Those who love bloodshed may be disappointed in this episode's overall lack of zombie carnage, but its real transgression is making the "hang" in its mid-season cliffhanger an almost pointless, arm-tiring endeavor. I would have been interesting to see how the Dixon brothers got themselves out of that pickle. The guy who can bag a squirrel 1,000 feet out while squinting and the man who can chop an onion without opening the silverware drawer, should be able to bring the mayhem, but instead they're rescued by Rick and Co. who bring a different kind of mayhem, and more of that obscuring smoke. Despite it only making sense in a film kind of way, I did like the Governor slowly wading through the haze. It doesn't matter if they're all getting away, his mind has already been made up.
What this episode gets right is letting all the various characters and connections uncoil. Once our group is safely outside the walls of Woodbury, it's like a kid dropped his chemistry set- all the various chemicals are mixing with unintended and dangerous results, and none are more volatile than Merle. He gets off on the fact that his very presence stirs the pot. There's not even a hint of an apology on his mind , he just keeps antagonizing with a wicked smile. Everyone's got a weapon pointed at him and he couldn't be happier. Blood is thicker than water, but it has to be pretty damn thick if you are going to throw in with Merle, but that's just what Daryl does. He doesn't completely revert to little brother mode, you get the sense that he's doing it because he feels like it's his duty, as misplaced as that may be. Spinoffs rarely work, but somehow I think "The Walking Dixons" would be ratings gold.
There's a disparity between the people a t the prison, and the inhabitants of Woodbury. Sure, there's more people in the town, and there's no time to give them all a unique voice, but their deficiency as even the most minor of characters stuck out like a sore thumb in this episode. Why not pick a few to flesh out? Just because they live in Woodbury doesn't make them bad people, and you could blur the lines even further if we grew to like some of them. It would also help Andrea's newest character development- she who gives the big game speech. Why she is even lifting a finger to help the Governor at this point is more than a bit head scratching. Sure, you could say she's doing it for the people, but it would be much more powerful if we actually knew who they are...
Living in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse is tough, but it does have its advantages. One of them being an overabundance of stress relief. Need to let out some pent up rage? No problem, just grab a walker and stomp its head like an overripe melon. Feel your anger dissipate with a clear conscience, and if one doesn't do the trick, well, there's plenty more where that came from. For now we'll refer to it as "the Glenn method". Steven Yeun is putting in some great work this season, and Glenn is a good example of true progress. Speaking of, Herschel claiming Glenn was like a son to him was a nice touch.
The most fascinating aspect of this season is still the juxtaposition of Woodbury and the prison. Rick and Co. pull a jailbreak in Woodbury, only to come back to a situation that suddenly feels eerily familiar. If this story was told from Tyreese and Sasha's perspective, Rick might as well be the Governor. Everyone mutely defers to his authority, and instead of keeping heads in vats and a zombie child in a cage, he gets phantom phone calls and waves his gun around screaming at apparitions. It's a different kind of crazy, born out of a crushing sense of responsibility, but it's every bit as frightening.
I'll leave you with this episode's most off-putting moment- Beth's little too-warm of a welcome for Rick. What's the over/under on Beth and phantasm Lori throwing down by season's end?
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.