In Slate's Walking Dead TV Club, Chris Kirk will IM each week with a different fan of the show. This week, he discusses “The Suicide King” with new Future Tense blogger Jason Bittel.
Chris: The Walking Dead returns! It’s been a dreary two months sadly devoid of Rick’s stubble. Now Rick and his friends are neck-deep in trouble. The “Suicide King” starts where the last episode ended: Daryl and Merle are surrounded by an angry mob and must fight to the death. Fortunately, Rick and Maggie return, presumably to kill Haley, and Daryl and Merle use the ensuing panic to escape. The Governor creeps around madly.
Jason: As sort-of absurd as the walker-ringed battle royales are, I love that they show people at their craziest, giving quorum to a madman. Too, this scene starts as what I imagine the apocalypse would be like—empowered groups doing awful things to outsiders. The governor is in full-on crazytown mode, which I love.
Chris: The next morning, Merle won't shut up, so Rick pistol-whips him. Rick says Merle has no place in the group. Daryl chooses his brother over the Grimes family. Glenn flips out on an innocent zombie, then yells at Rick for not killing the Governor and for letting Daryl go. Is Daryl’s exit admirable? As Carol later puts it, Daryl is a man with a code.
Jason: I think the show dips nicely into icky territory—what sorts of sacrifices you have to make to keep a group together, the way you have to sometimes ally yourself with unsavory characters or do things you wouldn’t normally do to survive. The whole Merle-being-a-racist scene reminds us why we hate him, and Glenn and Maggie clearly have reason not to want him in, and yet I bet many viewers are making internal negotiations to find a way to keep Daryl on-screen. One thing's for sure: the ladies will be in full-on revolt over the possibility that Daryl isn't a main character on this show anymore.
Chris: There’s always Hershel. Back in the prison, Allen and Ben plot to take over the prison from the Grimes group before its muscle returns from their rescue mission, but Tyreese and Sasha object either because they’re good people or because Carl terrifies them as much as he terrifies me.
Jason: His pistol is set to "head-shot," so I don't think Allen and Ben will last long enough for most of us to realize they have names.
Chris: When Rick returns, Carol is crushed to learn that Daryl left the group. Everyone is considerably less crushed to hear that Oscar is dead. Beth weirdly kisses Rick on the cheek. What's up with that?
Jason: Something's brewing. And it feels icky. There hasn't as yet been any talk of repopulating the earth like in other zombie movies, but perhaps it's coming. And I'm sure Hershel and his ponytail will have a thing or two to say about it.
Chris: Hershel does a lot of talking in this episode—to Glenn, then to Maggie, then to Rick. Nobody appears to want to listen to him. I only assume it's because he seriously needs a haircut. He can at least borrow some of Glenn's abundant product.
Jason: Hershel's moment with Glenn was nice. I don't remember when that happens, but I thought it was unexpected. Hershel's talks are usually holier-than-thou or to full of words like "kin" for me to care.
Chris: Let's go back to Woodbury, where Andrea has a few words of her own. The villagers are freaking out and want to leave, but the Governor's thugs aren't letting them go. A guy is bit by zombies that slipped through the fence, and the Governor emerges from his house to put him out of misery without so much as a shrug. The Governor tells Andrea they had Maggie and Glenn in captivity and suggest she leave Woodbury. Outside, Andrea channels Tony Robbins to calm the villagers.
Jason: As much as I roundly dislike Andrea's character, her monologue is dead on. Those people are crazy to think they'd be better off outside the armed village. What absolutely kills me though is the formulaic head-nodding and smiling as she nears her dramatic conclusion. It's like they were channeling a high school production of Rudy or something. Or they all just got sold on the idea of a monorail. It's never good when Andrea is the voice of reason.
Chris: Maybe Andrea is securing her own place in the village by persuading the others to stay. Or selling her latest book, How to Win Friends and Kill Zombies.
Jason: It's going to set up a really dramatic Andrea vs. Rick scenario in the future. Which will likely be full of hard staring and faulty logic.
Chris: That’s assuming Hershel doesn’t open a mental ward for Rick by then. It was easy to think that after “Hounded” Rick would be back to his usual self. But his vision of Shane in the midseason finale tells us that’s not the case. Not unreasonably, he tells Tyreese's group to leaves. Hershel gives him a talking-to, and just when you expect Rick to cave, he starts seeing Lori’s ghost. Is the “Rick is crazy” thread growing old?
Jason: I have no doubt this post-apocalyptic world would cause unthinkable emotional and mental stress, but in my opinion, the show doesn't need it. You have so many sources for good, natural drama and yet they keep going back to the tactic used by daytime soaps—something happens to thwart sensible communication and everybody has to run around screaming for a few episodes until they can sit down and talk it out. It’s perpetually Act 3 of a rom-com.
Chris: I, too, see the show clearly transitioning into a rom-com. Next week: In an attempt to get over his deceased wife, Rick goes to Hawaii, where he runs into Ghost Lori and zombie Mila Kunis. Comedy ensues.