Recap video and review of The Walking Dead – Season 3 Episode 7 – When The Dead Come Knocking
Well, that was unsettling. Of course, this is not to say that The Walking Dead isn’t a show that frequently traffics in the unsettling. But The Governor (David Morrissey) forcing Maggie (Lauren Cohan) to disrobe, and then implicitly threatening her with rape, is beyond the pale, even for a show protected by the looser restrictions of cable TV. Now I know that this interrogation goes much further in the comics, but I’m given to understand that just about everything about The Walking Dead is darker in the comics. And while the creative forces behind the show have stated that their intention is to craft their own interpretation of the source material’s characters, themes, and story, it’s easy to see how the constant threat and pervasive, often oppressive sense of bleakness is informed by the comics. Whether the show will eventually go all the way in pulling the trigger on that unrelenting darkness remains to be seen, but “When The Dead Come Knocking” goes a long way in trying meet the comics on its own ground. Short of killing off a main character or two, I can’t imagine how an episode of the series could get much darker than this.
Michonne (Danai Gurira) has made it to the prison, and though Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is initially hesitant to let her in, Carl (Chandler Riggs) makes up his mind for him, shooting the walkers surrounding her before they can finish her off. They take the unconscious Michonne, who’s passed out from the gunshot wound to her leg (courtesy of Merle), into the prison, questioning her about who she is, where she came from, and what her intentions are. Michonne glowers for a while, a characterization that’s beyond tired at this point, though she eventually reveals what she knows about The Governor, Woodbury, and the capture of Maggie and Glenn (Steven Yeun), although she stops just short of name-dropping Merle (Michael Rooker), because it’s become clear that they’re teasing out the brother vs. brother confrontation for next week’s midseason finale. No problem with that, really, especially when this episode is as proactive as it is, with Rick mobilizing Daryl (Norman Reedus) and the rest of his forces to mount a rescue mission. Rick shares a quick heart-to-heart with Carl, and we see the extent to which Carl has grown as a result of his hardships, keeping it strictly business with his father, who explains that Carl will essentially be the man of the house while he’s away (“the house”, in this case, being a maximum security prison). Carl seems ready for the responsibility, and Rick seems ready to hand over the reins, although the two do share a nice little moment in which Carl decides on a name for his baby sister (“Judith”, after his third grade teacher), and Rick assents, with the kind of fatherly warmth we haven’t seen since Hershel’s farm. This season has been much better in refreshing audiences on the stakes by giving us emotional character beats such as this, particularly those involving the characters and relationships that are less developed than they should be, such as Carl, and his relationship with Rick.
The rescue mission leads the group of Rick, Daryl, Oscar (Vincent Ward), and Michonne through the woods outside Woodbury, and right into a horde of walkers. The group takes refuge in the cabin of a hilariously random hermit, who orders the group to get out of his house, and then demands to see Rick’s badge once he identifies himself as a cop. Michonne quickly dispatches of him, and the hermit is fed to the gang of walkers outside the door (while an absolutely priceless “Sponsored by KFC” ad flashes at the bottom of the screen). These are the only laughs to be had in the episode (inasfar as seeing some random nutjob get offed can be said to be funny), and also the only real levity outside of Carol (Melissa McBride) being reunited with Rick and the gang (although this ultimately descends into “waterworks” territory, as Carol breaks down when she learns that Lori didn’t make it). Really, the show, and its characters, need every ounce of levity it can get.
Glenn is far removed from any good times that might exist to be had: he’s duct-taped to a chair in the basement of a building in Woodbury, with Merle threatening him with violence if he doesn’t reveal where his friends are encamped. Merle proves himself to be as straightforward a bad guy as the series has ever had, needling Glenn with taunts about Maggie, and then loosing a walker into the room when Glenn has the temerity to try and fight back. Against the walker, this is exactly what Glenn does, as he finds a way to fend off the creature’s advance, even while strapped to the chair. He eventually breaks the chair against a wall and drives the loosened arm of the chair through the walker’s temple, before letting out a pained, victorious war cry. Glenn has been short on truly badass moments, but this is more than enough to make up the difference. He’s bloody, and none the worse for wear, but he’s proved himself a survivor in the plainest possible terms.
Maggie, meanwhile, has been listening to Glenn’s travails from the adjacent room, a torture in itself, though she’s in for much worse. The Governor enters the room and tries to “good cop” her into revealing the location of her friends, but Maggie refuses to budge. And so he quickly drops the well-intentioned facade and orders her to stand up and remove her, or he’ll have Glenn’s hand severed and brought to her. In one of the more overtly uncomfortable, disturbing moments in the series’ history, The Governor bends a topless Maggie over a table and looks as if he’s about to undo his belt. Thankfully, he simply walks away. But the psychological damage has been done. By episode’s end, all The Governor has to do to get Maggie to talk is wave his gun in Glenn’s general direction. It’s a harrowing bit of business, as one might argue that The Governor has good intentions in keeping his people safe, rationalizing that Rick’s group is far more dangerous, since they once chained Merle to a roof and left him to die. But his methods leave little wiggle room in the morality department. While Rick has his own moral lapses this week, squeezing Michonne’s injured leg to coax answers out of her, it doesn’t feel inherently cruel in the way The Governor’s actions do. I’ve previously talked at length about how Rick and The Governor are illustrated as mirror images of one another, but at the end of the day, we can still see that Rick is more or less a good man, driven to occasional immorality in order to survive. It’s almost impossible to say the same thing about The Governor.
The episode’s relatively minor subplot involves Andrea (Laurie Holden) providing assistance to Woodbury’s resident scientist, Milton (Dallas Roberts), as he performs a series of cognition tests on an elderly man named Michael Coleman, who’s volunteered to have his transformation into a walker documented. The people of Woodbury are well-aware that you turn into a walker once you die, regardless of your manner of death, and so Coleman, slowly succumbing to cancer, makes an ideal test subject. The plot is poignant, in its own way, as Milton argues for humanity, and for the pipe-dream of turning walkers back someday, while Andrea insists that what’s lost is lost, and that walkers aren’t people anymore, just “monsters.” This is brought to bear in the story’s climax, when Milton loosens the restraints, over Andrea’s objections, believing that a breakthrough has been made, and that Coleman won’t attack once loosed. But Milton is proven wrong, and would have been a goner, had Andrea not interceded at the drop of a hat. Given that her sister was a victim of a walker attack, it’s easy to believe that Andrea would love to subscribe to Milton’s way of thinking, but she’s seen too much, and been through too much, to ever be that naive. Andrea feels like much more of a well-rounded character than she used to, and perhaps I was wrong about her gradual indoctrination into The Governor’s ideology last week. With Rick and company headed for the prison, her loyalties are about to be tested in a more direct, palpable fashion.
“When The Dead Come Knocking” is a profoundly unsettling hour of television, yet the show knows how best to utilize uncomfortable tension to ratchet up the drama, and so the episode remains a success even in light of several uneasy, squirm-inducing moments. If next week’s midseason finale is anything like last year’s, then expect tragedy. Although, would it be naive of me to have my fingers crossed? There comes a point where some measure of hope is necessary. I’m resigned to the show’s bleakness, and even accepting of it, but it’s hard not to at least hold out hope that the good guys can put one down in the “win” column every now and then.
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