Review of The Walking Dead – Series 3, Episode 12
This week’s standalone instalment of The Walking Dead comes as a welcome relief from the intensity of season three’s central arc, an opportunity to tell a self-contained story that reflects the wider themes of the show. So far, season three has been an accomplished example of strong serialised television, but this episode offers a much-needed intermission from the escalating conflict between the rival camps. It’s arguably among the finest dramatic offerings the series has given us so far.
In pursuit of supplies and a nostalgic trip into the past, Rick returns to his hometown and enlists the help of Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne (Danai Gurira). It’s not long before they’re fighting for their lives, as they encounter a mysterious sniper who has created a deadly ‘assault course’ for zombies in what remains of the town square. But Rick discovers that there is a dark side to nostalgia, as the revelation of the sniper’s identity forces him to face up to past decisions and difficult questions surrounding his future.
Some television series have employed the late-season standalone episode to disguise the fact that the central story is starting to exhaust itself, but this week’s events never feel like unnecessary filler. Surprisingly, it manages to be one of the funniest Walking Dead episodes ever. The initial zombie assault on Rick’s car is hilarious and the complete opposite to the shrieking family Darryl and Merle saved a few weeks ago. In comparison with their terror, Rick and the others look bored to tears with the zombies’ insatiable desire for human flesh – they probably would have looked more surprised if the undead had knocked on the window and given them a speeding ticket.
While the series works well as an ensemble show juggling numerous characters at any given time, it’s inevitable that as the plot thickens and events take over, some of those characters will be forced to the margins. This has been the case for Carl and Michonne in recent weeks. Although Carl makes an impressive child assassin and Michonne’s bond with her katana is endearing (it’s essentially her fifth limb), offering the pair a chance to display their emotions is a long-awaited change.
The real reason to shout about this week’s episode is the return of Morgan (Lennie James), a welcome throwback to the first series and an effective mirror of Rick’s grief and confusion. James is on top form throughout, delivering one of the most memorable guest star performances of the season, easily outgunning almost every Woodbury resident we have meet in the process. The lone man struggling to adjust to his isolation in the world is a well-trodden template that has been used in everything from Castaway to I Am Legend, but his depiction here sidesteps the clichés to reveal a man whose isolation helps him clarify the reality of his position, not obscure it.
The production team have done a rather fine job with the location this week. Unlike the sunny demeanour of Woodbury or the gloominess of the prison, the town is an interesting middle ground between the two, a place where writhing zombies are found impaled like cocktail sausages and ‘Welcome’ mats are used as a disguise for metal blades. The interior set is intricately detailed, full of witty and revealing handwritten comments that tell the story of Morgan’s sufferings since he last saw Rick.
Despite its strengths, it’s not a perfect episode, and a few inconsistencies emerge that temporarily distract from the story. The stab wound Rick receives from Morgan appears quite severe but is essentially brushed away as an inconsequential scrape. At first, Morgan is adamant that he does not know Rick and refuses to accept the reality of his presence, but in the blink of an eye he switches his perspective, a moment that has an oddly jarring effect.
However, these things do little to take away from the overall emotive nature of the episode. The opening and closing scenes work together as a striking statement of the characters’ morality. The moment where the group drive past the remains of the man they refused to help in the pre-credits sequence reveals the consequence of playing the bad Samaritan.
Will Morgan change his mind about joining the prison residents? Can Rick triumph in his war with the Governor? And who will remain once the dust from their conflict settles?Tagged in: Andrew Lincoln, David Morrissey, The Walking Dead, zombies
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