Looking Inside The Killer Within: The Walking Dead episode 304


The Killer Within is not the easiest Walking Dead episode to discuss, simply because so much happens in it.

For starters, you have some mystery person lurking outside (and possibly inside) the prison, letting in walkers and trying to stir as much havoc as possible. Then, of course, you have the havoc to deal with — and there’s plenty of it.

At the same time, you have what’s going on over at Woodbury. It seems Michonne is not only skilled with a blade, but has a keen sense of forensic science. She initially distrusted “The Governor” of Woodbury, but as she studies the tanks retrieved from a fallen National Guard post, she asks The Governor why there are bullet holes in the vehicles, and how skilled fighters could fall so easily to the slow-moving undead. It’s a legitimate question, directed to an illegitimate leader.

The Governor essentially plays dumb and just claims they were overrun, but Michonne has other ideas. Of course, anyone who had seen the previous episode knows that they were in fact killed systematically by the thugs of Woodbury. To complicate things, one might wonder what would have happened had The Governor greeted the Guard peacefully. It’s certainly possible that they could have been the violent ones instead.

Andrea and Michonne discuss the merits of Woodbury and the Governor. (AMC’s The Walking Dead)
Andrea and Michonne discuss the merits of Woodbury and the Governor. (AMC’s The Walking Dead) /

See, this is exactly how the authoritarian mind works, and how it justifies cruelty to others. There is definitely a strange bit of mental gymnastic going on, and such minds will always cling to a perceived crisis to rationalize extreme behavior. This is even more so when such minds interact with each other. Still, they can be cruel even to those who pose little to no threat, as rationalizations are often just a basic self defense mechanism, or even a formality devoid of value. Michonne seems to be well aware of what lurks ahead, even if she can’t quite prove it yet.

Still, not one to take chances, Michonne pleads with Andrea that they should leave together, and venture down “the coast.” Unfortunately for her, Andrea does not like the uncertainty of indefinite travel, and prefers the apparently safe and almost mundane appearance of Woodbury. It’s one of her biggest mistakes on The Walking Dead.

Merle Matters

Another unfolding dynamic? Merle Dixon — former member of Rick’s group, currently (by this episode) one of The Governor’s leading henchmen — increasingly wishes to see his brother Daryl again. Unfortunately for him, The Governor has other plans, and considers Merle almost irreplaceable. It’s clear that he does not want Merle to head out, at least not without an invisible leash on — an incentive to return. Being stubborn and dictator-like, one gets the sense that The Governor would hold onto Merle even if he wasn’t needed — just as a way to demonstrate his power and superiority, in the classic alpha male fashion. And so, as it turns out, we have competing loyalties in Merle’s increasingly complex mind.

This too suggests a complicated character twist. When we first met Merle (season one, episode 2), he was a stereotypical loud-mouthed southern-fried bigot, eventually chained to a pipe on a roof, left howling prayers to a God he didn’t even believe in. Now he is apparently calmer, more civilized and loyal, yet still capable of brutality. What would it take for someone like this to sever ties with “the established order,” as it were, and branch out on his own?

Oddly enough, there are similar questions about Rick’s group. They have had problems similar to those facing The Governor. Sure, Rick will often react differently from The Governor, but by now we’ve seen Rick change. Certain circumstances have forced Rick’s hand into becoming more brutish, and less hospitable to unwanted guests. It makes sense, given that Rick wants to make the prison his permanent home (and there’s a certain irony to that). Clearly, if they are to stay, they are likely to develop certain ground rules. The question is, how are they to be formulated, and who is to do so?

Well, as one might expect, circumstances force the group to put such questions aside. The group is suddenly faced with a surprise walker swarm — and just when Hershel was taking his first new steps after a leg amputation! Things escalate very quickly, to the point where everyone — including the viewer at home — must stay alert in order to fully grasp what’s happening. In fact, before long the group loses the one and only T-Dog! Being a true hero, he bravely sacrifices himself to save Carol. Poor T-Dog! (That was hard to watch, but hey, it’s the Walking Dead, right?)

Some Key Deaths

T-Dog gets got.  (AMC’s The Walking Dead)
T-Dog gets got.  (AMC’s The Walking Dead) /

To stem the tide of undead flesh-eaters, Rick and Glenn find the broken lock and quickly re-secure the fence. Although Rick initially blames inmates Axel and Oscar for the breach, doubts are cast when the prison alarm sounds from elsewhere. Who could it be? Did walkers set them off? Nope! In order to find out, Rick actually places his trust in an inmate, who leads him to where the sound must be originating: The generator room!

The man responsible for the alarm is Andrew — the man who Rick previously expelled, presumably left to be devoured by walkers. Andrew is enraged (for obvious reasons) and wastes little time in trying to waste Rick. As it so happens, Oscar is still present, and has an opportunity to grab a fallen gun from the floor. He is given a classic “Which one do I shoot?” scenario, but quickly decides to shoot Andrew. Was it the right decision? From his perspective, he is certainly taking a chance — albeit a reasonably calculated chance. Surely, Oscar must have reasoned that, even if he had killed Rick, the others in Rick’s group wouldn’t likely let it slide. And so the shot was taken. Andrew is no more, and the alarms are disabled.

Still, believe it or not, the action does not stop there. However, the rest takes an even more somber tone. Hiding from walkers in a prison boiler room, Maggie, young Carl and his pregnant mother Lori must also deal with her impending pregnancy. Unfortunately, there are some complications, and the 3 are left with a terrible reality. They know Lori will likely die from a C section. The child is indeed born living, but a possible moment of joy is short-lived as Carl takes it upon himself to shoot his mother’s head, lest she become zombified. In a final emotional scene, Carl introduces the baby to Rick, although it’s clear that Lori did not survive the birth. Rick understandably has an emotional breakdown, and we are left to ponder the fate of the group.

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Piecing It Together

By the end of the episode, one may realize the tremendous evil potential of distrust, cruelty and betrayal. Although the prisoner Andrew was a minor, almost random character in the series, his impact on The Walking Dead was certainly not minor. By luring in the walkers, he also lured in a deeper, more profound sense of distrust for Rick and crew. He also indirectly killed off some key characters.

Andrew (AMC’s The Walking Dead)
Andrew (AMC’s The Walking Dead) /

And why? It wasn’t because he was pure evil. No, it was because he was left to die by Rick — the Walking Dead’s supposed hero. While one can understand Rick’s distrust of the prisoners, doesn’t it also make sense that they would have distrusted him? It’s a classic matter of two wrongs not making a right.

And so, as we progress into season 3, we should take these events as a sign of what’s to come. You have The Governor’s troubling machinations up ahead, but also the unstable dynamics of Rick’s group. No one is likely to trust anyone unless they have to. It spells trouble ahead — and trouble is often interesting to watch.