3.11- "I Ain't a Judas"
After last week's frankly appalling episode, "Home," I was ready to stop giving The Walking Dead much more than just passing attention. I definitely questioned the point of continuing to review the show. There's nothing quite so soul-crushing as making yourself write about just how badly something you love has let you down week in and out. Luckily, this episode is a huge improvement, thanks mainly to the direction of special effects guru Greg Nicotero and a strong script from Angela Kang.
Kang has been a story editor on the show since the second season began, not to mention having provided strong work on the tragically underwatched Terriers, and her Walking Dead scripts are always at least good solid storytelling. But they're usually even better than that, as this week's installment will attest. And Nicotero shows a very firm hand on the tiller, directing one of the finer episodes in the series.
This week is all about character work and building tension. No stupid ten minute gun battles where only two people are killed – or even wounded. No stupid meandering around doing nothing and saying nothing interesting. And surprisingly enough, all of this is accomplished in an episode that is the most Andrea-centric in a long time.
I feel sorry for Laurie Holden. With Lori dead and gone, Andrea has become the go-to female character to get stuck with the worst writing – not that she ever got a break in that department. This week, Kang's script gives Holden an opportunity to acknowledge all the bad choices her character has been stuck with, while providing the chance to turn all of that into interesting character development. And there's something to be said for Andrea's casual badassery throughout the episode.
Whether it's facing down the Governor with no hesitation, being determined to leave Woodbury despite the repercussions, or taking out walkers with single blows of an axe and then making her own armless, jawless, camouflage "pet," this episode allows Andrea to come front and center and carry the dramatic weight of the story.
Coming back into contact with her old friends, and finally getting a clear glimpse of what kind of a man the Governor really is, she finds herself in an interesting place: truly trusted by neither camp, but in a position to make life-changing choices for everyone involved. It's a good place for the character and Holden does a nice job of subtly playing that confusion and doubt, making it an internal struggle rather than something over the top and melodramatic.
Meanwhile, back at So-Over-The-Top-It-May-As-Well-Be-Parody Prison, Rick gets some good advice from both Hershel and Carl. And hopefully after last week's mind-numbingly stupid ghost hug with his dead wife, he can finally get back to the job of being an adult and taking care of business. Because, let's face it– this is The Walking Dead and Rick is the central protagonist. When he's not on task, the show suffers. That's one of the things the comics always get right. Rick may be batshit crazy at times, but he's focused and intent on one thing above all else: protecting his own.
While we wait for Rick to get back on track, Carol steps up this episode to provide extremely good advice for both Daryl and Andrea. It's some common sense advice in both cases, although one is far less dangerous advice than the other. But you know what? Andrea made her bed and now she has to lie– and maybe do more than that– in it.
Along the way we get a little bit of growth for Merle, a little bit of conflict for Milton, while Tyreese and company end up in Woodbury talking smack about the nutjob at the prison who ran them out. The pieces are being moved into strategic positions and tensions are starting to build.
And for a sixteen-episode season, it's about time. There's been a lot of back and forth with the quality of this season, but I'm hoping that as we head into the home stretch, we see a return to that strong balance of action and character we had for the first batch of Season Three episodes.
If this installment is any indication, that hope may be satisfied.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now forKindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.