“The Walking Dead” – Hounded episode review 0

Daryl (Norman Reedus) makes the most impact with the least screentime in “Hounded”

★★★★½

I don’t know if I’ve stressed this enough, but this season of The Walking Dead is shaping up to be my favorite so far. The acting is better, the dialogue is better, and the writers seem to be finding the optimum balance between character-developing “quiet” scenes and scenes of all-out zombie carnage. I think (with the exception of a few moments and super coincidental plot points) that “Hounded” is a great representation of what this season of the show is doing.

The episode opens on Merle and a few other Woodbury guys out hunting Michonne on the Governor’s orders. Clearly, she was right to be paranoid. There’s a new guy that Merle calls Neil because he can’t say his real name, though to be fair, Neil’s real name is Gargulio. Michonne has left them a “bitergram” message: “Go Back” spelled out with a walker’s limbs and actual back. She appears from nowhere and slices up the two guys who aren’t Neil and Merle before running away. She takes a bullet in the leg but keeps going.

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It’s a woman’s voice on the other end of that phone call to Rick, and she says she’s been calling that line since the whole walker thing started. She assures Rick that her group is somewhere safe, but she refuses to tell him where they are. Rick tells her he has a son and, after much hesitation, a newborn baby to keep safe. I know I knocked Andrew Lincoln’s acting a couple weeks ago, but he plays his scenes out perfectly this week. When the woman says she’ll have to consult her group and call back in two hours, he whispers “We’re dying here” in a wonderfully haunting voice.

He makes his way back to the C block where everyone’s eating, looking miraculously clean. He quickly asks how everyone’s doing, lets them know he’s taken out a couple dozen walkers, and then speeds off without seeing his new baby or telling them about the phone call. Seriously, though, where do these guys shower?

Back in the woods, Neil is freaking out over the bodies of his slain comrades. Merle nonchalantly stabs one of the bodies in the head to prevent him turning, and forces poor Neil to take care of the decapitated one. I can’t imagine what damage a disembodied walker head would even do, but hey, they’re nothing if not thorough.

In Woodbury, Andrea chastises the Governor again about the fights in the arena. He’s not about to change their entertainment, but he hears her out anyway. She asks to contribute to the town by working the wall. To my surprise, the Governor agrees, though it’ll be with a bow and arrow, not a gun. I didn’t expect him to let her work the wall; the Governor’s got an end game here, and I applaud David Morrissey again for his ability to pull off that special bubbling-under-the-surface kind of creepy.

This time it’s a man’s voice on the phone, another member of the safe group. Everything’s great where they are, it seems: no one’s turned or been bitten or gone insane. Hmm, hard to believe that after everything we’ve seen of this world. Rick’s holding onto this lifeline though, and when the guy asks if he’s ever killed anyone, he admits to killing 4 people. The mystery man wants to talk about how Rick lost his wife, but Rick doesn’t want to (he says, with a glance over at the walker full of Lori in the corner). The guy hangs up abruptly at that answer. I had kind of figured Rick wasn’t really getting phone calls during a zombie apocalypse, but Andrew Lincoln’s acting paired with the claustrophobic close-ups that happen during his phone calls had me half-convinced that what he was hearing was real.

Up on Woodbury’s famous wall, Andrea is learning to shoot arrows from her new friend. Bow girl, who I called Hawkeye but is really named Haley, says she learned from her dad before this all happened. She says she totally killed him for his (admittedly sweet) bow that she has now. Andrea admits she had to kill her sister because she was bitten too.

Their conversation is cut short by the arrival of a walker. Haley is actually a terrible shot, and I appreciate the show finally acknowledging the existence of people who aren’t magically expert snipers. Andrea ends up hopping down off the wall and killing the walker hand-to-hand.

Back in the boiler room, Hershel comes by to chat with Rick. He says he still feels his leg, like he’s got a ghost from the knee down. Rick apologizes, but Hershel’s just grateful he saved his life. He gently broaches the topic of Lori, saying that she had been planning to apologize for the things that had happened between her and Rick.

Rick is stricken by this, and he ends up confessing everything about the phone calls to Hershel. Hershel’s looking at him like he’s gone off the deep end, a suspicion that’s confirmed when he picks up the phone to only static. He offers to sit with Rick and wait for the next call, but Rick rejects that idea. Hershel, who seems to have become an all-knowing grandfather type figure, quietly accepts this and leaves Rick to work out his issues alone.

Merle and Neil are still hunting Michonne in the woods. She sneaks up on them again, slicing Neil across the chest and ending up in a fistfight with Merle. They’re set upon by some walkers, and between the three of them they take them out. Michonne opens one’s stomach only to have its blood and guts fall all over her. Gross, but effective; she slips away again in the confusion. Somehow she manages to be one of the coolest characters on the show with barely any lines.

Daryl, Carl, and Oscar are on a mission to patrol the hallways. They spy something moving in a cell but decide to come back for it after. Daryl ends up talking to Carl about how he lost his mom as a kid, and Carl confesses he was the one to shoot Lori before she turned. They both express sympathy for each other, and I am so down with this development for Daryl, who’s becoming a father figure in Rick’s absence.

Andrea’s been summoned to the Governor’s house because of her transgression on the wall. He’s taking her off guard duty, naturally. She admits to actually liking the arena fights before she leaves. She just hated that she liked them, is all. The Governor, sensing a victory, says he must be growing on her. Ick. He’s so smarmy I can’t stand it.

Merle is ready to give up on Michonne. She’s headed towards “the red zone,” so she’s as good as dead anyway. Neil, honest man that he is, can’t bear lying to the Governor about her when they get back. Merle gets him to say his real name again, and repeats it in what would be a respectful manner if he didn’t follow it up with shooting him in the head so he could do what he wanted. Does Merle have a moral code? Suddenly I want to know the answer to this.

Michonne, meanwhile, retrieves her stuff from a tree trunk and is almost attacked by walkers again. Instead, they pass right by her without a second glance, and Michonne figures out it’s because she’s coated in walker innards. I have a feeling she’ll use this information more successfully than that time Rick and Glenn coated their overcoats in walker guts to get through Atlanta.

The phone rings again, and this time the woman presses Rick to talk about Lori. The shots where you can see Rick on the phone looking over at the walker that ate his wife’s body are the most powerful for me in these scenes. I think it perfectly encapsulates what’s going on in his head right now. When the woman calls him by name, he freezes. He asks how she knows what his name is, and she hangs up. You can see the wheels turning as he struggles to accept that these phone calls might be imaginary.

Michonne finds a parking lot to hide in, and it’s coincidentally the same place Glenn and Maggie pull into to raid for supplies. They come out with a good haul, only to have their day spoiled by Merle showing up. Glenn reassures Merle that Daryl’s alive, but refuses to take him to their camp. So, Merle being Merle, he charges at them and takes Maggie hostage, forcing Glenn to drive them to Woodbury. Michonne manages to see the whole confrontation from behind her minivan.

In Woodbury, the Governor and Andrea are having another flirtatious chat over whiskey. He’s almost cute when he gets flustered around her, but then I think about how he has heads in aquariums and a secret walker daughter and all potential for adorableness between them disappears. Despite my protests, they end up kissing passionately.

On prison patrol, Oscar’s excited to find a spare pair of slippers in an empty cell so he can wear them to relax at the end of the day. A walker stumbles upon them, and the three of them turn and shoot it simultaneously. When Daryl goes to pull his arrow out, he recognizes Carol’s knife buried in its throat.

The phone rings again, and a terror-stricken Rick answers after a few rings. The voice this time is Lori, and he breaks down crying. She asks him what happened, and he just repeats that he couldn’t put it back together. He tells her he was going to keep her, Carl, and the baby alive. Tears streaming, he says he loved her, then amends it to the present tense. Andrew Lincoln is so much more convincingly sad when he’s not outright sobbing in anguish, strange as that sounds. The line starts going static-y and he hangs up.

Merle interrupts sexy time between the Governor and Andrea to report on his mission. He lost his three men and doesn’t have Michonne, but he’s got Glenn and Maggie. They’ve got a camp somewhere, and he’s going to find out where that is. The Governor nods, all business and schemes to overrun their campsite no doubt, but then does a 180 as he returns to Andrea in the bedroom. Maybe she’ll be so infatuated with him by the time she finds out the creepy stuff that she won’t even care.

Rick comes back to the C block and hesitantly approaches Hershel, who’s holding the still-nameless baby. Rick cautiously takes the baby and stares at her, amazed and finally ready to accept her, even smiling for the first time in two episodes.

In what is my favorite (and completely silent) scene, Daryl sits alone in the hallway near the cell with the something inside. He’s pacing and playing with Carol’s knife, struggling with the idea that she might be in there, a walker, and he’ll have to kill her. He looks like he’s about to walk away but finally works himself up to move the body from in front of the door. He’s ready to attack, but only finds Carol, alive but weak. The look on his face is wonderful. He’s ecstatic to have her back alive, and he carries her back through the halls to safety. I am so glad they’re giving Daryl this room to develop and become a more complex character. I can’t imagine how seeing Merle again (as they’re obviously bound to) is going to affect how he’s changed without him.

Rick carries the baby out to the yard, walking with Beth, Carl, and Hershel. There’s not really a reason for them to be outside except to leave us with the cliffhanger for next week: Rick hands the baby to Carl and walks down to the entrance to see Michonne, basket of supplies in hand, standing at the fence amidst the walkers.

Despite the ridiculous coincidences of Merle and Michonne finding Glenn and Maggie in that parking lot and Michonne making her way to the prison at the exact moment Rick was outside, this was still a great episode, and my favorite so far. The balance of focusing on plot and characters (especially Rick and Daryl) was struck perfectly. I think it’ll only get more interesting from here as the Governor eventually finds the group at the prison.