Last week I said that The Walking Dead had finally struck upon the formula for a good episode. It was probably too much to hope for that the humanity and deftness of Clear would carry over into the next episode, but all the same it is hard to have imagined a week ago that we would have fallen so fast so soon.
That isn’t to say that this episode, Arrow on the Doorpost, is an outright terrible one, only that it represents a return to form that is less than invigorating. Some aspects work, some do not, and while the episode delivers one or two satisfying moments, it hedges way to close to the kind of entropy and repetition we saw from The Walking Dead in previous seasons.
The narrative here is split between two different environments that are all feeding off of the same sense of nervous paranoia. At a remote farm house Darryl, Hershel, and Rick meet to have a powwow with the Governor, Milton, Andrea and one of the Governor’s trusted cronies. Given the escalating conflict between the two camps and the way it has informed the rising tension throughout the season, this is a meeting that required the utmost writing, action and directing to really pull off, but unfortunately one of those pillars lets down the other two. Andrew Lincoln and David Morrissey both bring suitably subtle character work to their respective roles. At the same time, the camera work is more pronounced and mood-enhancing than this show usually gets the opportunity to show off.
It’s the writing, however, that causes both of these traits to pale and wither. There is an immediate discord to the two men, and their summit moves forward in a series of small vignettes, like the bullet points of some greater intercourse. There is no flow to their words, no sense of an evolving or naturally progressing set of ideas and ultimatums. The Governor seems as though he is just throwing out ideas to see what will stick, beginning with full surrender before scaling back gradually, appealing to Rick’s humanity, fear and sense of duty to his people. Rick, meanwhile, rebuffs each of these in turn, yet rarely offers a reason beyond “because.”
One of the issues with this scene is that it requires us to be able to see the situation as it appears to both men, but the writing does not support this. The Governor has always seemed like an outright monster, a vicious and cruel man who is working in his own self interest rather than for the good of his community. Therefore, each of his requests is just another show of his narcissistic and egocentric spirit. He may claim to want the best for his people, but it’s all a lie, and we know that, so we are never invited to feel the possible draw Rick must feel to give in to his demands. Rick gets to put the proverbial white hat back on because we know that the man across from his cannot be reasoned with, and should be put down. That two pistols are introduced in this summit and neither are ever addressed or discharged is just a cheap way to build tension.
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