So far season three of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” has been the most consistent, intense one of the bunch. We’ve had more action, zombies, tension, and blood than the first two seasons combined. In spirit, it’s becoming more and more like Robert Kirkman’s comics with every episode. Not necessarily from a plot perspective—there are some major departures from the source material—but for perhaps the first time, “The Walking Dead” feels like the comics. Last night’s episode, “Say the Word”, is another piece in this ever expanding puzzle.
Be warned, spoilers follow. Stop reading unless you have watched the episode.
Last week was a blood bath for our feisty band of survivors. We lost T-Dog (Irone Singleton), Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), and presumably Carol (Melissa McBride). Or did we? Last we saw of her, Carol was running for her life as T-Dog sacrificed himself to the walkers.
When Glenn (Steven Yeun) digs graves for his friends, he tells the two cons that he needs “two more,” in addition to the one he already finished. You assume one for T-Dog, one for Lori, one for Carol. The others certainly talk about her like she’s dead, but we never see her die, nor do we see a body (or a Carol zombie). At the end of “Say the Word”, Daryl (Norman Reedus) even puts a flower on her grave, which, people usually put a dead body in. Again, it doesn’t say her name on the improvised wooden cross, but the flower is a Cherokee Rose, which has a special significance for the duo, and we all know how close they were. They certainly imply that she is gone.
Still, you can’t help but feel like we’re walking into another Sophia situation, where they play the maybe-she’s-alive-maybe-she’s-dead game. If that’s the case, that will be annoying as crap. I hoped we had moved past that sort of prolonged, unnecessary mystery. The fact that season two drew out every conceivable plot point until you wanted to scream seemed like it was a thing of the past.
There’s so much else going on, that the show doesn’t need that distraction, if this is indeed the case (they tease as much in the post-episode preview of next week). On the other hand, if Carol is dead, it’s the least satisfying death of the series, like she was such a minor character, of so little consequence that they didn’t even deem it necessary to show her die. T-Dog was so unimportant that they barely let him speak most episodes—we learned more about his back-story in one sentence from Glenn last night than in the two previous seasons—but even he gets a noble, onscreen death.
Now that I got that rant out of the way, we can continue.
“Say the Word” is all about trying to ramp up the tension in every strand. In the prison, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) goes off the rails, diving into the darkest reaches of the prison, hacking walkers to bits, including one that seems to have chowed down on Lori’s eviscerated carcass. This leads to inevitable questions about the mental stability of the group’s leader, and calls into question everything they’ve hung their hats on. Will he recover? Will they ever be able to trust his judgment again?
In the other primary storyline, Woodbury continues to raise Michonne’s (Danai Gurira) hackles. Her gut tells her something is off with the creepy sense of normalcy, and when she investigates Milton’s experiment—in a moment that resembles Shane’s barn opening—what does she find but a pen full of walkers. Using the continual talk of “tonight,” of the mysterious event, fails to incite the intended anticipation in viewers.
Fans of the comics knew ahead of time would we were walking into. While Merle (Michael Rooker) and his buddy pummel each other, the toothless biters paw at them in a spectacle that’s best described as post-apocalyptic WWE. This of course disgusts Andrea (Laurie Holden), but too late she realizes what she’s gotten herself into. Michonne is gone, and Andrea is stuck with the spectacle and the Governor’s (David Morrissey) creepy attempts at seduction.
The fights are one thing the show kept from the comics, and I have a working theory on some of the changes. Having Andrea and Michonne come across Woodbury first allowed them to introduce the Governor earlier, showing him for the despot that he is, and setting up the impending conflict between the two groups.
In the comics, Michonne comes to the prison on her own, and now that she left Woodbury by herself, one can be forgiven for assuming things will go like this: she’ll show up at the prison, much like in the books, let it slip that she knows Andrea (and possibly Merle, for Daryl’s sake), and that will be the catalyst for the two groups to collide. Like I said, this is just a working theory, but after the events of “Say the Word”, that certainly appears to be the way “The Walking Dead” is headed.
The show is keeping a lot of elements from the comics; they’re simply shuffling them like a deck of cards. Another big thing they kept is the phone ringing and Rick answering. At the end of the episode we don’t know who is on the other line—fans of the comics do, however—and that is one hell of a cliffhanger to end the episode on.
Even with the inherent tension at the end, I’m not a huge fan of the timing in regards to the phone. SPOILERS. In the comics the phone doesn’t ring until much later. As bad as things are right now in the show, they get so much worse. Rick and Carl are alone, the prison has been overrun, Lori and the baby have just died, many of their friends are dead, and Rick is missing a hand, courtesy of the Governor. Everything is completely fucked.
The phone, and the voice on the other end, is an indicator of Rick’s mental state. Of course “The Walking Dead” is going to try to use it in the same manner, but by the time we get to that in the comics, you’ve seen Rick struggle and slip multiple times. Introducing that bit of crazy now seems too easy, and it assumes too much about Rick’s frame of mind. We haven’t yet seen him fight to maintain a grip on his sanity.
While “Say the Word” is scattered—there is so much going on and so many simultaneous story threads that you never fully dig into any single one—it was still a good amount of fun. There are multiple kill-crazy-rampages, Daryl proves once again that the best character in the show is one that doesn’t exist in the comics (who else would want to name a baby Little Ass Kicker?), and more than anything else, it sets the stage for the rest season three. The increasing tension is palpable, and the inevitability of a clash between the group in the prison and the denizens of Woodbury has never been more apparent.
What did you guys think of “Say the Word”?
Preview clip and promo for next week’s episode, “Hounded”.