When The Walking Dead first introduces the audience to Tyreese (Chad Coleman), we see a man who is forced to make a very difficult decision in a split second. Faced with the prospect of a group member who has been bitten, Tyreese chooses to keep her among the living, so that when the time comes, his people will be safe, and her loved ones are better prepared to deal with the woman's impending, horrific and inevitable transformation.
It's a decision that's been made on this program many times before, but one that hasn't been seen so much during the first half of season 3. It's a difficult decision because it prolongs the suffering of the afflicted, but still manages to show compassion in a world seemingly devoid of the stuff. It is a decision that would have been made by the Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) of old.
And with that, a whole new group of characters are introduced to The Walking Dead just before it shuffles off for a brief hiatus. This could be troublesome for the series; more people means more opinions, which means more arguing - something that's previously ground the plot to halt. But thankfully, 'Made to Suffer' isn't looking to put the audience through that again. This is a tight, well-paced episode that manages to keep the primary focus of the season in its sights for the duration of the hour.
The group in question is small and capable, but clearly running on fumes by the time they reach the prison – entering what they believe to be something of a safe haven. By the time Carl (Chandler Riggs) stumbles upon the group battling a group of walkers, they look as if they might be overrun. It's another split-second decision, but this time Carl, who has seen his father take a completely different route when it comes to strangers in his territory, is the one to make it.
Both incidents provide a little insight into the change that's occurred in Rick since the tumultuous end of season 2. Time has hardened him in a way that has seemingly not yet touched Tyreese, and has surprisingly not completely reached his son, who, moments before stumbling upon the gatecrashers, was steeling himself and Beth (Emily Kinney) for the likelihood that the party headed to Woodbury would not be heard from again. Carl is smart enough to keep the strangers at a safe distance, but still, he reacted with compassion in a moment that experience suggests should have gone another way. It's an emotion that's led Rick into territory so dangerous, he's all but abandoned the notion of the needs of others. And considering the suffering the former lawman has gone through these first eight episodes, the fact that he's even straying from the prison to help those who may already be dead is something of a revelation.
One would like to thing that the party Rick leads to Woodbury in search of Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) is based on compassion, that it shows the level of commitment Rick has to those who put their trust in him – but there's something about Rick this season that suggests he's headed to Woodbury to put the hurt on whoever took what's his. Make no mistake about it: Glenn and Maggie are his people.
So now, we essentially have Rick's two sides presented by wildly different characters. On one hand there is Tyreese, who is (for now, anyway) compassionate, intelligent and, most importantly, level headed – choosing to see temporary imprisonment as a welcome respite from the outside world, rather than waste his breath yelling at a kid in a sheriff's hat. On the other hand, there's the Governor (David Morrissey), who is so hell-bent on protecting what's his, he'll send a small platoon of men to wipe out any interlopers – even if they're holed-up miles away in a prison thought to be overrun with the undead. Perhaps when Rick returns, Tyreese can offer him some kind of security and help to get the once-compassionate man back to a place where trusting strangers isn't thought of as a possible death sentence.
Rick, Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Oscar (Vincent Ward) find themselves on the edge of Woodbury's walls having been led there by a stranger with little more than a sword and an attitude problem. Once again, Rick's forced to trust an interloper, but there's something he wants on the other end of that leap of faith that makes it worthwhile. And so, from a small, unassuming group with a lot of automatic weapons, Woodbury finds itself under attack for the first time in a long time. The citizens are rattled, and the Governor, faced with what may be a colossal failure, turns the fear his people have at being targeted for possessing what others do not to his advantage. Woodbury's populace is given to craven madness, summarily calling for the execution of someone they know, without being presented any real evidence. Now the Governor doesn't have to hide his true intentions for the group at the prison; his followers will practically beg him to send a hit squad to wipe them out. The people have seen what strangers are capable of, and as far as they're concerned, there's only one way to deal with such a threat.
In a way, Michonne (Danai Gurira) has more in common with the Governor and the people of Woodbury than she'd like to admit. Going out of her way to sneak into Phillip's apartment and wait for him, only to wind up skewering his zombie-daughter and half-blinding him with a shard of glass, is not the decision of a sane person – but rather one fueled by fear, anger and a thirst for vengeance.
Which is something The Walking Dead fans will be if Daryl doesn't make it through the impromptu reunion with his brother Merle (Michael Rooker). At any rate, after this action-packed midseason finale, we'll have to wait until February to find out what fate awaits the Dixon brothers.
Various other items:
- Carol (Melissa McBride) telling Axel (Lew Temple) that now is not the time to be thinking about repopulating the earth was a nice way to broach the subject, considering how gross and inappropriate Axel was being.
- Right now, Axel seems like a bit of (perverted) comic relief – which makes one wonder if the character will stay close to his comic book roots or deviate drastically.
- Farewell, Oscar.
- That was awfully cool of a bearded Jon Bernthal to make a hallucinatory appearance in the episode.
The Walking Dead will return in February. Check out a preview of the episode below:
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