Recap and review of The Walking Dead – Season 3 Episode 4 – The Killer Within
I think in the realm of things I least expected out of TV, an episode of The Walking Dead ever bringing me to tears was pretty close to the top of the list, just above ever really finding out what The Island was, or Peter and Sylar ever having that massive blow-out fight they’d tease once per season on Heroes. “The Killer Within” is one of the best hours of television this season, not simply because of the two massive deaths at its center, but because it’s simply a well-paced episode of television. I’ve talked for a long time about how badly The Walking Dead needed to adopt a philosophy in which no one is ever truly safe. Sure, in the abstract, no one is safe. We’ve seen plenty of no-names bite the dust over the last two seasons, and plenty of our own. But those deaths seemed reserved solely for milestone moments in a season, at the premiere, the mid-point finale, and the season finale. We’ve never been accustomed to being on our toes as much as we should have. And for as little as some characters do, it’s surprising they’ve been allowed by the writers to live as long as they have.
Case in point, the episode’s first big casualty, T-Dog (IronE Singleton). We never really knew all that much about him, and he never got to say or do that much, such that it became something of an internet meme whenever he’d actually have lines. But “The Killer Within” not only gives him a substantial role, but he gets more characterization than I can remember him having gotten in the majority of these two seasons, revealing himself not only to be a selfless hero, but a God-fearing man, keeping faith that the Lord would take care of him in his final moments. It’s a shame that T-Dog is going out just when he gets a bit of much-needed depth which could have contributed considerably to the sense of a well-rounded ensemble. Of course, that doesn’t mean his death was any less resonant, nor the discovery of his body by Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and company any less devastating. But if you were rushing to click this review, T-Dog probably isn’t the reason why…
Lori is dead. But then, it’s not simply that Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) died that’s so hot-button, but a confluence of other factors. Let’s backtrack real quick. While taking Hershel (Scott Wilson) out for a stroll, we discover that a host of walkers has breached the prison. Rick, Glenn (Steve Yeun) and Daryl (Norman Reedus), busy negotiating with the two prisoners, who are requesting a change of scenery from the soiled cell block Rick and company confined them to, are separated from the group once the attack commences. Lori, Carl (Chandler Riggs), and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) head back into the prison and work their way through the tunnels to escape the horde, while Hershel and Beth (Emily Kinney) lock themselves behind a fence and stave off the attack from there. Rick and the others can do little else but fight their way through to the generator to close the gates, and hope that they don’t come across a string of their own dead. Once at the generator, they come across Andrew (Markice Moore), the prisoner whom Rick left for dead in the prison courtyard, and we’re given to expect that he’s the one who opened the gates. Imploring his ex-cellmate Oscar (Vincent Ward) to shoot Rick so they can retake the prison, Oscar opts to side with Rick, putting a bullet between Andrew’s eyes, even though Rick wasn’t all that open to the possibility of allowing Oscar and Axel (Lew Temple) into the group. With the matter resolved, Rick and company return to the courtyard, not expecting the tragedy that awaits them…
Yes, back to Lori being dead. It’s not really strange that her death is as gripping as it is, although I found it surprising, since Lori has always been a character who’s been hard to like, for reasons I’ve detailed in previous reviews. However, season three, thus far, had done an excellent job in reestablishing Lori as a likable figure, a person who’s made mistakes, but who is actively engaged in starting over. The brief smile she and Rick share at the episode’s start, in the triumphant moment of Hershel’s return to good health, is the first smile the couple has shared in months, if the past several episodes have been any indication. It’s bittersweet, then, that it should be their last. As Lori goes into labor, she, Maggie, and Carl hide in a maintenance room. Lori is losing a lot of blood, but she isn’t properly dilated enough to give natural birth, and so she insists that Maggie cut her open to save the baby, even knowing that the procedure will kill her. And this is where the teary-eyed business begins, on every conceivable level.
Lori explains to Carl that this is what she wants, and that she wants him to take care of his father. She tells Carl that he’s the best thing she ever did, and adds that she loves him – and really I can’t do it any kind of justice with a straight recap, since Sarah Wayne Callies goes above and beyond what I would have expected in communicating the terror and grief of her situation, while also undercutting that realization with earnest love for Carl. It’s a performance that feels as though it’s been trisected, offering three wildly varying emotions in one self-contained speech. It’s actually quite beautiful, even though what follows is one of The Walking Dead’s most gruesome, disturbing sequences, brief though it is. Maggie cuts Lori open and fumbles around in the womb until she brings up a baby. We don’t know the child’s gender, but we do know the child isn’t breathing. Maggie lightly taps on the child, and it springs to life, squalling unrelentingly. Of course, contrasted with the image of a newborn is the ruined corpse of Lori. Carl argues that they have to finish her off before she turns, and the boy insists that he be allowed to do the deed himself, which triggers a flashback to Rick’s “no more kid stuff” speech to Carl last season, charting the maturation of Carl from a wide-eyed kid to a grizzled (well, as grizzled as a little kid can be) vet who’s seen more, and worse, than any child should ever have to see.
Which leads to the episode’s absolutely stunning close. I say stunning because this is probably the best grief-acting I’ve seen since Al Pacino at the end of The Godfather Part III. Okay, maybe not the best, but certainly the most overstated, and I mean that in a good way. Maybe it’s from years of watching prestige television and prestige movies where there’s a primacy placed on delivering performances in which grief is understated and subtle, but I’m so damn glad that’s not the route they went here. It’s cathartic to just see a person let it all out, sometimes. And Andrew Lincoln is stunning, going from silent concern to gradual realization to out-and-out caterwauling histrionics. It’s a brazen bit of acting that wouldn’t work on any other show, but the turned-up-to-11 nature of the series makes this kind of a performance not only fit, but feel positively essential.
There was other stuff in this episode with Andrea (Laurie Holden) faffing about with The Governor (David Morrissey) a bit more, and Merle (Michael Rooker) requesting permission to go off searching for Daryl, but it all feels so inconsequential in light of everything that’s happened. “The Killer Within” is an episode that is going to stick with a lot of fans for a really long time, and I imagine we’re all going to be a lot vigilant from week-to-week, given that it’s now flatly apparent that nobody is safe. That atmosphere alone makes The Walking Dead one of the boldest shows on television, all the more so from the willingness to pull the trigger on that threat, if necessary. S*** is officially real.
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