The Walking Dead recap: 'Prey'
In the last few recaps, I’ve talked quite a bit about my Magic Forest Theory, an idea/argument/rationalization which attempts to explain how — in the middle of the zombie apocalypse — people on The Walking Dead just keep on randomly running into each other whenever they walk through the forest. The Magic Forest also explains why walkers — creatures which, from all we’ve seen, spend their life loudly drooling and mouth-breathing and generally just bonking into trees — seem to just suddenly appear from behind trees in the forest, usually in packs. Not to mention the fact that it’s never been clear just how close Woodbury is to the Prison; it took Andrea a couple hours to hike there a few episodes ago, but last night it seemed more like a day trip. I worry that the Magic Forest theory sounds like a snarky critique of the show, but it’s really just an observation. Some TV series, like the superficially similar Game of Thrones, pay close attention to the show’s internal setting. (Other shows — like the extremely similar and way more boring Revolution — pay lip service to geography.) Walking Dead is much simpler. This whole season has been about the clear-cut dichotomy between the Prison and Woodbury; it’s not like Dr. Seuss needed to draw a map The Butter Battle Book.
Still, last night’s episode pushed the Magic Forest Theory to its breaking point, throwing one character into the woods and sending another character after her, constantly popping up from around the corner like a ghost or an annoying older sibling. It was a well-filmed episode — at its best, it felt like one long unbroken chase scene. But the chase ultimately didn’t go anywhere; the characters started right back where they began.
We began with a flashback to Michonne and Andrea’s winter in the wilderness. Michonne chained up her pets. They ate some grub. Andrea made a joke about wishing they had some Cab. “Girls’ night,” mumbled Michonne. Andrea asked her silent partner where she found her pets. Did she know them before? Michonne responded directly: “They deserved what they got. They weren’t human to begin with.” There was a world of hurt and emotion and repressed memory lingering behind that statement. For a second, I almost though we were being set up for an extended double-flashback: A look at who Michonne was, before the fall. I even thought we were going to get something like “Walkabout,” the famous fourth episode of Lost which revealed that survivalist superman John Locke was a boring, emotionally impotent cubicle drone in a wheelchair before the plane crash.
But the show did an impressionistic cut from Michonne’s chained walkers to the present day. The Governor was setting up chains tied to two poles. It looked like a prison chamber, and his face indicated that he was planning to do something…unsanitary. Now, this is one of those moments on The Walking Dead where it’s hard to know how we should talk about it. Fans of the comic book know exactly what that is, and what it portends: Indeed, it almost seems to exist specifically as a nod to fans of the comic book. But if you’re just watching the TV show, you probably had no clue what that was, or why the show was treating it like such a Big Moment. It’s a classic Thanos Scene: All reference and no recognition.
That opening, weirdly, also seemed to have nothing to do with the episode that followed, which was focused almost exclusively on the relationship between Andrea and the Governor. Andrea was confused about why Woodbury was arming up for war. “Isn’t there a deal on the table?” she asked, because for some reason Andrea is literally the last human being left on earth who thinks that a one-eyed man who keeps zombie heads and undead daughters in his mancave would prefer to opt for a diplomatic solution. Exasperated, Milton took her to the Governor’s “workshop,” where she saw her beloved Gov preparing a torture chair with lots of torture tools and record himself whistling a happy little tune.
NEXT: Tyreese’s sniper practice
“This is sick,” said Andrea. “I can’t just stand by. I have to kill him.” She held a gun on him. The Walking Dead gets a lot of mileage out of its pure-spectacle gore, but the shot of Andrea up in the window looking down on the Governor was an example of the show at its subtle best. Unfortunately, Milton wouldn’t let her shoot the guy.
I’m not sure Milton is really an actual character at this point, but I admire the fact that — besides that first episode, when he seemed like a mad scientist with a serious tea obsession — the show has been pretty consistent in its treatment of him. He’s a pacifist. He doesn’t think anyone should be killed. He told Andrea that the Governor would move on someday. “I knew Phillip before he became the Governor. That man still exists.” Milton believes the Governor has a spark of his old life. Of course, Milton also believed that walkers still had a spark of their old lives. More than anything else, Milton has to believe that the old pre-zombie world is something that can be recreated. If you think about it, Woodbury itself is a monument to that belief: The idea that, in the midst of zombiedom, people can still hang out at the flea market and turn on the electric lights and do the laundry.
Naturally, Milton refused to go with Andrea to the prison. The Prison represents every hard truth about the zombie apocalypse that Milton would prefer to ignore. At the Prison, everyone is basically a caveman hunter-gatherer who won’t hesitate to kill a threat, living or dead. Andrea left him with a kiss on the cheek.
Meanwhile, at the back wall, Tyreese and Sasha were practicing with their sniper rifle. Tyreese was having problems with the ranged weapon. Understandable: He’s clearly a melee guy, swinging a hammer with brutal effectiveness. Then Andrea walked up to their sniper training session and tried to pull an elaborate prank. Here’s Andrea trying to lie:
Andrea: Um, hey guys, uh, yo, there’s like a big pack of walkers invading the north gate.
Tyreese: Really? Weird, we didn’t hear anything.
Andrea: Yeah, um, and Martinez says you should run over there right now.
Sasha: We’re not supposed to leave this wall undefended. It’s against protocol.
Andrea: Um, yeah, but uh, Martinez says that the protocol is…different now?
Tyreese: Also, just because a large pack of walkers is attacking the far side of town, why should we abandon this side? I mean, seriously, who leaves a clear point of entry to a safe zombie-free compound just wide open? What are we, the Grimes Gang?
Andrea: Shut up! I have a knife!
Andrea told them that the Governor had done terrible things. Rather than elucidate on those terrible things, she ran off into the Magic Forest. Tyreese and Sasha were brought to see the Governor, who gave them a sob story about Andrea wandering through the wilderness all winter, all by herself, which is why she’s all cuckoo now. Then the Governor put on a trenchcoat and slicked back his hair; I’m not sure if this was intentional, but it looked to me like they were styling him like Snake Plissken, which is always a good thing. He asked Milton if he had talked to Andrea. Milton said, “Um, nooooo.” I was surprised the Governor didn’t shoot Milton in the face right there on the street.
Tyreese and Sasha had a chat with the two other members of their wolfpack, whose names are technically Ben and Allen, and are actually referred to as Douche Dad and That Other Kid. Douche Dad told Tyreese not to screw up this whole Woodbury thing for them. Then he made some reference to shaming him “in front of my boy again.” Apparently, Tyreese rescued Douche Dad’s dead wife, whose name I believe was Dead Wife, and then became “Her knight in shining armor.” There seemed to be some implication that there was something romantic between Tyreese and Dead Wife, but it was just an implication. The weirdest thing about The Walking Dead is that it’s an ultraviolent show that, besides Maggie and Glenn, approaches romance from an incredibly vague, practically Victorian sense of propriety. (Consider: The show seems to be arguing that the Governor actually has feelings for Andrea, even though in every other respect he’s a madhouse sociopath with a god complex.)
This was all just prologue. The chase was about to begin.
NEXT: The ChaseI’m going to sound critical here, but it’s not because I think the show isn’t good. I just actually think that Andrea may not be a very smart person. Consider: She ran away from Woodbury, knowing full well that she was running from a madman with an army at his disposal…and she ran straight down the middle of the road. Now, fine: She’s weaponless in a zombie world, so the forest might be dangerous. But sure enough, she heard a truck coming and ran into the forest…hid behind a tree…and was suddenly surprised by not one, not two, but three walkers. She managed to kill them all; Andrea can do something right. And then, perhaps realizing that a change in tactics was in order, she set off further into the Magic Forest.
Meanwhile, Martinez took the whole Tyreese Crew up to their walker prison to grab some zombies. Tyreese got the gist very quickly about what they were doing: Grabbing zombies to use against the Prison. “This ain’t right. They got women and children!” But Douche Dad didn’t like Tyreese’s sudden attack of conscience. He made lots of angry references to Dead Wife. They started fighting. Tyreese wound up holding Douche Dad over the zombie pit…at which point Douche Dad asked him to just do it already, come on. This was such an interesting sequence that it made me wish we knew anything at all about Tyreese or Douche Dad, besides the fact that Tyreese is apparently a decent dude with a hammer and Douche Dad is kind of a douche.
(COMIC BOOK ASIDE: Look, I’m being cruel to be kind here, but so far, the TV show has completely bungled the introduction of Tyreese. In the comic books, Tyreese was a fascinating character, at once very heroic and very flawed, who had a whole weird terrifying family subplot — a subplot that seems unlikely to appear on the TV show in any meaningful way, which would be impressive if there were anything interesting in its place. But TV-Tyreese is weirdly faceless; the show was edging towards something interesting when he said that he would give the Governor tactical info on the prison, but then it edged right back into making him a boringly straightforward character. Why did they even call him Tyreese? END OF COMIC BOOK ASIDE.)
Andrea came upon a clearing and started walking. Then the Governor appeared and chased her into the forest. Then Andrea walked into a clearing and saw a building. Then the Governor appeared and chased her into the building. I couldn’t quite get a read on what the building used to be; at first, Andrea was lurking in what looked like an old office, but then she was walking through a David Fincher Brand™ Steam Factory, and there were lots of meathooks lying around, but also lots of windows. It looked like the end of Full Metal Jacket, and the whole sequence with the Governor looking for her was incredibly tense. The Governor had his collar turned up, like a dictator or a noir villain; Andrea lurked in the shadows, readying her knife. The Governor was carrying a shovel, and at one point he attacked a couple zombies and stabbed a walker’s head with the shovel, earning one of the grossest Zombie Kill of the Week awards in recent memory.
Andrea ran into a dead end, though: She reached a door, opened it, and found a horde of zombies trapped in the staircase. She turned…and saw the Governor. It was clear that the time for talk was past. It was also clear, I thought, that this was the end of the line for Andrea. The Walking Dead is a show that is good at killing off its characters at just the right time; I figured that, after two whole seasons of narrowly dodging the Reaper, this would be the end for Andrea. And when she opened the door, my heart jumped. Here’s what I thought was happening: Andrea, knowing she was going to die either way, bravely sacrificed herself and let herself be eaten alive by walkers, knowing that they would also overwhelm the Governor. What an exit! What a demise! What a…
Oh, no, never mind, she was just hiding and letting the zombies distract the Governor so she could run away. And when she ran away, she ran away — ignoring what struck me as an extremely good opportunity to take down the Governor once and for all. Maybe you disagree; maybe you think she was smarter to run off, and leave the Governor to what seemed like certain death. But this whole sequence struck me as an excellent build-up with no payoff. Was it cool seeing the Governor kill lots of zombies in interesting ways? Sure. But I have to admit, fellow viewers: This may be the episode of Walking Dead when “killing lots of zombies in interesting ways” no longer does it for me the way it used to. Poll time:
NEXT: So near, and yet…so farWe saw a mysterious scene at the Walker Pit, where a faceless person poured lighter fluid all over the walkers and set them on fire. Now, for a second, I thought that this was actually an incredible battle tactic. Pause to imagine: A horde of walkers, on fire, walking straight towards the wall of the Prison. (Or Woodbury, for that matter.) It would essentially be like turning zombies into walking, biting napalm. “That’s a sharp tactic for zombie wartime!” I thought to myself. “I’m very excited that the battle with the Prison seems to be beginni…oh, never mind, it’s just somebody burning up the walkers.” Sure enough, the next day, the Woodburyites returned to the zombie pit and saw a disgusting horde of burnt-out husks.
At long last, Andrea emerged from the Magic Forest and saw the Lori Grimes Memorial Prison. It had been a long journey, filled with near-misses. In the distance, she could see someone on patrol. It was Rick Grimes — the first time we saw him this episode, looking like a man with something on his mind. She waved at him…and was suddenly grabbed downwards by The Governor, emerging once again from the Magic Forest like a devilish night fairy with an eye patch. Rick looked through his scope and shook his head, probably telling himself it was just a hallucination.
The Governor returned to Woodbury and told everyone that he couldn’t find Andrea. He told Martinez to get some more biters, so I guess there was no point in burning down the zombie pit. Then he brought Tyreese in and had a long talk with him about the zombie pit: How using the walkers was just a scare tactic, and how Woodbury is really a nice place, he swears. Tyreese apologized vaguely, and the Governor asked him, “Where did you get the gasoline?” Tyreese had no idea what he was talking about — he just thought the Governor was asking about his outburst. The Governor said, “Oh, never mind, that’s just my sense of humor. ‘Where did you get the gasoline?’ Aha. Aha.” They all had a good laugh. Gasoline, right?
Then the Governor walked outside and talked to Milton, and Milton basically told him that he burned the pits. His mouth was saying, “Gee, that’s too bad that somebody burned the pits,” and his eyes were saying, “It was me! I did it! Milton Mamet, the cousin of David Mamet probably!” Yet again, the Governor did not just pull out his gun and shoot Milton in the face, which shows a significant amount of restraint on his part if you ask me.
The episode ended with a long, spooky shot going into the Governor’s “workshop,” ending with Andrea in the torture chair. (I like to imagine that, even now, deep into her Marissa Cooper Syndrome, Andrea still secretly thinks she might work stuff out with the Governor.) It was a scary way to end the episode, but it also felt inevitable — and it made the whole episode-long chase scene feel like an extraneous bit of wheel-spinning.
Really, if I have one major critique of the back half of this season, it’s that it has all felt a bit like wheel spinning. There has never been any sense that we weren’t building to a major showdown, and every plot point that seemed to indicate that war wasn’t coming just wound up feeling unnecessary. (It’s a bit like in the early seasons of Breaking Bad, when Walter occasionally thought about leaving the drug world behind. You knew it wouldn’t happen, because then there’s no show.) Still, I find I’m tremendously excited about the last two episodes of the season. There will be blood…. hopefully?
Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich
AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.