Ample blood has already been spilled this season of The Walking Dead and most unnervingly, not just of the undead variety. With this season’s tagline “fight the dead, fear the living,” AMC certainly appears to be sticking to its proverbial (and literal) guns. Even though things have not yet come to a head between what are now two parallel storylines of survival and, ultimately, murder (albeit to varying extremes) never has this world felt as imminently threatening on all fronts for our heroes and rarely has its sense of dread been as deliciously palpable.
For myself at least, the first three episodes of The Walking Dead’s third season have been, in their collective impact and sense of twisted fun, an unqualified triumph. Taking the basic zombie lore from season one, mashing it up with the far more character-driven themes of the second, and all while opting to essentially reboot less-beloved or tertiary characters such as Lori and Merle have resulted it gripping, gory and satisfying television.
For the first time in season three, we’re introduced to a split storytelling style but thankfully, it feels more like things are coming to a head than one that is erratically shuffling back and forth in a brazen attempt to forward plot without care for quality. Episode three’s decision to focus solely on Woodbury after two stints at the West Central Prison was a bold but fundamentally class choice by the show runners. With care taken and a strong performance by David Morrissey as The “I never tell my real name” Governor to boot, that instalment flew by even without Rick and the main clique.
Episode four on the other hand crept by in unsettling fashion and was both gut-wrenching and a morbid trial of emotions, because, as promised, more prominent cast members met their demise. As this show is continually proving, the longer the global tragedy endures, the more heart-stopping the losses and the more searing each sickening death is on the remaining survivors.
On the prison front, Rick and co. have settled into their new fenced-in utopia, having cleared and stacked the bodies for burning and seem giddy with the thought of settling into a routine that doesn’t involve (as T-Dog puts it) “always sleeping with one eye open.” A brief spat with the two remaining prisoners including the now ass-kissing Axel, the duo opt (though certainly not of their own unswayed intentions) to leave the facility rather than inhabit the cell block where their friends were unceremoniously executed.
Such spat-variety conflict is short lived, however, as courtesy of a shadowy figure with an agenda (and an axe) Walkers once again surge the gated walls en masse with the aid of a riot alarm fuelled off of some pesky reserve generators. As the episode wages on, and other prominent cast members are accounted for, it becomes more obvious who the perpetrator of this coup d’état is, and frankly, he is rather deserved of his ill feelings.
Yes, it’s the prisoner Rick was forced to chase in episode two and, shortly thereafter, forcefully exile due to his part in an attempt on his and his friends’ life. Dragging a deer carcass through what we now know for sure is an unsecure portion of the prison (see: Walkers in plain clothes strutting their stuff in the compound) he lures the undead through a series of freshly opened gates and brings down a freshly minted hell on Earth for the gang. Though it’s not clear if he thought this all through, as how was he, himself, to clear a zombie-infested prison when the others were dispatched, the decision plays a key role in the fate of the remaining inmates and of course the aforementioned tragedy. But I’ll get back to that later.