I’ve come to the conclusion that The Walking Dead is like a nursery rhyme I used to know about a girl with a curl on her forehead—when it’s good, it’s very, very good, and when it’s bad it’s horrid. Luckily, season 3 has, for the most part been very, very good, and the long-awaited episode 9 was another in a string of excellent episodes.
We’ve all been waiting since December to see whether the Brothers Dixon would add fratricide to their repertoire, or whether the Governor would summarily execute both of them. The episode opens in Woodbury’s fighting “arena,” where the crowd chants for the death of the Dixons. The only one who seems to take an opposing view is Andrea, who tries to reason with the Governor, somehow not realizing that “reason” and the Governor parted company months earlier. (You’d think the aquarium full of heads and the zombie daughter might have clued her in, but you’d think wrong.) The Governor tells Andrea that the people have spoken.
The Governor announces that Daryl and Merle will fight to the death and the winner will walk out of Woodbury. Because neither Daryl nor Merle is an idiot, they clearly don’t believe his promises, and Merle starts to beat the heck out of Daryl, before various henchmen of the Governor’s walk the zombies into the arena. Amid all the shouting, Merle tells Daryl to stick with him because he has a plan. We don’t find out what the plan is, because a gunshot fired by the awesome Maggie takes out one of the lights
There’s massive confusion in the fighting pit, with smoke bombs and bullets flying and the captive zombies now free to stretch their legs and their bitey muscles. Daryl and Merle take off in the smoke; a little girl who’s about to be eaten is scooped up by Martinez (one of the Governor’s henchmen); Andrea comes face to face with the body of Haley, the girl who was teaching her bow and arrow, who has clearly been shot; and the Governor looks impassive and glares through his one remaining eye, as we proceed to the opening credits.
After the credits, we return to chaotic Woodbury. Rick’s group runs toward their escape route, but Merle says they should run toward the front gate because everyone in the town is at the fights or dealing with the chaos afterwards. Rick objects to Merle’s presence, and Daryl asks Rick if he really wants to do this now. Agreed: Merle is a dish best saved for after they get the hell out of there. As Rick’s group peels out of Woodbury, one slightly more alert zombie notices that they’ve left behind a loose board on the perimeter of the town.
Glen and Michonne are both waiting for Rick’s group (which I guess consisted of Maggie alone!) to arrive. They see Rick, Maggie, Daryl, and Merle running toward them and suddenly, knives and guns are drawn because Merle is the last person either Glenn or Michonne wants to see. Daryl steps in front of his brother, so now Glenn is pointing his gun at Daryl, which grieves me because Merle’s only been with the group for about 30 seconds and already he’s set them at odds with each other. It gets worse.
Merle, who suffers from a severe case of inability to zip his lip, starts talking about how Michonne knows Andrea, and Rick, Glenn, Maggie, and Daryl are incredulous that Michonne never even mentioned her presence in Woodbury. Merle just keeps on talking, and I think Daryl is about punch his brother just to get him to shut up when Rick bops Merle on the back of the head. Daryl glares at Rick. Uh oh!
At the prison, Herschel is tending to the wounds of the teenaged Ben, the kid whose mother was bitten in the previous episode. Tyreese and his sister Sasha look on as Beth brings the baby in for something. Aww, Little Asskicker is awfully cute, although I’m still wondering how malnourished Lori managed to gestate such a chubby little one! Meanwhile, Axel is providing soup for the newbies, and I’m relieved that Tyreese seems to be such a good guy because they’ve basically provided a number of hostages for these newcomers.
Tyreese provides the backstory for his group; apparently there were originally about 25 of them, but their camp was overrun six or seven weeks earlier. Echoes of what happened in season 1 to our merry band! “I must be the first brother in history to break into prison,” Tyreese jokes. I really like Tyreese, not least because he’s played by the guy who played Dennis “Cutty” Wise on The Wire. Herschel gives Tyreese some not-so-veiled warnings about not getting too comfortable, saying that it’s not up to him to decide whether Tyreese’s group can stay at the prison.
Outside Woodbury, Glenn, Maggie, Rick, and Daryl argue about whether to bring Merle and Michonne back to the prison with them. Glenn, Maggie, and Rick are, naturally, opposed to the idea of sheltering the man who tortured Glenn and tried to kill him and was the right-hand (sorry!) of the Governor, who almost raped Maggie. Rick says that Daryl is part of his family, but Merle isn’t. “No him, no me,” Daryl says firmly, despite all the pleading of his friends, and takes his weapons out of the back of the car. Rick follows Daryl to plead with him to stay with his group, but Daryl refuses, asking Rick to give his regards to Carol and Herschel. I won’t deny that I’m deeply disappointed that Daryl has left. (I’m sure he’ll be back, of course, but I hope this doesn’t mean we’re Daryl-light for the next few episodes!) However, what Rick, Glenn, and Maggie are proposing is to abandon Merle in the forest with a bunch of zombies and no weapons or supplies, which is tantamount to letting him loose to die. I just don’t think Daryl, however much he may like Rick, would consent to abandoning his own brother to certain death.
Michonne has no advocate like Daryl, even though Maggie argues that they need to at least let Herschel patch her up before they turn her loose. Oh, Rick, is it a great idea to get rid of two of your taciturn badass allies in one fell swoop? Especially since I’m pretty sure the Governor intends to find the prison before the end of this season?
At the prison, Tyreese’s group comes outside to bury Allen’s wife. Allen and Ben want to take over the prison before Rick’s return; Allen mentions that they could easily overpower Carl and Carol and ensure that they have a place to stay. Tyreese argues that the prison folks are good people and Allen says this is a question of survival. So Tyreese is the new version of Rick and Allen is the new version of Shane. Got it!
In the midst of this philosophical argument about survival versus maintaining one’s humanity, Axel and Beth come outside to give Tyreese’s group shovels. It’s clear that Allen is contemplating hitting them on the head with the shovels when Tyreese and Sasha shoulder Allen and Ben aside to take the tools.
Rick’s getaway car is stopped by a pickup slewed across the road. Rick, Glenn, and Maggie get out to move the truck, and a zombie pops out of it. Glenn kicks the zombie’s head in and stomps it into oblivion as Rick and Maggie look on, alarmed about Glenn’s mental state. Glenn yells at Rick for not killing Merle or the Governor, accusing him of going back for Daryl without worrying about the horrible people who did horrible things to Glenn and Maggie. (Um, Glenn, Daryl was captured while coming to rescue you and Maggie so I think it’s a little rich to argue that rescuing Daryl should have been a lower priority than exacting revenge.) Apparently Glenn is also angry that Rick took Maggie on the rescue mission rather than taking Glenn and feels betrayed that Daryl still cared about Merle, who did awful things to Glenn. Rick points out that Glenn was in no condition to go along, and then Glenn is all pissy about what happened to Maggie. You know, I’m starting to actually be quite annoyed with Glenn in all this! I’ll cut him some slack because he’s so badly hurt, but honestly, it was MAGGIE’S decision to go with Rick, and it’s also her decision about whether or not she wants to share what happened to her. Stop making it about you, Glenn!
In Woodbury, panicked residents are trying to leave, their worldly possessions jammed into their cars. The guards at the main gate won’t let them go, and there’s a tense standoff. One of the drivers lays on the horn stirring up the zombies outside. Martinez threatens to shoot the the guy unless he shuts up, and things are getting extremely ugly when we hear screams from the other side of Woodbury. Zombies are inside the town, and a couple of people are bitten. Martinez and Andrea dispatch the zombies, but the guy who was bitten writhes in pain on the ground. A woman asks Andrea to do something, but Andrea just stares in horror, giving the Governor the chance to walk out and shoot the guy in the head. Okay then!
Back at the prison, Carl and Carol patrol the gate. Carol muses to Carl about how she misses the noise of human activity in the world, before telling Carl that his mother was proud of him. Awww, Carl feels bad that he was mean to his mom. I feel bad that I was mean to her too! At this point, Rick’s group returns; Rick gets out of the car to hug Carl, while Carol looks inside and notices that an important person whose name begins with “D” isn’t in it. She starts to freak out, asking where Daryl is, and Rick tells her that Daryl left with Merle. Poor Carol can’t believe Daryl left.
In Woodbury, the Governor is packing. Andrea enters, telling the Governor he needs to provide leadership in this time of crisis and calm everyone down. The Governor, like dictators since time immemorial, doesn’t care that the people he ostensibly did everything for are freaked out. Andrea switches gears, berating the Governor for not telling her that her friend Daryl was in the arena. The Governor finally comes clean that Glenn and Maggie were in Woodbury, although he blames Merle for capturing them and doesn’t mention the torture and the sexual assault on Maggie; he then blames Andrea’s friends for killing people to rescue their friends without mentioning that he was planning to have Glenn and Maggie executed.
I have to confess that while I have always liked Andrea (I know that’s not a popular opinion, but I can’t help it!) and have tried to see things from her point of view as much as possible, I honestly don’t understand why Andrea is still in this room telling the Governor not to push her away. Surely she has realized that the Governor has not, shall we say, been totally honest with her; surely the fact that not one, but TWO of her friends (Michonne and Daryl) faced death at the Governor’s hands, gives her pause.
Milton arrives at this point to tell the Governor that things are getting ugly with the people of Woodbury. Ugly is where the Governor lives and he just doesn’t care.
Back at the prison, Beth hugs and kisses the returning folks, with an extra big kiss for Rick. Oh, I really hope they don’t go there! Herschel sort of shoos his daughters away so he can have a private chat with Rick and tell him how great he is. He also explains what’s been going on at the prison in Rick’s absence, as we cut to the inside where Carl is glaring menacingly at Tyreese and his group.
Rick walks through without a word to anyone; when he gets to the cellblock, Beth hands him the baby, saying that she has Lori’s eyes. The sound fades at Rick stares at the baby’s face. Uh oh!
In Woodbury, Milton tries to calm everyone down, but he’s singularly uncharismatic. Everyone asks where the Governor is, and Milton tells them that the Governor is resting. The crowd gets restive again, so Andrea makes a speech about how even though life is awful and full of pain, if they dig down and find the strength to carry on, they can rebuild Woodbury as well as their hearts and minds, and someday their names will live in history. For some reason, her words sway the crowd. The Governor looks on from above, probably wondering whose head will start his new collection.
At the prison, Carol is making up a bed for the baby in an old mail carton. Beth carries her upstairs, and Carol talks about Sophia as a baby. Awww! Beth says she’s always wanted a baby. (Isn’t she, like, seventeen or eighteen?) Beth and Carol talk about Daryl, with Beth saying that she doesn’t understand why Daryl left. Carol says that men like Merle get into your head and make you believe you deserve the abuse.
Beth tells Carol that they’re weak without Daryl, and Carol points out that they have Tyreese and his friends now. She defends Daryl to Beth, saying that Daryl has a code and “this world needs men like that.” I have to give the writers credit because although I knew a Merle/Daryl reunion was inevitable, I had no idea it was going to go like this, and I’m quite intrigued.
Herschel examines Glenn’s injuries; Glenn tells Herschel that he was beaten up thanks to Daryl’s brother. Maggie overhears part of the conversation and backs away, as Herschel asks whether he and Maggie are okay. He thanks Glenn for looking out for Maggie and tells Glenn that he’s like Herschel’s own son. Awww! Then Herschel has a nice scene with Maggie, when he asks her if she wants to tell him what happened in Woodbury. Maggie doesn’t want to talk about it, and Herschel tells her that he knows she can handle herself. Aww! I really like Herschel, and I’m glad he didn’t turn into a zombie! Thanks for that, Rick!
After the commercial break, Herschel tends to Michonne, who’s managing to sleep through Herschel talking. Rick asks Herschel how long before Michonne can travel and Herschel buys her a couple of days by saying he’s pretty sure she has a concussion.
Axel and Carol have a nice little moment as Axel mourns Oscar, who always stood up for him. The prison gang has a little conference about what to do about the impending arrival of the Governor; Carol points out that with Daryl’s departure and Oscar’s death, their group is “outnumbered and outgunned.” Herschel urges Rick to speak to Tyreese.
Rick ignores Tyreese’s outstretched hand and the introductions by Herschel, interrogating Tyreese on how they got into the prison, and then yelling at Carl for bringing them into the prison. This is not going well! Tyreese offers to help out as allies and contribute to Rick’s group in order for a safe place to say. “No,” Rick says, and then ignores Sasha’s plea as well.
Herschel says they should talk further and Rick talks about how they’ve been through this with Tomas and Andrew. Carol points out that Axel and Oscar have been good guys, and Rick asks “Where’s Oscar now?” I’m not understanding Rick’s logic here: because Oscar lost his life helping Rick’s group recover some of their own, that’s an argument against letting Tyreese stay? I’m chalking this up to extreme sleep deprivation.
Rick says he can’t be responsible; “if you turn us out,” Tyreese says, “you will be responsible.”
Herschel begs Rick to give Tyreese’s group a chance, refraining from pointing out that he gave Rick and his group a chance to stay on his farm. (Maybe it’s best he doesn’t mention that, because look how that turned out, with Herschel’s friends and family and captive zombies and farm all destroyed. Good thing he doesn’t bear a grudge!)
It looks like Herschel may have convinced Rick of his point of view, but then Rick looks up to the catwalk where a woman in a white dress is watching him. It’s Lori, of course, and Rick starts saying “no, no, why are you here, what do you want from me?”
Rick shouts “I can’t help you, get out, you don’t belong here” and pulls his gun. Tyreese believes that Rick is yelling at him, and may also be reconsidering allying with this crazy person. Tyreese, Sasha, Allen, and Ben slowly back out of the room, as Rick’s group looks on, concerned.
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Regina Thorne is an avid reader of just about everything, an aspiring writer, a lover of old movies and current TV shows, and a hopeless romantic.