We open on a helicopter flying over a field of green, piloted by men who look very much like they are in the military. Just as the optimistic possibilities begin to blossom in the mind – could civilization still exist? – the helicopter suddenly crashes into the ground. “The Walking Dead” in a nutshell, everybody. The show where hope goes to die.
Andrea and Michonne see a distant plume of smoke from the crash and decide to investigate, but they’re not the only ones; several vehicles of well-armed men roll up shortly afterward, and Andrea and Michonne hide in the woods to suss out what they’re about. The men rescue the one survivor of the crash, but when Andrea suggests they introduce themselves, the ever-cautious Michonne nixes the idea, and even cutting the heads off her pet zombies to keep them from attracting attention.
Before the women can slink back into the woods, however, someone creeps up behind them with a gun and demands they drop their weapons. And that someone is Merle, the crazy racist brother of Daryl who cut off his own hand with a hacksaw in Season 1! Instead of rocking a stump, he’s gone straight up “Evil Dead” and replaced his hand with a knife, perhaps realizing how much more cooler that will make his Season 3 action figure.
The very ill Andrea takes this opportunity to faint, and drifts back to consciousness in a car just in time to see some creepy stuff on the side of the road like a corpse strung up in trees, which I believe is the international symbol for “RUUUUUUUUUUN!” At their mystery destination, Andrea receives medical attention and recaps the last season and a half for Merle while Michonne glares silently at everything that moves.
When Andrea finally questions the whole “getting kidnapped at gunpoint” thing, Merle says she should just be happy for the medical attention and security she’s now enjoying, and seems to be winding up for a full-on Dad rant about gratitude when Andrea mercifully shuts him up with a “thank you.” A friendly looking man who seems to be the leader soon enters, and reassures them that they aren’t prisoners. “You see any bars on the windows? You’re being cared for.” That’s a lot what captivity can look like: being cared for. Sometimes the best way to keep someone locked up is to convince them to lock themselves up, to make them think the door is open but that they don’t want to walk through it.
“Welcome to Woodbury,” the leader says, and invites them outside into a little town that looks positively civilized, in a 19th century sort of way. They soon learn that the leader is called the Governor – just the Governor – and get a guided tour around the town, which has a population of 73 and is apparently totally secure. There haven’t been any casualties since winter, and they’re even growing vegetables. So quaint! So seemingly normal!
Elsewhere, a scientist-type named Doctor Stevens examines Michonne’s now-decapitated pet zombies, and finally has some explanations for their creepiness: If you take away the arms and jaws of the zombies – their ability to eat – they shift out of “attack mode” and become docile, making them useful camouflage for the savvy survivor. We also find out that zombies are capable of starving; they just do it much, much slower than people.
The Governor wants Merle to question the women further, but Doctor Stevens suggests Merle is perhaps not the right instrument for extracting information, and suggests a different tool. Like brunch! After buttering them up with scrambled eggs and toast, Stevens asks whether they think the zombies retain any trace of their human memories – an echo of sorts – and Michonne says she doesn’t think about it, but it’s probably more accurate that she doesn’t think about it anymore. Stevens asks Michonne who the two pet zombies used to be, and her silence is deafening.
Andrea wants to know how Woodbury has managed to hold against the zombies, and asks what their secret is. The Governor says “really big walls,” and while I’m sure that doesn’t hurt, based on all this ominous foreshadowing I’m also pretty sure that isn’t the real “secret” of Woodbury. The Governor gives an inspirationa’ speech about seeds and harvests and civilization rising again, and Andrea looks a little bit hopeful. What did we say about hope, Andrea? The cake is a lie.
Michonne still wants her weapons back, and the Governor says they can have them on their way out, but after all those creature comforts and inspirational speeches, Andrea doesn’t want to rush away. Can’t they take a few days to get themselves together, she asks. “My ... never stopped being together,” says Michonne. True words.
The Governor talks to the injured soldier from the crash, Lt. Wells, and learns that a military base had survived for a while against the zombies – at least until an outbreak sent him and his men fleeing into the country. The Governor asks Wells to tell him where the remaining soldiers are so that he can bring them back to Woodbury, and drives out to meet their convoy waving a white flag. The Army guys are all smiles and relief – at least until the Woodbury men come out of the woods and blow them all away with automatic weapons. I’d been waiting for that heel turn all episode, and there it is. “Let’s see what Uncle Sam brought us,” the Governor snarks.
When they roll back into town flush with Humvees and automatic weapons, telling a sad, sad story about how the soldiers were already dead because they didn’t have the wonderful walls of Woodbury to protect them, everyone is very moved – except Michonne, who wisely continues to give the Governor her murder eyes. Andrea, unfortunately, has drunk all of the Kool-Aid now, and smilingly asks him his real name, but he replies that he never ever tells anyone that. “Never.”
Ready for a bonus twist, just in time for Halloween? Here we go. After a long day of murdering and lying, the Governor heads home to pour himself a drink, kick back and relax in his easy chair, and stare at all the decapitated zombie heads he has floating in glass tanks like the world’s most screwed up version of “Futurama.” Uh oh. This isn’t just your run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic sociopathy, here. The Governor... is a man with Problems. And the newest addition to his zombie aquarium? Lt. Wells.