Blah blah blah… spoilers ahead… blah blah
Dead Weight, the penultimate episode of the first half of the fourth season, brings us to the brink of war… or at the very least, brings us current with where we last left off with our usual gang of survivors. Unfortunately, it also brings us exactly where we were in the penultimate episode of the second half of the third season. I’m not completely put off by the apparent double dipping that the show seems to be doing, but I do believe it could have been handled more eloquently that is was.
I understand why we spent two weeks with the Governor… his motivations last season were unclear, and there were a million voices out there demanding to know why so many intelligent people would follow a psychopath, and why he did much of what he did. Perhaps Scott Gimple felt that the Gov’s story was so botched last season that he could effectively have a do-0ver, and do it right. Whatever the reasoning behind spending 25% of the half-season away from the characters we genuinely care about, and leaving a major plot development hanging in cliffhanger-limbo, it was effective to a point… but it’s time we get back to the prison and wrap this arc up.
Regardless of what we may want for our beloved zombie drama, what we now have is an in depth look at what makes Philip Blake tick. He doesn’t necessarily want to be a murderous monster, nor does he want the responsibility of protecting those around him, but in his mind, thanks to the ineptitude of seemingly everyone around him, he doesn’t have a choice. When Martinez shows the slightest amount of doubt about whether or not he can protect the group, golf club to the head; when Pete and Mitch bicker, and Pete makes the kind yet ultimately pointless decision to spare the lives of other survivors, knife to the gut; and when he sees that he could use Mitch to his advantage by using his muscle and abilities with a tank, he lays down the law and makes him his tool. The Governor will not be led into death… he will instead do the leading, whether it’s something he wants or not.
Standing back from the episode a bit, I think it was a fantastic hour of television. I may share some of the gripes others have vocally made about this two episode detour, I certainly wouldn’t have minded if they interspersed some of this story into the prison story as opposed to focusing each episode so completely, but I respect the producers for making a very specific creative decision by allowing more of an immersion and not trying to spread the mood too thin. Thinking back to Indifference, having the events of that episode occur in two different parties, and never splitting the story back to the prison, allowed for a tight thematic episode that didn’t fight for your attention, much like the follow up, Internment. By focusing that tightly, the show has been allowing mood to dictate and manipulate your emotions as opposed to sloppy writing and exposition. Let’s be honest… we would rather feel something as opposed to being told how to feel… and it’s in this regard that the fourth season has been far superior to the previous seasons.
I’m also impressed with how the last two episodes have allowed events to unfold without having to explain each and every motivation. The writers seem to be trusting the viewers enough to put the pieces together for themselves. For example: When Brain (Philip? The Governor? What the hell are we supposed to call him now?) sees the writing on the wall when Mitch and Pete start fighting, and Martinez does little to quell the conflict, he knows that he and his new family won’t be safe there, he decides to get the hell out of Dodge. When confronted with the mud hole of the undead (which was an amazing visual in a week chock full of great visuals), he realizes that he can’t just run, the danger will always be there, and he can use what tools are at his disposal back at the camp, ie. Mitch, his tank, and more redshirts. He didn’t want to go back to being a leader, which is why he was screaming that “he doesn’t want it” while murdering Martinez, but he knows that he is who he is… and the writers didn’t need to say so explicitly.
In that same vein, we were allowed to deduce whatever story we wanted to come up with when we saw those decapitated bodies with the signs. Whatever happened in that house must have been horrible, as one would imagine most stories in the zombie apocalypse would be, and I can imagine watching a separate two hour film of that tale on it’s own. And in this larger overarching saga of The Walking Dead, there will always be smaller arcs within the larger… getting a glimpse of these creates more texture to this world and makes it a more believable place. Sometimes you meet people and never see them again… other times you rediscover people and situations multiple times… by moving over to the Governor’s story, the fabric of this world is being woven into something grander, something more fulfilled and real… more of a tapestry than a needlepoint, and the only complaint I really have about that is based on my impatience.
I think I just talked myself into liking this episode and the detour more than I realized… and I’m thinking back to my review from last week… a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional antagonist is much more interesting to watch than a two-dimensional baddie… and sometimes you have to use the villain you have as opposed to the villain you want. The Governor has always been a great foil for Rick Grime’s steely jawed law man… it just took a little while to figure out how to implement him.
Of the events that occur during Dead Weight… quite a few things happen, the pace was quick, and the writing was very tight. There was an economy to how they let the events unfold that was well plotted and made a lot of sense on reflection. A few highlights… the chess game as metaphor (again), with a tank looming on one side, and quiet domesticity on the other; the aforementioned headless bodies with signs; the revelation of Shumpert’s death (which really bummed me out because Travis Love is an awesome guy who I really wanted to see more of); the usurping of ineffective power with the murders of Martinez and Pete; that awesome mud pit; and the best visual of the episode, possibly the season thus far, underwater Pete! The Governor has a new aquarium… and this one has a lot of space for upgrading his zombie collection.
Beginning with the second season, there seems to be a constant chorus among fans of the show… it’s too slow, they need to move on, why are they dragging out these storylines? Then, the seasons are released on Blu-ray and everyone watches them again, this time one right after the other and not having to wait a week in between (or months if you are talking about the two half seasons), and suddenly everyone goes, “oh… it’s much more quickly paced than it was when we watched it the first time… I like it better now”. Perhaps… and I mean this with love… everyone can chill the f out and realize that sometimes you just have to be patient and not expect to have everything handed to you how you want it and when. And when something doesn’t match up with your expectations, maybe it’s your expectations that are the problem and not the show.
Next week’s episode, Too Far Gone, the mid season finale, promises to finally make good on the big battle that we thought we would get in the finale of the third season. Predictions? Well… I am hesitant to give any only because I think there may be many parallels between the comic and this episode, and predictions on my part could possibly be viewed as spoilers. For those that have read the comic… we are all probably thinking the same thing, and we know there will be blood… the only real question is exactly how much.
I can’t tell if he’s winking or blinking,
Cornelius J. Blahg