Much to some readers’ consternation, I felt the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead’s third season wasn’t all that wonderful. It was still energetic, visceral and enjoyable (bettering the majority of contemporary television) but was noticeably poorer than the 7 episodes that had preceded it. Returning after a two-month hiatus, The Walking Dead still stands as one of the best programmes currently airing, but episode 9 is nonetheless overshadowed by the several seminal episodes.
Major Spoilers Follow
Season 2 was flawed by a bitterly slow series of events – a problem dealt with perfectly during the start of the third season. Whilst “The Suicide King” never becomes too sluggish, there are some issues with the pacing, mostly a decision to rush through events. Given the relatively long break from episode 8 to 9 airing, the best thing to have done is to take things steady with the action. I found episode 8’s Woodbury infiltration and escape frantically shot and edited, ruining some of the tension. The same can be said for episode 9 which starts off with Daryl and Merle pitted against one another in a fight to the death. This was the cliff-hanger clincher for me last December – something I was eager to see the result of – but takes a mere few minutes to end at the start of the season’s second half. Just a few more shots on the brothers’ faces (showing their turmoil/anger/fear) would have sufficed and brought a bit more drama to the set-piece.
Despite this, the second infiltration by Rick and Maggie brilliantly builds on the new “Rick versus The Governor” story arc. The Governor coolly walking through the smoke grenade’s smog is now the new iconic image of The Walking Dead’s conflict. It shows the possible end to Woodbury – a point lingered on for the right amount of time. The best piece of damning evidence to Woodbury’s survival is a gap in the gate, with a classic-looking zombie drooling and moaning before it.
With The Governor knowing of Rick et al’s hide-out, the prison may also become a doomed locale. However, before that happens there is still some change happening there to keep you interested. For one, there is the new group currently housed in the cell next to Hershel, Carl, Beth and Judith. They all seem pleasant and humbly concerned about their future with or without the prison lot. But one member changes your perception when he mentions knocking off Carol and Carl in order to get their guns. The leader, Tyreese, is shocked by the idea, yet it can’t erase the idea in the audiences’ mind that they may not be as innocent as they appear.
There isn’t much development with the new crowd that warrants immediate attention; all concern goes towards Daryl leaving his borrowed family for his blood one. Daryl is an integral part of the show – Rick’s right-hand man and one of the most beloved characters. As he trudges off with his evil brother there is a definite drop in the show’s credit (how it will last without Daryl or how they’ll bring him back is now a haunting question).
What marks the series as a well-acclaimed one is its ability to deal well with certain themes. The overarching ones will always be loss, survival and humanity, though each episode usually contains a specific one. Episode 9 looks closer at Rick’s madness and also the clashes between counter-communities (Woodbury and the prison). For the latter, there is a sense of the community degenerating – whether it’s the take-over of Woodbury with zombies or its people wanting to leave, or Daryl leaving Rick and co for the prison lot – showing a slightly mirrored image of decay. Rick’s tortured mind is a theme seen only in snippets since Lori’s death. As the episode finishes he looks up a Shakespearian-type ghost of Lori, cloaked in shadow on the upper floor of the cell. As a programme continually promoting horror or scares, this is one of the most upsetting images to date. Not only does it reveal Rick as a broken, disillusioned man, it also draws on paranoia and phantoms – prime material for creeping you out.
By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Flickering Myth