There were a lot of concerns after last week's quiet episode that the bulk of the remaining season would be as well. Slowly building to that "cha-ching" finale, and leaving us twisting in the wind for months. Fears should be allayed after tonight's curious, yet satisfying episode. We get gore, ghosts and gunfire!
I'll take some flak for this, but here it goes- I love the scenes with Rick chasing Lori's apparition. When the episode opened I was worried things had settled, and Rick was back to his regular routine, but after a few moments of binocular vision, it's clear he still has a head full of ghosts. There's a quiet beauty to these scenes, particularly when held up against the show's penchant for gore. Lots of ambient sound, gorgeous wide shots of the prison and its surrounding environs, and Bear McCreary's sad yet hopeful cues. There's even a nice level of tension throughout when Rick throws caution to the wind, and leaves the prison gates open on his quest. The most striking thing we see when Rick finally catches up to the phantasm of his departed wife, is not that it's actually actress Sarah Wayne Callies, or that he can actually approach her without another disappearing act, no, it's that she's so clean. No dirt, no blood, no sweat, no gore. Her skin is immaculate, her hair has volume that would make most shampoo commercials jealous. She also looks healthy, well fed, and that's not a knock, it's just a stark contrast to the lean and hungry times our characters live in. It's such a small touch, but seeing Lori outside of the apocalypse is an incredibly powerful image. Jumping ahead a bit-- Rick's admission to Herschel that he knows what he's seeing is not real gives us something to grab on to. Rick is not completely off the reservation, but there's something he needs to accept, something he needs to come to terms with. The bad news is he may have to continue his wanderlust a bit longer until he does.
"The Walking Dixons" didn't last very long. On one hand it feels like it was a necessary sidetrack to set some things straight, on the other it feels like last episodes drama was almost pointless. Regardless of how short it was, it is nice to see Daryl be his own man. Maybe a few hours with Merle is enough to make anyone turn back, even kin. It's interesting to think that this is really the first time in three seasons we've had the Dixon brothers together, and it doesn't take long for old wounds to reveal themselves, literally. As the scars indicate- the brothers had a very tough life pre-apocalypse, an how they choose to lead their lives post-apocalypse speaks volumes. It's no surprise they were originally going to rob our survivors blind, yet fate instead gave them one of their most important assets in Daryl. The bridge rescue was a nice bit of action, Daryl's crossbow got a workout, and Merle only chipped in when it suited him. If you are keeping a top 10 zombie kills list for this season, Daryl's use of a car trunk is a worthy candidate. Merle's reaction to the Latino family just proves he is so racist he can't even help it. The fireworks will no doubt fly when Mr. Combustible is inside the prison gates.
Glenn continues to step up and shoulder the leadership responsibility, even to a fault. That sneaky kid who was good at finding supplies is now scheming to assassinate the Governor, that's quite a step up from baby formula. There really is no right way for Glenn to approach Maggie, but his rage unfortunately gives him that "I just need to know" mentality. It's as if he's assigning levels of response to the Governor's actions. It's obviously all bad, but as long as he didn't go past this level, then everything is ok in his mind. The problem is, what's in his mind isn't the issue, it's not about him. There's nothing worse than trying to rationalize someone else's issues to make yourself feel better. Despite how much Glenn has grown, and how much he contributes, it's a slippery slope he is totally unprepared for.
The Governor is an exquisite shot. He has the ability to pick off minor characters from hundreds of yards away, and doesn't even leave a scratch on our main cast members, it's a gift, truly. The Gov is also back to master manipulator mode. He hands Andrea the phantom reigns to Woodbury, while he takes his best gunmen out for a drive-by of the prison. I hope Andrea grows a pair (not literally) soon, because her character is dangerously close to melting away in the rain. Even a tongue-tied Milton can deflect her aggression. At least the Governor is getting some of his teeth back. The man is not too concerned with bullets, he just tilts his head and keeps on firing. He doesn't even strafe or find cover, lucky for him our survivors only have accuracy against walkers, people standing still? Forget it. Poor Axel, he was this close to getting laid, now he's just a human meat shield. One wonders if he would have just kept his mouth shut, and not opened up about his past, if he would have lived longer. "I remember this one time down in Skokie, Illinois, me and by buddy-" BLAM! It's best to keep it to yourself, the apocalypse has no time for your personal anecdotes.
I like that the Governor is just toying with the prison. He clearly is not there to invade (not yet), instead he sprays the place with bullets, and delivers the post-apocalyptic version of a candy-gram. Let's just hope he doesn't find a working helicopter... Kudos to the action in this last scene, Rick's group keep proving that when it comes to dispatching walkers they are a well oiled machine, and with the addition of Michonne, Daryl and Merle, they are a fighting force of extra-ordinary magnitude. Here's hoping they can keep this pace for the rest of the season.
Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.