TV shows and movies about survival are always popular, and The Walking Dead, at heart, belongs in this category. If the show were just about undead ghouls eating people, it would get old very fast. Living in the information age, enjoying the comforts and frustrations of twenty-first century life, and having a functioning society with law and order are all things people take for granted. With survival fiction, we speculate as to what would happen if all of it was to disappear.
In the penultimate mid-season episode, “When the Dead Come Knocking,” two characters have their every human right taken away by the despotic Governor. Representation, due process, and the people who form the engine to make it run are gone. Instead of men in uniform, thugs like Merle are the “thin blue line.”
Merle’s first tactic is to threaten Maggie while getting up close and personal with Glenn. Merle notes that it will take more than physical intimidation to frighten Glenn, so he implies that Maggie will be the one to suffer. As Merle speculates on Glenn and Maggie being intimate, he puts himself into the bedroom with them; the last thing on earth that Glenn wants. He responds to Merle with a honey of a headbutt.
Glenn’s first lie to Merle, about Rick’s group living on the road and not “in some dungeon” might have stuck had he not followed up with another whopper in an attempt to exaggerate the group’s numbers. Merle sees right through the story when Glenn makes the novice mistake of giving too much. On the other hand, Merle keeps his cards close, and it is in his interest to keep Glenn in the dark about Andrea.
It’s clear that the Governor is an expert at controlling information, as his practice of frequent mass murder is only known to the men helping him carry it out. Blissfully ignorant of this, Andrea would start asking way too many questions if she knew about Glenn and Maggie. She has proven herself not to be the type to keep her cards close.
“You know what they say, he’ll be hungry again in an hour,” Merle says as he sics a walker on Glenn, who is tied to a chair. He seems to suggest that this is some sort of popular saying in Woodbury. Then we are introduced to Super Glenn, who smashes his confinement and uses a piece of it to bash the walker’s brains out. Survival instinct paired with knowing that Merle will do the same to Maggie afterwards, gives Glenn the moxie to save himself.
The psychological intimidation of being forced to strip, and the terror of seeing a gun pointed at her lover is enough to make Maggie disclose the group’s location. The Governor takes Maggie’s interrogation in hand, not out of any desire to protect her from Merle, but for his own pleasure. This is a man who likes doing the horrible things he does. In The Walking Dead, the “big man” form of government is the only form functioning.
Michonne has fled one prison, only to end up locked in another when Rick takes her sword away and exploits her injury in questioning her. She witnesses a rare moment of humanity shortly after being taken into Rick’s camp: Carol’s moment with Rick, and her grieving for Lori’s death, indicates to Michonne that these are the good guys. Despite Rick’s methods, she is on board for the rescue.
Rick and Carl get to have a much-delayed father and son talk. It’s touching that Rick puts the safety of the camp in his son’s hands. It is clear, however, that Rick intends to hit the Governor first. Leaving only Carl, Hershel, Beth, and Carol to defend the prison would be signing their death warrants. Carl is nevertheless reassured by receiving the mantle of responsibility, and he chooses a name for the baby: Judith.
Names have a prevalence in this episode, as we are introduced to Michael Coleman, cancer patient and soon to be “biter” (another Woodbury saying) who Milton hopes to behaviorally manipulate after death. He uses a bell, a record, and the names of Mr. Coleman’s family (Betty, Michael Jr, and Emily) as stimulus. Milton, the big bag of useless that he is, quickly puts himself in mortal danger, and Andrea saves his hide.
An unnamed hermit comes on the scene while the rescue group hides out in his domicile. There are likely many lone-wolf survivalists holding out in the world, but this guy doesn’t have it nearly as together as someone like Michonne. She kills him almost immediately, and since his screaming and carrying on has lured the herd, they make the rational decision and throw the guy to the walkers before he can turn.
The scene in front of the house is drawn-out and purposefully nauseating, the result of some fast moral compromises on the part of the main group. When Rick and the Governor come to blows, it will be interesting to see who strikes first, and what the bloody cost will be.
Mid season finale on Sunday December 2!
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