This week’s installment, “Made to Suffer,” is the last episode before the midseason break – new episodes don’t start up again until February — so are we made to care that we have such a long wait once this episode ends? Kinda. While this is a better episode than most of this season’s, it doesn’t quite measure up to the standards of past pre-break attempts.
With a few exceptions, nothing overly exciting happens here, and the “cliffhanger” ending is hardly a cliffhanger at all. While the brotherly reconnection of Daryl and Merle is strongly encouraged, they were destined to cross paths all season. Yes, it’s a cool scene, and both Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus do an excellent job at emoting, but the scene does not come as a surprise and doesn’t create suspense. Plus, new characters from the comic were introduced – namely Tyreese – but it’s hazy whether or not his name was actually used and little to no character development from this new crew ever occurred, and that would have been a major plus.
Also, why would Rick have a Shane mirage of Shane with a hairstyle/facial hair configuration that never appeared on the show? Was Shane-in-the-afterlife just celebrating Movember? (Oh hey, Jon Bernthal.)
Anyway… let’s get into the nitty gritty, shall we?
Thank goodness Rick et. al came to Woodbury packing heat in the form of tear gas – Maggie and Glenn, you are released! Perhaps this was too coincidental of a thing to be packing with them, writers, and the tear gas did seem a mite too effective. A scene of a Prison/Woodbury face off would have been appropriately climactic for this midseason finale with more human vs. human combat in lieu of the passive tear gas approach.
It’s also too bad the only casualty, Oscar The Prisoner, is likewise anticlimactic. It’s almost as if he was brought along to be the sacrificial lamb – as with other episodes, the actor with the least amount of lines gets the axe (or the bullet, in some cases). One would assume a great battle is in the works for the prison at the real season finale, but even a little taste would have been much appreciated. Their stealthy escape perhaps made logical sense, but, alas, it didn’t make for very compelling viewing.
At the very least, it would have even been a win for the audience if Rick and The Governor had menacingly locked eyes across the courtyard, or something to that effect. A Rick/The Governor brush would have prefaced future action nicely. None of that happened, but it probably should have in order to create an appropriate “midseason finale” feel.
Two of the standout scenes in this episode were human vs. human fight scenes – both rose above the norm because in addition to some noteworthy fight choreography, they featured some creativity in the part of the writers: main weapons that were chosen out of necessity. The first of these scenes occurs when Glenn and Maggie fight off their captors with zombie bones as knives. In the zombie apocalypse, one isn’t always afforded with ready use of a machete or a samurai sword. Facing his and Maggie’s potential death, Glenn has to go primeval in order for them to survive, and this scene is a more-than-suitable extension of last week’s extended fight scene between him and Merle. Using bones is so Caveman, and the blood-streaked Glenn is something out of Lord of the Flies.
Love is the motivating factor for Glenn and Maggie to fight so hard to life – so they can be together and not have to experience each other suffering again. Steven Yeun and Lauren Cohan have another standout week of getting in touch with their respective feral selves – for instance, the fire in Maggie’s eyes as she viciously stabs the bone fragment into The Governor’s henchman’s neck is downright incendiary.
The second, of course, is the very physical battle between Michonne and The Governor – prompted by Michonne stabbing poor lil’ zombie Penny through the mouth. Usually, the fight scenes on The Walking Dead, leave a lot to be desired in terms of how they are paced, but this one featured appropriately frenetic camera work that followed the actors’ complicated fight choreography with exacting precision – as Michonne dove diagonally down to get her sword, the camera followed and didn’t miss a trick. It was also moving in tandem with every punch The Governor landed on Michonne’s face. Also, like Glenn, she makes an alternative weapon choice in the glass shard in The Governor’s eye.
It’s always a treat when The Walking Dead is clever.
What was distracting from all of the well-executed action here was the latex, mechanically-chomping zombie head released from the giant tank that looked like it came from Party City. Oh well – we can’t win ‘em all.
Speaking of which, Cowboy Carl is probably one of the most annoying The Walking Dead characters. And, admittedly, not a lot of this is the character’s fault. He is a kid who wears a giant sheriff’s hat and fends for himself – Hershel even lets him walk down a dark prison corridor by himself this week (seriously?) – and therefore thinks that someone officially deputized him along the line. But let’s just say it: the kid who plays Carl, Chandler Riggs, is a bad actor. He reads every one of lines in an emotionless, deadpan monotone regardless if he is supposed to show emotion or not. It grows more and more tiring to watch him every week. This week – as Carl saves Tyreese and crew – he probably should have tried for a combination of commanding force with some underlying childlike doubt of his “leadership.” Nope. Just more of the status quo.
Couldn’t they have snapped up a better kid from some community theater production of The Who’s Tommy? Hopefully the young Mr. Riggs can get an acting coach over the break…
There were some great performances in this episode, however. The best came from Danai Gurira as Michonne, who broke her stoic exterior in a major way as she pleaded with Rick to let her stay with his crew… only with her eyes. Her eyes dart around with desperation as she tells Rick, “you need me,” but really, she is wordlessly saying, “I need you.” Battered physically from her fight with The Governor, and emotionally from having a gun pointed at her from her former-BFF Andrea, she is stripped of her physical power. She needs the crutch of Rick and his crew to help defeat The Governor, and she knows that. There have been murmurings that Michonne is a lesbian and in love with Andrea – which is almost understandable after how hurt she behaves after their encounter – and it would be interesting to see how their dynamic plays out over the course of the next round of episodes.
While The Governor might have started this season off being a formidable eventual foe for Rick, he has just gotten really unstable over the course of the season. Obviously, Rick will win any face off with him, in that, for the most part, Rick is mentally stable and is loyal to the members of the Ricktatorship. The Governor, in this episode especially, is just all over the place.
Boyfriend is wack, yo – not the embodiment of evil he was made out to be in the graphic novels. His affair with Andrea, the increasingly crazy antics with Penny… he is effective in this episode as he ruthlessly throws punches at a woman (Michonne) and brainwashes his followers into thinking that any outsiders are terrorists as he orates, very GWB-like, “I’m afraid of terrorists who want what we have!” By the way, bring on the red state undercurrent of the south, The Walking Dead!
If you see something, say something. But the writers might be making a mistake in trying to give The Governor “softer” facets, because they make him less frightening and more unhinged. And it’s pretty easy to see what his weak spots are, Rick. Just ask Michonne – blurt out the name “Penny,” and his ass is yours.
The Upside: Many scenes of valuable, creative, and well-shot action. A great, nuanced performance from Danai Gurira as Michonne. Also, Carol’s scene with Axel The Pervert was very well written. Girl, you’re growing on us!
The Downside: The Carl Breaking Point is near and The Governor needs to step up the evil. Also… we need more Milton!
On the Side: In light of his new eye injury, wear the eyepatch, The Governor – wear the funky, funky eyepatch.