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 “When the Dead Come Knocking” with Zack Handlen of the AV Club.
Chris: I used to consider Glenn in league with Heroes’ Hiro Nakamura and Dexter’s Masuka: the clichéd Asian comic relief. But, boy, I think he’s earned my respect by now. At the beginning of “When the Dead Come Knocking,” Merle has taken him and Maggie to a dungeon-y building in Woodbury, where he demands to know the whereabouts of Rick’s group.
Zack: "Demands" is a nice way of putting it.
Chris: Well, Merle demands with his fists. But Glenn slips in a crowd-pleasing headbutt in and, after an infuriated Merle sends a zombie in to eat him, Glenn manages to break his binds and defeat it.
Zack: That was a great scene. It was good to see Glenn get a chance to kick some butt for once.
Chris: Glenn used to be the guy who zipped around in a Dodge Challenger; who remarked to Rick, “Nice moves there, Clint Eastwood,” when they first met; who vomited when he and Rick lathered themselves in zombie guts to escape Atlanta. As this episode shows, he now carries more emotional weight than most, if not all, of the other characters. I think it works.
Zack: He's one of the more solid characters; he can definitely support storylines, which must make him useful to the writers, too. Also, I was really worried for him throughout the episode, which was great. I wasn't a huge fan of how Lori and T-Dog were dispatched, but their deaths have made everyone look a lot more vulnerable.
Chris: When Glenn refuses to break, the Governor commands Maggie to strip off her shirt and bra. Is he a sexual creep or was he just trying to break her?
Zack: There's probably some kind of combination of both. He clearly wants to show her he's in control, but forcing her to strip, and then basically threatening her with rape, well, it takes a twisted kind of mind to come up with that approach. A nasty scene, and one I'm very glad pulled back when it did.
Chris: Glenn getting pommeled by Merle I can swallow, but, yes, this show would be a little too dark if the Governor raped Maggie. Eventually she breaks anyway when they threaten to kill Glenn.
Zack: Honestly, I liked Maggie more for caving in. The Walking Dead regularly punishes people for doing the "decent" thing, but whatever the consequences, I was glad when she spoke up.
Chris: Why exactly is the Governor so threatened by outside groups like Rick’s? Why is there no place in Woodbury for them if there is one for Andrea?
Zack: I’m enjoying David Morrissey's performance, but the character isn't as clearly defined as I'd like yet. So it's hard to be sure just what makes him so paranoid. I got the impression that he let Andrea and Michonne come in because they’re women. He probably has some idea about repopulation, but that hasn't really come up. I wonder if there's a reveal we'll get next week that puts all of this is in a clearer context?
Chris: Maybe. While Glenn’s getting beat up, ever-oblivious Andrea helps Milton with a science experiment. Milton's trying to determine if walkers remember anything of their former lives after they’ve turned, so he's doing some memory tests with a dying man. But the man, when turned, only tries to bite him. Is this a definitive answer to Milton's question?
Zack: To an extent, sure. But to me, the really important part is that it goes back to the fights Andrea saw earlier. The "safety" of Woodbury is a trap. Woodbury has lulled them into thinking they can make things go back to the way they were.
Chris: I wonder if that thought, as well as Milton's experiment, is driven by the Governor's obsession with his daughter. Is he convinced he can bring her back someday?
Zack: Oooo, that wouldn't surprise me.
Chris: Let's talk, finally, about Rick's gang back at the prison. Michonne is at Rick's fence. Zombies begin to attack her, and Rick rather leisurely heads to the gate to let her in. Only Carl's intervention saves her. Rick seems reluctant to get involved with any new survivors.
Zack: Rick is becoming closed off. He's been heading that way for a while; there's a definite sense of him turning back on his old life (i.e., being a cop, someone whose job it was to protect everyone) and circling the wagons. Just the scene where he grabs Michonne's wound and squeezes it for info—he's not the Governor, and hopefully he'll never be, but he's not a pure white hat, either.
Chris: That brief bit of torture shocked me! Old Rick would have never done that.
Zack: New Rick is also emotionally exhausted; I doubt the thought of Michonne's suffering bothers him much after everything he's lost. What got me was that there was no hesitation or guilt to what he did, either. I can imagine an earlier Rick reluctantly deciding to use some pressure when he realized his friends' lives were in danger, but this Rick just starts straight in, almost as soon as he realizes Maggie and Glenn are in trouble.
Chris: It’s troubling to say the least. The episode isn’t all torture, fortunately; there’s a touching moment between Rick and Carol, when Carol realizes that Lori is dead.
Zack: That wordless look between Carol and Rick was fantastic.
Chris: Rick also resumes his role as father to Carl. The two finally get around to giving Ass-Kicker a proper name: "Judith,” after Carl’s third-grade teacher. I get the sense that Carl named the baby after somebody that isn't associated with a devastating memory.
Zack: Fingers crossed! It was good to see Carl and Rick have an actual conversation. It helped humanize Rick some, at a time when he needed it.
Chris: After, Rick takes Michonne and most of the able-bodied men on a risky rescue mission. I'm sweating over the rest of them at the prison, left protected only by Carl and Axel — though Carol as I recall is now a decent shot.
Zack: And Hershel has that magic shotgun that never needs to be reloaded. It would be sort of comical if they got back to the prison only to find that even more people had been kidnapped. Also, what was up with that random hermit in the woods? The guy who apparently didn't know there was a zombie apocalypse going on, despite having lived in the middle of it?
Chris: I’m not sure what that scene accomplished but show, yet again, that Michonne doesn’t mind putting a sword into a survivor and that Rick is utterly inept at close combat.
Zack: The scene was mostly just a time filler; the group had to get through the "Red Zone," so we needed some kind of action sequence to remind us that Woodbury is surrounded by a lot of walkers. There must've been more elegant ways to do this, though.
Chris: At least dead hermit makes great zombie bait. The group escapes and we leave them plotting on the outskirts of Woodbury. Thoughts on the episode as a whole?
Zack: I liked it a lot, although this chat has made me question that some. I was impressed at how tense the whole hour was; even the ridiculous hermit story kept things moving, and I tend to enjoy the show the most when it's moving. Really curious as to how this will all come to a head next week for the mid-season finale, and I'm once again impressed at how much the show has improved from last year. Even when it fumbles, the writers have a stronger sense of what they're doing, and how to tell stories over the long term, and that's exciting to watch.
Chris: Agreed. Another strong installment to a strong season. This episode contains a nice blend of moments — brutal, emotional, strange, often simultaneously. Thanks for participating in Slate's The Walking Dead TV Club! Now we’re left to hope that Rick and friends aren’t the “Dead” in this episode’s title, “When the Dead Come Knocking.”
Tomorrow: What Slate commenters and critics around the Web thought of this episode.