The TV version of The Walking Dead has always shown its willingness to stray from Robert Kirkman’s source comic book to keep the suspense high even for those who’d read ahead, and the introduction of Merle and Daryl has been one of the best new elements. Early on, I was mostly frustrated by the presence of two stock-in-trade hillbillies who looked like they were cast to remind everyone, this here’s the South so we need us some rednecks. But Daryl has proven to be one of the show’s great characters.
It looked like we might lose one or both of the brothers at the breakpoint of Season 3 last fall with The Governor pitting blood against blood in a fight to the death. That encounter resolved pretty quickly at the beginning of the midseason premiere, “The Suicide King”.
Has there ever been a convincing mob on TV? The group of Woodbury residents uniformly punching the air and shouting things like “You got him. Take him down. Take him down, c’mon!” is only mildly distracting from the drama at hand. But whatever plan Merle had to save his brother (which began with a punch and a kick to the ribs), ended with a rescue from Rick and the others.
Throughout the episode, loyalties and friendships are tested as some (but not all) withheld truths come to light. Daryl chooses his brother over the group, even though Merle tortured Glenn and tried to murder Michonne. Michonne, who’d abandoned the group to go after the Governor, is back on the outs when Rick learns she’d kept it from everyone that Andrea was in Woodbury. And Andrea learns that the Governor was holding Daryl, Glenn and Maggie prisoner (but not that he’d made Maggie strip and set a walker upon a tied-up Glenn—or that he’s a sadistic psychopath).
Back at the prison, the new arrivals have dissension among their own ranks. Father and son Allen and Ben want to take over by attacking Carol and Carl. Husband and wife Tyrese and Sasha ask for some common decency, hoping to talk their way into the larger group. And on the way home, there’s even tension between Glenn and Rick—Glenn pissed that Rick didn’t go after the Governor. That tension spills over to Maggie, who doesn’t seem to want anyone to know what the Governor put her through.
And with Woodbury about to boil over with the residents panicking, zombies inside the gates and the Governor withdrawn into his shell, Andrea becomes the de facto leader of the town with a speech about Woodbury’s strength.
All the action and the arguments are balanced with quiet moments—like Beth talking about having always wanted a baby and Carol laying Judith in her Lil Ass Kicker mail bin. But Judith also triggers Rick’s post-traumatic stress, leading to another of his breakdowns at the prison following a display of near-blanket human distrust.
Not since Lost has a TV show had such a complicated web of tenuous loyalties and an unending series of trials. That’s what’s kept The Walking Dead so interesting long after the walkers themselves became more of an occasional fright than the central conflict.