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Written by Jim Rohner Wednesday, December 05, 2012, 2:05 PM
Midseason finales aren't meant to answer questions so much as they're meant to add more fuel to the fire to keep discussion running throughout months of hiatus. "Made to Suffer" may have an action set piece at its center, but it's the subtleties, the implications, and the additional questions raised that make the episode worth revisiting and discussing while waiting for the show’s return in February.
As though the writers were trying to preemptively prepare us for a lack of resolution, "Made to Suffer" begins with a question: "Who the hell are these people?" Screams far off in the woods are revealed to be coming from a group of survivors unseen until now. Perhaps so much exposure to Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the gang have made viewers forget that not every survivor of the zombie outbreak is a member of a well-oiled machine, as these survivors, led by Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), bumble their way through a zombie horde with hammers and shovels. Barely escaping after a member of their team is bitten, the group heads toward a tower that is revealed to be an attachment of the prison.
The group's arrival alerts Carl (Chandler Riggs), who is admirably diplomatic in displaying traits handed down from both his departed mother (assisting the newcomers dispatch walkers without hesitation) and world-weary father (immediately confining them to a room detached from the primary living area). The newcomers seem to be made up of potential redshirts, but in Tyreese we see a character that has potential to be a regular beyond this season. Understanding that his bitten companion needs to be killed, and gracious in being given even the most meager of shelter ("Look around. It's the best we've had it in weeks. His rules."), Tyreese is levelheaded, strong, and capable of leading, which might just come in handy in the future seeing as the writers have no quarrels killing off major characters and, despite his imaginary phone call, Rick's sanity is still in question (more on that in a bit).
But the crux of the episode focuses on Rick, Daryl (Norman Reedus), Oscar (Vincent M. Ward), and Michonne (Danai Gurira) infiltrating Woodbury in an effort to rescue Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan), who have become the most simultaneously badass and adorable couple on television. What starts as Black Ops becomes Call of Duty once Woodbury’s guards are alerted to the group's presence. Soon, smoke bombs are being tossed left and right to provide cover for Rick and co. to exchange gunfire with The Governor's (David Morrissey) armed men. The shooting and editing of the firefight is competent at best (the staging feels claustrophobic and screams "sound stage"), but the biggest takeaway—aside from Oscar, “the other black guy,” being killed—is that Andrea (Laurie Holden) engages in the firefight, oblivious as to whom she's firing upon. To her, the invaders are simply "terrorists" and when Daryl is captured and revealed to Woodbury's citizens at the end of the episode after Rick et. al.'s extraction, she is shocked
Also important to note is that during the heat of battle, Rick believed that the deceased Shane (Jon Bernthal) killed Oscar, casting doubt over whether Rick really has collected himself mentally, and for the first time made the thought that Rick won't be around forever a tangible one.
The episode's most pivotal events transpired away from the streets of Woodbury. Waiting in The Governor's apartment to settle some unspoken score, Michonne discovers his dark secret: the zombie daughter being kept locked away in a room full of severed heads. Her attempt to kill the girl is interrupted by (who else?) The Governor, who for the first time shows genuine vulnerability when faced with the elimination of the last remnant of his former life. Wide-eyed with a quiver in his voice, The Governor puts down his gun and puts his hands up and we see not the man who engineered the massacre of an entire National Guard force while sporting a smile, but a man who at one point lived a normal life with a wife and daughter.
Michonne, of course, kills the girl and in the ensuing scuffle she jams a piece of broken glass into The Governor's eye in an effort to escape his chokehold. Her killing swipe is halted by Andrea and for a brief moment there is a standoff between the former companions that is supposed to be a lot more emotionally effective than it actually is. Though The Walking Dead has improved by leaps and bounds over the meandering, brain-dead season two, the show is still guilty of progressing the narrative out of obligation rather than logic, and the relationship between Andrea and Michonne is a prime example of this.
What's supposed to be mysterious with Michonne comes off as poorly developed thanks primarily to a one-dimensional performance from Danai Gurira. With very little attention paid in previous episodes to Michonne's past, the silent swordswoman has been and continues to be one of the least interesting characters in the show's two and half season run so far. Without caring about Michonne, it's almost impossible to care about the choice Andrea will likely eventually have to make between the woman who saved her life and the man who's given her a new one.
Still, with that glass shard to the eye Michonne has served a purpose and judging by the dead glare in his eye, it seems that that purpose was to sever The Governor's last ties to sanity. When pleading for his daughter's life (or semblance thereof), The Governor displayed an uncharacteristic weakness. Now that his daughter is gone, the man who held the threat of rape of over Maggie's head will likely respond by hardening even further and upholding his half of the "eye for an eye" equation. The first victim to suffer his wrath appears to be Merle (Michael Rooker), whom he holds in front of Woodbury's residents as the one who led "the terrorists" into their quiet town. While it'd be nice to think The Governor is only accusing his right hand man as a dog and pony show to ingratiate him with Daryl, it's important to remember that if Merle had done his job properly, Michonne wouldn't have been alive to jam a shard of glass in The Governor's eye .
And now we're left with two months to hypothesize about what the conflict between Woodbury and the prison will look like. Will Tyreese and his new crew play a pivotal role? Will Merle have switched sides? Will Daryl still be alive? With whom does Andrea's allegiance lie? Personally, I wonder about the imminent showdown between Rick and The Governor, two men who, if not for some simple twists of fate, could've easily turned into each other.
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