Considering the standard set so far by “The Walking Dead” Season 3, “Say the Word” probably qualifies as a “minor” episode. There’s no major character deaths, injuries or introductions, but there’s still plenty of tension, darkness and intrigue.
If anything, this hour proves that even the lower-key episodes this season are going to be full of great moments. Especially with an ensemble cast that’s completely clicking along the lines of the current crew. “The Walking Dead” has reached a point where any combination of characters can be equally exciting — whether it’s familiar (Glenn and Rick) or unusual (Daryl and Maggie).
Both the audience and the survivors needed a bit of a break after Lori’s devastating death, and we mostly got it while learning more about life in Woodbury. For example: they still have ice! At the same time Rick’s group is in mourning, Woodbury is holding a big old fashioned summer celebration and Andrea’s awfully curious to find out what the much hyped main event is going to be. “Mere words can not adequately describe the festivities ahead,” Milton teases her, but we have to wait right along with Andrea to find out how accurate he is.
Most of the action in Woodbury involves Michonne’s skepticism toward The Governor. Since we see right away that he’s been keeping his zombie daughter locked up in a closet so he can still spend time with her, we know that Michonne’s instincts are probably right. She comes close to discovering the truth: uncovering The Governor’s journal with a list of names ending with an underlined “Penny,” and then nothing but vertical dashes filling every page after that. (Comic book readers already know all about Penny, but it’s worth remembering the show has previously proven its preference to carve out its own storylines.)
It’s also understandable why Andrea doesn’t want to leave a place that has everything she and Michonne had ever dreamed of finding. Michonne forces the issue after discovering some of The Governor’s captive walkers and promptly chopping them to pieces with the katana sword she retrieved from his office. Later, when The Governor praises her zombie-killing skills and invites her to join his “research team,” Michonne points the sword directly at his throat, and he realizes she’s too unpredictable to be an asset.
Andrea is able to get The Governor to allow Michonne to stay, but Michonne doesn’t want to wait around for things to get worse. She’s also sick of waiting for Andrea to change her mind, so the two of them part ways and Michonne heads out of Woodbury, back into the world where walkers roam free. Only now she’s completely on her own. No Andrea. No pets.
“Weird to lose someone by their own choice. Thought those days had gone,” The Governor tells Andrea as he attempts to console her over Michonne’s decision. Then it’s time for that aforementioned main event, where Andrea gets her first real taste of what The Governor — and Woodbury — are really like. As it turns out, the town’s favorite form of entertainment is gladiator-style mixed martial arts battles involving Merle and other “research team” members brawling while surrounded by a circle of tied-up, toothless walkers. It’s half violent human vs. human showdown, half walker exploitation, and the entire thing freaks Andrea right out.
“It’s our way to blow off steam,” The Governor explains. “We’re shining a light on the monster under the bed, teaching people not to be afraid.” Andrea sees it another way: “You’re teaching them walkers aren’t dangerous!”
As we know from Rick’s group, nothing could be further from the truth. The survivors were able to hold the zombies at bay this week, but everyone was reeling from the deaths of Lori, T-Dog and (they think) Carol. No one more than Rick, who was in a daze that not even slaughtering dozens of zombies could resolve. When Glenn tried to tell Rick he didn’t have to deal with his grief alone, all Rick could do was throw Glenn against a wall and nearly strangle him — his warrior’s muscle memory kicking in again.
While Rick spent his time in self-imposed isolation, everyone else was dealing with the business of survival: securing the perimeter (a task which fell to Axel and Oscar, tentatively brought into the fold to help with the fallout), digging graves (sorry Glenn), caring for the newborn baby (mostly Carl, Hershel and Beth) and setting out to find some formula to keep the baby healthy (Daryl stepped up to lead and Maggie insisted on being the backup).
It wasn’t flashy but it was a lot of fun to follow Daryl and Maggie on their mission, and genuinely moving to hear Glenn honor T-Dog’s memory in his conversation with Hershel (while giving us another look at the bond that’s developed between Glenn and his pseudo father-in-law). And Carl rattling off a list of the group’s fallen women as suggestions for the baby’s name — including Andrea and Carol, and ending with Lori — was gut-wrenching in a way that Andrea’s similar list to Merle the other week wasn’t meant to be. Of course, Daryl’s name of choice — Lil’ Asskicker — was the episode’s funniest bit.
Which brings us to the most shocking bit: Rick finds the boiler room where Lori died, but there’s no body, just a very stuffed walker nearby. (Should we assume the walker consumed the corpse? Pretty nasty stuff.) But that’s not the “holy crap” moment. After Rick slices up the walker and sits in silence, he hears two sounds: a baby’s cry and… a ringing phone? The ringing doesn’t stop. So he gets up and answers it…
We’ll have to wait to hear who’s on the other end next week.
– Daryl placed a Cherokee Rose on Carol’s grave in a nod to their special bond. I’m really curious to find out exactly where Carol is, and — assuming she’s still alive — why she hasn’t yet circled back to the prison to see if anyone else is OK. After the prison yard attack and seeing T-Dog die, did she lose her faith in Rick to keep them safe?
– The Governor remembers Woodbury’s humble beginnings: “The first time we gathered it was nine of us in an apartment with spam and saltine crackers.”
– Danai Gurira’s largely silent performance in the role of Michonne continues to impress. As of now the character is a strong silent type along the lines of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name or Ryan Gosling’s Driver, although it’s probably safe to assume that venturing out of Woodbury and possibly coming into contact with some unfamiliar faces will begin to reveal more about both her personality and past.
– The Governor talking to Andrea about Michonne’s
behavior: “What works out there doesn’t work in here. We’re not barbarians.” Michonne talking to Andrea about Woodbury: “This place is not what they say it is.” Pretty sure only one of those statements is true.
– This episode was the second directorial effort of special effects make-up designer Greg Nicotero — following last season’s “Judge, Jury, Executioner” — and perhaps not coincidentally featured some very gnarly zombies including the rotting fellow Merle pulls out of his trap and that grotesque creature Rick encounters in the boiler room. And, of course, Penny.