This week was an interesting episode of The Walking Dead as we had a complete and total departure from the characters we have become used to spending time with. Left behind were Rick, Lori, Carl and the gang in the prison and we must wait one more week to find out how Hershel has fared after his leg amputation and zombie bite. However, because of this major format break in the episode, we know that we were just introduced to a very important and novel element of the show (that I assume will be getting a lot of screen time this season), Woodbury and the Governor. I'm torn on my thoughts on they way it was handled, because I thought they did a pretty stellar job of creating this world and I understand why the whole episode was consumed with this storyline as it easily denoted its importance. However, it did feel a bit strange because three seasons in, it was like watching a completely different show. With the exception of the presence of Andrea and the threat of the walkers (and re-appearance of Merle) there was no connection to any of the original characters. Andrea has never been a character I attached to, so even though she was present, she really didn't tie me in to the world in an emotional way.
On the other hand, I thought they handled this episode extremely well, because although I felt like I was watching a new show, it was a show that I really liked watching. The way that Woodbury and the character of the Governor was introduced provided an intense sense of mystery throughout the episode and really created a world that will be interesting to explore. I know I am probably in the minority on this one, but I also appreciated the lack of zombie attacks in this episode. The first two episodes of this season were so heavy on zombie threats and distress, it was nice to sit back for a moment and spend some time with people that were in a normal (almost) functioning society.
I also appreciated that we got some development on the "characters" of the zombies. They are such an integral part of the entire series, but because of the nature of the beasts, it is only occasionally that we learn anything about them, or they evolve in any way. We learned at the end of last season that the virus lives inside everyone and anybody who dies will actually turn into a zombie themselves. This week, with the help of Milton, the scientist, we learn that the walkers can starve – providing another way to ensure their death – it will just be long and slow. He also tells use why Michonne's pet zombies no longer became a threat when their arms and jaws where removed and to learn these little tidbits about the monsters we have spent so much time with was fascinating, and I suspect will also play in to future episodes and the progression of the series.
Additionally, I thought it was a very interesting episode as it really seemed to explore some of the themes of basic human nature and society. The Governor has truly learned how to control people because he knows and recognizes, that when it comes down to it, all they really want is the comfort of the stability of a normally functioning society. That is something that Rick and the group tried to accomplish and set up at the farm, but they never were able to achieve it on this scale. Thus, it is interesting to see the contrast in the actions of the survivors and how they handle the differing situations. The Governor has been able to train his militia men to do anything that he orders, because he has promised them a sense of stability and security, and as a result they don’t question his motives. However, as we learn at the end, the Governor is likely much more terrifying than Rick (the other leader on the show) because he has some very dark secrets and desires hiding inside of him. We had hints throughout the episode, but this becomes the most apparent with his zombie fish tank display. Rick's only goal is to help his family and his group survive, but I suspect the Governor has some much bigger and more sinister plans that will be revealed throughout the season.
Furthermore, it is a running theme throughout the series, but I always appreciate when a new group comes in and has a new "nickname" for the zombies. Rick and his group call them walkers, but this week we know that in Woodbury they are called biters. When Rick, Hershel and Glenn encounter the guys in the bar, they call them lame brains. I like this because it really the shows the division of people and how when isolated in a post-apocalyptic world certain things take on differing words and phrase and is a exemplification as to what happens in our world if we were no longer connected by technology and mass communication.
The strict focus on Woodbury also served to show the vast differences between the characters of Andrea and Michonne. While we have spent much more time with Andrea, Michonne is pretty much an enigma and it seems as if she would like to keep it that way, which I find incredibly interesting. She will not reveal who her "pets" were, and while the obvious answer would be they are some part of her family, I wonder if there is more to that story. Andrea's character has really changed since she was the tough warrior and protector on the farm and she has been beaten down by the last 8 months. You can see the joy and relief on her face at the prospect of having somewhere to rest and feel safe and secure. Michonne, on the other hand, is much more skeptical of this little Utopia that the Governor has created, and it is the most fascinating because we know she is the one that is probably correct. While he is providing an environment that is "sitting pretty at the end of the world" as Andrea says, we quickly learn that this does and will come with a price. He coldly goes out and murders the remaining soldiers his men found, and we can't help but wonder if this is to protect Woodbury, or just because he likes having the power and darkness to murder people as he sees fit. He has become a "God" in this world and I believe that is something he will play up as much as he can throughout.
I am curious to see how the next episode is handled, as I assume they will have to take this lead story and once again focus on the prison, as well. I haven't read the comic books, so I'm not sure if or how this happens, but now that we have a whole new set of characters and a whole new society is around, I am fascinated to see how (and if) the two will become integrated. I just hope that however they do it, it is awesome and not confusing and disjointed. Here's to hoping…