Welcome to Woodbury
What a shame that the surprise reveal of Merle was given away during the “previously on” – but the Governor’s arrival so overshadowed everything else that I can’t complain! I don’t know about you guys, but to me it was a relief to get into some new stories! Funnily enough, before we even reached the linguistic battles mid-episode, I was already taking notes to write this post on docile bodies – between the last two weeks being set in the prison, the zombie pack-mules, and Woodbury’s rigid forms of lockdown, we have a season shaping up that is ripe for some Foucauldian interpretation.
This came to a head for me in the language used around Michonne’s pack-mules. The scientist wants to call them docile (and sidebar: did he remind anyone else of a cross between Jon Ritter and Gale from Breaking Bad…nice try substituting the perfectly brewed coffee with tea – oh, but what is in that tea?!). He taps into the fact that once a zombie ceases to eat, it stays with that pattern. No arms, no jaw, no food – it becomes manipulable into whatever its master needs it to be. The Governor – himself a master of creating docile bodies, it seems, with the walled up, hot water running, cherrily creepy little town of Woodbury, complete with solar panels and town hall meetings – wants to see them as “lurkers,” a term that he distinguishes from his usual naming, “biters.” How curious that our nomads call the zombies “walkers” – a term that emphasizes their movement over their more defining characteristic of consumption – while those who’ve settled down into a pattern that supposedly will rebuild civilization and keep us from eating each define them by their bite.
Two stray thoughts – just who are Michonne’s walkers? I was caught up by Andrea’s description of their “protection” over the winter, a line that indicated she had somehow grown attached to them emotionally. Michonne’s trembling lip indicated a tie to whoever these guys once were. Connect this with the scientist’s belief that maybe some remnant of the self remains inside the monster, and I’m left once again wondering if zombies can be rehabilitated – especially now that we’re getting into the territory of how cultural practices shape an identity, a la Foucault. Perhaps ongoing relationality (in a funny play on Sean of the Dead!) can draw these creatures back to their humanity. Or am I just back in the barn?! And second, with the return of Merle and the image of the lynched zombie, we have a more stark return to racial tensions and allusions – it was there last week with the prisoners, but I’m wondering how much more it will surface in the weeks to come, especially around the figure of Michonne.
And finally – of course – just what was with those zombie heads in vats?! Oh my creepy!! I’ll leave that for the rest of you to tackle, but will only point out that in an episode with all these Foucauldian references, those fish tank screens in front of an unseen seer sure did take me back to the panopticon. So someone please tell me what’s up with that!
Sitting pretty at the end of the world,
Lovely start, Natalie, and I’m right there with you on the Foucauldian angle this season is taking. I’ll jump in where you left off: the Governor’s creepy private collection (there is rich ground for commentary there – a man who has shed his given identity to assume a title of government/governing that includes power over life and death).
When he entered his secret room and set down in his leather chair (vexed scowl on his face and requisite whiskey in his hand to show how world-weary he is) I was convinced that we’d see a bank of monitors, proof that he was in fact surveilling all of Woodbury from his own personal panopticon. I was genuinely surprised to see the tanks of zombie heads. And of course, the big reveal that in the top tank is the head of the soldier he rescued from the helicopter, severed before zombie features took hold. Which, I think, picks up on a the blurring of the line between zombie/human. If the whole world is infected, how far a leap is to see all humans as simply zombies-in-waiting? Perhaps this is the flip side of the doctor’s belief that the human might somehow lie buried in the zombie. Either way, biopower (control over bodies, health, safety, and even death itself) is going to be key: keeping the potential zombies under control or harvesting the potential of the actual zombies. Is anyone else confused, however, about what the Governor’s real end game is? He can only be so serious about rebuilding civilization if he so cavalierly kills a troop of able bodied soldiers. You are going to need more than 74 people, many of them women and children who have been returned to extremely docile states (and very interested to see how gender plays out in Woodbury vs. the survivors on the road). What is he up to and how has he convinced all the men in the town to so casually kill so many humans?
I am genuinely intrigued by the Governor’s personal stake in all this. One one hand, it seems like a cliched story: a man so wounded by what he has lost (the bitter/sad/angry glance at the photo of his wife and child, presumably both long gone) and a man reinventing himself at the end of the world. To the degree that he is motivated by his own loss, I am intrigued by the way different responses to trauma dictate the post-apocalypse. With Michonne’s personal connection to her mule-zombies and the Governor’s strange relationship to his zombie-vats, I am curious how we might move beyond the barn to other ways of relating to the zombies and whatever remains or does not remain of their humanity.
Never say never,
Thanks, Natalie and Kathryn for this start. I don’t have much to add, except to say that for the most part I enjoyed this episode as much as y’all did. My take on the governor was that he is serial killer and this is how he does his thing. At least that’s what the vat-zombie-head thing suggested to me…I have to say it was one of the creepiest TV scenes in a long while.
I guess the only thing I have to add is the following. There was some obvious political commentary here with the governor using fear to keep the people in line (and none of what I’m about to say is meant to dispute the Foucaldian story), and it struck me how this seems to be the theme of shows this year. I’ve been watching Last Resort and Revolution (the latter is horrendously bad…but I keep at it–don’t ask me why), and those shows are all about making you aware that the government is never interested in the good of its own people, but only in pursuing its own good (strikingly, these shows don’t portray the government as concerned solely, with say, power, although that, too, is there)…whatever that may be (and usually it is something very banal). My question–almost peripheral to our discussion, but I’m curious–what’s motivating these politicized turns in these shows *now*? Are these delayed responses to the Bush regime? Expressions of disappointment with Obama? They just strike as particularly strange right *now*.
Anyways, enough rambling.
Wow, serial killer – fascinating. Perhaps it’s because I’m blogging Dexter at the same time as this, and maybe I tend to compartmentalize my shows, but that didn’t even occur to me. I find that idea totally intriguing, Martin, and I’m curious to see how it plays out in the weeks to come. Of all the identities requiring reconstruction post-apocalypse, the idea that the serial killer might be the perfect one to hold together a safe community by excluding all threats to it (hello Dexter-trade those blood slides for vatted heads) is fascinating. I can see how the army posed a threat in that they would likely take over the town – but what threat did that pilot pose, I wonder.
On the political aspects – yeah, this show often confuses me with its political stance. Is it hopelessly, reactionary right wing madness or is it undoing that type of madness by pushing it to the extreme and revealing it as utterly broken? I’ve talked about frustrations with this type of political ambiguity elsewhere on this blog. And to be clear, it’s the not the ambiguity that frustrates me, but the ambiguity in service of a consumer produce (follow the link-unless you’re such a huge fan of The Dark Knight Rises that you’re going to get mad at me for my critique of it). So far TWD is holding the tension well, this season, I think…but the next few episodes will be crucial for this.
Thanks, Martin, for luring me back in to the conversation!
What a great conversation on this episode. I’m in total agreement on this week – somehow this show is reinventing itself, figuring out how to write characters (the Governor is already more fully realized than anyone last season), and now juggling multiple storylines. As a side note, I was really glad to see a full episode devoted to Woodbury – I’m increasingly irritated by the HBO-inspired, ensemble approach to shows that randomly cuts from one plot to another, totally killing dramatic tension in the process. It’s lazy, and I was glad to be free of it in this episode.
Anyway! I was interested by your mention of Last Resort and Revolution, Martin. I agree on the rise of shows dipping into political themes and tropes – it’s interesting, but also a little maddening in that it seems so random. I talked about this elsewhere recently, throwing in Falling Skies; none of those shows are completely successful (I don’t find Revolution awful so much as mediocre, and if you haven’t seen Falling Skies, it’s uneven at best), but all seem to tap into some kind of political nostalgia and localism. This is particularly the case with Revolution, with its anti-Federalist championing of agrarianism, and paranoia about conscripting militias and tyrannical centralized governments. I don’t see them as responding to Bush or Obama so much as expressing an anxiety about American decline, and drawing on the good old American politics of the golden age to invest that anxiety with some resonance.
TWD is different, though – if government has been in view thus far, it’s only as an utterly ineffective force (the CDC in season 1, the Guardsmen in this episode). The prison in general strikes me as a vestigial symbol – the old world is utterly gone, and if the Governor intends to raise up a new one, it will be a completely different, and totally amoral one. I’ve been thinking about Kathryn’s question last week: who is Lori to absolve Rick? What kind of authority does she imagine herself to have? This seems to speak to a parallel between Rick and the Governor: are we to see the latter as the logical outcome of the new, brutal Rick? What it seems to me that this season is saying is that the question has ultimately become irrelevant, in that Rick doesn’t need (or want) moral absolution. But perhaps not totally – perhaps that’s what the Governor is, someone who will force these questions back into everyone’s consciousness.
p.s. Nice call, on the panopticon, Natalie!