Here be spoilers. Enter of your own free-will.
I AIN'T A JUDAS
After the tension and terror of last weeks finale, you'd be forgiven for thinking that we;d be hurtling straight ahead into the war between Rik and Phil, but not so. That vicious little play by The Gov was nothing more than a prelude to a bloody, feral kiss. And like all kisses worthwhile...its the waiting that really makes it worthwhile.
This weeks episode trades action and horror for character and nostalgia, as we slow down, catch our breath, and spend some time with our gang. Its an almost action-free zone, but only if you consider excellent set-up, character interactions that sizzle, and a re-union of long lost buddies to be lacking in action. Not to mention, we finally learn the whereabouts of Tyreese and his chums, and its quite a shocker.
The main focus of I AIN'T A JUDAS, is in fact, Andrea. Now before this gets your titties in a twist, it should be stated that for the most part, she merely acts as a conduit for the coming events. Like most of the season, she remains frustratingly indecisive, but whereas before now, many have saw her lack of horror at Phil's actions as baffling...now its taking on a different tone, and one that altogether more satisfying, and interesting.
First of all, I should say that I have little problem with Andrea. She hasn't been clued into what we, the audience, know about Woodbury, and yes, shes made some fucking stupid choices but I'd bet my bottom dollar many of us would make the same choices. After a year on the road, starving and, well, dying...I;d be more than willing to overlook a head-aquarium if it meant I could get some fucking sleep, a decent meal, and even a chance to get laid. Phil's a pretty convincing guy, and when you look at the whole situation through her eyes, its an easy spell to fall under.
All that's changed now, as she finally learns just how cruel, devious and downright fucking murderously crazy this guy really is..and from her old friends no less...
Although its far from a happy re-union. Its a very enjoyable one, as we get to see the group through Andrea's eyes. After all, last time she saw these folk they were rellatively well-rounded individuals hanging out on a farm. Now they're all sorts of fucked up. Not to mention, Rik treats her like a stranger, and she's lost the trust of most of the group, but the mission they give her is the meat on the bone here. In short, they give her a sharp blade and a few ideas about how to handle the Phillip situation. Carol in particular shines in these scenes, as we grasp just how damn tough and no-nonsense shes become, Again though, its the dilemma that really hits. In short...kill the fucker in his sleep and lets all move on with life.
Now, we soon come to learn that while some part of her desires to do it, she cant go through with it. Its a pretty tantalising moment, as Andrea is no longer living n the dark. Shes fully aware of whats at stake...the lives, the violence, (hell, even the kids may die, as The Gov is now recruiting his very own Hitler Youth), and yet she still cant do it. Some will view this as typical Andrea nonsense, but I think it gives new dimensions to her character...
Does she love him? Is she gong to stand by his side, no matter what? Knowing what she knows, will she take up arms against her previous group?
Shes finally been afforded a bona-fide moral dilemma, and I'm invested in her more than at any previous time since season one.
Other moments of not this week are the brilliant scene between Hershell and Merle, where we get to watch these two accomplished actors eat up the scenery with their performances. Its also a helluva lot of fun having Merle in the group, and his humanity, what little there is of it, is peeking through the curtains. The situation that Tyreese's group find themselves in is a neat one too, and will pat off some way down the line when the choice comes on whether to raise arms against Rik, (who could blame them), or learn the truth about Woodbury, (not quite as likely). No doubt the two assholes in his group will join up with The Gov, but Tyreese? Who can say?
For zombie-addicts, there is very little on display this week, though there are two things worth mentioning...theres a scene where Andrea takes a leaf about Michonnes book and 'de-claws' a zombie, (yep...that;s what I'm calling it), that is as brutal and gruesome as anything the shows offered up. Also, theres a really subtle addition of zombies in the distance in nearly every scene which really heightens the atmosphere and the sense that any conversation or interaction must be quick, as the shambling dead are ever vigilant. Its a clever choice and I hope we see a lot more of it in the future.
I AIN'T A JUDAS is a crossover episode, but its one that's deceptively full of new information. Its a prefect set-up for whats to come, and it sets the stage for some clever moral dilemma's as our groups play this life and death game of 'musical chairs'.
Oh, and the dressing down of Rik, by not only Hershell but by his own son, too? Brilliant. Emotional conflict is every bit as important in THE WALKING DEAD as is chaos and action. Another great episode in an arguably flawless season.
Episode twelve comes as a complete surprise in that it eschews the main story altogether for a more nuanced, even-paced snippet of life in the land of the dead. Arriving under the multi-faceted title, CLEAR, is an full-tilt example of THE WALKING DEAD at its very best. In many ways its the shows most resonant and powerful episode since the pilot. Content, atmosphere, depth and character all take precedent here; and coupled with some of the best writing the show has ever boasted and a striking performance from the mighty Lennie James, this very well may be the shows high-water mark thus far.
True, its potency would be lessened without the context in which we view it, but after three long years of watching Rik's unending journey into a darker world, its bittersweet and deeply sad to return to where it all began, and to have a light shone on just how damaging this world has become to the psyche's of those left to rot, while still breathing. It also stands as a brilliant reminder of what Andrea must have experiences last week. For us, the audience, this is our first trip back to visit Duane. And like Andrea viewed the group...with fresh eyes and no idea what hell has transpired...so do we view our old pal.
CLEAR works as a stand alone episode, (or would make a particularly excellent double-bill with the pilot), in that it leaves behind most of the characters we know and love/hate, and focuses solely on the trio of Rik, Carl and Michonne. Of course, the return of Duane is a powerful development, but this is less his story than it is a singular story detailing just how far the apocalypse has pushed Rik out there. Daune acts a particularly crazy mirror, and helps us better understand Rik's ongoing transformation, (and just where he may end up if he's not careful). But this episodes bulk is all about understanding Rik, and how he's come to interact with those around him.
In taking the enigmatic Michonne along for the ride, CLEAR manages to breath new life into her one-note character. Within the stories runtime, we get to see a side of her thats been well and truly hidden until now. I would say its long overdue, but in truth, the thawing of her heart towards these people is all teh more powerful, and uplifting, because of the time its taken. I never thought I'd use the word 'uplifting' to describe THE WALKING DEAD, but there are glimmers of light in this episode that whisper to us that all is not yet lost for Rik. Every bit as importantly, the same can b said for both Carl and Michonne. No one hear is untouched by the horrors they endure. Yet the shows underlying theme of unity really comes to the fore here, and its god-damned refreshing to feel a little sun on your face when all is so dark.
Between this episode and the previous chapter, the story has slowed from its breakneck pace to give way to some very unexpected nostalgia. A sort of nostalgia that is bot thrilling for the viewer yet unquestionably painful as we see how things have changed for these people. And two of the characters most in need of some real substance have been given the upgrade.
Michonne has rooted herself firmly in my fave characters now. As what once appeared to be lack of depth is turning out to be the exact opposite. She and Rik have real chemistry, as does she and Carl, (who continues to impress as an ever-evolving bad-ass-with-a-heart), and its easy to view the three of them as a perfect tough-as-nails nuclear family for the zombie age.
The set design in also impeccable in CLEAR, with Duane's domain looking like a survivalists wet dream meshed with a padded cell. Theres a real post-apocalyptic vibe going on there that really sells the idea of this once picturesque town going all to shit. And as I mentioned earlier, Lennie James is just fantastic as Duane. We're given a vivid interpretation of a man pushed way over the edge, and the scene between he and Rik as he described just how his boy went out, and expresses some home truths about the world they inhabit, would be the episodes highlight, were it not for its finale.
We open with a hitchhiker, and one whom our trio steadfastly refuse to acknowledge. Its cold, its disheartening, but its realistic and in keeping with tone. As we see him disappear in their rear-view mirror, the scene feels complete, but in a somewhat genius move...the episode ends with our gang making the journey back. Not only do we have a grin-inducing scene that hints at redemption for our heroes, but not ten seconds later, we learn the fate of the hitchhiker. The poor bastards been slaughtered. Our characters don't miss a beat...no emotion is betrayed. This in itself would be perfect, but in the final shot we see their vehicle reverse, as they stop to retrieve his backpack. Its cold, blackly funny, simple and brilliantly evocative of where we're going with these guys. With no words, it says a great deal, and very quickly knocks the warmth from our hearts, or at the very least dims the flames.
So, we've had an episode that reflects the calm before the coming storm, (and sets things up nicely with heroes on all damn sides), and an episode that actually knocks the quality of the whole damn thing up several notches. This has been the quiet before the cacophony. And in a season that has rarely paused for breath, its been a well-judged move on the creators. I AIN'T A JUDAS has finally given Andrea something vital to do, and set up some allegiances that i don't think anyone saw coming, and CLEAR....well, CLEAR is just fucking perfection. This season just keeps getting better and better. The stakes are incredibly high now, and everyone's potentially on the slab. With only four episodes to go...the end is coming, and its gonna get messy.
And did anyone else notice that sheet in Morgan;s lair that said, 'Not Shitting you' on one side, and on the side with the bloody axe, said, 'Told you'? That was just fucking awesome...
No score required, as always.
Authors Note : Its been brought to my attention that this episode was written by the new Showrunner He also wrote some of season 2's standout episodes, including EIGHT MILES OUT, (another semi-standalone tale), and PRETTY MUCH DEAD ALREADY....this bodes pretty damn well for next season, despite my loyalty to Glen Mazzara's vision.