The Walking Dead: Made to Suffer

Posted on December 04, 2012

Watching that very confusing firefight, as the Grimes posse invaded Woodbury to rescue Glen and Maggie, the question occurred to us: Who are we supposed to be rooting for here? You could – and by all means should, if you’re so inclined – argue that a story doesn’t necessarily have to have someone to root for, but this is more or less an adventure show in the Lost mode, with horror overtones. Rick is positioned as the protagonist of the story and everyone who falls in with his group is an ally, although some allies leave or are dispensed with when they become problematic, like Shane. Fine. That works, and it’s made sense up until now.

And certainly, we wouldn’t argue that The Governor is a good guy, necessarily. The severed heads alone make that point a particularly difficult one to argue, but when you add using the threat of rape against prisoners – and the fact that he takes prisoners at all, for that matter – along with a whole host of other downright strange, if not sick actions, it’s easy to cast him as the antagonist; the dark, mirror version of Rick.

But this episode – in fact, this whole season – seems to want to cast shades of grey over the whole thing. The Governor is clearly insane and monomaniacal, but Woodbury is something of a paradise for the many people who live there. Rick has also had his bouts of craziness and the people in his group keep getting killed and have yet to build a life beyond wild-eyed subsistence living.

It’s understandable why Rick and his group felt the need to rescue Glen and Maggie, but watching them tear apart Woodbury and fire upon people who more than likely have no idea who Glen and Maggie are, let alone what was done to them, was hard to take in a “rooting for this character” way. But what really set off this moment of viewer soul-searching in us was Michonne and her actions this episode.

Without going into what happens in the books, let’s just say that the Michonne of the books had good reason to hate the Governor and a reader would have had no problem watching her put out his eye in rage. But what, exactly is Michonne’s beef with him? Yes, he sent Merle after her to kill her, and we’re not suggesting that she should have just shrugged that off, but watching her go all feral on him was a little hard to take because the writing of the show hadn’t really done enough to set up this conflict between them. In other words, as the two of them tangled, knocking over fish tanks and beating the shit out of each other, we found ourselves asking the question, “Wait. Why is this happening exactly?” To us, that’s not a particularly good sign. We enjoy a little vagueness in our dramatized moral conflicts, but this was so vague as to leave us almost completely uninterested in the outcome. Even worse, it made Michonne look as crazy and morally conflicted as the Governor is, if not more so. Essentially, we were watching two crazy people try to kill each other with no real setup as to why they were doing it.

Again; without going into the details of it, in the books, the Governor was full-on evil and Michonne was pretty much full-on heroic, albeit in the wounded, dark, anti-hero sense of the term. The Governor’s actions on the show are a lot less horrifying than his actions in the books and we think that watered-down version of him hasn’t helped the story much. We suppose the show creators are trying to cast him as a charismatic leader type and explain why people follow him so willingly, but it hasn’t quite worked as well as it should have, and the result is that Rick’s entire group were the ones who looked more villainous here. Yes, it was good and right of them to rescue Glen and Maggie, but how many innocent people did they kill in order to do that?

To reiterate: we have no problem with shades of grey and we don’t need a square-jawed Superman type to lead the story for us, nor do we need a Hitler-level villain. But from a narrative standpoint, the raid on Woodbury was as confusing to us as… well, the raid on Woodbury, which was smokefilled and chaotic and you never really knew where people were in relation to each other while it was going on. This isn’t a complaint; not really. If the show wants to go this route we’ll be impressed with its commitment to keeping the story as dark as possible, but in the long term, it could wind up as a series of shadow plays; vaguely defined characters clashing with other vaguely defined characters for reasons that elude the audience. We’ll see where it goes when the show comes back after its break, but the raid on Woodbury may just wind up being a defining moment for the show going forward.

In other news, the show’s tendency to kill off one black male in order to bring a new one into the cast has gone beyond slightly amusing and headed straight toward offensive. We’re happy to see the Tyreese of the books show up, but there really was no need to kill off Oscar in order to get it done.

 

 

 

[Photo Credit: AMC]

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