Recap and review of The Walking Dead – Season 3 Episode 5 – Say the Word
It’s hard to argue that The Walking Dead doesn’t have its priorities in order. “Say the Word” is a grim rumination on the nature of grief, and an episode that also explores how people adapt to a world that has shifted towards the overtly horrific. It’s hard not to reflect on everything that happened last week, from T-Dog (IronE Singleton) laying down his life to allow Carol (Melissa McBride) the chance to escape a zombie horde, to Lori’s (Sarah Wayne Callies) climactic sacrifice to ensure the survival of her baby daughter. Hell, I’m still reeling from Rick’s reaction to it all. The miracle of The Walking Dead’s third season is in how it wrings so much out of characters that have been given so little. While eulogizing T-Dog, Glenn (Steve Yeun) mentions how T-Dog picked up senior citizens when evacuations started due to the outbreak, because he was the kind of guy who wanted to make sure everyone got to safety. And it got me thinking, but for this tidbit and his last minute invocations of God before his death, what did we really ever know about T-Dog? What kind of a person was T-Dog anyway? It’s remarkable that the show could wring so much genuine pathos out of the audience for characters we never knew that much about. I feel it’s simply that we thought we knew them better than we did, since they’ve been with us from the start. There’s something to be said for growing accustomed to someone’s presence, and absences were certainly felt tonight, more than ever. Given how divided much of the fanbase often was concerning Lori, seeing her not so much as her own independent character, but as simply a source of conflict between Rick and Shane, it’s a real achievement that her death is among the series’ most heart-wrenching moments.
So what, then, of “Say the Word”? Well, it’s an episode that is very atmospheric and introspective in certain respects. Outside of the odd grunt or holler, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) doesn’t say a word throughout the entirety of the episode, except for a raspy “hello” when answering the prison telephone. The episode works because it forces Rick to interface with his grief in an indirect manner, allowing him to channel his emotions into the systematic killing of a hall full of walkers. He essentially picks off all the stragglers they missed last week, and cuts one huge swath of destruction through the bowels of the prison. It’s an unorthodox method of therapy, but it’s not like they have grief counselors on hand.
Through his blood-drunk journey through the prison, Rick encounters Glenn, who tries to talk him down. But Rick is too delirious in his grief, and I’m kind of amazed at how simple and, frankly, genius it is to offset his devastatingly vocal reaction to the news of Lori’s death last week with complete silence here. But more than that, I was intrigued by how Rick is paralleled with The Governor (David Morrissey). Both men are feral, though The Governor’s barbarity is beneath the surface, whereas Rick’s is very much overt. For instance, when Rick happens upon the maintenance room around where Lori died, he encounters a debilitated walker with a swollen belly reminiscent of Lori’s baby bump. Rick proceeds to lose his mind completely, shooting the walker through the skull, and then stabbing it in the stomach, repeatedly, with his knife. On The Talking Dead, director Greg Nicotero confirmed that the bloated walker is fat from having just eaten what was left of Lori from the end of last week, which is also confirmed from Rick having found Carl’s bullet amid the gore. After two seasons of trying to be a good man in a crippled world, Rick no longer pretends toward civility, instead choosing to externalize his emotions by acting them out on any walker within spitting distance. I guess we’ll see soon enough how well that works out for him.
But there are other ways in which The Governor and Rick are paralleled. They’re both men on the thin end of sanity who are in charge of their own makeshift societies, but more than that, they’re both fathers. To daughters. Rick’s baby girl isn’t even named yet, although Carl (Chandler Riggs) proposes several names of their dearly departed: Amy, Andrea, Jackie, Carol…Lori. We don’t know the name of The Governor’s daughter, but the reveal is staggering in its own way. Turns out she’s a walker, and ol’ daddy has her restrained in his estate, where he brushes his hair, because that’s something fathers do in a zombie apocalypse, apparently.
The stuff in Woodbury has a hard time feeling as substantial as the business in the prison, and I’d argue that it’s partially because Michonne (Danai Gurira), while awesome in a silent assassin sort of way, doesn’t have much of a character right now. While T-Dog could get away with that and still have his sacrifice have meaning, Michonne isn’t afforded the same luxury, since she hasn’t been with us terribly long. I can’t stress enough, the idea of Michonne is awesome, a badass, sword-wielding keeper of pet zombies who speaks softly but carries a big stick (figuratively, of course), but there needs to be more there, as she’s kind of tedious this week. Michonne sees The Governor with his daughter, and this bolsters her previously-established suspicions about Woodbury, and just how safe this place is. She implores Andrea (Laurie Holden) to leave with her, but Andrea likes finally having a safe zone to call home. For once, Andrea makes a salient observation, claiming that Michonne is asking her to leave with her, yet she isn’t giving her anything to really go on. You’d think Michonne would come out with her suspicions of why everything isn’t on the up-and-up, at least before going around and killing the walkers kept in storage, in an attempt to get she and Andrea thrown out of Woodbury. But it doesn’t work. Ultimately, Michonne goes off on her own, leaving Andrea looking concerned and vaguely despondent, as if wondering if, and to what extent, Michonne might be right.
Of course, we know, as students of decent drama, that Michonne is right. But it’s easy to see how Andrea would want to believe that there are safe havens in the world. Unfortunately, The Governor doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry to accommodate her need to believe, as he stages a huge event that’s part of a larger town celebration, in which two men enter a makeshift boxing ring, and de-fanged walkers are the ring ropes. It’s a barbaric event, not necessarily made any less so by The Governor’s revelation that the event is staged, but I guess people need to be entertained somehow. And it does demystify the dead, to a certain extent, by showing The Governor and his people claiming direct agency over them, and neutralizing their threat by turning it into a macabre festival showcase. So that’s one for the win column, I guess. But Andrea is disgusted by the entire enterprise, and so the conflict with The Governor is likely going to escalate sooner rather than later.
As for the prison group, we have a brief setpiece in which Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) set off to procure formula for the baby before it starves to death. It’s one of the few fetch quests in recent seasons that feels genuinely substantial to the overall narrative being presented, with the group being more focused on the survival of the hope that the baby represents. It’s also chock full of some pretty great moments, from Daryl’s immediate insistence that they aren’t going to be losing anyone else today, to his glee over having killed a possum that can serve as their supper. And color me shocked, but Daryl holding the baby (who he named “little asskicker”) looked far more natural than I’d have imagined.
All in all, “Say the Word” is a fitting follow-up to last week’s huge shocker of an episode. We have Michonne likely on her way to the prison (because where else could her wandering take her?), Andrea looking as though she’s going to become a prisoner in Woodbury, and a mysterious phone call looking to change the game. I can’t be sure if this first half of the season is setting up an invasion or an all-out war between the prison-folk and the citizens of Woodbury, but I know that, wherever it’s headed, this is easily The Walking Dead’s best season, so far.
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