In Slate’s Walking Dead TV Club, Chris Kirk will IM each week with a different fan of The Walking Dead. This week, he discusses “Hounded” with Katy Waldman, Slate assistant editor and editor of the Slate Dexter TV Club.
Chris: Katy, you’ve never seen an episode of The Walking Dead. What’s the experience like as a first-time viewer?
Katy: I think I would have benefited from knowing more backstory. But on the other hand, there’s a visceral quality to the violence that requires very little explaining.
Chris: This episode opens with Merle and his posse hunting for Michonne, who has skipped Woodbury, which doesn’t make the Governor happy, I guess. After Merle ignores Michonne’s “bitergram” warning him to go back, Michonne descends from the trees and, wielding her “little pig-sticker,” stabs one thug and decapitates another before she disappears again into the forest. Merle sinks his arm-blade into the head of the first downed man and instructs “Neil” to brain the severed head of the second so they don’t reanimate. A follow-up fight leaves Michonne drenched in guts. The Walking Dead has to be violent—it’s a show about zombies, after all—without nauseating viewers. Do you think it strikes the right balance?
Katy: Short answer: No. Sure, my take might be compromised by the fact that I know nothing about the characters and am not invested in their stories. As the massacre you just described was unfolding, all I saw were puppets lopping off one another’s body parts.
Chris: Regular viewers hardly knew the people who died in this episode, so they might as well have been puppets. Then again, if I cared to know the backstory of every guy who gets disemboweled or decapitated or dismembered, The Walking Dead would be aptly retitled The Boring Living.
Katy: But the living are what gave this episode real energy. I was surprised to find the humans in this show seem so much scarier than the zombies. The zombies appear placid, aimless, and unthreatening. But the survivors have so much passion and intensity. They are the ones who seem likely to inflict real damage on one another.
Chris: Merle seems particularly dangerous. I thought he had softened up this season, but by the time he stumbled upon Glenn and Maggie, I wished Glenn had the brass to shoot him instead. Instead, Merle kidnaps them and takes them to Woodbury.
Katy: It was hard to care what happened to them. Their dialogue was pretty boilerplate. But later, I felt for Rick on the phone.
Chris: In the prison, Rick answers the phone that started ringing at the end of last week’s episode. It’s not a robocall from Mitt Romney, after all, but a call from “survivors” who turn out to be figments of Rick’s imagination—phantoms of the people who have died, including Lori, here to haunt him over his failure to protect them. I thought it was a lazy way for the writers to bludgeon viewers over the head with Rick’s guilt.
Katy: That whole plot twist was just a dead end, literally. Lots of suspense with very little payoff. If I were a religious watcher of The Walking Dead, I’d be pissed!
Chris: Part of me wishes that it hadn’t been Rick’s imagination. That’s the kind of shockingly inexplicable moments that you would have seen on Lost. But it wouldn’t fit The Walking Dead, which ties up its loose ends pretty quickly. Carol goes missing only for an episode before Daryl finds her in the prison.
Katy: The dynamic between the Governor and Andrea interested me. I would have liked more moments like those, overall.
Chris: Back in Woodbury, Andrea is bored and wants a job on the wall. When the first zombie appears, she jumps down, knifes it, and exclaims, “that is how it’s done!” She admits that she enjoyed the sport she saw in the last episode in which villagers brawl in a ring bordered by chained zombies. After some flirtatious banter, Andrea and the Governor have sex. Katy, you basically know just as much about the Governor as Andrea does. What’s your take on him?
Katy: I found the Governor perfectly nice. His enjoyment of violence rang some alarm bells, but he later explained that away in his scene with Andrea as a necessary part of being a survivor. I assumed he’d been scarred and brutalized by his experiences, and didn’t really hold it against him.
Chris: This episode seems very meta. Andrea condemns the Woodbury fights. “It’s brutality for fun,” she says, and even though she adds that “the world’s brutal enough already,” she ultimately admits that she liked the fight, even though she didn’t like that she liked it. Is this a metaphor for The Walking Dead itself? I just don’t think it’s a coincidence that AMC’s most brutal show is also its most popular.
Katy: That’s really interesting. Maybe some people do get drawn in by the gore, even in spite of themselves. I have to confess that watching this show convinced me that I’m not one of these people, for better or worse.
Chris: To close up here: Every serial drama faces two challenges. First, it must retain the viewers it has. Second, it must bring new viewers into the fold.
Katy: Forget it. Not happening.
Chris: Stick with Dexter’s table, then. The Walking Dead isn’t for everyone.
Tomorrow: What Slate commenters and critics around the Web thought of this episode.