The Walking Dead Review: “Walk With Me” (Season 3, Episode 3)

Did you ever hear about how Frank Darabont originally wanted season two of The Walking Dead to start? When the writers were first breaking the season, an idea for a radically unexpected premiere was pitched; instead of catching up with Rick and the gang post-C.D.C explosion, and finding out what Doc Jensen’s parting words were, the plan was to have the first episode follow an Army Ranger squad in Atlanta during the turning point of the zombie outbreak. What starts as a simple mission to move through the city quickly spirals out of control, as the deadheads start to overrun the humans. Think Black Hawk Down crossed with 16 Blocks -except, you know, with zombies.

The idea was eventually thrown out, partly because it had next to nothing to do with the previous six episodes, save for the final scene. The last member of the squad, dying inside a tank from a zombie bite, reaches out to pull the pin on his grenade, but passes out from fever before getting the chance to end himself. The twist is that it’s the same soldier in the same tank with the same grenade that Rick found in the pilot, the lesson being that every person and every object in the show has a unique zombie story.

Among the many, many problems to be had with the second season was the narrowing of scope down to a few acres of land, effectively shrinking the world that The Walking Dead had been building. Whole episodes would go by with nothing but lip service to the fact that the apocalypse was there, all around this improbable little idyll, and it seemed soooo much more interesting. The potential of an anthology series set in such a dire environment seems almost irresistible, but the only times we got to leave the main group of characters (who we didn’t much care about) for another time or place were via a few flashbacks, and backstory-establishing monologues.

While the last two episodes wasted no time correcting the criminal lack of zombie violence and common sense from last season, episode three is more of a breather episode, if The Walking Dead is capable of such a thing. “Walk With Me” doesn’t feature as much decapitation (though there’s still plenty) or fan servicey ultra-gore, but does just as much to revive the show’s reputation as AMC-worthy television, this time by opening the story up beyond our favorite group of Atlantans. Well, depending on how you feel about Andrea, that might not be entirely true.

That trashed season two opener gets something of a truncated remake in the opening scene, where a National Guard chopper is the black hawk going down. In an almost comical turn, nothing directly related to zombies downs the aircraft, just poor maintenance and overuse. Plumes of smoke act as a beacon for the wreckage, which attracts Andrea and her samurai pal, Michonne, as well as a curious and well-equipped militia. How well-equipped? Enough to give long-lost brother Merle a brand new hand, complete with bayonet.

It’s hard to fault Michael Rooker for having such a distinctive voice, but his drawl doused whatever surprise there was to the reveal. Granted, sticking a creeping walker and showing he’s now Mega-Merl (or The Six-Merlion Dollar Man, if you please), was quite the reintroduction. Of course, once you get over the new gadgets, you remember that Merle was a psychotic, racist, all-around sumabitch, so his involvement with the dangerous raiders immediately makes Andrea and Michonne’s capture by them a bad situation.

But the show knows that throwing its characters from a shit situation into something worse is just torture, but giving a false sense of hope, only to then shatter that hope later, is far more deliciously fiendish. Rick stumbled upon the prison, while Andrea and Michonne inadvertently wind up in the last remaining pocket of suburbia on earth, Woodbury. The ultimate gated community -featuring strong walls, and armed guards patrolling them-, Woodbury seems virtually untouched, not just by zombies, but time too. There’s almost a Stepford vibe to how pleasantly its 73 citizens mill about, smiling through the workday while showing no signs of concern for what’s just outside the walls. They have their own sanitation crew for crying out loud.

The fact that Merle has a role in this little burb is still a red flag though, and Michonne and Andrea are understandably on edge while quarantined in the medical building, sans weapons. Woodbury’s leader, known as The Governor (David Morrisey, adding a richly enigmatic performance despite fighting his native accent), has something of a Movementarian tact to approaching the two: “you can leave whenever you want, but first, let me show you how great we have it here.”

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