After the longest two months ever, AMC's The Walking Dead returned from its midseason slumber with an episode that didn't quite live up to expectations, but nevertheless dealt with the fallout of the events that transpired in the first half of the season. Entitled "The Suicide King," the episode also showed the different effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on some of the characters, particularly Rick, The Governor, and Glenn.
The resolution to the midseason finale cliffhanger pitting Daryl against Merle in the Woodbury gladiator pit proved to be a routine rescue scene with Rick and company charging in to help the Dixon brothers escape. Still holding a grudge for that little incident where he was left handcuffed on a roof, Merle resumes his role as an agitator before Rick switches him off again by casually pistol-whipping him in the back of the head, knocking the foulmouthed redneck out just like he did in the very first episode. I half-expected a remark from Rick along the lines of, "We have to stop meeting this way."
When Merle awakened, Rick refused to accept him into the group. It's hard to blame Rick, since Merle just yelled at everybody and called them a bunch of "pussies," but Daryl chooses to leave with his shithead brother because he still feels guilty about abandoning him on the roof in Atlanta. Rick and Glenn try to persuade Daryl to remain with the new family they have built at the prison and attempt to entice him with thoughts of Carol, but Daryl feels that she will understand (she does; her bar has been set pretty low) and heads off into the forest with Merle, never to be seen again. At least, not for the rest of this episode.
Oh wait, you mean we're stuck with the rest of these people instead? Can we come with you, Dixon brothers?
I kid. I do like the character arc that has developed for Glenn since the first season. He was always a valuable utility player for the group and has become a certifiable badass, but he is traumatized as a result of the torture he and Maggie suffered at the hands of Merle and the Governor. Glenn seemed to be implying that Maggie was raped, whether that's something he just assumes or she has confirmed to him, and unleashed his anger by viciously stomping a walker's skull into paste. Even Rick looked at Glenn as if to say, "Dude, you are messed UP."
If it wasn't already made clear when he was having imaginary phone conversations with dead people, Rick's psyche has been cracked and the pressure of being in charge is obviously too much for him to handle. When Tyreese and his crew were pleading their case to remain in the prison, Rick had shadowy visions of his late wife Lori, possibly in walker form, and refused their request because he didn't want to be responsible for them. Rick spoke to the hallucination in front of everyone and confirmed their assumptions that he is a raving lunatic, causing the room to empty as the episode came to a close.
While it seemed that Rick's most severe mental issues had passed in previous episodes, this is a more accurate portrayal of PTSD in that it isn't an ailment you can just shake off and get over, especially in a post-apocalyptic world infested with zombies and other unstable humans who can't be trusted. As the leader of the group, Rick must always be on edge and allows himself no respite from the horror. Since the first season, he has thrown himself into perilous situation after perilous situation, killed a handful of people including his best friend, lost his wife, and witnessed unspeakable atrocities, all after being shot while on duty and falling into a coma.
We are so used to seeing our TV and movie heroes bounce back from adversity with minimal damage that we expect Rick to suddenly snap back to reality, but it doesn't work that way. The psychological trauma is something he should continue to struggle with, as will all the characters. We can't judge them according to the way we think we would act in the same situation, because the whole scenario of reanimated corpses rising to feed on human flesh is so unreal that it would blow most people's minds immediately if it actually happened.
Considering what Rick has been through, his behavior is completely believable and true to the character. In the pilot episode during the conversation between Rick and Shane, Rick is depicted as a guy who doesn't like to talk about his feelings and tends to internalize his problems. The ultimate manifestation of this is the hallucinations of Lori and Shane he has experienced because of the guilt and unresolved anger over their deaths. He is paranoid, distrustful, and increasingly disconnected from reality — in other words, perfectly suited to lead a dictatorship.
Speaking of dictators, the Governor means business now and promises no more picnics and barbeques because the people of Woodbury have been coddled long enough. Since this is a blunt message that wouldn't go over well, and because she's inexplicably attracted to psychotic assholes, Andrea does great PR work and gives an off-the-cuff speech to calm the mob of citizens who want to leave Woodbury.
Her past as a civil rights lawyer, mentioned by Dale in Season 2, fits in because she has experience speaking in public and persuading groups of people to agree with her point of view. It remains to be seen why Andrea is doing this, even after Govvy spilled the beans about holding Glenn and Maggie behind her back, but her character has never been one that could be described as rational.
If "The Suicide King" had aired as a regular episode, rather than the heavily promoted midseason premiere, it would have served as acceptable character progression to set up future developments. But with an unprecedented level of anticipation and public penetration, the return of AMC's biggest hit didn't feel like the epic event that was all but promised. Lurching and lumbering, staggering and stumbling, at times the episode felt as lifeless as the undead hordes populating the world of The Walking Dead.
FINAL GRADE: B-