The Walking Dead broke away from its long established formula this week with an episode that follows Michonne and Andrea exclusively. "Walk With Me" makes for a pleasant reprieve from Rick and the prison crew, delivering us into Woodbury without crowding the narrative by unnecessary cuts back to the Grimes Gang. Thanks to an entire episode away from the usual cast, we had plenty of time to absorb our newest character, David Morissey's The Governor.
And he's certainly worthy of the attention. I like this iteration of The Governor and Woodbury so much more than in the comics. Woodbury lives up to its name as a picturesque little burg that appeals to Andrea while Michonne remains wisely skeptical. And David Morrissey (State of Play, Red Riding) is so terrifically cast as The Governor, able to convey charisma and menace in equally compelling turns. It also bears noting that he is very, very attractive. Hot damn.
With Woodbury and The Governor cast in an initially agreeable light, they offer more peril than if they were manifestly dangerous. While I expect Michonne to stay on her guard - after all, her shit never stopped being together - Andrea already seems to be drinking the Kool-Aid, moving from calling out The Governor on his authoritative "nickname" to flirtily asking his real name in the space of a day. Not that I can blame her. Hot damn, hot damn.
And Woodbury has more delights in store with the return of the great Michael Rooker as Merle, and a far more palatable Merle at that. Gone is the racist cartoon redneck, replaced by a more nuanced, thoughtful Merle. "I guess this old world gets a little smaller toward the end, huh?" The Governor seems to be good for Merle, although with his righteous robot blade arm, Merle appears to be something of The Governor's id - or his dog, as Woodbury's resident scientist calls him.
The scientist, a creep named Milton, gives us a lot to think about this week in relation to the zombies. He inspects Michonne's pet walkers - pets that she beheaded without a moment's hesitation in order to save herself and Andrea - and discovers that by removing their jaws and arms and therefore their ability to feed, she also disarmed their inexorable hunger. Walkers starve, but more slowly than we do. Milton questions whether the zombies retain an echo of their human selves within, a debate in which Michonne and Andrea don't appear especially inclined to participate. And Michonne really doesn't want to discuss whether she once knew her chain gang of two as humans, making it clear that of course she did. I loved getting to know Michonne a little better in this episode, although of course we'll never truly know her. Woodbury may boast some really big walls, but they got nothing on Michonne.
I like that The Walking Dead seems to be taking some steps away from a pure survival and gore show to a more thoughtful approach to the subject matter. Big questions make up the heart of zombie fiction. As we watch Andrea and Michonne learn for the first time that all of the dead eventually turn, we're reminded how fruitless the simple yet impossible endeavor of living really is. That's why it could be important to ask whether the walkers preserve any measure of their former humanity, no matter how tough that question may be for those who have brained their past loved ones. The idea of it can be either bleak or promising, depending on your perspective.
It's interesting to compare the leadership of The Governor with that of Rick Grimes. The Governor is a relentlessly pragmatic man, mowing down a troop of soldiers with no qualms, absorbing their weapons and transportation and then bemoaning their deaths to the citizens of Woodbury. That's something Old Rick would never have done, but New Rick just might. If Rick had spent less time over the past months clinging to his useless idealism, he might have a safe little haven and a group of happy subordinates of his own. Now that he's becoming something of a hardass himself, I wonder what that means for the safety and success of his team. I imagine things might be a little less challenging if he's no longer constantly weighing the relative morality of every decision he makes.
Of course I don't think even New Rick will ever get his jollies on by gazing at a wall of aquariums filled with walker heads. I could be wrong, though.
Follow along The Walking Dead TV Talk here, and join the conversation in the comments!