The hidden brutality of Woodbury: The Walking Dead episode 303

Merle Dixon - The Walking Dead, AMC
Merle Dixon - The Walking Dead, AMC /

In “Walk With Me,” fans of The Walking Dead are introduced to some new characters in a new community, and revisit an old character with a checkered past.

Episode 303 of The Walking Dead begins as a military helicopter crashes in a forest. Survivor buddies Michonne and Andrea see the smoke from a distance, and rush to the scene to see what’s up. For better or worse, all but one person aboard are no dead, and the lone survivor barely clings to life.

Before our dynamic duo can do anything, some vehicles approach. Safety conscious, Michonne and Andrea flee behind some nearby trees. The undead crew are quickly executed by the new arrivals, and before long they suspect the presence of others. Indeed, they capture Michonne and Andrea. Of course, Andrea faints after seeing the infamous Merle Dixon, making her an easier catch.

This instantly becomes an interesting episode for many Walking Dead fans, even if it’s not centered around Rick and the prison. At this point, many viewers were wondering what happened to Merle. Now, after all this time, we see that he obviously survived being left on the Atlanta skyscraper, even after severing his hand to free himself from Rick’s handcuffs. Now we see him in all his redneck glory, with his twisted smile and a bayonet for a hand.

In some ways, it seems Merle is a little more disciplined now — still a discomforting guy, but definitely more “reeled in” than the Merle on the roof. What gives?

Merle (Michael Rooker), AMC’s The Walking Dead
Merle (Michael Rooker), AMC’s The Walking Dead /

It appears than Merle has a home now, a place called Woodbury. It’s more like an actual town than a camp in the woods (or even Hershel’s now defunct farmhouse). In fact, it almost seems like a paradise for survivors, who would otherwise be out there on their own, possibly mauled to death by walkers, or killed by roving bands of heartless humans.

Unfortunately, the man in charge of Woodbury — commonly called “the Governor” — is himself mostly a heartless human, willing to lead a roving band of killers.

The Governor (David Morrissey). AMC’s The Walking Dead
The Governor (David Morrissey). AMC’s The Walking Dead /

After the crash survivor, Welles, reveals the location of other soldiers, The Governor wastes little time in trying to locate them, and not just to say “Hello.” When The Governor finds their outpost, they are promptly and systematically executed, and their weapons of war are stolen.

Fascinatingly, none of these men were given a chance to join Woodbury, or to even get to know the situation. They were a threat to be instantly “neutralized,” and this was part of Merle’s job. It is certainly why he seems a bit tamer.

It’s not that Merle’s become a better person overall, at least not entirely. Instead, he now has a sense of purpose — a leader to follow, commands to obey, and some degree of loyalty. In the process, one of The Walking Dead’s simplest characters instantly becomes more complex, less one-dimensional. This is key to how The Governor — and people like him throughout actual human history — take control of people. If you convince people that they’re useful and have a reason to exist, you can ask them to do damn near anything, and they quite often will.

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As The Governor lies to the people at Woodbury — telling them the army camp fell prey to walkers — he surely felt it was a justified lie. Either that or he really does not care. After all, a “strong leader” does not tend to question his or her self. They just do what they want, to the extent they can get away with it.

Rationalizations are there as justifications, more than something inherently necessary (again, to such leaders as The Governor).  When The Governor tells his pet scientist, Milton Mamet, that he wants him to question his judgment, it’s not to be taken seriously.  Milton is simply another tool to utilize (and possibly be discarded if he’s no longer deemed useful).

Michonne seems to understand just what The Governor is instantly, yet Andrea quickly falls for him. Not only does she enjoy the idea of Woodbury (as many would, under such circumstances), but she obviously is interested in the man running the place. However, Andrea does not see what is really going on. She does not see the brutal philosophy behind the man in charge. She also does not see The Governor’s infamous walker head aquarium, featuring a new recruit: Welles!

Next: 50 most shocking moments from The Walking Dead

Yes, The Governor is clearly someone who enjoys power, and does not understand its weaknesses. His fascination trumps logic, at least at this stage of The Walking Dead.