In Slate's Walking Dead TV Club, Chris Kirk will IM each week with a different fan of The Walking Dead. This week, he discusses “Say the Word” with Rachael Larimore, Slate’s managing editor.
Chris: OK. Time to relax after last week’s bloodbath. Open to the Governor combing his daughter’s hair. Oh, wait — she’s a zombie. Of course she is.
Rachael: We closed the last episode with Lori sacrificing herself so her baby might live, and now we have the Governor keeping his daughter “alive.” People will act in irrational ways for the love of their children.
Chris: But the Governor has more than love. He has an obsession. Michonne finds his journal and opens it up to a list of names, with his daughter’s name underlined and followed by pages upon pages of meticulously drawn slashes.
Rachael: The slashes mystified me. There are too many for it to be a tally of the days since Penny turned, right? There must have been thousands.
Chris: Maybe they don’t express anything but his madness. Somehow they’re just as disturbing as the zombie heads and the zombie daughter. Zombie heads could be trophies, and our attachments lead us to do crazy things, like keeping zombies in a barn. But the slashes just confirm that something is seriously off with him.
Rachael: I figure the Governor’s daughter explains all the "research” that Milton, his scientific advisor, is conducting. He's looking for a cure, right?
Chris: Possibly. If that's true, though, the Governor doesn't find it particularly pressing. As Michonne eavesdrops, Milton, the Governor’s scientific advisor, asks the Governor to postpone a village-wide party to save power for an experiment he’s conducting, but the Governor refuses.
Rachael: True ... the Governor is crazy AND mysterious.
Chris: But I get where he's coming from. Maybe he thinks a cure (if that’s what Milton is working on) is a long shot. Plus, preserving Woodbury’s morale is important.
Rachael: Keeping morale up is one thing. Staging Zombie Apocalypse MMA Gladiator fights is quite another.
Chris: The Governor says the sport, which involves Merle going mano-a-mano with another villager in an arena ringed by de-toothed zombies, is meant to desensitize the villagers. Is that enough of an explanation? As crazy as this sport appears to be, should Andrea skip town?
Rachael: Not really. I get the Governor's explanation. The matches are symbolic: The zombies are on the fringes, but as long as you stay in Woodbury, the Governor will keep you safe.
Chris: That’s not what Michonne thinks. After a coarse exchange with Andrea, Michonne returns to the road alone. I don’t blame Andrea for staying, though. Michonne wasn't giving her enough to go on.
Rachael: A sense of security, however tentative, is a powerful thing. But maybe Andrea will carry on Michonne's work and figure out what is really going on. I am terrible at predictions, but my hunch is that as the season draws to a close, things in Woodbury will start to fall apart. Andrea will be in danger. And Michonne will heroically return and save the day. Or, she could get eaten by a zombie next week.
Chris: Speaking of zombie meals, let’s talk about the prison, where the show continues right where it left off last week. Megan’s clutching the baby that she just cut out of Lori. Rick is shell-shocked. T-Dogg is dead and everyone believes Carol is also dead. Without missing a beat, though, Daryl starts assigning orders and does what needs to be done next, which is to find the baby some food.
Rachael: Daryl is going to have to be the de-facto leader until Rick overcomes his grief. it's a role that he's generally resisted, but their numbers are such that he really has no choice. His brother Merle is not going to be happy about his Daryl’s new individuality when the two are reunited.
Chris: The show couldn’t possibly kill off more characters in this episode. Still, I found myself waiting to see a horde of zombie children to swarm Daryl when he and Maggie went to get the baby formula in an abandoned preschool. Even when the characters aren’t practically swimming in guts, this show knows how to be edgy.
Rachael: I really thought they would spare us zombie kids, and they did. The formula find offered a much-needed glimmer of hope, but it couldn't be completely uplifting, since Daryl and Maggie were surrounded by reminders of once-happy and normal children who are now surely dead. It put everything in perspective.
Chris: Meanwhile, Rick goes off the deep end and dives axe-first into the prison. Glenn goes in to fetch him, but Rick shoves him off. After what appears to be hours, Rick finds the boiler room where Lori died.
Rachael: If you're still with the show after all these hundreds of heads cut off and people being eaten alive, you're got a pretty strong stomach. But when Rick discovers the very-sated zombie with the bulging stomach, and then took Carl's knife ... I couldn't watch. You know what I'm saying?
Chris: It was nauseating. I don’t know what he was thinking. Scoop Lori’s remains out of the zombie for a proper burial? Fortunately after a few stabs Rick appears to abandon the idea. Then, the final moment of the episode: a nearby landline rings. Rick picks it up and breathes, “Hello?” Who will be at the other line next week? Shane’s ghost, come to haunt Rick for failing to protect Lori?
Rachael: I have no idea. Could it be someone from Woodbury, and this is how Rick's crew will find its way to back to Andrea and Merle? That seems too pat and convenient, so I hope I'm wrong.
Chris: Or maybe it's Carol? She's got to find her way back somehow, assuming she's still alive. In any case, what’s your impression of this season so far?
Rachael: While I understood the Carl-Shane tension last season, I was also annoyed by it. (C'mon people. Bigger picture here! You're battling zombies, stick together.) I feel like the show is hitting its stride in this season.
Chris: The two plots are working well together. While Rick’s group clings to edge of survival, you see Woodbury, where people are much more comfortable but have their own set of problems, only one of which is their crazy leader.
Rachael: Now we wait to see who is on the other end of the phone!
Chris: “Seven days.” :click:
Tomorrow: What Slate commenters and critics around the Web thought of this episode.