A number of plot points will inevitably be revealed in the course of these writings. My intent is to review this program from the perspective of the Doomer / Prepper / Survivalist community, but, to do that effectively, some things have to be explained in greater detail than I might normally prefer in a review. As a result, spoilers will follow. You have been warned.
After last week's episode that centered entirely on the main group at the prison, now we get episode 3 which follows Andrea and Michonne exclusively. We saw them briefly in the first episode, as you'll recall. It was an interesting choice to give each of the convergent groups an entire episode to set the stage for their stories, although I heard grumbling of discontent from some in my circle as to the fact that this installment seemed to drag on a bit and had less action. The thing folks need to understand, however, is that they've been given a 16 episode season (more than ever before) this time around, and a good portion of that extra time is going to be very wisely spent on character development. Who knows? Maybe they'll even find something for poor T-Dog to do... finally. That poor guy has basically been a moving, breathing part of the set for the past 2 seasons.
The only thing I'm unsure about is exactly where things fall in the overall timeline of the show. For instance, do the events of this week happen after what we saw in episode 2 or concurrently with those events? I guess we'll just have to wait and see how things pan out over the remaining 13 episodes, but, if I was betting, I'd lay odds that Andrea and Michonne's storyline will merge into that of Rick's group eventually.
As episode 3 begins, we see a military chopper (which we will later learn is part of a National Guard unit) that encounters unspecified mechanical issue and crashes. This is witnessed from a distance by Andrea and Michonne who move in to investigate. I've stated before my suspicions as to why Michonne keeps two Walkers on leashes like pets, but I need to take a moment to say that this scene was irrationally funny to me, because she apparently also uses them as pack horses to carry a good portion of their gear. Hilarious.
Andrea, still suffering from her illness, waits in the bush with Michonne's "pets" who are chained to a nearby tree, as Michonne herself moves in to check things out. As best as she is able to see, the crew are all dead save for the pilot, who is heavily injured. Her check and any chance of the two women rendering aid to the pilot are cut short by the approach of unknown entities, however. They hide and watch from the bush as a small, yet very organized group of survivors arrive on the scene, having also (I surmise) seen the smoke from the crash.
This group is headed by a man who seems to be a very capable leader, mirroring the same philosophy of conserving ammunition that Rick (and any other sane, forward-thinking person) espouses. His group creates a cordon around the wreckage as a few move in to inspect closer, rescuing the injured pilot and executing the others, who are all beginning to reanimate as Walkers. Those holding the cordon keep their guns drawn and ready, but as various Walkers approach (having also been attracted by the crash), instead of shooting, they alert others in their party, one armed with a bow and arrow and the other with a baseball bat, to do the actual killing. Very smart to save ammo this way, in my opinion, and made even more so by the fact that it's minimally dangerous to the survivors; they have their net of people arranged so as to be able to provide sufficient alert when a hostile approaches and they are all armed, in case things get too hairy, but are able to use these tactical procedure to keep from actually having to shoot.
Andrea, seeing the party save the pilot, suggests they show themselves, but Michonne is wary. Just then, her "pets" start moving about, causing their chains to clank, and drawing the attention of the unknown group of men. In an effort to keep from their position being given away, Michonne is forced to decapitate both of them; they are still captured, however, by one of the group, who reveals himself to be Daryl's older brother Merle, not seen since season 1. As discussed previously, he cut-off his own hand to escape the rooftop where Rick and company left him stranded and is now sporting a homemade prosthetic that features the awesome ability to attach a knife. Andrea loses consciousness, possibly from shock in her already weakened state.
The two women are blindfolded and taken to the town of Woodbury, Georgia, where Andrea receives medical treatment, even as they are held against their wills, their weapons taken from them. They are questioned by Merle and he and Andrea trade stories since last they saw each other and who among the old group is now dead, including Andrea's sister Amy. Merle is obviously bitter over the way he was abandoned, even with Andrea explaining how she too was left behind, yet he expresses sorrow over her loss of her sister and is plainly interested in news of his "baby brother."
During the exchange between Andrea and Merle, we get another clue as to the overall timeline of the series: she tells Merle that the fall of the Greene farm occurred 7-8 months prior. We know from episode 2 that the convicts had been holed-up in the prison cafeteria/pantry for about 10 months, so we can extrapolate that, if she's correct, seasons 1 and 2 took place over the course of only 2-3 months combined (or very close to it), including some of the time Rick was in his coma.
The two women are soon introduced to the man they had witnessed leading the party at the crash-site and who is also the overall man in charge of Woodbury. He is called only the Governor and mysteriously gives no other name, even when pressed for it later in the episode by Andrea. It is he who introduces them to Woodbury as a secure sanctuary, an enclave of surprising civilization among the pit of chaos the world has become. The town boasts a secure gate and high walls that have been constructed using rows of tires and sand bags stacked along the length of flatbed semi-trucks. These walls are heavily guarded by armed survivors.
They are well-stocked with supplies, it seems, as well: a handful of solar panels can be seen, and it is obvious gardening is being done in raised beds pretty much anywhere grass is evident (such as road medians). They also have electricity. Basically, every time we are shown the interior of a building in Woodbury, you can see evidence of makeshift wiring having been drilled through walls and existing outlets, these presumably being extension cords run from generators, though a bank of batteries can be seen in at least one scene. No mention is made of what the few solar panels are powering, for sure. Outside lighting at night is achieved using Tiki Torches, and the place seems deserted after, because of a curfew to minimize noise that attracts Walkers to the walls. It is unclear exactly how much of the town is protected, but we soon learn there are over seventy survivors currently living in the town.
These scenes are important for us as members of the Doomer / Prepper / Survivalist community, because they show us what is possible with a bit of will and ingenuity, and, once again, they highlight the philosophy I have previously touted regarding the importance of proper fortifications in a TEOTWAWKI survival situation. Rick and company finally wizened-up about this as well, but not until after finally being run-off from the completely unsecured Greene farm where they'd been just lounging-around in tents in the middle of a damn field during a zombie apocalypse, like a bunch of morons. Now, they're at the prison, which was a good move, but we'll see how long it takes them to screw it up somehow.
As I've said before, from day one, I would've been beating feet to somewhere like Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, or some place similar. Even a highrise building with a stairwell that's easy to clog-up and close-off (like with chains on the doors) and a fire-escape for entry and egress (which can pulled-up and secured when not in use) would do in a pinch. You could build greenhouses on the roof, using materials cannibalized from other upper floors you aren't living in. A foraging party sent out from such a base would not be too hard-pressed in securing everything you'd need to set-up a huge rain-catch as well: a bunch of buckets and drink coolers and rolls of plastic sheeting. I can't think of anything I'd rather *NOT* be doing more during a zombie apocalypse than sleeping outside in a tent, unprotected. That was totally wack.
The Governor insists that they are not prisoners, but rather guests who are being cared for; they have been disarmed only as a precaution to protect the people of Woodbury (as they don't know what kind of people Andrea and Michonne are), and they'll be free to leave if they wish -- with their weapons -- after first light (they don't open the gates past dusk, which is a practice that mirrors many medieval cities). He also reveals to the women the truth that everyone is infected with the Walker Plague and suggests that they should stay in town until Andrea is recovered and they have both had a rest. He offers to send them on their way whenever they choose to go with some supplies and even the keys to a vehicle.
Upon the pilot's (he turns out to be a lieutenant) awakening, the Governor speaks to him and learns that he and is men are National Guard and were stationed at a refugee camp (we aren't told where). He says that things were good for a long time, supplies were lasting and the fences were holding, but then someone inside the camp got bitten and turned, resulting in a panic. Someone opened the gates to escape, allowing in more Walkers, who subsequently bit and infected more people, causing everything to rapidly fall apart. He and his men (10 in all) commandeered what supplies and vehicles they were able to lay hands on, and abandoned their post. They eventually got hung-up in the stalled traffic on the highway and took the chopper up to scout a better route, then crashed. The Governor implores him to tell him the last known position of his remaining men, so that he can bring them too to the safety of Woodbury, and the lieutenant does so.
Immediately after leaving the man's sickbed, the Governor enters another building, the entrance to which seems to be positioned down an alley out of the public view. Here we are introduced to a man named Milton, who seems to be conducting some sort of experiments with Walkers, trying to learn from them or about them. He has the bodies of Michonne's "pets," and it turns-out I was correct: she had removed their jaws, so they couldn't bite, and their arms, so they couldn't scratch or grab, and used them as camoflouge -- walk with Walkers and other Walkers assume you are one and leave you alone. Also, Milton states that, by taking away their ability to eat, she also took away their urge to do so; they were, effectively, tamed, and were starving to death, but apparently that is a much slower process with them than with the living. Milton wants to talk to Michonne and Andrea, a job which the Governor had already entrusted to Merle, and convinces him that getting information from them is going to require more finesse than Merle is capable of applying.
Apparently, he convinces him, because the very next scene is the next morning, when the Governor and Milton have breakfast with the women and attempt to pry more information from them. Michonne is visibly uneasy and obviously wants nothing more than to have their weapons returned to them, so that they can leave as soon as possible. Andrea, however, seems convinced that Woodbury is a good sanctuary for them. The Governor is a charismatic leader, full of talk of using Woodbury as a base to take back all of civilization, and Andrea is receptive to his message and, frankly, there seems to be an attraction brewing there.
The meal is cut-short when a messenger interrupts, whispering in the Governor's ear what is likely the news that the National Guard troops have been located. This is an assumption on my part, but it is born-out by the fact that we soon see the Governor himself approach them on the highway. He tells them that their lieutenant is safe in town and entreats them to go with him. It is a ruse, however, as he and his men (who have apparently surrounded the position without being detected) ambush and kill all of the guardsmen, stealing all of their weapons, ammunition, equipment, and supplies. Returning to town, the Governor then lies to the townspeople of Woodbury, claiming that the soldiers had already fallen to the Walkers before they arrived. He is also very shrewd in pointing-out that they died because they did not have Woodbury's walls to protect them, thereby reinforcing the notion that the people need the security of the town (and him, though that is subtext) in order to survive. This is apparently his way of ensuring loyalty.
Here we come to another interesting question of ethics versus survival with a healthy side dish of megalomania thrown in to keep things interesting. Adding the National Guardsmen to Woodbury's ranks would have greatly strengthened the community, but at what cost to the Governor's personal powerbase? He has stated himself that the town boasts a handful of military veterans, but, by and large, they're mostly self-trained. They are also loyal to him. Add ten trained and well-equipped National Guardsmen to that equation and things might not shake-out in his favor; Heck, they might even take over. But, do you know what does work-out in his favor? Killing, them, stealing their supplies and equipment, then making-up a sad story that both paints you as having tried to save them and punctuates how dangerous the world outside has become; that's what. So, while I do not agree with the man's actions, I could at least understand him up to this point in the show.
Not so for much longer, though.
Later that night, we see the Governor open a locked door in his quarters that leads to a private room, one wall of which is dominated by aquarium tanks filled with decapitated heads. Most appear to be Walkers, including Michonne's two, but one belongs to Lieutenant Welles (sp?), the helicopter pilot, the implication of which being that the Governor had him murdered as well.
How's that for weird?