Spoilers for everything!
Can I just say first that, holy crap, can Daryl rock a serape or what? He’s easily my favorite character on the show, and I think this episode has finally showed me why. It’s not necessarily because of what he does – although his easy slide into the leadership role once Rick goes off the deep end is very nice – but because we know stuff about him. He’s got a foil in Merle, the attack dog lieutenant for a smooth sociopath (and also, of course, his brother). He’s had little moments and big moments, so that when he drops the Cherokee Rose on Carol’s grave, you totally heave a sigh. We know what dude’s about, so his ease with the baby while still being a stupendous badass is perfect, giving the remaining group a moment of levity and wonder. Awww.
Contrast Daryl with T-Dog. Glenn runs an unconvincing eulogy about how T-Dog saved a bunch of kittens and old people from trees when Atlanta was being evacuated, and I’m like, why the hell am I only hearing this now? Nobody puts any work into the minor characters, and the writers squander the dialogue they have on these really baldly expository stuff. I re-watched last week’s episode because my husband missed it, and he was like, really? Michonne is going to pretty much tell the Governor she knows he killed all those National Guardsmen? Why would she do that? She’s already telegraphed her super-sleuth skills checking the bullet holes and stuff. Can’t you trust us as viewers? (This isn’t dissimilar from psychic Dale, who suddenly knew Shane was trouble due to magical zombie dust, and then told him so at every opportunity.)
There’s some credible work being done with the Governor (“No, randomly call me Phillip.”) His creepy hair brushing of his creepy zombie daughter was a super nice touch, especially when contrasted with Rick’s total melt-down at the prison over the loss of his wife. You’ve got a non-zombie baby, Rick! Man up! Lincoln is pulling out the stops with Rick, and he’s doing just an amazing job with his physicality. Morrissey is interesting to watch too, despite some really clunky lines, because he’s soft-selling the Governor’s insanity. But Michonne! So bad. We’re not getting any character moments with her, short of some glowering and an admittedly joyful zombie beheading sequence. But that doesn’t say anything about her, and when the fine people of Woodbury drag her back and start ‘sperimenting on her (or whatever happens), we’re not going to care. And Andrea: ugh. Her sole motivation seems to be blonde. The little moments have to be so much less expository if the big moments are going to work.
I’m not sure what to think about the zombie MMA sequence. I know it’s in the comics and everyone thinks it’s sweet, but the staging felt really small, with no real sense of danger. I was more worried during the netting and tooth extraction scenes. Or, wait, omigod, when Daryl and Maggie go to the daycare? I was really dreading a sequence where they have to mow down a whole house full of dead children. Walking Dead hasn’t been afraid to kill zombie kids before, but they tend to be individuals and used specifically. Anyway, the restraint there was nice, and made the whole sequence really melancholy and sad. And the character work between Daryl and Maggie was great: “I’m not putting that in my bag.” Compared to the pointless Merle-posturing and blonde-Andrea-ing of the MMA sequence, this scene does some serious work.
So, an uneven episode, but the writing is still markedly improved from last season, and Lincoln is really bringing his game. Let’s put everyone in serapes!