Even a good “Walking Dead” has its bad moments. Michonne, for instance, remains a ridiculous character, the picture of defiant composure even while Merle was dragging her back towards Woodbury to be tortured and killed. Only in that nifty scene when she was tied to the wall with the car alarm ringing did she betray any fear. It’s fine to have John Wayne-ish superhero types who never lose their cool in a comic-book drama, but the rest of this show is supposed to be realistic. She’s two dimensions away from three-dimensional.
Merle’s transformation on the way back toward Woodbury wasn’t realistic either. Did I miss something or was it never quite explained why, and when, he decided to turn on the Governor? Did he plan that from the beginning of the episode last night — i.e. he was going to use Michonne as bait to lure the Governor and his men into an ambush? Or did Michonne talk him into it during the car ride by babbling about protecting Daryl and needling him about being the Governor’s lackey? The problem with the theory that Merle attacked the Governor’s men to try to save Daryl from an assault on the prison is that Merle and Daryl never seemed close. They spent the whole season trying to find each other and then they did, but there was never any fraternal affection between them. Watching Merle suddenly start shooting at the Governor was like watching Darth Vader throw the Emperor down the well without any of the preceding “I know there’s still good in you, father” rah-rah. And if Michonne did talk him into it in the car, that means Merle set out on the trip thinking he’d rendezvous amicably with the Governor while handing her over to him. But why would he think that? The Governor tried to feed him and Daryl to zombies. Why wouldn’t the Governor have just shot Merle on the spot during the prisoner exchange and then taken Michonne captive?
Anyway, still a good episode. Rick’s moral dilemma on whether to hand her over before emerging as zombieworld’s Cincinnatus was a rare Rick-related plot line that didn’t bog down. The car-alarm scene was, as noted, pretty nifty. Merle’s ambush was exciting too; the show does a reliably good job of spiking the punch in gunfight sequences by tossing a bunch of zombies in the middle of them. (The ultimate examples in the zombie canon are the beginning and end of “Dawn of the Dead.”) And of course, having Daryl stumble upon zombie Merle was affecting, as that type of scene always is. They’ve tugged the “loved one discovers zombie loved one” heartstrings at least four times before, as I recall: In the very first episode, Morgan couldn’t bring himself to shoot his zombified wife (a decision he later regretted); Andrea watched her sister die and then delivered the coup de grace when she came back; Rick had to put little Sophia down after she emerged in undead form from Herschel’s barn; and the Governor kept his little zombie daughter chained up in a closet in the futile hope of somehow bringing her back to life. It’s an old trope of zombie horror (it’s the core conceit of “Pet Sematary,” although that’s technically not a zombie flick), but it always, always works. The Merle/Daryl scene was the best of them, I think, partly because Norman Reedus did such a nice job in playing it and partly because, as noted, it was the first moment of genuine emotion between the two of them. The way he puts Merle down rings true too. No crossbow this time. The killing had to be more personal and more violent than that to capture the mix of grief for, and rage at, his brother/tormentor.
Anyway, sorry to disappoint with the lack of grumbles this week. I’ll make up for it next week assuming the inevitable Glenn/Maggie wedding scene is as excruciating and unwatchable as we all expect.