Huzzah for focus! “Prey” isn’t an amazing hour of television, but it’s fundamentally sound in a way this show often struggles with; it’s also something that’s easier to draw conclusions from than the better—but more difficult to sustain on a weekly basis—“Clear.” And the key, as always, is focus—or to put it a different way, a definite sense of purpose, and a main storyline with a beginning, a middle, and an unsettling end. The entire hour stays with the Woodbury people, as Andrea realizes she’s made a horrible mistake, and Tyreese and Sasha come close to doing the same. The only glimpse we get of the prison is near the end of the hour, and that glimpse is almost entirely from Andrea’s perspective; the place looks practically idyllic after the hell she’s been through to get there. Last week was mostly stalling, trying to cover up a lack of forward movement through character drama that just couldn’t fill the gap. This week, a little more happens, mostly in regard to the fate of everyone’s favorite blonde, but not that much more. But it works because the conflicts are so much clearer, and because for once, the Governor isn’t just a messed up, inconsistently written creep; he’s an outright psychopath. This may technically reduce the complexity of his character, but since that complexity has mostly come across as the writers being incapable of making up their damn minds, it’s no great loss.
Before we get to the meat of the hour, though, it’s worth looking at the subplots. When Andrea makes her doomed escape, she runs into Tyreese and Sasha having some target practice on guard duty. (You’d think firing when there’s no immediate danger of attack would be frowned on, but hey, I’m not the leader of a post-apocalyptic fortress.) It’s pretty awkward, as she just comes out and tells them the Governor is out of his mind, which seems sudden; and to be honest, most of the Tyreese storyline in “Prey” is on the clunky side, forcing conflicts that will most likely pay off down the line with rough, ugly timing. But at least the intention behind the writing is clear. Everything we’ve seen about Tyreese and Sasha indicates they’re still good people at heart, far more in tune with what Rick and his group are aiming for than the Governor’s burgeoning fascism. So it makes sense that they’d have some questions, especially when Tyreese learns about the Governor’s plans for a pit full of zombies. What makes less sense is the conflict between Tyreese and Allen, mainly because, well, who the hell is Allen? I spent most of their first conversation thinking Tyreese had randomly decided to have a serious talk with a random member of the Governor’s armed guard, before realizing Allen was actually part of Tyreese’s group from the beginning. We barely know Tyreese, know Sasha a bit less, and the other two are just warm bodies with names I have to look up online. It’s hard to imagine giving a damn if Allen gets over his insecurity issues, even if the show wasn’t gearing up to a big ole murder party. But at least the seeds have been sown for a potential reversal from Tyreese in the big conflict; the Governor manages to cover for Martinez’s blabbing, but the seeds have been sown.
It looks like Milton’s humanitarian side has finally screamed loud enough for him to object to what’s going on. That’s not enough for him to let Andrea kill the Governor while they’re spying on him in his torture room, but it is enough to drive him to tell Andrea about the Michonne “deal,” as well as the Governor’s plans to betray Rick if he’s stupid enough to take the offer. That’s the straw that breaks Andrea’s back, and it’s also, apparently, enough to make Milton work against the Governor in his own way; in this case, that means burning the pit and van zombies Martinez had set aside from the prison assault. Admittedly, we don’t see his face while he’s doing this, and it could’ve have been Tyreese, or some third party we’ve yet to meet, but Tyreese seems honestly surprised when the Governor asks him about gasoline, and bringing in someone else at this point in the game would be utterly inept. And the final conversation between Milton and the Governor suggests that they both know the situation has changed. The Woodbury arc has been uneven this season, but at the very least, it’s going to be enjoyable to watch the perfect heaven fall apart. (It would be more fun if we had a sense of the town as a crumbling community and not just a bunch of guys running around with guns, but I digress.) The distrust between Milton and the Governor means that things are starting to collapse in earnest; plus, it’s nice to see that Milton’s conversation with Hershel pay off in a subtle way.
The main thread of the episode, though, is the story that gives it its title: Andrea’s escape attempt. Her motives are, as is so often the case with Andrea, a bit muddled; but Milton’s confession is enough to justify her finally making a choice, and that leads to a largely wordless sequence of her traveling cross country toward the prison, hunted by the Governor himself. Andrea has had a rough time this season, but while I wouldn’t say “Prey” redeems her character, it does all the sorts of things you need to do if you want to make someone worth watching. She makes strong choices and sticks by them; where before she vacillated between loyalties, or made doomed attempts to bring people together, now she decides the Governor needs to be dead. She even nearly does it before Milton stops her, and while you’d think she maybe could’ve tried a couple more times before giving up, at least her next decision, to leave, makes nearly as much sense. Andrea is competent for once, and not content to simply wander around lecturing people.
And she’s smart, too. She manages to stay a few steps ahead of the Governor, taking refuge in an abandoned building and dodging his craziness as best she can. Which, admittedly, is more animal instinct than intelligence, but that bit where she finds a stairwell full of walkers, and then ducks behind a door to send them all after the Governor? That’s a great move. Maybe “smart” is stretching it, but she’s competent, which is just as good, really. Characters who have to keep making mistakes in order to make a plot move forward are worse than tedious; they’re actively unlikeable, inviting contempt from an audience forced to watch their stupidity over and over and over again. But if someone can handle herself well, and can do things that make you cheer, you become invested in what happens to them next. That makes a well-executed suspense sequence all the more engrossing.
It also makes the end of the hunt all the more devastating. After she leaves the Governor for dead, Andrea makes her way to the prison, and is just about to call out to Rick (standing guard on the watchtower, just far enough away that he can’t see her) when the Governor pops up and grabs her. It’s a nasty shock, but it doesn’t end there; when he arrives back at Woodbury, the Governor tells everyone that he wasn’t able to find the runaway, but the last shot of the episode shows her sitting bound and gagged in the torture room, eyes wide. That’s brutal, and whatever my problems with the character, I certainly don’t want to spend 40 minutes next week watching her bleed to death, or worse. But something like this had to happen, and preferably before the end of the season; the Governor needed to go from weird dude who is creepy and occasionally makes cruel choices to out and out monster, and I’d say this does the trick nicely. This version of him isn’t exactly consistent with what we’ve seen before, but having Andrea in captivity means that this is pretty much the Governor we’re going to get for the duration, which should help propel us through the end of the season. It may not be the most sophisticated storytelling, but if we’re lucky, it’ll get the job done.
- Andrea has an impressive sense of direction. She manages to find her way to the prison on foot, after having only been there once before (when she was driving).
- Well, maybe next time you’re standing naked over someone and you have a knife in your hands, you’ll actually do something about it, eh Andrea?
- The quick cold open flashback to Michonne and Andrea is not a horrible idea, but useless in the way it’s used; there’s no new information, and no real attempt to deepen their relationship. (Apparently, Michonne isn’t the most talkative person in the world. Who knew?)
- While the effect is overall a smart choice (mainly because if you can’t do believably ambiguous and challenging characters, at least give us some damn villains), it’s funny just how much the Governor slides into movie psychopath mode. He’s not just obsessed with tracking Andrea down; he has to creepily whisper her name, and break a bunch of windows with a shovel, too. And what the hell is up with that whistling?