Recap video and review for The Walking Dead – Season 3 Episode 8 – Midseason Finale – Made to Suffer
The 2012-2013 TV season is roughly halfway finished, and we’ve seen a lot of shows debut and become hits, we’ve seen shows canceled, and we’ve seen existing series rise or decline in quality as the autumn months give way to winter, and our viewing habits grow less attentive, in the face of such distractions as holiday programming, or visiting family members, or having lots of End of the World sex because we have about three weeks left to go. But one thing that’s stood out, to me at least, is how The Walking Dead has rewritten its DNA. Gone are the relatively stagnant plotlines of season two, or the inconsistent plotting of season one. Yes, The Walking Dead has always been a good show, but it often felt as though the series was leaving a lot on the table, in terms of what they could have been doing with the narrative, the atmosphere, and this world that they’ve created. With “Made to Suffer”, The Walking Dead brings the first half of season three to a close, and I feel absolutely confident in saying I’d put this half-season of the show against anything on TV, for sheer quality. Over the course of one hour, allegiances shift, people are killed, allies are reunited, new characters are introduced, and we’re given some idea of what’s waiting for us on the other end of season three, when it premieres this February (too long, I know). More than all that, however, it delivers an episode that’s just plain exciting, packed with the kind of high-stakes action rarely seen on TV these days (and well-executed even more rarely, when it is).
If there’s a moral to be gleaned out of “Made to Suffer”, it’s that “at the end of the day, a s*** sandwich with the crusts cut off is still a s*** sandwich”. By which I mean that there is only so much lemonade you can make out of the lemons you’re given, as The Governor (David Morrissey) brutally learns. Woodbury is an attempt to reclaim some semblance of the world as it existed before walkers had the run of the place. Even with its deserted streets, often strewn with trash and other refuse, it’s still idyllic, a sort-of Mayberry. And The Governor styles himself its Andy Griffith. But what he doesn’t seem to recognize is that his vision of society, with himself at the top of the chain as unquestioned ruler, is untenable given the realities of their situation. Much of season three has reflected an Us vs. Them mentality, far more so than last season with Hershel’s people coming into conflict with Rick’s group. What we have here, between the denizens of Woodbury and Rick’s prison gang, is a clash of survivalist ideologies. Rick’s group is concerned with surviving, and sticking together, no matter what. The Governor, however, is intent on maintaining the appearance of the old world, and to hell with anyone who gets in the way, even if it’s one of their own. The Governor can try and recreate the “world before the zombie apocalypse” all he wants, but all he’s really doing is creating a world that can only exist in a zombie apocalypse, a savage world that’s less about camaraderie and fellowship than it is about keeping up appearances.
However, we’re immediately taken out of the context of that struggle by opening on an unrelated band of survivors led by Tyreese (Chad Coleman), a favorite from the comic books who finally makes his debut here, hacking at walkers to help make a path for the rest of his group – a path that leads directly to the West Georgia Correctional Facility. It’s a stark opening that reminds us that the stories we’ve seen aren’t the only stories out there in this world, a point made earlier this season when Rick’s group happened on the prison and found the survivors in the cafeteria, who’d been living a nightmare of their own, or last week with that random hermit holed up in the middle of scenic nowhere. However, it doesn’t take long for Team Tyreese to get integrated into the story proper, as Carl (Chandler Riggs) discovers the group, which includes a fiery young woman named Sasha, and a family of three, the matriarch of which, a woman named Donna, has been bitten, and is rapidly succumbing to the infection. Carl has grown immensely over the course of this half-season, to where not even Hershel (Scott Wilson) brooks argument with him when he insists on doing his duties in investigating the screams he hears coming from the prison corridors. Carl, much like his father, is distrustful of this new band of survivors, locking them in the same cell where Rick (Andrew Lincoln) had previously confined Michonne (Danai Gurira). This is more or less all we get of the new survivors this week, but it’s enough to whet our appetites, as the prison gang grows larger – and we know how much more unruly large numbers tend to be.
The bulk of the episode follows Rick’s attempts to infiltrate Woodbury to rescue Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Glenn (Steven Yeun), and the early scenes are among the episode’s most successful, as Glenn basically asks Maggie if The Governor raped her, and then flips out despite the answer having been a resounding no. In a manifestation of his angst over being unable to protect her, he rips the arm off the walker he killed last week, and then splits it at the joint, rips out the ulna, and hands the bone to Maggie so that she’ll have some means of protecting herself in the future…which comes only moments later, as Glenn attacks Merle (Michael Rooker) and his gang when they enter the room, and Maggie stabs one of the henchmen through the throat with the jagged bone. Unfortunately, the resistance is quickly subdued, and Maggie and Glenn are marched off, presumably to be tortured or killed. Cue Rick, Daryl (Norman Reedus), and Oscar (Vincent Ward), who throw smoke bombs and sweep the facility with bullet fire, getting Glenn and Maggie out of harm’s way. Michonne disappears in the chaos to go confront The Governor, and the war is officially underway.
Andrea (Laurie Holden) still has no idea that the intruders (dubbed “terrorists” by The Governor, in the episode’s one heavy-handed misstep) are her former companions, so she insists on confronting these infiltrators. The Governor puts the kibosh on that, as he doesn’t want Andrea’s loyalties thrown into turmoil at such a sensitive moment, but Andrea being Andrea, she can’t leave well enough alone, getting her gun and heading out into the smoke-filled haze and opening fire. This shootout is a war of attrition, and it’s not without casualties, as Oscar takes a bullet through the heart from one of the Woodbury militants, and then a mercy bullet from Maggie to prevent his turning (this show has a probably-coincidental but nonetheless troubling habit of only allowing one black man on the series at any one time). In the haze, Rick sees a delusion of a bearded Shane, walking towards him, cocking his shotgun, and readying his aim. Rick puts a bullet through the man’s cheek and inspects the corpse, discovering that it was just some random, and not his risen, ex-best friend (and possible baby daddy to little Judith). Though it’s not as gimmicky as Rick spending an episode talking on the phone to the specter of those he lost (great and moving as that was), I still feel there were probably better ways of conveying that Rick is losing it than to have Shane reappear, although I have to admit it was nice to see Jon Bernthal again, even if his face was mostly bathed in shadow (and if, somehow, that wasn’t actually him, they cast a hell of a look-alike).
Earlier in the episode, we see The Governor interact with his walker-ized daughter, Penny, singing softly to her in an attempt to bring about some form of recognition in the little girl, and it’s one of the more humanizing moments we’ve gotten with The Governor. Yeah, we’ve seen him with Penny before, but violently combing a dead girl’s hair isn’t really all that endearing. However, we can see in this moment just how desperately he needs Milton’s experiments to bear out. The Governor needs to believe that there’s a chance his daughter is still in there somewhere, and he angrily snaps at his daughter when it becomes apparent, through her refusal to look at him, that she isn’t. And so, amid the gunfight, The Governor retreats to his home. However, Michonne is already there. Michonne is the first character to discover The Governor’s creepy aquarium of severed heads. Creepier still, she discovers Penny – just as The Governor arrives, gun in hand. He pleads with Michonne to let the girl go, and I think it’s a combination of the skill of David Morrissey’s pained, grief-stricken acting coupled with the tediousness of TV-Michonne as a character that made me think “What a bitch!” when she put her sword through the little girl’s mouth, even though it was pretty clearly the sensible thing to do.
The ensuing fight is one of the single best action setpieces in the history of the show, as Michonne and The Governor tussle through the lair, slamming each other against walls, and into the tanks of severed heads (some of which were still chomping). It feels visceral and sloppily unchoreographed, just like a real fight, and control varies throughout, with Michonne on top one moment, and The Governor throttling Michonne the next. The climax is a real nail-biter too, as Michonne reaches for her sword as The Governor chokes her out with its scabbard. Michonne cannot reach her blade, and so she reaches for the nearest instrument, a shard of glass protruding from the shattered aquarium tanks. The glass bites through her palm, but she’s able to wrench it free and jam the shard through The Governor’s eye, giving him his distinctive look from the comics.
Michonne escapes, leaving The Governor writhing in agony. Moments later, Andrea, horrified by the surroundings, finds him in a heap on the floor, a shard of glass protruding and blood pouring from one eye, and tears streaming down both, as he cradles the still corpse of his double-dead daughter. It’s a remarkable bit of acting from Morrissey, as we are given the opportunity to feel something real for someone who, ostensibly, has been among the show’s most loathsome, yet benignly savage figures in recent weeks. Andrea serves as a stand-in for the audience, in some respects, as she appears truly confused about just how to react to this scene of horror and profound sadness. This a different Governor than the confident, subtly swaggering figure she’d come to know over the past few days (weeks?). The Governor acknowledges this change in himself, too, in the closing moments of the episode. He delivers a strangely (given the subject) rousing oratory about his own failure to protect his people, culminating in his accusation of Merle, branding him a traitor, presumably for lying about having killed Michonne, and also the possibility that his loyalty is compromised now that his brother is in the picture. The Governor then reveals that he’s captured Daryl, and only then does Andrea realize that the intruders were Rick’s group. As Merle and Daryl are brought face-to-face in the arena, The Governor tells Merle, “You wanted your brother, now you got him.”
“Made to Suffer” is a fitting close to this half-season, encapsulating much of what made the previous seven episodes so compelling: the high-stakes action, the deepening of each character, the brisker story pace, and scenarios that don’t feel contrived, with characters mostly acting in accordance with the basic dictates of common sense. The episode isn’t without its lighter moments either, as Axel (Lew Temple) hits on Beth (Emily Kinney), drawing the ire of Carol (Melissa McBride), who tells him to back off – upon which point we learn that Axel has assumed that Carol is a lesbian. A bit of levity is always appreciated every now and then, especially in a show with this much doom-and-gloom. Yet I’m not entirely sure I’d have it any other way. This show operates on a more kinetic sense of energy than your average show, or even your average genre show, in which danger is around every corner. The Walking Dead has evolved into a show that’s as exciting and nail-biting as anything currently on TV. The second half of season three already has a tall order to live up to, given how the first half has already given the show new life. Funny how that works in a show populated by the dead.