The Prison/Woodbury War Begins with a Major Dick-Measuring Contest in The Walking Dead

First things first: Michonne is seriously lucky she got on Carl’s good side last episode. Two: There was almost no way this episode was going to measure up with last week's little masterpiece, but even for the momentous event it showcased — Rick and the Governor finally meet face-to-face — “Arrow on the Doorpost” had the same problems TWD almost always has.

We start with one of those excellent, wordless prologues (I wonder if one of the showrunners made a rule that only one person could have one line before the opening credits from now on, and if that’s true, bravo) as Rick and Daryl creep into an unknown building, clearly looking to be ambushed. But when they get inside, they’re surprised to find the governor already there, smiling away, and ready to “talk.”

Yes, it’s parley time! This sounds exciting, because the fate of two communities hang in the balance, but moreover, it’s the first time our main protagonist gets to meet the season’s main antagonist, and seeing as the last time the Governor said hi he ran a bread truck full of zombies in Rick’s front yard, things should be tense.

And all of this true, up to a point, but TWD knows this momentous occasion needs to be appropriately momentous, and thus gives the whole episode. over to it But I can sum up everything that happens in their meeting in less than 100 words:

• Rick and the Governor posture a lot.

• Andrea arrives, points out this whole things is dumb and will result in the deaths of countless innocents on both sides.

• Rick and the Governor tell her to shut up, men are talking.

• Rick wants to use the river as a border.

• The Governor says no, he wants complete surrender.

• There’s some more dick-measuring.

• The Governor tells a weirdly generic story about his wife dying.

• The Governor says he’ll leave everybody along if Rick gives him Michonne, and gives him two days.

This meeting takes place approximately over 30 minutes of TWD’s 45 minutes run time, so that’s just about three words per minute. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode isn’t even that lucky:

• Daryl has his own dick-measuring contest with one of the Governor’s goons, then shares a smoke with him.

• Herschel and Milton have a nice conversation.

• Glenn and Maggie have make-up sex.

• The Governor tells Milton he lied and they'll ambush them.

That’s 45 words, or exactly three words per TWD’s remaining 15 minutes. And I doubt any of it made your jaw drop. Of course the Governor lied. He’s an asshole. Which brings up one of the problems Meredith mentioned in her excellent and totally accurate article about fixing the show: The Governor isn’t evil. He’s just an asshole. Sure, he’s bent on revenge against the lady who killed his daughter and took his eye, but in the world of The Walking Dead that’s pretty small (evil) potatoes.

If we as the audience were scared of the Governor, these scenes would’ve likely been amazing. Hell, even if Rick has been scared of the Governor, that would be something. But he isn’t — oh, he’s scared of the Governor’s superiors numbers and firepower, he’s scared of losing his people, but he’s not afraid of the Governor like comic book Rick was afraid of the comic book Governor (and decidedly so). The worst thing we’ve seen the TV Governor do is sexually assault Maggie — and while that scene was awful and I’m incredibly glad the character and the show didn’t go all the way, it was an act of pretending to be a monster, not actually being one.

The Prison/Woodbury War Begins with a Major Dick-Measuring Contest in The Walking Dead

In fact, I’d say the main reason Rick chooses not to give Michonne to the Governor — besides a flirtation with the basic human decency he’s been missing all season — is that he knows about how the Governor treated Maggie. He knows a man like that can’t be trusted. He knows the Governor will likely attack sooner than the two-day window he gave Rick to decide, and he knows most of all giving the Governor Michonne would stop nothing, although the thought of missing any opportunity to possibly ensure the safety of Carl and Judith haunts him, even one he knows is non-existent.

A second problem, and one that I never even thought of before reading Meredith’s article, is that we aren’t invested in the prison. The prison sucks. If Rick’s group were fighting for their home, this battle would mean something. In the comics, the prison actually became a home , something Rick’s group (and readers) were genuinely afraid to lose. But in the show, the prison is still pretty much a zombie-infested shit-pile, and Rick’s group are mainly using it as a place to hold their ground… even if they’re doing it under false pretenses.

Oh, that’s right, I did forgot one more thing that happened in this episode:

• Rick lied to the group saying the Governor wanted nothing but their deaths, and then confides in Herschel.

So that’s another 19 words, 161 total, or 3.57 per minute. But this is the episode’s best scene, as Rick makes a hard choice to lie to the group, and be a true leader to them for the first time since Lori died. But he, personally, is so worried for his children he has to tell Herschel the truth, looking for someone, especially his fellow parent, vindicate his decision. And then Rick and Herschel both know it’s the right thing to do, and both are completely miserable.

Let me be clear; this episode was a lot better than anything in season 2, and probably par for the course for the series overall. It’s not bad. But the thing that drives me crazy about The Walking Dead, and I suspect it drives a lot of you guys crazy too, is that we know if could be great. Last week proved it. The pilot proved it. The series has had several moments of greatness.

“Arrow in the Doorpost” wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. And if The Walking Dead didn’t obviously have this potential… well, then I guess this recap would have only been 161 words long.

Assorted Musings:

• It’s kind of amazing how Andrea can be completely accurate and morally correct and have the only good solution to the crisis and still be completely annoying.

• Although if Andrea has shot both the Governor and Rick in the head after they told her “QUIET, MEN ARE TALKING” she’d be my new favorite character.

• And if Beth had just shot fucking Merle while he was busy being a dickhead she would be my new favorite character.

• Daryl and the Governor’s goon frontin’ each other was obvious and dull, but I’m glad the characters and the show got over it long enough for them to bond over being soldiers in a war being waged by other people.

• One thing The Walking Dead do does quite well: shoot all the sex scenes with this incredible aura of dread, like a zombie’s going to make it a threesome at any second.

• Any chance Milton comes over Rick’s side? He probably won’t be fighting, and I’m pretty sure Herschel would vouch for him. I think he’d add a nice, completely square dynamic for the group.

• So I was wondering how Tyrese was going to come over to Team Rick, and the “on the next episode” preview showed it — Andrea tells them the Governor is a dick. I can’t wait for Tyreese to ask, “Is he a bigger dick than the psycho who screamed at us to get out of his prison? Because right now I’m not seeing it.”

• Zombie Kill of the Week: The Guv’s goon smashing a zombie’s head against the wall with a baseball bat, caving it in. Just the right amount of gore and splatter while retaining just enough shape to maximize the horror. My compliments to the chef!