The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

You kill or you die. Or you die and you kill.

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Governor zombie

OK, so the finale kind of won my heart. Did it make me promise to show up for another date next season? Not so sure. But I most certainly let it buy me dinner last night. I actually sat on the edge of my seat and felt fear and exhilaration, at least for moments. And that is saying something, since my expectations were so low I was watching the episode on my Kindle in an Upper East Side Whole Foods. If kale salad has ever accompanied true suspense, it did today.

I loved the opening visual. We have focused on zombie eyes off and on throughout the series and they feature in this season’s credits in a new way. The sure fire proof of someone turned zombie (before they lunge at you to eat your flesh) is in the eyes. So when we started in the deep abyss of an eye, in a haggard, sunken socket, I was expecting a zoom out to some new zombie terror. Except for the persistent human heartbeat that overlaid the shot. So then I thought maybe we were getting some absolutely terrifying suggestion that the zombies could reanimate – that in some way Milton was right and the original human is still inside. When we zoomed out to the Governor in full-on torture sadism mode, ah ha! Maybe it is not the zombies who possess the kernel of their old humanity; maybe it is the humans who have always possessed the kernel of their future zombie?

If so, who thinks Carl is lining up to be the next Governor? I know that in the graphic novels, Carl is a lot more twisted and intense than we’ve seen (and please, readers, no graphic novel spoilers in the comments!). I’ve always assumed this was because prime time isn’t ready for a sadist child. But maybe as that actor ages just a bit we can see what it takes to turn from an innocent to a cold-blooded killer. The Governor insists that if he had been “this way” all along (what? before the apocalypse? as soon as it started?) his daughter would still be alive, even if she was scared to death of him. Are we going to see what happens when someone starts down that path much earlier on in Carl?

I will close with some thoughts on poor Andrea, who did, as I (we?) predicted, pay the final price for her inability to kill Philip earlier this season, and I am going to say even more importantly, for following in Lori’s footsteps by taking “the easy way.” All of Woodbury was indicted for taking the path of comfort and false security and Andrea’s death was just the more intimate parallel to the Governor’s massacre by the side of the road. It was also eerily similar to Lori’s death: a final confession, the ability to choose her own death in the presence of the one she loved most, and the grace of preventing her reanimation. But if Lori died because she tried to incite war between two men (Shane and Rick), Andrea died because she tried to keep the peace. Does this leave a middle way? Or does it just suggest that women have no place getting in the middle of the male-dominated action?

What do you all make of the new prison community? Does the disintegration of Woodbury suggest that there can be no return to civilization, but there might be some forms of human community that can/will survive? And where the hell is the Governor and his three henchmen?!

Watching Andrea work those pliers off the floor inspired a renewed commitment to yoga. Who knew pliant toes would be so handy in the post-apocalyptic world?

It has been a journey, dear friends, and while I’m ready for a break (Mad Men anyone?!), there’s no one I’d rather fight the living dead with than you three!

Kathryn

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For reals, K? I guess I agree with most all of your analysis. I thought similar things about the Gov’s eye, and was even mildly intrigued by how long they held the camera’s perspective on that moment, inserting me, the viewer, into the story as the one being tortured in a way that hid who it actually was (woh, it’s not Andrea…it’s Milton!). I’m also with you on Carl – that kid is shaping up to be a decent little actor who might actually be able to pull off something kind of twisted. Like the Governor, his twistedness arises from an allegience to his family – and there’s potential there for some truly inspired form of evil to surface. I also think that the parallels between Andrea and Lori were nicely reenforced both by the repetitive shots of Lori’s grave, and the fact that now Rick has done Andrea’s dying wish (trying to save EVERYONE), Lori has disappeared. The parallels between the two women had the potential to be particularly intriguing given that they fought so bitterly over what is the appropriate place for women in this new world in the second season – it turns out, there’s no place for either of them. And, funnily enough, I even had the exact same though as you about yoga when Andrea was trying to pick up the pliers!

But I can’t say any of these things won me over! Most of all, I was grateful for the music throughout the episode because it told me what to feel when I wasn’t feeling much of anything. I knew as Andrea and the gang were echoing lines from previous episodes that this was supposed to make me sad. The music told me I was supposed to be resigned, sad but maybe a little hopeful in the closing sequence as everyone deemed pretty useless in battle by the Governor showed up to the prison. But I didn’t actually feel any of those emotions.

And I think the reason why is revealed in what you’ve said about Carl – this show is always promising the possibility of something cool and interesting if we just stick with it. And by the time we get to the soon-to-be cool thing, they’ve lost the thread and moved on to the possibility of something else cool and interesting. I wish there was something more interesting going on with the temporality of the show – with this futurity drive and how it connects to post-apocalyptic time. But mostly it feels like everything is a commercial for what comes next, rather than a story that sinks into the present with any depth. The key difference is – I’m sentimental enough of a sap that I actually cry at commercials. Mostly I yawn at TWD’s ’emotional’ moments.

A couple of other stray thoughts: we watch Carl pack up his family photo and the sheriff badge in the prison as they’re leaving – traces from the old world that he carries with him, but clearly is no longer allied to (he disobeys and disrespects his father and ignores the rule of law in battle). Nearly immediately after, Rick tells Michonne that it was Carl who made the call to let her in (something that I would find particularly offensive as a grown woman – really, you put the decision of whether I live or die down to the whims of a child?!). There is the potential for something interesting here…potential, though, right? Will they actually do anything with it?

Also, I kind of laughed at the little Biblical F-you that our gang left for the Governor – of all the things they had to do to prepare for that battle, can’t you just see Herschel being like: hold up guys, does anyone have a yellow highlighter? I gotta highlight this passage and leave it open to the right page for the Governor to find – oooo, he’s really going to be pissed when he sees my Biblical slam! And Maggie rolls her eyes, like, “jeez, dad – ok, here’s a highlighter…coz, you know, we’re carrying around HIGHLIGHTERS as part of our survival gear!”

Ok, I’ll stop…what did others think?

And yes, I’m in for Mad Men next week – very excited for the return of an AMC show that actually rocks!
Natalie

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Ha! I have to jump back in because I never actually thought that I was supposed to feel something at the emotional moments! I felt absolutely nothing when Andrea died, and even Carl didn’t move me except to intrigue me as a new “kill or die” power junkie. I did feel some genuine suspense when the Governor’s team infiltrated the prison and we didn’t know exactly what was waiting for them or if our crew had left, etc. Cutting the prison raid in with Andrea’s race against the Milton-zombie clock worked to make me squirm and wince and catch my breath. I think it was like Travis said last week – when the show sticks with its genre themes it can sometimes pull them off and it did some of that for me this week. But actual emotional reaction to the characters? Nah.

–K

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Hello friends,

I’m going to respond to some of the thoughts you’ve marshaled thus far, and add a few of my own. First, I didn’t find this episode particularly great, nor particularly bad. To me, it was an average TWD piece, that, at least, had much improved camera work (I thought some of the shots and sequences were some of the shows best). Second,  I think I want to push you, Kathryn, on the idea–which I’ve helped contribute towards forming–that Lori and Andrea died because they took the easy way out. To me, the assimilation of the Woodbury group (of seemingly helpless people) argues against this reading: taking the easy way out is *not* a guarantee of death, because these people survive. Indeed, they are, in some ways, glorified in this episode.

What’s the show driving at here? Well, we get it drilled into our heads that “You can’t do it alone anymore.” (And, apparently, as Daryl points out, you couldn’t do it alone before, either.) So, you can’t do ‘it’ alone. Aside from laughing when Andrea said this (the whole death scene was so ridiculous that I couldn’t help it), I found myself thinking about what’s been going on in the last two episodes (and this season, actually). And also, what’s the ‘it’ in question? *What* can’t you do alone? Is it the apocalypse? But then Daryl seems to suggest that you couldn’t do ‘it’ alone even before the apocalypse (I suppose you could say he meant ‘before the prison’ or some such). Is ‘it’ life? You can’t live life alone anymore? Well, then, I find myself veering into Natalie’s view of things: what an utter banality, and stupid to boot.

So, I found myself  thinking *what* is this show about–really about–at its most basic level? It’s obviously about zombies. But what are zombies? Well, zombies are, and have been taken to be, the perfect expression of raw unfettered capitalism: unthinking, malleable, insatiable, replaceable, and inhuman. Zombies don’t write poetry, but they do eat; they don’t appreciate art, but they do consistently move forward. And they’re not quite like animals, either, because while sharing some of their traits, they are each indistinct, one as good (deadly, hungry, mindless) as another. Again, a twisted image of the ‘average’ consumer. If we view the show from this perspective, then I think lots of interesting things start appearing in these two episodes. First, we have representations of the self-destructive teleology of capitalism–the end result of which is the Governor’s massacre. That sort of logic terminates either in self-destruction (or in something else: insanity, totalitarianism?), or self-delusion. And we can see how that capitalistic logic is intimately linked to *all* of the events that’ve occurred in the last two episodes. The utilitarian calculus of sacrificing Micchone is part and parcel of that worldview, Carl’s calculations (psychopathology?), Rick’s hesitations–I would argue, even Maggie and Glen’s engagement. After all, per your questions from last week Kathryn–what *does* the ring mean in this context? (But also, what about *our* context? I think *this* is where the show veers back into something really interesting: the overwrought way in which the lack of any normative authority is presented and *represented* in these episodes is sadly indicative of our own moment, and its own lack of normative foundations). And we can see how envisioning the ‘end’ of capitalism is as hard as envisioning the ‘end’ of the apocalypse. (I’m reminded here if Žižek’s quip, that we can imagine the end of world–an asteroid destroys the planet–but we can’t imagine the end of capitalism…and, of course, this has nothing to do with imagining the end of the show, which we can easily imagine, especially after this season–demise via the same capitalism it so poignantly displays…an even more labyrinthian twist of irony or something).

So what does it mean that you can’t do it alone anymore? Well, it means nothing. They haven’t been doing anything. And they’ve been doing nothing together. In this way, the end of this season reenacts again (re-founds?) not only the crisis of normative authority we’ve diagnosed throughout, but does so with a peculiar sort of promissory note: we will achieve community. But we can’t see how, nor do we have any firm sense of why. And in this way, Merle’s death looks different: I would argue it’s not in any way redemptive. Merle has no grand realization about the importance of community and bonds, rather he has a (fatal) realization about the *impossibility* of them. And he commits suicide (being a vengeful prick, though, he can’t but help take out as many of the Governor’s people as possible…and I’m sure that one could also give some Freudian analysis here, where Merle feels an increased resentment for Woodbury to the extent that its promise of community both increases his desperate expectations and miserably and painfully fails to deliver on the same). Merle’s motivations are as opaque as anyone else’s…when considered on the scale the apocalypse…or of capitalism.

I don’t know if the writers have any of these things in mind (I doubt it)…but following this sort of logic and viewing this show in this way makes TWD one of the most interesting things happening on television.

I’ll watch next season.

Best,

Martin

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Nope. I don’t think I buy that the remaining inhabitants of Woodbury are glorified. Sure they don’t die, but I don’t see how leaving the comfort and safety and “normalacy” of Woodbury for the dingy, precarious, and violent life that the prison represents could be anything less than a kind of punishment. Their sin – collectively – was refusing to realize the true state of the world and clinging (as Lori warns against) to the easy way, the comfortable, without asking what kinds of violence maintain their sense of security. And wouldn’t it be worse (like experiencing the apocalypse all over again?) to think you had escaped the terror of the living dead stalking your every move and then to find yourself squatting in an old prison cell parceling out beans and learning how to stake walkers with a tire iron through a chain link fence?

–K

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