goes about his business. He checks in with Milton at the lab, questions the pilot of the crashed helicopter, and promises to go find the pilot’s army friends, and bring them safely back to Woodbury. The big reason that the Governor works in this episode is the weird, ambiguous menace that David Morrisey brings to the role. You never really trust him, but you want to.
The big turn happens when he goes to meet those soldiers, as promised, and immediately murders them all for their supplies. He and his crew take them out with ruthless efficiency, and then come up with a cover story when they get back to town. From this point on, it’s all bad news bears, as the Governor gets weird and threatening with Andrea before going home to his, entertainment system, which consists of zombie heads (including that of the helicopter pilot that he ‘saved’) floating in a bunch of fish tanks. Cause hey, cable’s probably pretty hard to come by in the zombie apocalypse.
‘Walk with Me’ isn’t a perfect episode; it’s slow in parts, and there are some rough patches of dialogue, but the general sense of the discovery and Morrisey’s fascinating performance make it an overall enjoyable episode of television that lays the groundwork for a crazy, intense season. Parallels are already being drawn between Rick and the Governor, and you can be damn sure that when our two groups collide, it’s not going to be pretty. But hey, in ‘The Walking Dead,’ what is?