Well, that was maybe the best episode of this series to date. And you know what? This is what the series could be all the time. The problem – and this is going to be a controversial opinion, I think – is the comic book and the expectations connected with it.

I was as excited as anyone to see our characters discover the prison. And when the Governor showed up I couldn’t wait to see how it was going to play out. Now I’m not so sure either development was a good thing for the show.

Sure, it has millions of people watching it every week. People you would never expect to watch something involving zombies are addicted to it. So my opinion isn’t really going to carry a lot of weight. Clearly, the creators have their fingers on the pulse of America and know what the audience wants.

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I just don’t think I’m that audience anymore. I’ve been reading the comics since the beginning. I have every issue. And I’ve been a fan of the show, supporting it when most others have done nothing but complained. This third season started incredibly strong, but then something happened. Once the prison was cleared out and the Governor was introduced, it became something different.

Instead of being about people surviving the apocalypse it became about the impending conflict. The prison vs. Woodbury became the focus instead of the characters. When there has been character development over the middle of the season, it’s been heavy-handed and/or over-the-top melodrama. And somebody needs to decide whether or not The Governor is a psychopath or a troubled leader who is now obsessed with destroying Rick and Company.

Because frankly, it’s all playing out rather cartoonishly. At least in the comics, the Governor was already a psychopath when they encountered him. He was clearly a bad man and the conflict was clear. The television approach has been too preoccupied with drawing parallels between him and Rick and as a by-product has turned into something less interesting as the other characters have fallen to the background.

I thought skipping over the winter and watching them turn into a lean mean killing machine was a good thing initially. Now I’m not so sure.

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Oh yeah. I was supposed to be talking about this episode.

I’m not really familiar with any of the other work by director, Tricia Brock, but she’s got a solid resume according to IMDB and does a good job this week keeping things on the straight and narrow. She doesn’t really push any boundaries, but she tells a clean story and that’s a good thing. The script by new Showrunner Scott M. Gimple gets to the heart of what’s been missing from The Walking Dead during this middle season run: Character.

This week, Rick takes Michonne and Carl back to where it all started, his home town, in search of guns and ammo. What they find is someone we haven’t seen in a while: Morgan Jones.

The last time we saw Morgan he was holed up with his son and the key to the police armory. He was also unable to shoot his zombie wife. It was early days and it was a powerful moment in that first episode. Unfortunately, his inability to get the job done came back to haunt him and now he is a madman. A heavily armed and well-fortified madman, but a madman nonetheless.

Isolated and lost, Morgan is what Rick might have become if he hadn’t found some semblance of normalcy with the group. Not that Rick is the picture of mental health, but as Michonne points out this episode, seeing and talking to your dead loved ones isn’t really that unusual anymore.

New world, new rules.

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Madness is a phase that you go through when there’s no more room in hell, and the dead walk the earth.

But you have to get through it, and Morgan doesn’t seem to be able to move beyond a simple routine that allows him to deal, sort of, with the loss of his family. Rick’s urge to try and save him is a noble one, but you can see when the two characters interact, that Rick’s really trying to save himself. He doesn’t want to be what Morgan has become, but he may not have a choice.

One of the strengths of this show is that it has some pretty strong actors, and when the scripting is up to the task they are put through their paces and given the opportunity to truly shine. Lennie James is one of those actors and this script provides one of those opportunities. This is what people should be watching the show for. Not to see extreme zombie kills, or gut-churning gore and violence.

Those are attractive, I admit. But this is the real deal.

Watching James play Morgan reliving the deaths of this wife and son, watching him stretch the boundaries of sanity but not find a way through and out, watching him go about his business of clearing the zombies from his traps and then tell Carl not to be sorry for shooting him or for anything he has to do in this nightmarish new world. That’s what people should be watching for.

And that’s what The Walking Dead should be giving us more of.

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I almost forgot the thing that most people will be talking about after this airs. The hitchhiker.

If there was ever a single event that encapsulated just how Rick has changed, the abandoning of the hitchhiker was the one. Granted, Michonne and Carl are just as responsible for his ultimate demise by not even attempting to speak up and suggest they pick him up. But it’s a new world with new rules.

Another hand to hold a weapon is also another mouth to feed. If he could even be trusted to stand with them. Everyone is a walking talking question mark now, and it takes time and effort to become one of the group, as Michonne finds out this week. The hitchhiker was a mystery in the narrative of the show, and a reminder for the viewers that there’s no going back.

When the car stops, backs up, and Carl grabs the backpack of the newly eaten hitchhiker, it’s a cold, hard-ass moment. But as Morgan just said, you can’t say you’re sorry. You have to do what you have to do. He shouldn’t have been yelling at the top of his lungs if he didn’t have cover or weapons to protect himself with. That’s just the way it is in this world. Playing by the old rules is, more often than not, going to get you killed. Rick learned that last season and viewers occasionally need to be reminded of this.

The Walking Dead 3.12 "Clear"
5.0Overall Score