Our TV Roundtable on Season 3, Episode 3, "Walk With Me"
I had a fleeting theory that, for shrewd brand-strategic reasons, AMC deliberately kept this week's Walking Dead episode off its screener site until midday Monday (?!) so that East Coast critics would have to watch it with an actual apocalypse bearing down on them. But that was only until I remembered "We Know Drama" is actually TNT's slogan. In any case, there's now this other challenge facing the TV Roundtable: Sandy could knock out our power at any instant. So I should be quick.
I agree with Scott--who was, thank you Scott, able to punch up some smart pre-Roundtable reax yesterday--that new character the Governor represents both the series's first true villain and a kind of alternate-world Rick. In fact, my first thoughts after the Governor and his people showed up to investigate the helicopter crash from the episode's opening scene were that since the beginning of the series, we haven't been watching a story about how "people" would react to a zombie apocalypse; we've been watching one about how a particular set of people do react. For all the broad themes Season 1 and 2 have touched on, TWD has focused on the evolving characters of a specific group, with specific dynamics, whose fate--this is something we see clearly by the end of "Walk With Me"--owe more to Rick's specific leadership than we may have realized without any real post-apocalyptic comparative context beyond Hershel's farm.
Throughout Season 2, I found myself, as noted, distracted by Rick's and his group's laxness when it came to some of the basics of what would keep them alive, like logistical discipline and protocol. Of course the alternative world I was imagining was Rick et al.'s; they were just taking care of business better. (Secure that perimeter! Organize tighter supply runs! Don't let people wander into the woods, for crying out loud!) But now we see a more distinct, and maybe more telling, contrast than I had in mind: the Governor's Woodbury. Here, everything is tightly marshaled and no one is outwardly distracted by moral conflicts. But that, it appears, has more to do with the Governor's cold-blooded suppression of moral conflict than it does with the his relative competence at managing a zombie apocalypse.
I think Scott's right that "Walk With Me" draws intentional parallels between Rick's group and the Governor's. What I'll be interested to see is whether Rick's and the Governor's stories continue to play out in parallel, or whether the Governor's emergence as TWD's new villain will create a kind of reverse pole for Rick as he struggles to reorient his moral compass.
Well, I think the last couple of days have proven something basic about The Walking Dead's deeper meaning, at least to those of us on the East Coast: Civilization is a very fragile construct, and the natural world from time to time conspires against us, sending us unmanageable storms and earthquakes and killer flus. (One recommendation, learned the hard way yesterday: Don't watch Contagion during a natural disaster; it doesn't fill you with happiness. On the other hand, at least I had power that allowed me to watch it. And I hope you guys had power, too.) The point is, most thinking people understand that what we have in our daily lives--electricity, heat, clean water, antibiotics, a steady supply of affordable food--are not things that most of humanity has ever been able to take for granted, and we know that we're one pandemic, or one storm double the size of Katrina or Sandy, from serious civilizational disruption. And of course, if the next pandemic leads to the zombification of most of humanity, then we're in for it. (Maybe it's just the reporter in me, but I've always been interested in the fake science behind the virus that brought about this mass zombification, and I'm hoping that the Governor's creepy little lab tech will tell us something interesting soon.)
This argument between liberal and conservative visions of leadership looks to me to be a source of continuing, promising tension.
But back to this wonderfully original episode: In addition to spending too much time searching out evidence that the show is simply an extended Holocaust metaphor, I've always watched TWD through the prism of left-right politics. John, you write about the group's "laxness when it came to some of the basics of what would keep them alive, like logistical discipline and protocol." This unforgivable slackery always struck me as a subtle commentary by TWD writers on the pitfalls of Pollyannish liberalism. Hershel's mistaken belief that walkers were somehow redeemable when all evidence suggested otherwise is a case in point. Rick's cold-blooded behavior inside the prison suggested he was abandoning his commitment to his particular notions of fairness and to the possibility of redemption in favor of a policy of survival at all costs. It is, of course, hard to blame him. What he needed, clearly, over the first two seasons, was to be more vigilant, more suspicious, more definitive, and less consultative in the way he led the group. In other words, he needed to be less of a tormented squish.
But just when we see a new, more practical Rick emerge--a Rick whose personality would be more pleasing to political conservatives--we're introduced to the Governor, who as Scott notes, is "a living example of what Rick could eventually become." In other words, absolute-power Rick would be just as unpleasant--or more unpleasant (the Governor's fish-tanks filled with dead heads come to mind)--than squishy, selfless Rick. This argument--between liberal and conservative visions of leadership, between the idea that humane leadership is an unaffordable luxury in a post-apocalyptic environment, on the one hand, and the idea that absolute power will corrupt absolutely, on the other --looks to me to be a source of continuing, and promising tension for this series.