Original air date: November 10, 2013

Review (with SPOILERS): I may have to change my tune on this show.  This season, I’ve been reviewing some pretty good episodes! But I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop.  The show has truly earned that skeptical attitude, but it’s at least worth considering that it may have turned over a new leaf (at least until it changes show-runners again).

The recipe for this episode’s success was pretty simple: a) allow the stronger actors on the show to carry the dramatic weight and (b) allow the behind-the-camera team to do a white-knuckle zombie scene.

  • Herschel’s watch: It’s hard not to admire Herschel as a man, after watching him take care of that entire sick ward.  He just kept going and kept going, even after helpers Sasha and Glen dropped away, he managed to tend to the sick until Darryl’s crew returned with the medicine.  We’ve often heard characters on this show talking about doing “anything” to keep the group together and alive.  Usually that talk is just to justify killing someone or leaving someone behind because the audience needed to be reminded – again – of that deadest horse of a trope: the needs of the group outweigh the needs of the individual. Well, in this case, there wasn’t a lot of high-minded talk. We just got to see Herschel doing something brave and hard.  There were little nods to how tired he looked, but for the most part, the writing crew trusted actor Scott Wilson to demonstrate the task without a lot of exposition.  Nicely done…  Even the bits where Herschel refused to do the nasty deed in front of everyone were worthwhile.  I mean, I personally thought he was being a bit tedious, but it did seem like something that would be important to Herschel, so I’m willing to humor him.
  • Tense zombie scenes: Man… Dhat scene just went on and on and on!  As viewers, we’ve known this was coming for a few weeks and we’ve already seen one internal zombie outbreak this season.  What made this scene effective was how slowly it rolled out.  When Herschel stopped locking people up in their cells to tend a fallen Sasha and the lady in the next cell reanimated, she didn’t immediately come lurching around the corner after him.  And even after the zombies were rampaging in the sick ward, everything happened so slowly, Herschel was able to organize a plan and execute it.  Of course, while this is going on, Rick comes back to find the fence collapsing and he has to deputize Carl for what seemed like a challenge level of a zombie video game: Kill all 200 zombies coming through the gap in the fence!  The whole combined sequence created the feeling that life at the Prison was coming apart at the seams.

Those two elements really dominated the episode, leaving little time to deal with the Carol situation.  Rick did get to tell Maggie what had happened and in a weaker element of the episode, Maggie blubbered that Rick had done the right thing.  Really, really wish they’d find something compelling for Maggie to do.  She’s gone from being such a fun character, but she loses something if she doesn’t have a sassy edge. And the scene with Rick and Herschel was kinda lame too.  I mean, Herschel does all he can to drag Rick’s limp body to the finish line, but that’s a LOT of dead weight for one old, peg-legged man to carry.  Herschel eventually rushes off to spend more time with the sick and zombifying rather than talk to Rick any more.  I don’t blame him.

The show has a real Rick problem.  He can be an effective character in very limited doses doing very narrowly defined activities, but anytime he has to string more than 3-4 sentences together, the episode starts to sag.  You can see the show’s creators pushing more of an ensemble-cast approach to this season as a partial solution, but I’m not really sure what permanent solution exists other than to kill him.  TWD  will always be hamstrung with Andrew Lincoln in the cast (like an alt-version of The Wire with Pryzbylewski as the central character), but they probably can’t kill him and will have to settle for being good.

Of course, just as I was thinking what a (mostly) great episode this was, the Governor shows up.  It’s funny because I thought the last sequence of the show was oddly paced.  I kept looking at my watch and thinking, “They still have a few more minutes after this commercial.  What are they possibly hoping to accomplish?”  I just don’t understand why anyone would want more of the Governor.  The scene where he was revealed felt a LOT like the post-credits sequence in a Marvel superhero movie, so I tried to imagine that scene playing out in a crowded movie theater on opening weekend.  You know, where you’d hear a few dudes yelling expectantly, “Oh $hit!  It’s Thanos!” at the end of the Avengers.  Except, I can’t imagine anyone being similarly excited that the Governor is coming back.  I guess he could cause some mayhem and chase the group out of the prison?  Or he could cause some big body-count. Except that the flu already killed all the characters without names.  This scene was like finding a human toe in the bottom of a delicious bowl of ice cream.

Also, let’s fire the music director on this show!  No more musical interludes.  I prefer Beth sing-a-longs to the musical interludes.

Conclusion: Maybe they’re figuring it out?  Maybe they aren’t?  This whole episode was really great except for the continuing Rick problem and the return of someone we never hoped to see again.  I can’t figure out if competent people are running this show or not.

Grade: B+ (factoring in the demerits for the final scene)

-Dean Stell