The Walking Dead, Ep. 3.04: “Killer Within” the show’s most emotionally wrenching, incident-packed hour ever

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The Walking Dead, Season 3, Episode 4: “Killer Within”
Written by Sang Kyu Kim
Directed by Guy Ferland
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on AMC

If there was any doubt that The Walking Dead‘s third season intends to xorrect the show’s pacing issues for good, “Killer Within” settles those fears, though it might actually over-correct. Not only do we lose two (possibly three!) main characters, but the long-promised sense of all-enveloping doom offered by Robert Kirkman’s comic universe has finally, definitively sunk in. Is that a good thing?

One of the hardest things a work of art can do is to convince us it’ll make the moves we logically intuit that it can’t, or won’t. “Killer Within,” which is pretty easily the most brutal, emotionally devastating episode of the show yet, does just that. After the prisoner Rick sent to his apparent doom returns to wreak havoc on the crew, releasing a huge horde of zombies and drawing them in with a deer heart and the sirens’ blare, the group is quickly separated. T-Dog is the first to go; after weeks (and weeks and weeks) of T-Dog seeming like an obvious casualty, the fact that he finally expresses an original opinion at the episode’s outset is a sure harbinger of his demise. That he gets a tiny measure of dignity by getting to (apparently) save Carol is a meager comfort, given that the character’s entire contribution to the series was basically nil.

Lori’s death, though, is something else entirely. The first clue that “Killer Within” is going to be a stake-raising outing is the sense of elation that pervades the early scenes: Glenn and Maggie getting it on in the guard tower, Hershel finally up and walking with the aid of crutches, Rick and Lori looking at each other across the prison yard with an actual measure of warmth. That this peaceful moment is immediately overturned by the invasion of the aforementioned swarm – and that this turns out to be the hour that Lori must give birth, is an effective but questionable act of extreme dramatic compression that has at least one probably-unintended effect: it makes it seem almost as though these events are a punishment for their brief moment of contendedness. In a way, that makes sense, since what unfolds is a direct result of Rick’s cowardly “execution” from a few episodes back; on the other hand, “Killer Within,” while undeniably effective, lays the gloom on to such an extreme degree that it’s going to be difficult to walk the show back to any measure of humor or humanity.

So when Lori is cut open and bleeds out in front of her crying son (and hey, credit to little Chandler Riggs for not totally derailing this horrific sequence), and the child is pulled out unbreathing, there’s the briefest moment where I was allowed to believe they might actually go through with not having the poor kid make it out of the womb alive. That the child lives is the only comfort of an extremely grim hour of television, but is it enough? Is The Walking Dead just glorified zombie misery porn at this point? The final beat of that sequence, in which Maggie lets poor Carl finish off his mother, definitely errs on the side of literal overkill, if only because there’s absolutely no reason Maggie couldn’t have handed off the young’un and done the job herself, if only for the sake of (relative) decency. Before long, will we have any personal stake in characters so far gone into the realm of the morally and spiritually barren, especially when the show seems to be in an awful hurry to bring them down as quickly and thoroughly as possible?

It’s a question the show will need to answer in short order, but for now, the fact that the show can be this emotionally engaging and deeply tense, not to mention well-paced, is enough of a positive development that I might be able to table that question just a little while longer.

The Woodbury plot is proving to be a sore spot, though. Why does Michonne care so much about Andrea, who has resumed her former slot as the show’s dumbest character? It’s lovely that Michonne so quickly figures out that The Governor executedthe National Guardsmen in cold blood, but her continuing tolerance of Andrea’s stupidity clashes badly with her no-nonsense attitude towards more or less everything else. Here’s hoping the show manages to bring this plot thread to new and more interesting places in short order.

Simon Howell

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