Welcome to the first post-apocalyptic sitdown. Both families have brought their consiglieres and their muscle. The Governor's advisor is trying to catalog and write the history of this new world, Rick's doubles as a wheelman, and only has one foot. The Cosa Nostra this ain't.
This episode starts off well. It's nicely paced and has an air of tension from the first frame. The opening segment ends with a surprise-- Rick meets the Governor in an abandoned barn in an attempt to negotiate before they blow each other to kingdom come. It works because we never get to see the connective tissue, and we don't need to. Last episode had Rick, Michonne and Carl off on a detour, and suddenly this week Rick's breaking bread (or whiskey) with the one-eyed psycho. We don't need to see Andrea set up the meeting, all of that back and forth would have taken up half an episode, and would have felt like padding. No sir, it's time to get straight to the main course-- Rick and the Governor, mano-a-mano.
Unfortunately, when Rick meets the Gov eye to eye, it quickly becomes the ultimate stall, and really makes little sense. Right off the bat-- Either Rick or the Governor should have just put a bullet between the other's eye(s). Both men have proven they have no time for civility anymore, at least when it comes to the other. Remember last week's mantra "never be sorry"?, well all of a sudden everyone is feeling awfully sorry for one another. So, Rick and the Gov holster their weapons, and sit down to chat, but of course the Gov is playing things dirty-- he has a shotgun taped under the table. Maybe I watch too much Justified, but there's no way the Gov gets that thing out in time before Rick quick draws him a lead dessert. It seems like a minor complaint, but it's a part of the Gov's confounding strategy. He begins the negotiations by telling Rick there will be no negotiations, he's here for Rick's surrender only. Yet by the end of the episode he's changed his tune with a bargain that makes zero sense. Give me Michonne and we're square, really? Even with what little Rick knows of him, he shouldn't believe that for a moment. The maddening thing is they never actually talk about why any of this is happening. We know the Gov is a power hungry madman, but shouldn't Rick ask why it's such a big deal that his people are living at the prison? Rick and Co. only attacked Woodbury because his people were captured, and the Gov retaliated, but that's established early in their conversation, so that begs the question-- what are they fighting for? Sure, the Gov would throw out some line about the safety of his people, but it would be pretty easy for Rick to prove they have no intentions of disturbing his town.
These two men sitting down for a chat should have been electric, but it wasn't. It's as if the writers figured their meeting would automatically bring the drama, but it really doesn't. Maybe if the Governor asserted his authority more- This is his land, outsiders will not be tolerated etc., and as the conversation elevates, bring out the knife to the ribs- "Oh, I hear your daughter may not actually be yours" (side note: we knew Andrea has lose lips, but seriously?). Rick, on the other hand, really should have played the cop- I know you're a disturbed individual, you keep heads in vats, you need to be eliminated. Yet instead we get a tenuous bargain. The Gov's story about the death of his wife was a good moment, and there is certainly truth to the notion that both men will be putting their loved ones in danger, yet as I said earlier- either man could have ended the threat a million times over by now, but they end on murky terms and a phantom bargain. The following scenes prove the Governor will do what we already knew he would, and Rick has a moment of contemplation he should never have. We're meant to feel some kind of weight due to the bonding with Michonne last episode, but it just doesn't add up.
The rest of the cast have some interesting bits in this episode. The interactions between Herschel and Milton are pretty fascinating. Here are two men interested in preservation, and could actually do something good if given the chance. Herschel's "At least buy me a drink first" was classic. Daryl and Martinez' alpha male contest was fun, and provided the only action in the episode. The two soldiers finding common ground was a nice touch, hell, they even shared a smoke. I didn't think it was possible, but Andrea somehow fell deeper into the abyss. I could buy the idea she decided to stay with the Gov so she could be an inside man, otherwise she is literally a broken character. Merle's actions also make little sense. Daryl leaves on a planned mission, but suddenly Merle acts like he's run off and in danger. I get that he wants to end the Governor, but when he keeps wailing that "his brother is out there" I can only scratch my head. It was nice to see Glenn and Maggie "make up", but Glenn being gun shy around zombies is only going to become an increasing problem for their relationship. No matter where you decide to get horizontal, there's bound to be a groan or two in the distance.
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.