by Kat Rosenfield
With the series' primary group of survivors safe, sound, and doing the cell-block tango in their new penitentiary home, this week's episode of "The Walking Dead" took a break from the usual group dynamics to check in with our roving party of two: Andrea, who was looking rather the worse for wear in her brief appearance in the season premiere, and Michonne, the mysterious, dreadlocked, sword-wielding empress of bad-assery who travels with a pair of pet walkers.
And after much anticipation, we got a first look at the cheerful, thriving, post-apocalypse community of Woodbury — where everything is just as it seems and absolutely nothing sinister is lurking beneath the surface, noooo, definitely not.
The episode opens with an unfamiliar sight in the world of the Walking Dead: a helicopter, airborne, with military men inside! It's a bumpy ride, and though the pilot reassures them that he can handle a little turbulence, he apparently can't handle whatever is causing an ominous cloud of billowing black smoke to erupt from the back end of the bird. They're going down, and down they go...
...right over the heads of the startled Andrea and Michonne, who follow in search of the wreckage. Andrea, still wrapped in her sick blanket, promptly pukes all over the place. But Michonne goes ahead to investigate, and we get this week's uber-grossout right upfront when she comes upon one guy... in two pieces. Whee! Intestines!
Meanwhile, the scene is getting crowded: walkers are starting to stumble out of the woods, and a pair of mysterious trucks appear. Michonne and Andrea hide in the bushes, watching as the new arrivals savagely beat and behead the walkers, while the guy in charge inspects the wreck. It's more than Michonne's pets can handle; they're making a racket as they lunge against their restraints, and she cuts off their heads with cold-blooded precision.
But it's too late: a familiar, throaty voice demands that they turn around, and...
"How's about a hug for your old pal Merle?"
And Merle, it is! Hello, Merle! But there will be no hugging: Andrea, overcome by either dehydration or the reeking stench of eau de sweaty redneck undershirt, passes out cold.
Cut to: a brief car ride and a clean, well-lit room, where Andrea is being given medical treatment, Michonne is glaring at everybody, and Merle wants to know what he missed last season. Andrea offers her apologies for that whole we-left-you-chained-to-a-roof thing, but she can't assure him that Daryl's still alive — and Merle doesn't seem inclined to forgive.
But then again, he's not running this show: the Governor is! And here he comes, with a lanky build, a straightforward manner, and a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to calling the shots.
"You're not prisoners, you're guests!" he says. And lo, he throws open the doors to the building, revealing a clean, well street with not a zombie in sight. Welcome to Woodbury!
Ah, Woodbury. High walls keep the walkers out; inside, there are 73 survivors, a vegetable garden, and even a couple of dogs. And the Governor: so authoritative! So polite! So ready to reassure the lone survivor of the helicopter crash that he'll go and bring back the rest of his army buddies! This guy seems nice, right? Even if he does command a band of violent henchmen and has a mad scientist BFF who lives in a backlot warehouse and likes to poke dead things with a stick.
The Governor's scientist pal gives us the skinny on Michonne's jawless, armless walkers: without the ability to feed, they lose interest in biting and act as repellent to other zombies — something that Dr. Crazy is extra-curious about. Over breakfast with Michonne and Andrea, the Gov touts the strengths of their community, but his guy Friday is odd, antagonistic, baiting. Oh, and then there's the matter of the "tea" he makes: we don't know what's in there, but we're guessing it isn't chamomile Sleepytime.
"Looks like you're sitting pretty at the end of the world," Andrea muses, and oooh, the Governor doesn't like that.
"Do I strike you as the type of man who sits pretty?" he asks, and smiles — the kind of smile that says, I'd like to put your severed head in a fishbowl for my own amusement.
But there's no time for further discussion. With breakfast over, they all part ways: Andrea and Michonne to go stare suspiciously at Woodbury and everything in it, and the Governor's crew to find the helicopter pilot's friends. And they do!
And then, of course, they kill every last one of them and ransack their corpses, because for all this guy's talk of peace and joy and harmonious coexistence, he is actually out of his mind. And upon his return, he tells the crowd the so-called truth: that the soldiers were murdered by "biters", because they didn't have walls! Or vegetable gardens, or creepy tea, or a powerful leader with no real name who's happily turning the post-apocalypse into his own private Idaho.
And so, the sun sets on the quiet streets of Woodbury. Inside a soft-lit room, the Governor gazes with cold eyes at a picture of himself with a smiling woman and child. And then — as all great men do at the end of a long, hard day — he pours himself a bourbon, slips through a secret door, and settles in for a nice, quiet night in front of a dozen fish tanks full of severed heads.
Yeah, we actually weren't kidding about that.
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