Author’s Note: There were issues with my cable last night, hence why this is posting a bit late – I had to download the episode this morning. Barring further cable-related issues, future episode reviews will post Monday morning, per usual.
The Walking Dead returned last night after a midseason hiatus, and it came back with an above average episode, “The Suicide King,” directed by television director extraordinaire Leslie Linka Glatter, of Mad Men and Twin Peaks. This episode was important in the course of the show as some of the gang finally started to question the Ricktatorship and new leaders, other than Daryl, are beginning to emerge. There were some issues, but this return episode was successful on the whole as it planted seeds for many interesting happenings to come.
Both Rick and the Governor lost their shit in front of their respective followers! The Dixon brothers are out on their own! Allen and Ben pose a threat to the group… kinda! And Beth is crushing hard on crazy Rick!
Well, we do open strong this episode as the Governor pits the brothers Dixon against each other in an ever-popular redneck zombie cage match. If you also read my Justified episode reviews, you will know that I am a sucker for redneck fighting, so this is clearly a good way to kick the episode off. Of course, Merle and Daryl love each other – and it’s been so long! – so they think quickly and fight the surrounding zombies and try to make a break for it. Rick et al. facilitate a quick conclusion by sniping members of the town, and the Dixons escape with them. If I am to find fault with any of this, there should definitely have been a longer face-off between the prison contingent and the Governor’s followers. The sniper route just seems too easy. Plus, the two groups coming together has been anticipated for the entire season, and thus a larger pay-off should have been in order. Though there was talk of a Woodbury retaliation, so perhaps we have to wait a little longer? Nevertheless, from the testimonials of Glen and Michonne, Rick should have probably tried to take down the Governor right then rather than just getting his bro Daryl out, right?
Thankfully, Glen and Michonne call Rick out on this too – he is not the infallible leader he once was. One of the major bright spots in this episode is that several other characters (and eventually the bulk of the prison population) see that Rick is not such a great leader – he’s been through a lot with the loss of Lori, and needs to learn to be more inclusive of outsiders if they are to stand a chance in this zombie apocalypse. Sure, Glen is filled with rage over the Governor’s attempted rape of Maggie, but wouldn’t taking out a maniacal, rival leader just kinda make sense? Glen still has some of that feral killing instinct leftover from episodes past and stomps the shit out of a zombie head in direct response to his rage over the Rick/Governor situation.
The other main questioner of the Ricktatorship here is Hershel, who, in Rick’s absence at Woodbury, really seems to have risen up as a powerful group leader in his own right as he manages the new group of outsiders lead by Tyreese (more on him later) and keeps a much needed humanitarian vibe in the prison. Hershel is a main proponent of welcoming the new group into the preexisting one, even taking Rick aside and directly questioning his leadership. Perhaps Hershel and Glen can be the non-annoying father/son team that we’ve been lacking so far (sorry, Carl, you’ve improved somewhat, but I still want to confiscate your cowboy hat and wipe that scowl off your face). Hershel’s wanted inclusion of the new group brings to mind the critique of society that lurks in the great zombie works of George A. Romero. If people remain selfish and unwilling to open their arms to others, they cannot survive – Rick even wants to cast out Michonne, who is clearly an asset to any group, just because she is not “one of them” and he seems a bit bent out of shape that she knew Andrea. Um… okay. She also saved the group’s ass a bunch of times, and she can wield a samurai sword… so there’s that to consider.
And isn’t Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) awesome? He is stoic, an all-around nice guy, and yet another candidate to lead the group while Rick continues to unravel. He also keeps his chin up, joking, “I must be the first brother in history to break into prison.” With the equally level-headed Sasha at his side, Tyreese makes a great argument for his group to be included – and he also effortlessly talks down a potential overthrow by his compatriots Allen and Ben. Also, he is jacked, so he could probably kill a zombie with one noiseless blow from his fist. We now know you were about to go off the deep end, Rick, but you didn’t return his handshake? In the sage words of Stephanie Tanner, “how rude!”
So yeah, Rick saw an apparition who we could only assume was supposed to be Lori – and he outted himself as being crazy in front of his whole group. While, yes, it was necessary to revisit Rick’s unstable mental state after the phantom phone call episode, the execution of the apparition could probably have been better. Perhaps had he envisioned a zombie Lori? Or something more horrifying to warrant him screaming for her to leave him alone? It was, however, an important choice for him to unravel in front of the group, so the need for new leadership can be expedited and not drawn out over a series of episodes. It also provided a nice contrast to the Governor unraveling in front of his group as he ruthlessly plugs the guy who was bitten by a zombie in the head before crawling back into his hole. In that case, Andrea stepped up as leader – and we’re glad she has an activity, finally! She’s also a fairly good public speaker, as it turns out.
Is Rick or the Governor the “Suicide King,” as the episode’s title asks? Perhaps both of them?
Circling back to the brothers Dixon… it’s a good thing that they remain reunited. However, with the two of them on their own, will they get enough screen time in future episodes? Both Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus turned in fine performances in this episode, though Reedus really stole the show with his quiet emoting and his tears of hurt when he thought his older bro had indeed turned on him. With Daryl away from the group, who will bother to keep tabs on Carl’s whereabouts? Or pay attention to Carol? Please come back, Dixons!
The Upside: The aborted Dixon brothers death match, the questioning of the Ricktatorship, and all-things Tyreese. It’s also nice to see Glen and Hershel stepping up as new leaders in the community.
The Downside: The prison vs. Woodbury face-off in the beginning of the episode could have been longer and more detailed – it’s what we’ve been waiting to see for some time now, and it came off as a bit shortchanged. Also, the Lori apparition could have been executed somewhat more effectively.
On the Side: Milton demonstrates that horizontal stripes can be flattering!