The third season of AMCs The Walking Dead picked up right where season two left off, with the discovery of our heroes’ new prison homestead, as well as the introduction of the samurai sword swinging Michonne (the gorgeous Danai Gurira). With fan anticipation at a fever pitch, this third season promised to show us the series at its most brutal, heart-breaking, and shocking, and, as a fan of both the show and the comics that inspired it, I settled in for what I knew was going to be one hell of a ride.
CAUTION: THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
The season opens with “Seed”, an episode that sees the survivors of the zombie onslaught at Hershel’s (Scott Wilson) farm seeking a new home under the leadership of a newly-authoritarian Rick (Andrew Lincoln). Fresh from killing his onetime best friend, Shane, Rick’s in no place to compromise, and insists the group either heed his word or go it alone. Whether out of fear, loyalty, or a mixture of both, the survivors follow Rick, and, after he and Daryl (Norman Reedus) discover a zombie-infested prison, Rick feels that they’ve finally found a safe home for his people, as well as a safe place to bring Lori’s (Sarah Wayne Callies) unborn child into the world.
Meanwhile, Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Michonne (and her neutered zombie pets) are holed up in a deer locker where the former is rapidly succumbing to illness. Michonne decides they must move on, and, despite Andrea’s insistence that she leave her behind, Michonne leads her and her zombie pets to seek out better accommodations and medical supplies.
Back at the prison, Rick, Daryl, T-Dog (IronE Singleton), and Hershel clear out the yards and cellblocks, venturing deeper into the prison where Hershel is bitten by a walker. Forced to act, Rick amputates Hershel’s leg at the wound, just as a small group of prisoners make their presence known.
In the season’s second episode, Sick, we see Hershel at death’s door, his body seemingly losing a battle against both blood loss and infection. Rick copes the only way he knows how; by organizing both the prisoners and his traveling companions and completing the job of clearing out the prison. Ultimately, a few of the prisoners don’t take kindly to Rick, resulting in a couple of grisly demises (and one fleeing the prison entirely).
While Lori, Maggie (Lauren Cohan), and Beth (Emily Kinney) look after Hershel, Carol (Melissa McBride), takes it upon herself to learn how to perform a caesarean section in anticipation of his loss, killing a female walker, and experimenting on its corpse. Meanwhile, someone watches from afar…
“Walk with Me” brings us back to Andrea and Michonne, who, after witnessing the crash of an ARMY chopper, investigate the wreckage, only to be set upon by none other than Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) and a small squad of armed men. They, along with the injured chopper pilot, are taken to Woodbury – an oasis oozing with small-town charm – and introduced to the community’s leader, the seemingly affable Governor (David Morrissey). While Michonne is instantly distrustful of the place and its people, Andrea is comforted by it all, and urges Michonne to give the place a chance.
Michonne is right about The Governor, however, as, after questioning the pilot as to the whereabouts of his fellow soldiers, The Governor and his men massacre the small band of troops and take their weapons and vehicles. We later see him secret off into a private room in his apartment, where he keeps a collection of still-animated zombie heads in a wall of eerily illuminated fishtanks; the chopper pilot’s head amongst them.
“Killer Within” takes us back to the prison, where someone is doing their best to sabotage the survivor’s new home. Rick blames the remaining prisoners, Axel (Lew Temple) and Oscar (Vincent M. Ward), and is about to send them packing when the prison’s alarm system is triggered, attracting more walkers to their position. The gates have been cut walkers have repopulated the yards, leading to T-Dawg suffering a nasty bite. While the rest withdraw into the prison, Carol and T-Dawg get separated from the group, and T-Dawg sacrifices himself to save her. While Rick and the men fight their way through a re-infested prison to shut down the generators powering the alarm, Lori, who has fled back into the prison with Maggie and Carl (Chandler Riggs) goes into labor. There are complications, however, and Lori suffers massive blood loss. Knowing she’s about to die, Carl can’t leave her to turn. A tearful Maggie leaves with Lori’s newborn baby as a gunshot rings out from where she left Carl with Lori.
Back in Woodbury, Michonne is making plans to move on, but Andrea isn’t ready to do so. Charmed by The Governor and the normalcy of life in the idyllic little town, Andrea wants to stay, and even gives Merle the location of Hershel’s farm so that he can attempt to reconnect with his brother. Of course, Merle needs The Governor’s permission to do so, and is given it in hopes that Merle’s search will help him find Andrea’s former traveling companions.
After the walker threat is quelled, Rick emerges from the prison bloodied and bruised, where he learns of his wife’s fate, as well as Carl’s actions.
In “Say the Word”, Andrea is living it up in Woodbury at a barbecue, chatting it up with The Governor’s right-hand-man/genius, Milton (Dallas Roberts), trying to pry him for information about “Philip” (The Governor’s real name, which he shared with Andrea), and about the big event planned for the evening. While Milton and Andrea chat, we see The Governor tending to a little girl’s hair, but we soon see the little girl is, in fact, the reanimated corpse of his daughter, Penny, who he claimed to have lost along with his wife in a car accident during the early days of the outbreak.
As The Governor’s madness is further revealed, back at the prison, Rick is descending into a madness of his very own. Reeling from the loss of Lori, he’s sequestered himself from the rest of the group, spending his days taking out his rage on the remaining walkers inhabiting the bowels of the prison.
Leadership has fallen to a recovering Hershel, who assigns Maggie and Glenn (Steven Yeun) the task of finding baby formula and supplies for the group’s newest member, “Little Ass Kicker” as Daryl has dubbed her.
While Maggie and Glenn hit up the local shops, Michonne is busy trying to dig up dirt on The Governor to prove to Andrea that the man can’t be trusted. She breaks into his apartment where she finds a book full of names, one of which is underlined: Penny. It’s then that she hears a rumbling in an adjacent room, but, before she can investigate, someone enters the apartment, and she slips away. She later happens upon a cage full of walkers near Milton’s lab, and then releases and kills them all before she’s caught by a Woodbury resident apparently assigned to feed them. She’s later confronted by The Governor, who is still trying to convince her to be a part of his team, but Michonne simply wants out of Woodbury.
Michonne manages to convince Andrea to come with her, but, when they’re just about pass through the town’s heavily guarded gates, Andrea changes her mind and Michonne is forced to go it alone.
It’s later that night when Andrea first begins to suspect that Michonne was right about The Governor when he escorts her to the town’s big event – a gladiator-style fight between Merle and one of The Governor’s other henchmen, replete with chained up zombies in lieu of tigers. Andrea is shocked and disgusted, much to The Governor’s chagrin, but the charming Philip assures her that it’s nothing more than a big show to help the people of Woodbury forget about the horrors of the outside world.
Meanwhile, back at the prison, a rapidly deteriorating Rick encounters an engorged zombie in the same room in which Lori’s body once lay. Rick hacks at the walker mercilessly until he’s too exhausted to strike again. It’s then that the phone rings…
“Hounded” is the episode in which the worlds of Woodbury and the prison begin to collide. Merle leads a group of men on a hunt for Michonne, but she manages to kill all but one of Merle’s hunting party before getting seriously wounded, herself, and escapes. Rather than follow after her, however, Merle figures she’s as good as dead, and decides it’s a safer bet to kill the only living witness and return to Woodbury and tell The Governor his mission was a success. En route, he happens upon Glenn and Maggie, who are out foraging for baby supplies. Merle tries to beat Daryl’s location out of Glenn, but the young man won’t talk, so he takes him and Maggie back to Woodbury while an injured Michonne watches from behind a nearby vehicle. We also see Andrea and The Governor’s relationship blossom into romance, while the mysterious caller from the previous episode’s end is revealed to be one of the ghosts of Rick’s past (survivors lost along the way), and, ultimately, he finds himself talking to Lori. The episode ends at the prison, with the arrival of an exhausted, wounded Michonne.
“When the Dead Come Knocking” sees Rick form an uneasy alliance with Michonne after she tells him about the abduction of Glenn and Maggie. Rick, Daryl, Oscar, and Michonne load up on weapons and head to Woodbury to rescue their friends while The Governor and Merle brutally interrogate the young lovers in hopes of finding out the rest of their party’s location. Despite a beatdown and near-rape, neither gives up the ghost, but, when Maggie is given the choice between spilling the beans and Glenn’s life, she tells them about the prison. Andrea, meanwhile, is blissfully unaware that two of her friends are being held in The Governor’s stockade, and sits in on one of Milton’s experiments with a dying elderly man. We learn that Milton, at The Governor’s behest, has been working on a theory that the walker’s still possess a memory of their past lives.
In “Made to Suffer”, while Rick and the others are headed to Woodbury to rescue Glenn and Maggie, a new group of survivors takes refuge in the prison, including fan-favorite comic character, Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) and his sister, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green). The group are almost immediately set upon by walkers, but are rescued by a newly-grizzled Carl, who doesn’t exactly welcome them with open arms, and locks them into a safe-but-separate part of the prison. Meanwhile, back in Woodbury, Rick, Daryl, and Oscar rescue Glenn and Maggie, while Michonne slinks off to take care of some unfinished business in The Governor’s apartment. A firefight breaks out, and, while the rest try to make their escape, Oscar is killed, and Daryl is captured. Michonne, meanwhile, finds The Governor’s secret room as well as his daughter. The Governor arrives in time to beg for his daughter’s life, but Michonne kills her, and, after a brief struggle, gouges out The Governor’s eye with a shard of glass before escaping. The episode ends with the Dixon brothers reunited, as The Governor, betrayed by Merle, pits the two against one another in his gladiator pit. It’s here that Andrea sees Daryl for the first time, and it’s here where she begins to question her allegiance to Woodbury and The Governor.
“The Suicide King” picks up immediately where Made to Suffer left off, with Daryl and Merle standing amidst the chanting masses of Woodbury, but Rick and his people double back and save the Dixon brothers, and, with Merle’s help, find their way out of Woodbury and rendezvous with an understandably pissed off Glenn who is shocked to see Merle with them. The group returns to the prison, where Merle informs the rest about Andrea and her relationship with The Governor. Understandably, the rest of the group isn’t comfortable with Merle’s presence, and decide to force him out, and Daryl opts to leave with him. Meanwhile, back in Woodbury, Andrea tries to calm the locals as The Governor prepares for war.
In “Home”, Rick’s reached his breaking point, and wanders off into the woods after the apparition of his dead wife, leaving the rest of the group to decide what to do next. Hershel wants the group to leave the prison, but Glen, enraged at The Governor for violating Maggie, wants to stay and fight.
Daryl and Merle, meanwhile, encounter a family trapped on a bridge and surrounded by walkers. Daryl jumps to their aid much to Merle’s chagrin, but, eventually, he, too, joins the fray. Once the threat is eliminated, Merle reverts to his old ways, and aims the gun at the helpless family while rifling through their belongings. Disgusted, Daryl aims his crossbow and Merle and tells the family to drive away. The brothers scuffle before Daryl decides to return to the prison, leaving Merle on the side of the road.
Glenn gets his wish when The Governor and his men attack, killing Axel (poor Lew!) and knocking down the prison’s gates with a truck filled with walkers. The Governor’s men retreat, leaving the prison overrun with undead, and Rick trapped in the yard with them. Just as it seems Rick is done for, however – in one of the season’s most fist pumpin’-“fuck yeah” moments - a crossbow bolt pierces a walker’s head, and the Dixon brothers emerge from the woods and save him.
“I Ain’t No Judas” sees a much-more levelheaded Rick returning to his rightful place as leader of the group as they discuss what to do now. Andrea, meanwhile, finds herself caught between worlds, trying to balance her newfound loyalty to The Governor and Woodbury with the people who she depended on before finding this safe haven. With Milton’s help (and, unbeknownst to her, The Governor’s blessing), Andrea sneaks out of Woodbury, where they encounter Tyreese and his crew during a scrum with walkers. Milton reluctantly agrees to take Tyreese back to Woodbury, while Andrea heads to the prison. When she arrives she’s shocked that, instead of a warm welcome, she’s met with suspicion and unease. She insists that The Governor is a good person and that she can broker a peace between the two groups, but Rick isn’t so sure. He sends her back suggesting that he’d be willing to negotiate, but, as soon as she drives away, he announces that he, Carl, and Michonne will be taking a trip to get more weapons in preparation for war.
In, perhaps, my favorite episode of the season, “Clear”, Rick, Carl, and Michonne return to Rick’s old hometown to gather up the remaining weapons from the police station, as well as Carl’s old crib for his new baby sister, Judith. As they drive down the highway, they pass a hitchhiker who chases after them but all remain silent as Rick drives on. When they arrive, however, the weapons are gone (save for a single bullet). Undeterred, Rick suggests they scour the town’s bars and stores for places he knew had weapons, but, upon entering town, they discover it laden with all manner of boobie traps. As they negotiate the Rube Goldberg-like machinations, they suddenly find themselves under fire by a masked man on the roof of a building wearing body armor. Rick manages to lure the armored man down to street level where Carl incapacitates him with a shot to the abdomen. When Rick removes the man’s mask, we see it’s Morgan (Lennie James), the man who befriended Rick in the series’ first episode. They carry the unconscious man back into his heavily fortified home and discover a virtual arsenal of weapons that he’s acquired in the time since Rick last saw him. Rick also discovers that their old home was burned to the ground, so Carl asks if he can get a crib from a nearby store. Rick allows it, but only so long as Michonne accompanies him.
Morgan eventually awakens, but he has no idea who Rick is. Rick tries to jog his memory, but, instead, the man stabs him, and Rick is forced to bind him to the bed while he tends to yet another wound. Meanwhile, Carl tries to ditch Michonne, but she’s far too clever for the boy, and follows him to a local restaurant where he wants to retrieve something special to him - a photo of him and his parents in happier times displayed on the restaurant’s wall. Michonne agrees to help him, and even comes away with a humorous souvenir of her own.
Rick, meanwhile, finally manages to jog Morgan’s memory, and learns the tragic truth about the fate of the man’s son. Rick tells Morgan about their situation, and Morgan allows him to take the guns, but wants no part in returning to the prison with him as he’s seen enough death. Rick, Michonne, and Carl leave Morgan behind, and return home, happening upon the bloodied remains of the hitchhiker from the beginning of the episode scattered along the edge of the road. The car stops, a hand reaches out, picking up the hitchiker’s backpack, and they drive away. It’s a darkly humorous moment that perfectly encapsulates this new world they live in.
Another stand out episode, “Arrow on the Doorpost” offers us our first true face-to-face between The Governor and Rick, and features Morrissey and Lincoln at their absolute best as the two discuss peace between the groups. Outside, their respective envoys - Daryl and Hershel with Rick; Milton, and Merle’s former gladiatorial opponent, Martinez, accompanying The Governor – also get to spend some quality time with one another. While The Governor and Rick’s exchange is akin to political foes debating, Milton and Hershel have an intelligent discussion while Daryl and Martinez find common ground in their love killing walkers. Of course all parties save for Andrea, who arrives late to serve as a mediator, know the meeting’s a farce and that war is inevitable. Still, The Governor does put forth an offer that Rick has to consider; if he gives him Michonne, war can be averted.
With “Prey”, The Governor’s grip on Woodbury (and Andrea) begins to slip as both Andrea and Milton betray him. Andrea, thinking that Rick and The Governor have come to a peace accord, learns from Milton that The Governor has no intention of honoring any deal he’s brokered with her former traveling companions, so she decides to leave Woodbury to warn Rick and the others. This leads to a creepy and tense chase in which the lone Governor hunts Andrea as she tries to make her way to the prison. Meanwhile, Tyreese and Sasha learn the truth about Woodbury when they’re asked to assist in rounding up walkers from one of The Governor’s dead pits in order to set them loose upon the prison.
In the season’s penultimate episode, “This Sorrowful Life”, Rick considers The Governor’s offer of turning over Michonne in exchange for peace, but, ultimately, his conscience gets the better of him. Merle, on the other hand, has no conscience, so he rounds up Michonne, himself, and heads off to make the exchange, while Rick and Daryl are hot on his heels. Along the way, however, Merle, too, has a change of heart, and sets Michonne free on the side of the road, where he then proceeds to The Governor’s ambush (with a little company of his own).
The season finale, “Welcome to the Tombs”, proved to be quite polarizing among the fans, with many finding it anti-climactic after such a wonderful and intense build-up. While most were probably expecting a full-on, episode long war, this episode’s actually much quieter and more disturbing, with the deaths of a few more familiar faces, The Governor’s massacring of his own people, and the uncertainty the last few minutes brings when the survivors of both the prison and Woodbury find themselves under the same roof. While The Governor doesn’t “get his”, leaving the door open for his return has its merits, even if it’s not quite as viscerally satisfying.
Overall, I was immensely entertained and fully invested in this third season of The Walking Dead, despite a few slowdowns, and the drawn out nature of Rick’s mental collapse (which, in the comics, lasted only one issue). Some took issue with the casting of Morrissey as The Governor, especially given that his comic book counterpart looked more like a 70s biker than the country gentlemen we’re initially introduced, too, but I rather enjoyed how the season peeled away the layers of this complex character rather than instantly portraying him as the sleazy psychotic he was in the comics.
I’ve also heard a few complaints about how Danai Gurira’s portrayal of Michonne was too “one note”, but she’s not exactly a bubbling personality in her early days in the comics, either, and, as the season progressed, we started to see hints of the woman Michonne was before she became the introverted assassin we’re first introduced to (most notably in her interactions with Carl in Clear).
Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray release is, as expected, superlative. I don’t really need to get into the nitty gritty of how it looks or sounds as, if you already own the previous seasons, you know what to expect.
In terms of extras, this set sits between the somewhat lacking first release of Season One, and the much more generous offerings of Season Two. Here we get cast and crew commentary tracks on five episodes (“Killer Within”, “Say the Word”, “Made to Suffer”, “The Suicide King”, and “This Sorrowful Life”), as well as a collection of short featurettes that add up to just over an hour’s worth of bonus goodies.
One thing’s for certain; no one can ever claim The Walking Dead plays it safe. In season three, the series killed off four main characters (as well as a few established new faces), maimed one, and ran the rest through the virtual ringer. While “The Woodbury Saga” may have come to an end, the fallout of this season is sure to play a huge role in the upcoming season four and beyond, and, if you haven’t yet sat down to watch this season, well, I just ruined it for you, didn’t I? Still, don’t take my word for it. See it for yourself, as The Walking Dead: The Complete Third Season comes highly recommended!