When The Walking Dead finished off the first half of season 3 with 'Made to Suffer,' it wasn't the hasty infiltration and subsequent firefight between Rick's crew and the people of Woodbury that breathed new life into series, it was the introduction of another group of survivors.
So far, season 3 has been about the core survivors meeting new people. Some of these encounters have gone south pretty quickly, e.g., Thomas and the other inmates not named Oscar or Axel (Lew Temple) wound up dead and now the citizens of Woodbury, spurred on by the Governor (David Morrissey), are cheering the Dixon brothers in gladiatorial combat. In terms of overall friendliness, these instances don't rank too high, but there's hope in the form of the seemingly capable and mostly affable Tyreese (Chad Coleman) and his dwindling crew – not to mention the ever-scowling face of Michonne (Danai Gurira). All in all, the infusion of new blood had The Walking Dead ready to take on the rest of season 3 with some real gusto.
But for all the life that was put back into the show during the midseason finale, 'The Suicide King' seems to come in and suck a lot of that life right back out. Sure, there's a tense moment at the beginning of the episode that resolves the issue of Daryl (Norman Reedus) and his brother Merle (Michael Rooker) being trapped in Woodbury and potentially having to fight one another to the death, but the scene plays out almost too quickly. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his crew attack again, causing a stampede of formerly bloodthirsty Woodburians that, along with all the gunfire and smoke grenades, provides the perfect cover for Daryl and Merle to escape.
And while the action offers fans an opportunity for everyone to breathe a little easier knowing that Daryl isn't next on the chopping block, it causes the action to shift into the series' default setting of watching small clusters of survivors argue with one another. No sooner does Rick's crew find their way back to Glenn (Steven Yeun), Michonne and the ever-lasting Hyundai, than the situation devolves into an argument highlighted by raised voices, guns and a sword. Naturally, nobody wants Merle in the group, but Daryl refuses to abandon his brother like he did before, and soon the Dixon brothers are off on their own adventure somewhere between Woodbury and the prison.
Meanwhile, the situation back at the prison begins to get tense as two of Tyreese's team, Allen (Dan Thomas May) and Ben (Tyler Chase), propose the idea of overtaking Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Carol (Melissa McBride) and then using their weapons to take the prison for themselves. To their credit, Tyreese and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) argue that that's not the way they want this situation to play out, and instantly we know something useful about them as characters. Once Rick arrives at the prison, though, the news of Daryl's absence hits hard, leaving the group feeling more vulnerable than before and forcing Hershel (Scott Wilson) to mention that if ever they needed some reinforcements, now's the time.
It's in keeping with Rick's arc that his first instinct is to reject every new person's offer of help, and to look at them as a potential threat, rather than a much-needed addition to his group – which, in terms of maintaining the character that's been built is a plus. But after the way Tyreese and his group were introduced, and how it really helped make the series feel fresh again, it was something of a bummer to see the character interaction settle back into the stifling sameness of what's come before. This scenario will undoubtedly play out with the two men working together, and when they do, it will probably be a very successful moment; it just feels as though the first meeting between Rick and Tyreese was a great opportunity to try something new that went back to the start, rather than pushing forward.
Instead, the writers chose to play up the fact that Rick is still cracking under the pressure of keeping these people alive and safe by having him see a vision of Lori – at least it seems like Lori. It's a confusing moment for the survivors, and rightly so; there's reason to suspect that an attack by the Governor and the riled-up citizens of Woodbury is on the horizon and the guy everyone has put their unquestioning faith in is suddenly yelling and waiving a revolver around. It's easy to see this playing into Rick eventually having to put some trust in strangers, but in the moment, it just feelt too reminiscent of the phone call scene that was pulled off far more successfully.
Finally, back in Woodbury, Andrea (Laurie Holden) has to keep the citizens from being shot by sentries as some attempt to abandon the town, and then things get worse after the Governor shoots a bite victim after some walkers make it past the town's barricades. She makes a quick speech that, despite it's cloying hopefulness, seems to prevent anyone from trying to leave for the time being, and therefore prevents the need for further violence – against the citizens of Woodbury, anyway. This makes Andrea and the Dixon brothers the undecided factor when the conflict between the prison and Woodbury gets underway. And for Andrea, at least, it's an interesting position that her character is very much in need of being in.
Although the midseason premiere lacked the energy and the sense of forward momentum that the finale had back in December, 'The Suicide King' still alluded to the power of the human vs. human conflict that has been a great success so far this season, and likely will be again in the weeks to come. There were times when the episode felt like it was taking two steps back, but with several episodes left, there's still plenty of time to start moving forward again.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with 'Home' @9pm on AMC. Check out a sneak peek below: