Recap video and review of The Walking Dead – Season 3 Episode 9 – The Suicide King:
The Walking Dead has seen fit, in season three, to make certain that every episode is fraught with peril, far more so than in seasons past. This is not to say that the series didn’t have walkers lurking around every corner, or outsiders looming on the margins. It’s just that the show seemed to have different priorities in its earlier seasons, a directive to build the various tensions and conflicts between the survivors, to the extent that we ended up forgetting, until the last few episodes of season two, that this is a series where, realistically, no one is safe. Season three has gone a long way in reestablishing The Walking Dead as a series where anyone can die at any time, and though no one of any import dies this week, “The Suicide King” is incredibly tense, as the quiet, more cerebral approach to storytelling lends a sense of foreboding – the idea that because nothing much is happening on a strictly action-oriented level, something big must be coming. And something big was coming, just not in the way many viewers might have expected. Although whether it’s actually a big deal or not depends on your stance on ghosts…
Rick (Andrew Lincoln) already has a tenuous grasp on leadership, as this episode illustrates just how hard it’s getting to be for Rick to keep his people together, much less safe. We pick up almost immediately where the midseason finale left off, with Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Merle (Michael Rooker) fighting it out in the walker-circled pit. The brothers do a bit of play-fighting for the crowd, then spring their attack on the walkers. As if on cue, Rick and his fellow survivors smoke bomb the event, scoop in, shoot a couple of the Governor’s men, and high-tail it out of there with the Dixon brothers. It’s an excellent sequence, and one of the more impressively-shot pieces of the season, with the Governor (David Morrisey), now sporting an eyepatch and an overcoat, traipsing through the smoke, perfectly calm and menacing amid the chaos and confusion all around him. Rick is able to get his people out alive, but he isn’t able to quell Glenn’s (Steven Yeun) outburst against Merle, nor is he able to talk Daryl into staying once it becomes evident that Merle isn’t going to be allowed to join their group. Daryl says his goodbyes and tells Rick to say some goodbyes on his behalf once they get back to the prison, and it’s strangely poignant, and all the more so once Daryl insists that his membership in their group was always going to be temporary when set against the commitment to his brother, the only family he’s got left. And it’s an understandable motivation, though no less disheartening, as Daryl has frequently been among the show’s best assets. If Daryl’s departure with Merle accomplishes anything, it’s in giving us a heartbreaking scene with Carol (Melissa McBride), who can’t seem to accept that Daryl has truly left. It’s such a well-acted piece that I’m beginning to feel as though Carol is among the more underutilized characters on the show, particularly after she gets two subsequent scenes with both Beth (Emily Kinney) and Carl (Chandler Riggs) that deepen and flesh out all parties involved.
Yet things don’t get any easier for Rick, as Glenn displaces his anger over his failure to protect Maggie onto their leader. He’s incensed that Rick didn’t kill The Governor, failing to understand that killing The Governor wasn’t the priority. He’s also furious that Maggie (Lauren Cohan) went along for the mission and not him, again failing to recognize that he was in no condition, either physically or emotionally, to be of use to anyone. It would be easy to get mad at a character for being this rash, but Steven Yeun does such an outstanding job communicating Glenn’s understandable anger and pathos that it reinforces what a great character Glenn is, and how immensely likable (or at least relatable) he can be, even when stomping the s*** out of a walker’s head in frustration. (And man, was that ever a gruesome bit of business) Rick’s gradual loss of control over his group is further made apparent once they get back to the prison, discovering that they’ve gotten some new arrivals in the time since he left: Tyreese (Chad Coleman), his sister Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Ben (Tyler Chase) and Allen (Daniel Thomas May).
Allen, bitter over the death of his wife, Donna, and nervous at the prospect of being kicked out once Rick and company return, argues that they should kill Hershel (Scott Wilson) and the others before it’s too late. But Tyreese isn’t having it, stepping up as a leader and forwarding his ideology that that isn’t the kind of people they are, and that they need to show a little common decency. Of course, this is rewarded by Rick second-guessing the strangers, though I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s wrong to do so. Hershel and the others can see that these are, mostly, good people, and they deserve a shot at refuge, not terribly unlike how Hershel allowed Rick’s group to stay on his farm. Hershel tries to argue on behalf of Tyreese’s people, but Rick’s deterioration comes to its climax. He sees what I can only presume is the ghost of Lori, looking down on him from the shadows, as if in judgment. Rick flips out, shouting at the ghost and waving his gun, and generally acting like a first-rate nutjob whose hold on authority has to become one of the bigger plot points of the season, going forward, as I just don’t see how anyone is okay letting a complete maniac remain in control. Rick’s status as leader felt authentic when it was predicated on his role as sheriff before the world went to hell, and his even-keeled, level-headed nature made his election as de facto leader seem like a natural fit. But what’s keeping Rick as leader now other than the fact that he always has been? I’m shocked they didn’t pin the figurative badge on Daryl when they had the chance, although his openness to leaving the group shows that it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea anyway. So, in that case, Rick is only the leader because
1) No one else is willing to make the hard decisions.
2) There’s no one else, period. (What were they going to do? Elect Shane?)
Rick is the only character in the group who’s willing to tell people that “this is how it’s going to be”. And as the only member of the group with small children to take care of, he’s arguably the one with the most at stake, the most to protect. So it sort of makes sense why the survivors would defer to Rick’s judgment. But if this unraveling of Rick’s psyche doesn’t result in his authority being directly challenged, I feel like it’ll be a severely wasted opportunity. Of course, whether it goes in that direction or not, it’s still hugely entertaining television, so I’m not really complaining, in the larger scheme of things. This storyline alone is better than anything they did in season two. And even if they don’t get it right with Rick, they’re definitely getting it right with The Governor.
The Governor’s loss of control mirrors Rick’s in significant ways, as the citizens of Woodbury, freaked out by the outsiders’ attack and the influx of walkers, attempt to pack up and leave. The Governor’s more militant followers won’t allow it, and the chaos results in some of the citizens being taken out by walkers. The Governor, who’s become myopic in his vengeance-fueled bloodlust, nonchalantly shoots one of the dying men of Woodbury in the head before walking away as if nothing had happened. When Andrea (Laurie Holden) confronts him about this, The Governor pretty much makes it clear that this is a war that’s going to happen whether anyone wants it to be or not. Andrea, for her part, tries to calm the panicked citizens with a rousing speech that could potentially place her as the new leader of Woodbury, should she lead an uprising against The Governor…or, it could lead to her falling in deeper with The Governor to where she becomes his new second-in-command. Either way, there’s a rich story being told there, and one that provides the trajectory of two men slowly losing their minds, and their hold on the loyalty and fidelity of their charges.
“The Suicide King” is a welcome return for The Walking Dead, in a season that ranks among the best that TV has to offer.
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