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Walking Dead – Arrow on the Doorpost

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On Walking Dead, authority always wins, the Great Failed Treaty of ’13 yields yawns, Andrea picks a side, and Glen and Maggie reveal a new rule for Zombieland.

The crux of this episode is the meeting between Rick and the Governor, arranged by Andrea and set up in neutral territory, an old barn. While Rick is inside, Daryl and Hershel provide cover, Hersh looking especially bad-ass with a holdout pistol tied to his leg stump, wearing a tattered black suit coat and his hair tied back. There’s a clear nod toward one of the episode’s themes…well, not so much a theme as an artistic framework: the western.

Western tropes crop up again and again. You have the lawman going up against the outlaw, complete with a black eye patch. There’s a dispute over territory. Notice how the camera lingers over shots of guns, gun belts, and holsters. Hershel patrols the perimeter in that Nissan like he’s on horseback, and when the Woodbury posse arrives in their SUV, the brakes whine as it comes to a stop like the whinny of a horse being reigned in. Check out that shot as everyone leaves the meeting place, the two vehicles at angles, circling each other, then driving off in a swirl of dust. I haven’t watched a ton of old westerns, but I’m willing to bet a true aficionado could identify the exact movie that scene is an homage to.

Other aspects of the cinematography were western derived too. I’m focusing on this so much because it was the best part of another lackluster episode, so bear with me. My favorite shots were when Rick and the Governor were shot from a distance, small against the larger backdrop of their surroundings. One shot showed them at an odd angle, from above and through a window, the table between them. Another showed them at a greater distance, silhouetted, nearly lost in the tangle of rafters and wreckage in the old barn. Long shots like that are classic John Ford, the legendary director who shaped not only American western films, but film theory in general.

All this simply makes explicit something that underlies Walking Dead anyway. It really is a western in spirit. The whole world is the frontier, and the battle of law and civilization versus anarchy and social collapse plays out again and again. The zombies even play the role of the “wild Indians.” (To be clear, I’m not denigrating Native Americans or saying Native Americans are like zombies here, I’m comparing the zombies in Walking Dead to the way Native Americans were used as disposable villains in old western films and shows).

The peace talks drag on forever, with a whole lot of grizzled staring and masculine whiskey sipping. Outside, the foot soldiers are bonding over killing zombies and bitching about politics. The big shots are busy, and the rank and file don’t get to know what goes on behind closed doors. Andrea realizes the depths of Creepy G’s depravity and seems determined to change sides back to Team Rick.

The talks boil down to G wanting vengeance on Michonne for the whole eye/zombie daughter incident. He’s willing to embroil both sides in a suicidal war just to get his hands on her (and secretly plans to off Rick and his lieutenants anyway). Rick just wants to set a boundary and have both sides ignore each other. Gov gives Rick two days to decide, threatening to kill Carl and baby Judith otherwise.

The Governor, of course, doesn’t tell his people about the Michonne deal (except Milton). Rick tells the prison crew that the Gov offered no deal, only scorched earth. The only option is all-out war.

Rick is lying to his people, but it feels like a good lie, and he explains it to Hershel later. Rick faces a difficult decision, especially after the writers finally transformed Michonne into a human being last week. Imagine if he told everyone of the Governor’s offer. It would only sow conflict in the prison, as at least a few people would consider if it was worth it to sell out Michonne. And keep in mind that Rick thinks Gov plans to kill them all anyway, so the end result is the same. He’s just avoiding a whole lot of needless trouble. I call it a smart decision.

Glen and Maggie have a little talk while on watch, and apparently resolve their little rift. Well, not apparently, since they duck out of sight of the zombies and get naked a for a little conjugal visit at the prison. Here’s the thing – in a Walking Dead world, I would never, ever, ever take my boots off. You can get totally naked, fine, but keep those damn boots on. This is a corollary of Zombieland Rule #26. Double-knot your shoes. Rule #26a. Have sex with your boots on. Besides, imagine Maggie naked but wearing combat boots. I know, right?

I’m still not sure they’ve ever really articulated what they were mad about or why they’re now no longer mad at each other. We’ve inferred a lot, but all I got was a lot of gibberish tonight. “I made it about me and didn’t give you space.” “Oh Glen, I always want you.” Well, glad that’s settled then.

The last thing I want to touch on is war strategy. They made a big deal about Merle’s military experience, but he and Michonne are totally wrong about this one. They want to strike first and go take out the Governor. But they have an amazing defensive position. It’s so much easier to defend than to attack. They can fall back, abandon the yard (thus nullifying the Governor’s “drive a truck through the fence” tactic), and maintain control of secure firing positions. They can fire from highly fortified defensive positions while creating a kill zone for anyone who wants to actually enter the prison – an area of open ground where Rick’s shooters can pick them off easily, no matter how many there are.

Luckily, Rick has one other ace up his sleeve, one he doesn’t even know about. Andrea goes back to Woodbury with the Governor, but I don’t think she’s on his side. Now there’s a Team Rick mole in there with Creepy G, one who can screw up his plans or even assassinate him at close range – something she failed to do a few weeks ago.

I want to point out that there was a potential political solution to this whole mess. Once Rick knew of the Gov’s demands, he could have found a way to alert the Governor’s people that their leader was willing to risk them all for the sake of his own vengeance trip. Sure, he’s got some loyal soldiers, but I’ll bet a lot of Woodburians wouldn’t be quite so convinced that Gov is fit to lead them anymore.

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Posted by on Sunday, March 10th, 2013. Filed under Dark TV, Headline. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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