Fact: The Walking Dead is better when there’s no zombies around at all. In a world where right and wrong have become morbidly intertwined, the mere sight of an unfamiliar, non-zombified face is enough to send entire factions of people into paranoid spirals. As an audience, we know what we can expect from the undead when the appear on screen: lots of groaning and bite-y behavior. But put a bunch of humans on screen – especially those unfamiliar with each other – and leave them to their self-preserving instincts can make for some fantastic conflicts – something ‘Made to Suffer’ has in spades, on both sides of the brewing war between the prison and Woodbury.
‘Made to Suffer’ is a clear halfway point for the narrative of season 3, signified by the eyepatch The Governor dons after Michonne puts a piece of glass through his eye. Opening with the first appearance of Tyreese (a well-known character from the comics) and closing with the contained fury of The Governor’s remaining eye, everything in tonight’s episode was the visual representation of marking off a narrative checklist – although the execution of said plots are handled well enough to keep it from feeling orchestrated.
Some of these were pretty obvious: Darly and Merle crossing paths at some point was predictable, as was The Governor throwing Merle’s loyalty away, when he needed to blame the raid on something other than “My bad, I was torturing some young folk and pretending to rape one of them.” Others were a welcome surprise: the showdown between Michonne and The Governor in his secret zombie room was probably the best filmed scene of the series (seriously, there is some beautifully brutal cinematography in that fight sequence), and while I’m not sure where they’re going with Rick seeing visions of Shane, it was certainly a moment worth some thought over the next couple months.
The pacing of the episode kept things moving, a smart move in those moments where the motives and/or decisions of characters became really questionable – most notably when Andrea allows Michonne to escape, and doesn’t have much to say when she discovers The Governor crying with a dead zombie girl in his arms, surrounded by fish tanks full of zombie heads (that are still alive, somehow?). If there’s any time to get the fuck out (or at least say “What the fuck?”) I think the time would be there. We’re starting to see their little relationship fracture, however – his demands that she just go check on people, and not bring her estrogen to the manhunt – and this is brushed off with a petty explanation about it preparing him for the outside world.
It’s also quite convenient how Rick and company run into Maggie and Glenn just at the right time, in the right building, right before Merle was about to execute them in front of each other – after Maggie stabs one of them in the neck with the broken forearm of a zombie, lest we forget. And speaking of convenience, as soon as one black guy dies, a new one is introduced. T-Dog gave way to Oscar, who gives way to Tyreese, part of the new group of survivors Carl locks away in part of the prison. Which also begs the question: if they could just walk in that fallen part of jail in the back, how long until someone in Woodbury takes advantage of it?
I never thought I’d say this, but I’m really looking forward to the return of The Walking Dead. With Rick and The Governor on a crash course on the second half, I’m hoping we can get under the skin of these two leaders. The most interesting part of this season’s narrative is exploring the idea of reality between Woodbury and the prison: the ideologies of these two men have played out side by side, and have only started to collide with the events of this episode – all of which Michonne is a catalyst to: a woman neither of these men really trust or understand.
With new faces in every episode – many of them filling in the place of very familiar ones – The Walking Dead‘s finally figured out how to give weight to every event and action that takes place – both in the place of the overall narrative, and for each character. New faces are uncertainties, and just having them in the background of scenes provides a lot of tension to a show that was direly missing it last season.
This doesn’t have to be big story lines like “how evil is The Governor, and the other people of Woodbury?” This paranoid mentality drives even the smallest scenes: is Axel really a rapey convict? His scene in the prison with Beth are a microcosm of what has made this show so good this year: trouble can come from anywhere – but at least when that trouble is there to eat your organs, it’s easy to understand. It’s trying to figure out what’s going on in someone’s head – the unknown – that is really the most terrifying.
– weird time for Rick to have a flashback of a bearded Shane, isn’t it? “Don’t forget: Rick’s insane!”
– I’m not sure how I feel about The Governor throwing around the terrorist word: it just doesn’t fit when he uses it in private. I understand it with the regular folk of the town for purposes of propaganda, but the phrase doesn’t work when it’s not part of a speech.
– will Andrea ever do anything that makes sense? She finally starts to question Woodbury when she’s not allowed to walk around with a gun, but then she immediately drops it after seeing wet zombie heads and a man bleeding from his eye.
– Carl’s becoming more wooden with every episode – the poor kid needs some more depth to his character than “he’s a total fucking nihilist now.” Little man needs some nuance!
– “You got the short hair… you’re not a lesbian?”
– the show’s material finally this season has breathed life into the opening credits music: the tension and rapid pace of the string arrangement is now injected into the core of each episode, really driving the feeling of constant movement and danger essential to the show’s tone.
– once The Governor gets the eye bandage, he becomes all unhinged and crazy-eyed: a little cartoonish, even for an episode where a man cries over a dead girl, unconcerned with the inch-long shard of glass in his eyeball. Not the smoothest character transition, nor the subtlest (look out, he’s got an eyepatch!!)
What did you think of ‘Made to Suffer’, and what do you predict to happen when the show returns in February? Feel free to leave your thoughts/comments below, and I’ll see you in a couple months!