Seen the arrow on the doorpost
Saying, “This land is condemned
All the way from New Orleans
To Jerusalem.”
-Bob Dylan, “Blind Willie McTell”

 

 

(image courtesy of geeksmash.com)

(image courtesy of geeksmash.com)

 

The 13th episode of the 3rd season of The Walking Dead was an especially tense one, as it framed what is arguably the dramatic high point in a season full of them: the long-awaited face-to-face meeting between Rick and the Governor.

Or should I say: showdown, because from the opening scenes this episode has a feel of an old-time Western movie, capped off with the eye-to-eye-to-eye-to-eyepatch face-off  All that was needed was a tumbleweed blowing across the set or a sudden blast of an Ennio Morricone score to complete the vibe. Heck, we even had Daryl Dixon channeling Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name with his reptilian squint and Mexican falsa poncho.

So keeping with this theme:

the Good = Rick
the Bad = the Governor
the Ugly = Andrea’s choices in men and decision-making skills in general.

But from the desolate dusty building where they met…to the Governor’s hidden pistol taped to the table…to the shots of rot-gut whisky the men shared…to the cryptic episode title “Arrow on the Doorpost”, their showdown had the feel of 2 grizzled old west hombres settling down in a bar-room to a very high-stakes game of cards. Yes, when the Gov slipped on what looked to be a gun-belt and suggested they settle things right then and there, I thought the fellas might step out into the street to DRAW!  (And this isn’t the series’ first reference to movie Westerns, most notably the well-crafted and almost-poetic moonlit showdown between Rick and Shane in season 2 episode 12 “Better Angels”)

Make no mistake, this was definitely more of a game of poker than a chess match: lots of bluffing and wagering and bluffing and raising-of-stakes and did I mention bluffing?  (And this wasn’t the series’ first reference to card games either, with a recent episode titled “Suicide King” and the Gov himself now being a one-eyed Jack.)

The Governor was as expected his usual “charming” self, seemingly unable to wipe the smirk of his face in what would normally not be a smiling situation. While I’ve been back-and-forth on David Morrissey’s portrayal of (and selection to be) the Governor, I think this may have been his finest performance to date. There was arrogance practically oozing out of the man we now know to be Phillip Blake, and like any good sociopath worth his salt, he seems quite pleased with himself and incapable of not letting that show.

However, the problem with sociopaths is that they often think themselves so smart that they tend to underestimate the intellect of others, which I think is the case with Gov’s attitude towards Rick. (“I thought you were a cop, not a lawyer”) While the Gov’s personal poker style consisted of smooth-talking and diversionary tactics (the whiskey, sudden movements around the table, demonstrative body language, and oh yeah: the whole revealing his gouged-out eye thing), Rick was all poker-face and calm stillness. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t playing the game as well, his questions and responses very slyly exposing more and more of the Gov’s dark side and the bees that swarm behind his honeyed words.

The dialogue was also especially good this episode as the 2 post-apocalyptic cowboys traded verbal jabs, Rick questioning the Gov not taking accountability for Merle’s actions while the Gov dug into Rick’s past regarding his best friend’s dalliance with his wife and the paternity of Li’l Ass-Kicker.

There was also a tense stand-off outside as well as the men’s 2 chief lieutenants (Daryl and Martinez) sized each other up. Their subsequent display of one-upmanship while dispatching of a small batch of walkers was the equivalent of guys in a locker-room having a biggest “crossbow” contest.  (For the record: Martinez drives a jacked-up SUV while Daryl sports a motorcycle; draw your own conclusions.)  But rivalry gives way to begrudging respect and bonding, leading to some of the funniest lines/moments of the show (“I usually smoke menthol.” “ Douche-bag.”), including Hershel Claus’ response to Milton’s desire to see his stump (“At least buy me a drink first!”).

(Much credit goes to the writers for understanding the pulse of their fan-base and feeding fan favorites such as Darryl and Michonne some really funny lines the last few weeks.)

And then there is Andrea.  Sigh. Andrea, Andrea, Andrea.  While her dear Phillip may have teased her with visions of leading Woodbury, he quickly demonstrated how he REALLY felt about her when he dismissed her from the big boys’ negotiating table. The Gov stopped just short of smacking her on the fanny and telling her to skedaddle and go make him a sandwich when he sent her packing. And even after being presented evidence AGAIN (by Hershel Claus this time) of what a reprehensible pig the Gov is, Andrea still made the decision to get in the car with him when it was time to roll.

Sure, maybe she’s playing the role of mole in the Woodbury camp…and of course she’s torn between what she views as 2 groups of friends…but she tends to come across as one of those chicks who dates nothing but Jersey Shore-type knuckleheads and later laments that she can’t find a good man. Luckily for her, she is a better walker-whacker than a decision-maker.

Meanwhile back at the prison, Glenn struggled with Merle and authority in general. Ever since his ordeal in Woodbury, Glenn has had a sense of angry frustrated emasculation about him…so he took things out on something that he knows he can beat up: Maggie’s girly parts. Seriously, not sure what the whole point was of showing Glenn and Maggie’s naked Jiu-Jitsu match (similar to Andrea’s Gratuitous Moonlit Butt Walk last week, which nearly gave us insight into her personal grooming habits), but I hope this isn’t becoming a trend on the series. Yes, I know it may seem strange to question a graphic love scene on a show in which human heads are routinely smashed to the equivalent of a watermelon at a Gallagher show, but last night’s scene felt a little forced and was a bit of a distraction. This was an intimate, private moment between the 2 of them and watching it felt a little voyeuristic.

Not that there is a problem with stuff like that if is an important part of the story. For example, the Gov’s undressing and menacing of Maggie absolutely enhanced the story-line and was vital; Sunday night’s scene felt like it was slipping into Skinemax territory and was an attempt to demonstrate how “edgy” the series is. Hey, we get it: you’re on cable. No need to prove anything else to us.

The show ended with our 2 protagonists heading back to their respective camps and in a parallel fashion, confiding only in their most trusted advisers (the Gov: Milton…Rick: Hershel Claus) the true nature of what went on at the poker table and indications of their future plans.  Milton was taken aback at the Gov’s cold-hearted plan, while Rick implored Hershel to talk him out of giving Michonne to Mr Phillip Blake. Rick displayed a bluff of his own, telling his group only of an upcoming war with Woodbury (to keep them scared and alert), while the Gov smirked a lot and kept up his trend of lying to Andrea and presumably everyone else.

So what are your thoughts on the episode?
Did you find the show tension-filled or just slow?
How do you see the upcoming “war” shaking out?
Who would you rather play cards with…Rick or the Gov?
Are you digging the songs they are now playing to close out episodes?
Should Glenn patent that WWE-style finishing move of his?

And what lies ahead for our survivors?
Will Milton get fed up with the Gov’s diabolical plans?
Will Hershel be able to talk Rick into doing the right thing?
Will Martinez ever find a pack of Newports?
In her continuing effort to ingratiate herself with all of his mortal enemies, will Andrea track down and sleep with the bully who used to wedgie Rick in the 3rd grade and/or his IRS auditor?

Tune in next week…
jcs

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avatar J. Christopher Smith (10 Posts)

Chris is a lifelong fan of anything dark + macabre, beginning with the old classic black-and-white horror movies (that he had to sneak and stay up and watch) as well as campy TV fare such as The Addams Family, The Munsters, and The Night Stalker. That led at an early age to the writings of Stephen King and Peter Straub, then onward to the works of artists such as Edgar Allen Poe, Edward Gorey, Thomas Harris, Carl Hiaasen, Chuck Palahniuk, and of course, Dr Seuss. Chris was born + raised in Middle Tennessee, received his further education at Western Kentucky University, and currently lives among the moss-covered oaks of historic coastal Southeastern Georgia. In past lives he's been a long-haired bass player in college rock bands and an over-worked restaurant manager, but currently crunches numbers and curb-stomps spreadsheets for a Fortune 500 company. Chris enjoys spending time at his spooky marsh-front manor (dubbed the Monster Plantation or Monsta P) with his lovely wife Melanie, their dogs, and a monkey butler named Amos Moses.


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