We open on a mystery figure dragging the body of a deer toward the prison, breaking open the lock on one of its gates with an ax, and leaving the deer’s heart at the threshold like a big, blood breadcrumb to lure zombies inside. Honestly, it is not that much of a “mystery” if you consider how many black guys there are running around outside the prison with vendettas against Rick (note: one), but it starts the countdown on a time bomb that we get to hear ticking in the background for the rest of the episode, just waiting to go off.
The survivor crew is starting to feel pretty comfortable in its hard-won new home, which is another sure sign that things are about to go horribly wrong, since the No. 1 rule of this show is that all positive emotions are a form of hubris that calls down the wrath of the gods. For Maggie and Glenn, this respite from constant terror means lots of time to get it on in the guard tower. For Hershel, it means that he can finally get to his, uh, foot, and take his first tentative steps on crutches in the prison yard. For most of the crew, it means the gross but hopeful task of cleaning the zombie bodies out of the complex so that their lives moving forward will be 60%-70% less horrifying and suffused in death.
The only people who are not having a very good time are Oscar and Axel, the two surviving prisoners who have been exiled to a separate block of the prison as part of Rick’s not-shooting-them-in-the-head compromise. They’re still newbies to the zombie apocalypse, so hanging around in total isolation with the corpses of dozens of their friends has been pretty traumatic for them, instead of just Tuesday. Axel begs Rick to let them in the group, saying that they can’t stand it another day, but Rick is adamant: A deal is a deal, and if they’d rather choose the latter end of “my way or the highway,” then safe travels, gentlemen.
PHOTOS: On the set of ‘The Walking Dead’
There’s a brief internal debate as T-Dog advocates for giving them a chance in the group instead of abandoning them to certain death on the road, but everyone else gives them the thumbs down. “It’s just been us for so long,” says Maggie. “They’re strangers. It just feels weird all of a sudden having other people around.” There’s another word for that: tribalism. They’ve been estranged from the larger social fabric of civilization for a while now, traveling in a small, tightly knit group, hunting and gathering, and regarding anyone who isn’t part of their it as a deadly threat. Bottom line? Oscar and Axel aren’t part of the tribe, and they aren’t worth risking the lives of anyone who is.
Back in Woodbury, Michonne decides to conduct her own little investigation into the soldiers who were supposedly killed by zombies, poring over the stolen Humvees like the world’s angriest Encyclopedia Brown. The Governor pops up behind her with his now-creepy smiles and folksy charm, and an answer for everything, including her excellent question about why the Humvees are riddled with bullet holes. “You think biters figured out how to use weapons?” Michonne snarks.
As should now be obvious, the Governor is a complete and total sociopath and, like many sociopaths, is possessed of a preternatural charm and uncanny skill for manipulation. One of the benefits of having no empathy is that it turns your interactions with other people into pure gamesmanship; relationships aren’t about relating, they’re about finding the right emotional button to push to get what you want. You can see it in this scene more than ever as he flatters and cajoles, switching from tactic to tactic, searching for weaknesses. But it’s Michonne, so all he gets back from her is a long, piercing glare that says, “I know what you are,” so obviously that is is not even really subtext.
Michonne wants to get gone as fast as possible, suggesting that she and Andrea head for the coast and sail out to an island, because she has apparently never seen the 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” remake. Unfortunately, Andrea is busy eating up what the Governor is serving with a spoon. Now that she’s had a taste of a life where survival is not the one and only concern, that warm, cozy social fabric of civilization is looking awfully appealing. And so is the Governor himself, especially after he plies her with alcohol and pushes the “you are special” button extra hard by telling her his super-secret real name, Philip. There’s legitimate sexual tension, and as he steps forward to open the door for her, a moment when you think they might kiss.
Cut to Andrea telling Michonne that she wants to stay another day or two for some contrived reason instead of telling the truth, which is that she wants to stay forever but doesn’t know how to admit it yet. “It’s just a day or two.” Uh-huh.
Back at the prison, everyone is cheerfully enjoying their first semblance of normalcy when that time bomb finally goes KABOOM, and a wave of walkers appears behind the survivors in the yard while Rick watches helplessly through the fence from another part of the prison. Everyone bolts, and the long and short of it is that T-Dog gets bitten by a walker, while Lori, Carl and Maggie lock themselves in a room inside the prison. Naturally, this is the moment Lori goes into labor, and without Hershel or Carol to help with the C-section, the task falls to Maggie. She refuses, saying she has no anesthetic or equipment. And then Lori says four words that will haunt them forever: “Carl has a knife.” Maggie says Lori won’t survive the procedure, and Lori knows. “But the baby will.”
Someone has also set off the blaring prison alarms, which are attracting every zombie in auditory range of the the prison towards the fences. Rick rushes down to the generator room to shut off the juice, when “mystery” saboteur Andrew – the prisoner he locked outside two episodes ago – jumps out of nowhere and tries to kill him with an axe. As they tussle, Rick drops his gun, and Oscar picks it up and points it in their direction. But is he pointing at fellow convict Andrew or Rick? After a tense moment, he wisely blows Andrew away and gives the gun back to Rick, likely earning himself a spot in the survivor crew.
Meanwhile, Lori prepares to die. Whether you like her or not as a character, it’s still devastating to watch her try and say goodbye to Carl, and to being alive, in the span of about a minute. She tells him to always do the right thing, kisses him goodbye, and then Maggie tears her stomach open with a knife. She never opens her eyes again. After Maggie gets the baby she’s ready to bolt, but Carl – poor, responsible Carl – says that someone has to make sure the body doesn’t turn. And he’s going to be the one to do it. “She’s my mom.” Maggie looks at him with the same face we’re all making, the one that says how sad and unfair and brave and terrible it is, and a few seconds later we hear it: the sound of Carl shooting his mother in the head.
Say what you will about Lori – and I have said many, many times that she was annoying – but it’s a tragic end to a character who spent a long time suffering for something that wasn’t really her fault. After the world ended and she believed her husband was dead, she found comfort in his best friend. She’s been punished for that well-intentioned sin for the entire series, and today it finally killed her. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from “The Walking Dead,” it’s that there are things worse than death. Living in the broken hellscape of this show might be one of them, and being turned into one of its monsters is almost certainly another. You could say that she got killed twice by her children today, or you could say she got saved twice. Either way, rest in peace, Lori Grimes. You’ve earned it.
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