“This place..is not what they say it is..”
-Michonne to Andrea
In the pre-credits scene of episode five of The Walking Dead, “Say the Word”, Milton (Dallas Roberts) hands Andrea (Laurie Holden) a cold drink at an outdoor town festival; Michonne (Danai Gurira) watches from afar, suspicious. Andrea presses the tight-lipped Milton for details of the evening’s festivities, to no avail. We cut to the Governor (David Morrissey) in his den, combing his daughter’s hair, her face unseen. As the brush rips into her scalp, she suddenly turns hostile; turning around, she is revealed to be a walker. Frustrated, the Governor forces a bag over her head to restrain her, softly declaring his love for his little girl.
Post-credits, the survivors are gathered in the cell block yard, as Maggie (Lauren Cohan) holds Lori’s (Sarah Wayne Callies) crying newborn baby girl. Hershel (Scott Wilson) pronounces the baby healthy, but in desperate need of formula. Carl (Chandler Riggs) holds his newborn sister and considers names for the baby girl; suggesting those of the dead survivors, he even offers that of his mother Lori. Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) – glassy-eyed and unresponsive – suddenly grabs an axe and runs back into the cell block…
Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Maggie go on a supply run for the newborn; entering an abandoned nursery school, they find formula, bottles, and other provisions. Meanwhile, inside the cell block, Rick goes on vengeful rampage, mutilating all walkers in his path. Later, after a curt reply to soft-spoken Axel (Lew Temple) and Oscar (Vincent Ward), Glenn (Steven Yeun) reveals to Hershel his wish that they should have killed all the prisoners “on sight”.
In the Woodbury town center, while a smiling Governor, glass in hand, gathers the residents and raises a toast to the sacrifices and hard work that built the town, Michonne enters his office and snoops around. Fetching her katana, she finds an odd notebook full of names, but leaves before being caught. In an industrial area nearby, Michonne finds a cage full of walkers. She breaks the lock and empties the cage. Like Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, she smirks as she rips them to pieces, but is caught by the Governor’s men. Questioned privately by the Governor, she is uncooperative, and after holding her katana to the Governor’s throat, leaves calmly.
That afternoon, Milton and Merle (Michael Rooker) drive to a nearby location, and using a net, pull walkers from an underground pit. The Governor’s crew hold down the walkers as Merle removes their teeth. At the town party that evening, Michonne reveals her dark suspicions about Woodbury to Andrea. Describing the townspeople as prisoners unable to leave, she sets out. Andrea, staying put, is approached by the Governor, who invites her for a drink; they walk away, hand-in-hand.
In the inner cell block, Glenn locates a silent Rick, who pushes him away. Prowling the dark, eerie cell block, Rick locates a butchered mess, who he surmises to be the remains of his deceased wife Lori. Seeing a bloated, well-fed walker nearby (presumably from eating you-know-who) he attacks and savagely kills it with his hunting knife…
As the Governor escorts Andrea to Woodbury’s evening festivities, a barbaric twist on old-time, bare-knuckle brawling: Merle and two of the Governor’s other muscled thugs duke it out in an arena, while chained (though toothless) walkers lunge at them from the side. Although the crowd cheers, Lori balks at the spectacle; the Governor waves it off, assuring her that it’s harmless.
The next day, Daryl lays a flower on an unmarked grave – Carol’s? (Melissa McBride) – while Rick remains in the cell block, still in shock. As the newborn’s crying reverberates through his head, he picks up a nearby ringing phone, answering “Hello?”
“Say the Word” was an overall exciting and well-paced episode, jump-cutting like an MTV video between the different storylines. With less of the usual fighting-their-way-through-hordes-of-walkers shtick, the highlight of this The Walking Dead episode is the slow and methodical unfolding of the Governor’s story. Seeing his sad, pitiful relationship with his walker daughter, we now understand why he and Milton are so fascinated with walkers’ behavior and memories. Michonne, on the other hand, remains an enigma, but in our first glimpse of what she can do when the odds seem to be against her, she is an impressive fighter. Somewhere between a manga heroine and a Pam Grier-style blaxploitation mama – with a touch of Snake Plissken – Michonne treats killing walkers as child’s play; in fact, she even seems to enjoy it. But questions arise. Where will she go, now that she has left Woodbury? What was that notebook? What will happen to Andrea? Will she develop a true romance with the Governor, or seek to leave? Was that Carol’s grave? If not, where is Carol (there was no mention of her)? Will Axel and Oscar prove their worth and link up with the survivors? Who called on the prison phone? What will happen to Rick?
A note to readers: At this point in the season we are so used to walkers popping out from every nook and cranny that even Daryl and Maggie’s supply run kept us on the edge of our seats. This time, all they encountered was an opossum. Also,I’ve felt for a while that the show has certain Western-style undertones (Rick is a sheriff; Daryl has a crossbow and a motorcycle, akin to a Native American with a bow and arrow on a horse, etc.). Case in point – note Daryl’s poncho, a tribute to Eastwood’s man-with-no-name from the famed Dollars trilogy.
“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all.“
“You don’t understand..we’re dying here”
-Rick, to the anonymous phone caller
In the pre-credits scene of episode six of The Walking Dead, “Hounded,” Merle and three of the Governor’s young thugs are stalking Michonne through a forest when they discover a grisly sight: dismembered walker limbs spelling out the words “Go Back”. Hearing noises, they draw their weapons, but before they can react, Michonne jumps out of a tree, wielding her katana. She kills two of them and escapes, but Merle’s bullets graze her leg.
Post-credits, Rick answers an old prison phone. The caller, a nervous young woman seeking contacts but shocked that someone answered, claims to be in a safe location but refuses to divulge any more. Rick, sobbing, begs for safe refuge for the survivors; the woman claims she’ll call back later and hangs up. Gaining his composure, he cleans up and joins the others.
In the forest, Michonne re-attacks Merle and the surviving thug, a panicky and inexperienced young man named Gargulio (Dave Davis). Lightly wounding Gargulio and fighting Merle to a draw, the three are suddenly attacked by walkers. They barely fight them off – Michone slices a walker open, spilling its bloody and putrid guts on her – then escapes for the second time that day. Merle aims to tell the Governor a fabricated version of the battle; after Gargulio refuses, Merle kills him.
In Woodbury’s town center, Andrea convinces the Governor to allow her to do guard duty in the town perimeter. On her first shift, her partner, a talkative young woman named Haley (Alexa Nicholas), fails to stop an approaching walker with two arrows; Andrea jumps down from the wall and stabs it to death herself. Later, she is called to the Governor for an explanation, where they have a relaxing drink in his oasis-like garden. Confessing that she actually enjoyed the previous evening’s fights, they grow more intimate as the Governor seduces her, and they retire to his bedroom.
With a wounded leg, Michonne is surprised by walkers, who pay her no attention; she realizes the walker blood covering her camouflages her to the creatures. Limping into a nearby town and hiding, she witnesses Glenn and Maggie on a run for baby supplies, when Merle appears out of nowhere. Asking about his brother Daryl and claiming good will, Glenn and Maggie keep their guns aimed at him, but Merle tricks them and grabs Maggie at gunpoint. Michonne watches as Merle forces Glenn to drive them to Woodbury, leaving the baby supplies behind. Interrupting the Governor’s lovemaking with Andrea, Merle describes his new captives and tells a fabricated story of the battle with Michonne; the Governor remains suspicious.
Meanwhile Oscar and Carl accompany Daryl in clearing out the prison. After killing a walker, Daryl notes Carol’s buck knife jammed in its neck. Stunned at this sudden sign of her presence, they reach the last closed door in the block. Tormented by what he might find, he paces nervously before flinging open the door; Carol is indeed there, weak but still alive. Daryl carries her out to safety.
Meanwhile Rick waits by the phone for a follow-up call. This time, a man calls, asking increasing pointed and personal questions, such as how many people Rick has killed; Rick stammers an answer. Asking Rick about his dead wife, Rick refuses to answer and the man hangs up. A third caller asks similar questions. When Rick recognizes a fourth caller as his dead wife, Lori, and the previous three being Amy, Jim and Jacqui (who all died in the first season), he realizes he has broken down and lost his bearings. Regaining his composure and sense of reality, he straightens up and goes to see his newborn daughter, smiling as he cradles her. As he takes her for some fresh air in the outside yard, he is interrupted by an offbeat sight by the fence: Michonne has arrived, bringing the basket of baby supplies.
“Hounded” is an exciting episode, but is marred by a few unrealistic touches, mainly the Governor’s inept staff. If Haley can’t hit a slow-moving walker from a few yards away, how did she earn a spot on the wall? Also, it’s unlikely that Gargulio would go against the grain and disobey a fearsome brute like Merle. That aside, we all hoped that Carol’s questionable disappearance would not turn into a major story arc (as was the case with her daughter last season) and finding her in the abandoned cell block alleviated our fears. Also, I felt that Andrea’s conversations with the Governor were somewhat drudging; I found myself growing impatient for some walker-filled action scenes.
“Hounded” also opens several interesting storylines for The Walking Dead. Michonne adds a whole new dimension to the survivors, and replaces the muscle lost with T-Dog’s (IronE Singleton)untimely demise (in fact, you can say that Michonne is a whole group of T-Dogs). As Glenn and Maggie are now captives, will they be tortured? Will they escape? Will the Governor raid the prison? Will the survivors secretly try to rescue them? Axel and Oscar are slowly but noticeably integrating and proving their worth; the former is alluded to as a handy fix-it guy already using his skills whereas the latter is armed, ready, and knows how to use it. Lastly, Andrea’s dawning romance with the Governor generates several possibilities. Will she discover any secrets darker than what we currently know?
Ultimately, the linchpin of the episode is Andrew Lincoln’s tour-de-force as Rick Grimes. As the cracks begin to show, the hoarse former deputy sheriff begs, sobs, and pleads, as we’ve never seen him before. Since season one of The Walking Dead, Rick has been the leader, the strategist, the man with the plan, and the proverbial Rock of Gibraltar in the dwindling band of survivors. If he can break down, who’s next?
Evan Rothfeld, photos by Gene Page, courtesy of AMC