For the first time in the 22-episode history of AMC's The Walking Dead, this week's episode did not feature Rick Grimes or any of the other main cast members. Entitled "Walk With Me," the episode chronicled the journey of Andrea and Michonne as they came into contact with a new settlement of survivors, led by a congenial enough fellow known only as The Governor.
The show was highlighted by the honest-to-goodness return of Merle Dixon, the nasty racist redneck brother of Daryl who had to amputate his hand after Rick and the group left him handcuffed on top of a building in the series premiere. Great to see Michael Rooker back on the series and on top of his game. Now sporting a crude metal prosthesis to cover his stump, Merle works directly under the Governor and naturally helps him carry out his dirty work in secret. In fact, the Governor's most trusted underlings form a Bizarro World version of Rick and his merry band: not only does Gov have a Dixon brother in his employ in much the same role as Daryl's in the group, he also has an Asian comrade and a black man.
In the comic book upon which the television series is based, the Governor is depicted as a swarthy, skeezy-looking fugitive from Mad Max, bearing more of a physical resemblance to last week's prison gang leader Tomas (Nick Gomez) than actor David Morrissey. My only complaint about Morrissey is his terribly uneven stab at an American accent, which often sounds like Liam Neeson's terribly uneven stab at an American accent. By casting the versatile British actor in the role, however, the show defied expectations and accentuated the parallels between Rick and the Governor.
Presumably an average American citizen like Rick before the zombie plague spread, the Governor is established as the absolute ruler of the Woodbury settlement who will take whatever actions he deems necessary to maintain the safety of his colony. As we find out when he elects to ambush and assassinate a unit of soldiers in order to steal guns and supplies, the Governor represents the dark side of what Rick could become, just a few steps beyond burying his hatchet in Tomas' forehead last week. He has taken Rick's "This is not a democracy" philosophy to the extreme. While initially his character doesn't seem far removed from Rick, the Governor's penchant for staring at rows of walker heads suspended in aquariums in his secret man-cave indicates that there is something twisted and psychotic bubbling underneath the surface.
Specializing in looking angry and/or suspicious, Michonne showed more emotion during her brief scenes in the season premiere than she did in this entire episode, but it was completely appropriate for the character. Even after several months travelling together, she still hasn't opened up much to Andrea and remains very guarded. Bringing to life a character that many believed would be too cartoonish for live-action, Danai Gurira has grounded Michonne in the reality of her situation and embodies the essence of the character from the comic book.
A new character created for the show, Milton is the Governor's chief scientist involved in researching the "biters," as the zombies are called in Woodbury. Reminiscent of a younger and more mentally stable Dr. Logan from George Romero's Day of the Dead, Milton is fascinated by the biters and theorizes that some semblance of the individual's personality remains in them, "like an echo." He is an intriguing character and could present some interesting possibilities if he attempts to research and prove his hypothesis.
In true AMC fashion, the preview for this week's episode was intentionally misleading, edited together to look like the Governor kidnapped Andrea and Michonne and headed out to find Rick and his crew. Next week's episode, titled "Killer Within," appears to be focused back on the main cast in the prison, but "Walk With Me" proved that The Walking Dead could potentially spawn successful spinoffs set in different locations, like CSI. If they could all live up to the quality of this episode, sign me up for TWD: Alaska or TWD: New York City.
FINAL GRADE: A-