By John Keegan and Paul Pearson
It was always a bit of a mystery what kind of episode “The Walking Dead” would return with. Another big plot-driven episode like the mid-season finale? Something more intimate and emotional? Expectations were high, and maybe that’s the problem with “The Suicide King”, because it doesn’t hit any truly big notes. Most of the running time is spent getting us reacquainted with the post-apocalypse, with only a few token hints towards what kind of storytelling we might get in the future.
Woodbury has been thrown into chaos by the chain gang’s rescue mission, leaving Daryl and Merle to face the Governor’s wrath. As he prepares to strike back at the prison and its occupants, it’s left to Andrea to try and keep the town from falling apart. Meanwhile, those at the prison face the question of whether their need for more people in the coming fight against the Governor is worth the risk of trusting strangers — and whether trusting Rick to make the decision is another risk.
The first problem with “The Suicide King” is how easily it resolves the cliffhanger ending of “Made to Suffer”. Viewers can argue ’til the cows come home about what the show was promising or setting up, but either way, the storyline deserved something more complex and demanding than a quick five minute scene. It’s as though the writers were intent on backpedalling, and by getting the episode off on such a bad foot, it set the tone for the next hour of storytelling.
If we’d had a better opening, perhaps the developments in the Daryl/Merle plotline wouldn’t rankle so much. There’s a definitely logic to the way things played out, but it was all so abrupt that things were over before viewers had a chance to comprehend, let alone have an emotional reaction. And on top of all that, it’s a case of a TV show threatening to do something that no viewer actually believes will happen. Perhaps this development will pay off in future episodes, much like the decision to separate Andrea and Michonne from the main group led to a rather excellent introduction to Woodbury, but it also weakened this episode.
Thankfully, things in Woodbury developed in a much more compelling way. The Governor plays a very small role in things, but in this situation it works: David Morrissey gives a very controlled performance, letting rage and hatred seethe from him, and no dialogue could tell us more about his emotional state than simply seeing the character make brutal decision. It also gives Andrea a chance to develop and become an active character for the first time all season, and while her split loyalties were paid lip-service earlier in the season, here we see the seeds of some real internal conflict as she starts making a firm commitment to Woodbury.
Some of the other plot developments were so short and abrupt that there’s little to be said or gleaned from them other than set-up for the second half of the season. Things like Glen’s current emotional state, Rick’s freak-out or Tyreese and his people’s place within the prison will hopefully get a lot more screen time as the episodes unfold, but pushing them to the corners of the story was probably a mistake because “The Suicide King” lacks anything to really give it impact. It’s certainly not a bad episode, but it’s a decidedly average one compared to others in this season alone.
John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Paul Pearson is Critical Myth's reviewer for The Walking Dead.