Slipping Sanity, Rising Distrust: Walking Dead’s ‘Say the Word’ (ep. 305)

Rick Grimes and Glenn Rhee - The Walking Dead, AMC
Rick Grimes and Glenn Rhee - The Walking Dead, AMC /

In The Walking Dead’s “Say the Word,” we get to see Rick Grimes transform from somewhat mild-mannered to unhinged and potentially outright crazy.  Though it’s due mostly to the death of his wife Lori, one could also say it’s a culmination of Rick’s responsibilities and failings overall. While Rick’s freak-out isn’t the only worthwhile aspect of the episode, it definitely ties in thematically with the overall framework of the show.

As he storms throughout the prison destroying walkers, there’s a sense that his anger doesn’t simply lie with them. The whole world has let him down. Walkers are just the easiest, most available target for his boiling rage. As this happens, one wonders if Rick will ever be the same again. Could he be? Should he be? It’s one of the classic moments of the Walking Dead, for sure.

Also of importance: Rather than sticking around and caring for his newborn daughter, Rick decides to spend his time going aggro on the undead. The parenting duties are left

Daryl and Lil’ Ass Kicker.(AMC’s The Walking Dead)
Daryl and Lil’ Ass Kicker.(AMC’s The Walking Dead) /

with Daryl and Maggie, who set out for baby formula, for fear that the child — who at this point is unnamed, but who will eventually be known as Judith — might die without it. Clearly, Rick’s anger is symbolic of someone who has lost control of anything, and who currently cares about nothing but lashing out at the world (or something symbolic of it — in this case, walkers).

As I noted in the last article, these events all result from the prisoner Andrew’s sabotage. Oddly enough, it makes him a very influential character on the show, even though he didn’t last long in the Walking Dead universe.

Also, interesting: Up until this point, killing walkers wasn’t particularly symbolic of anything, unless a person was really grasping (or dissecting) the show thematically. It was basically just for the gore hounds out there, and came complete with gross-out gags. However, in this case, the killing of walkers doesn’t seem all that fun anymore. In fact, there is something almost deviant about it. It seems somewhat Nazi-like, even. Cruel and systematic. It’s not all that thrilling, either, and it shouldn’t be. Ultimately, this is what makes this whole thing powerful. Thinking about it now, it’s a tricky change in mood and character dynamics to convey, yet this episode does it successfully.

Also implied in these events? Rick alone cannot run the future. Not only did he leave his newborn, but when Glenn finally finds Rick, Rick actually threatens him. It’s easy to see it as Rick losing his sanity, but it’s also possibly Rick losing some of his humanity — at least temporarily. Also, as an almost unfortunate plot point, it could be said that the newborn doesn’t even represent hope of any kind. It too seems to symbolize loss. If you think about it that way (which would be reasonable), The Walking Dead becomes one of the bleakest damn shows of all time. Sincerely. But that’s part if what makes sets it apart from the fun bash-’em-up zombie flicks out there. This show doesn’t try hard to be fun, and it’s not afraid to get lost in bleakness.

Rick, happy and saner than ever. (AMC’s The Walking Dead)
Rick, happy and saner than ever. (AMC’s The Walking Dead) /

Of course, the episode doesn’t end with Rick’s walker massacre. We also get back to Woodbury — a town that represents memories of better times, yet seems to continually get worse upon close inspection. The one most suspicious of Woodbury? Michonne, the katana wielding bad-ass.

Of course, the main main at Woodbury — The Governor — has actually confiscated her katana, and she’s not very happy about that. Boldly, she sneaks into her place to get it back. Unfortunately, the Governor comes back to his place and forces Michonne to hide. While hiding, she overhears him speaking with his scientific sidekick, Milton, about how the town’s upcoming festival will delay his research into the undead.

As she escapes from a window, Michonne’s spying eyes discover a small group of caged walkers. Being a saboteur, she quickly hacks open the cage and systematically kills the creatures. Unfortunately (again), Michonne is caught and brought before the Governor for a tête–à–tête. The topic of conversation? The Governor wants Michonne to join what he calls a “research team.” However, Michonne (and the home audience) presumably knows that his research is likely another word for “marauding.” Not having any of it, Michonne reacquires her blade and threatens to stab it straight into the man’s throat.

As scenes like this unfold at Woodbury, it serves as a comparison between Rick and the Governor. While Rick is a person driven to violence mostly through circumstance, a person like The Governor is usually in it to create such circumstances, while calling it stability. Of course, this episode promises that these two paths will converge, blend and almost transcend each other. Michonne herself represents a blending of intelligence, cunning and paranoia — also not entirely unlike that of Rick and Woodbury’s strongman. It seems that, if circumstances were just a little different, she too could go from lone wolf to tyrant. Her saving grace is that her circumstances have instilled in her a strong spirit of independence, unlike virtually anyone else in the Walking Dead universe.

Michonne, warrior soul.(AMC’s The Walking Dead)
Michonne, warrior soul.(AMC’s The Walking Dead) /

In fact, even as Merle opens the gate to let Michonne leave Woodbury, Michonne certainly knows that her defiance won’t go unnoticed, or unpunished. While her survival buddy Andrea sees it as good news, Michonne’s smart enough to recognize those opened gates as all but a death sentence.

To the Governor, her life is mere puddy in his hand. If he so chooses, it is all supposed to end with a satisfying squish. While her understanding of the situation is limited, she would undoubtedly have more resources outside of Woodbury. This is, of course, yet another difference between herself and Andrea.

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Another key element of this episode is the festival itself, which is Woodbury’s equivalent to pro wrestling, or a monster truck show. The main event? Two of the Governor’s chief enforcers — Merle and Martinez — battle it out for supremacy as chained walkers lunge at them just out of biting reach. Andrea’s distressed reaction creates yet another debate regarding the undead: Is it better to be afraid of walkers or to be fearless? Andrea believes they should be feared, and in a sense respected. The Governor, on the other hand, feels the only way to conquer them is to totally diminish them. What better way to accomplish that than to treat them as a game. It’s a rigged game at that (their teeth are removed, so they presumably can’t even bite and kill the two fighters).

Merle and Martinez. (AMC’s The Walking Dead)
Merle and Martinez. (AMC’s The Walking Dead) /

Meanwhile, back at the prison, a different kind of insanity takes shape: After destroying a walker that had likely eaten his wife, Rick suddenly hears the prison phone ring. The problem is, it’s most certainly not a working phone. Rick is clearly losing his grip, yet in his case it’s fairly understandable. Could this tie in thematically with the events at Woodbury? It seems like a safe assumption. Very few events in The Walking Dead have no symbolic value, and almost nothing bodes well for the future.