After spending most of last week's episode engaged in imaginary telephone conversations with his subconscious, Rick returned to sanity from his sojourn into madness and took charge of the group once again. With some help from Carl, Rick made the decision to bring Michonne into the prison and in exchange, he was rewarded with the news that Glenn and Maggie had been kidnapped and taken to a town called Woodbury, run by some dude named The Governor. Highlighting the parallels and differences between the Gov and Rick, Rick initially confiscated her katana sword like the Governor did and tried to apply a form of torture by squeezing her gunshot wound from last week, but in both cases the Sheriff relented and treated her with more respect. Once Hershel patched up the wound on her leg, Michonne joined Rick, Daryl, and Oscar on their mission to rescue their friends, showing that she can be trusting of strangers under the right circumstances. From her identical facial expressions to her informative body language, Danai Gurira is the living embodiment of the character from the original comic book series, as if she stepped right off the page. Arguably the most faithful and accurate depiction of a comic book character on film or television, she has brought Michonne to life in a very real way and made the role her own at the same time. There is clearly a warm and caring person underneath her cold hard exterior, a result of the psychological trauma afflicting the entire cast of characters on The Walking Dead. In this world even more than in our own zombie-free lives, trust and relationships are simultaneously the most soothing comforts and the most frightening propositions because of what they represent. Michonne is a character who has obviously already learned this lesson the hard way and remains guarded emotionally, even during the span of months she was with Andrea.
Meanwhile in Woodbury, Glenn and Maggie learned the dangers of relationships from Merle and the Governor in interrogation scenes that were brutal and uncomfortable to watch, although many breathed a sigh of relief when the show didn't follow through on a potential rape scenario involving Maggie. Scanning early reactions to the two scenes, it's interesting that the implied sexual sadism in Maggie's interrogation is perceived as worse than the murder and violence we have already witnessed on the show. Somehow, even in a world populated by walking corpses who exist only to rip your flesh from your bones, rape is still too taboo for television. Duct-taped to a chair, Glenn took a vicious beating from Merle while Maggie listened from an adjacent room and then he had to fight off a hungry walker unleashed by Merle. Loveably racist, Merle recited the ancient proverb about Chinese food before releasing the biter's collar: "You know what they say, he'll be hungry again in an hour!" On a series known for its badassery, Glenn performed one of the most badass feats yet when he struggled to literally bust his way out of the chair and killed the zombie with the arms of the chair still bound to him. In comparison to the corresponding situation in the comic book, Maggie had it relatively easy. However, when the Governor threatened to shoot Glenn, Maggie confessed details about the prison and the group. As strong as Woodbury seems, the Governor appeared concerned about a group of ten people who had managed to clear out the prison and set up camp deep in the dreaded "red zone," indicating that Merle told him such a task would be impossible. Much like the military unit he and his goons ambushed, the Gov sees this new force as a threat to the control he has over the citizens of Woodbury and plans to take down the population of Prisonville as we head into next week's midseason finale. Because of the presence of his brother on the opposing side, the Gov questioned Merle's loyalty, but the one-handed wonder declared he was with Woodbury. Earlier this season, Governor denied Merle's request to search for Daryl and treats him with some disdain, so is it possible that Merle could turn on his current boss if it comes down to a decision involving his brother? Merle also found out during his interrogation of Glenn that Andrea's story about the group returning to Atlanta to rescue him from the rooftop was true, a fact that could sway his feelings in such a situation.
Last week's miraculous discovery that Carol had survived in the catacombs of the prison led to a tearful reunion between her and Rick, as she also found out the double-edged news that Lori had died during childbirth. Along with the birth of a healthy baby, Carol's survival in the face of all odds provided another sign of hope for Rick that he made the right choice to stay strong and carry on. The infant girl finally got a real name as well, albeit an incredibly random one. After Carl asked his dad if he remembered his third-grade teacher, Mrs. Mueller ("Of course," responds Rick) the boy recalled that her first name was Judith and they agreed it is a fitting moniker for the new arrival. Hopefully they deliver some sort of back story on this teacher and what made her so memorable, because I doubt my parents knew my third-grade teacher's name while I was in the third grade, let alone a few years later in the midst of a zombie-infested post-apocalyptic wasteland. Even a throwaway line about Mrs. Mueller surviving cancer or helping Carl overcome a learning disability would be appreciated. Seeing father and son reconnect for the first time since Lori's death was an emotional moment and the next step in Carl's evolution as a future leader, as he took charge when Michonne was attacked by walkers outside the prison and started firing away without waiting for his father's instructions. Young Chandler Riggs has done an admirable job this season tackling some challenging material for an actor of his age and seems to be up to the task of assuming Andrew Lincoln's mantle if his character survives long enough.
While I understand that the writers and producers of The Walking Dead don't want to ape a well-known genre favorite such as George Romero's Day of the Dead, the background storyline featuring the Governor's chief researcher Milton is a bit frustrating and unsatisfying. Searching for remnants of "trace memory" left in the subconscious of the walkers after they reanimate, he conducted an experiment on an old man named Mr. Coleman who volunteered to participate because he was dying of prostate cancer. Similar to methods of research into Alzheimer's and dementia, Milton introduced a variety of memory cues and asked Coleman some basic questions, then planned to ask them again after Coleman died and resurrected. Since he had never seen the transformation, Milton foolishly removed one of the restraints and nearly paid for it with his life, but Andrea had been assigned to supervise and she swiftly stabbed Zombie Coleman in the head to stop him from taking a bite. The concept of his research and how far the show will delve into the science of the zombie apocalypse is fascinating, but it was hard to believe that Milton would be naive enough to think it would be safe to unstrap Mr. Coleman after he turned. Although he hadn't witnessed someone he knew change, Milton must have had enough experience to realize it wasn't a great idea to free one of his hands. At the very least, he could have administered heavy doses of horse tranquilizers first. Perhaps this was his own form of suicide, as he had developed a close bond with Coleman and told Andrea that he understood the consequences if the test subject came after him. Rattled by the experience, Milton wandered off to record his findings. I hope they continue to incorporate this character into the show and follow his descent, as he could slowly become a Josef Mengele type of mad scientist conducting a range of increasingly bizarre and horrific experiments with walkers and humans.
By the end of the episode, Rick and his crew had arrived outside Woodbury and were preparing to infiltrate the settlement. Along the way, the foursome had been surrounded by a large herd of walkers and sought shelter in a cabin in the woods, presumably inhabited by Rip Van Winkle. As if he had just awoken with no understanding of the situation outside, the paranoid hermit pulled a shotgun on Rick and threatened to call the police, making more noise and increasing the ferocity of the undead horde banging on the door. When the man tried to open the door to escape, Michonne quickly stabbed him with her sword to stop him and threw his still-living body outside as zombie bait, distracting the walkers while they fled out the back door. I enjoy these glimpses of other survivors and how they have reacted, or not reacted, to the plague of walking corpses that has overrun the planet. If I had to choose, this episode was the weakest of Season 3, but that is by no means an insult. The purpose of "When The Dead Come Knocking" was to set up the last episode of the fall season next week, and it did exactly that. Entitled "Made To Suffer," the midseason finale should be a memorable one as the excellent first half of the season comes to a thrilling conclusion and leaves us hanging until February.
FINAL GRADE: B+