Aha! I knew we hadn’t seen the last of Mrs Grimes. It’s just not like The Walking Dead to have a main character exit the narrative off screen. Now her body has disappeared, presumably taken by the same person giving Rick a call at the end of this episode. It occurs to me Mr CliffHanger might have been the true mastermind behind last week’s attack. After all, leading the walkers with deer meat takes both skill and experience in the zombie apocalypse, neither of which strikes me as Andrew’s forte. Of course, how our mysterious kidnapper knew that Rick would venture into the cellblock on his own and when escapes me, seeing as our heroes would’ve surely noticed any operational camera, but then that’s just the sort of thing for which one has to look the other way in a chapter like “Say the Word”.
For pacing and budgetary reasons, a television series only has two ways to go after a major crisis like in “Killer Within”: halt all the action to show the protagonists taking stock or use the momentum to advance a few unrelated subplots and set the pieces for the next big reveal. In previous years, The Walking Dead has favoured the former approach with mixed results. In light of all the complaints about the show’s sluggish rhythm, I can understand the writers wanting to change tact, though I feel, in this case, they’ve merely traded the problems of the second season for those of the first.
Composed of disparate threads in which decisions are made in accordance to the demands of the plot rather than that of our heroes, “Say the Word” provides no cohesive whole and, as a result, no sense of purpose. Take, for example, the episode’s prerequisite action story in which Daryl and Maggie retrieve baby formula form an abandoned (aren’t they all?) nursery home. I like the idea of the youngest Dixon brother taking charge when Rick is off behaving wildly out of character, but the resulting set piece lacks any sort of tension, owing to both the writers and the protagonists just going through the motions.
As an aside, I would’ve appreciated someone other than a white male taking the lead for once. Over the years, The Walking Dead has garnered a bit of notoriety for portraying women and minorities in a less than favourable light, by which I mean that the show runners seem to view women as emotional weaklings in permanent state of adolescence and minorities as pesky afterthoughts to be cast aside. Certainly, the hackneyed attempts to inject T-Dog with retroactive personality do little to assuage this impression: “You know, when the evacuation started, Tito drove his church van to the home of every senior he knew, just in case they needed a ride.” That’s too little, too late, I’m afraid.
Mind you, I do take exception to the blanket accusation that the creative minds behind The Walking Dead can’t write minorities. After all, Asians make up less than five percent of the American population, yet Glenn remains a compelling character with complex emotions: “It’s wrong, but I’d trade any number of people for one of ours any day.” The boy’s anger is understandable, but his wisdom lies in the first clause, which emphasises a moral core that seems to be fading in most of the survivors. At least, that’s what I got from his failed attempt to bring Rick back to his family.
As for the women, on the one hand, Maggie strikes me as well rounded if a bit eclipsed, and the writers have gone through tremendous lengths to rehabilitate Lori. On the other, we’ve got the two ladies staying at the Governor’s. The idea, I think, is to show that Andrea has grown desperate for structure, latching on to any dominant figure, be it an unstable brute like Shane, an unstable brute like Michonne, or an unstable megalomaniac like Philip. This strikes me as a radical departure from her early depiction under Frank Darabont but a plausible one following her sister’s death in “Vatos”.
The problem lies in director Greg Nicotero staging the Woodbury scenes in such a way as to make Andrea and her BFF look like total morons. Consider their interminable conversation while guardsmen wait with the gates wide open. If I were Merle, I’d have slapped them both upside the head. By the same token, we’re meant to admire Michonne for pissing off the Governor and earning herself an exit pass, but, seeing as he might lose his poop at any time and decide to kill her, her actions strike me as fundamentally stupid and infantile. Given the show runners’ vested interest in shaking off The Walking Dead’s dubious track record with black and female protagonists, I dare suppose that wasn’t the intent for the show’s first black female protagonist.