No one ever said life in the apocalypse, zombie or otherwise, would be easy.
But just how hard it is was on full display this week in “I Ain’t No Judas”.
A quieter, more character-interaction oriented episode, it mainly concerned itself with Andrea’s (Laurie Holden) quest to bring some peace, love and understanding (with no sign of Elvis Costello anywhere) to the fractured landscape between the prison where Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) group was in total lockdown (understandably fearful after last week’s sneak attack of going outdoors), and the blighted Stepford Wives-esque idyll of Woodbury which increasingly resembles, in Andrea’s words, “an armed camp” with even adolescents roped into its defence.
It was, in certain respects, a fool’s errand.
Not so much because Andrea was foolish – I would argue that counter to the majority opinion out there that Andrea in fact really stepped up this episode and show bravery and initiative where others simply uttered pointless bellicose rhetoric – but simply because both sides are entrenched in their positions, irrevocably distrusting of the other, and disinclined to any kind of rapprochement.
Even so, I am impressed that Andrea, though clearly conflicted by her feelings for the Governor (David Morrissey), stood up to him, demanding to know why she wasn’t informed about the prison attack and demanding to make a trip there herself to try for some kind of peace deal, however remote.
While this confrontation has been dismissed by some as yet more evidence of Andrea’s stupidity and wanton inability to see the truth about the man she is sleeping with, I think it simply reveals Andrea as emblematic of the prevailing damaged psychology of just about every survivor in this new and dangerously unpredictable world.
She is not alone in wanting a secure, untroubled life after so much death, emotional turmoil and fear for her life and those she loves, and it makes perfect sense that she would choose to only see what she wants to see.
She isn’t stupid as much as she is an opportunistic survivor, and let’s face it, in that kind of nightmarish situation, it would be an extremely strong soul indeed – like Michonne (Danai Gurira) for instance – who didn’t choose convenient lies over the unpalatable truth since, with the end of civilisation, that is pretty much all you have left.
Is it necessarily a sensible course of action?
Probably not since the Governor has demonstrated time and again that he is willing to sacrifice anybody to keep his citadel safe and secure from all opposition, human or walker, and Andrea could just as easily be thrown under a passing herd of walkers as embraced and taken to the madman’s boudoir.
While it is the latter that happens in this episode at least, Andrea is now aware of the Faustian pact she has entered into with the Governor, and distinctly uneasy about what it may cost her.
Try as she might to hang onto her delusions about him and Woodbury, which saw her choose, in Michonne’s words “a warm mattress over a good friend” – their conversation at the prison did little more than air Michonne’s bitter grievances against her onetime friend and fellow traveller and moved Andrea to tears; not the mark of a hard, cold schemer I would argue but rather someone who is painfully aware of what survival has cost her – she is increasingly aware that all she has is a flimsy veneer of safety that could vanish at any point.
Given the powerful need anyone would have in that situation to stay safe at all costs, and believe what lies were served up to you, it is commendable that she is now admitting the truth to herself.
And that she chooses, even at the risk of retribution from her lover, to venture to the prison, with her very own limbless, jawless zombie – Milton (Dallas Roberts) and she “create” this monstrosity in the only truly gruesome scene in this episode moments before encountering Tyreese and his group, recently cast out from the prison, who are about to make their own unfortunate deal with Woodbury’s unhinged devil – and do what she can to foster values like peace and goodwill in a world where these are in very short supply and seen as luxuries that few can afford in the new dog-eat-dog society they call home.
She could be forgiven for wondering why she bothered given the treatment she receives at the hands of Rick and most of the beleaguered group.
No sooner is she through the door, her walker “pet” bellowing outside the gate with a frighteningly large group of fellow undead, that she is forced to the ground by Rick, patted down, and treated with hostility and contempt by a group of people she once called her family.
Carol (Melissa McBride) is almost alone in her warm embrace of Andrea and recounts who died and how in a painful but necessary conversation, which follows fruitless conversations with Rick, Hershel (Scott Wilson), Glenn (Steven Yeun) and the others where she learns that the Governor has lied to her to a far greater extent that she realised.
Noting that Rick especially is far colder and harder than he was when she was separated from the group, she seems genuinely perplexed by their palpable unwillingness to even consider any kind of truce, and realises very quickly that not only is she no longer truly welcome by her one-time friends (again with the exception of Carol who I am liking more and more all the time) but that she stands no chance of carrying out her doomed-from-the start mission.
But for all the futility of her trip to the prison, and the way it inspires her to almost do away with the Governor – she hovers nest to him, knife in hand, after their lovemaking but can’t kill him as she was urged to do back at the prison – Andrea demonstrates more decisiveness and bravery that she is being given credit for, especially when it could all cost her so much.
While “I Ain’t Judas” was very Andrea-heavy, it did allow for some quiet, and dare I say, amusing moments between members of Rick’s group.
Merle (Michael Rooker) went to almost comically-desperate lengths to win over various members of Rick’s group – he wisely avoid Glenn and Maggie (Lauren Cohen) who for obvious reasons want nothing to do with their torturer – trying to bond chiefly with Michonne who simply regards with her usual contempt for, well, everyone and everything, and Hershel, who surprises even himself by drawing out of Merle that he has an appreciation for the Bible.
It’s unlikely he will get Survivor of the Month in Rick’s group any time yet but he is here to stay – he knows it and everyone else reluctantly knows it – and he realises, canny man that he is, that he must go on a charm offensive to firm up his perilous position.
However his position at the end is shored up considerably when a much improved Rick – who shared a tender moment with Carl earlier in the episode when he was told by his son in the most loving way he could manage that Rick needed a rest from leading the group and should let Daryl and Hershel handle things – tells Daryl (Norman Reedus) that Merle can stay but that his continuing presence in the group is entirely up to his brother while Michonne will remain the responsibility of Rick.
And that, apart from a sweet moment when Carol tells Daryl she is happy to have him back – c’mon guys kiss or something will ya?! – is it for an episode that may be short on guns-and-ammo violence but packed a powerful character-driven punch all the same.
* And here’s a look behind-the-scenes at the making of “I Ain’t No Judas”
* What’s up next? Why this! Watch and enjoy the promo and this chilling sneak peek (all it takes is glances to communicate between Rick, Carl and Michonne that they know they should stop but can’t for fear of who the survivor may be; deeply unsettling insight into the new morality of the apocalypse) for “Clear” which airs Sunday 3 March (US) and Tuesday 5 March (Australia).