There are a lot of lies involved in the zombie apocalypse. The biggest lie, and the most common one, is also the most necessary: "It's going to be all right." It's the lie of Woodbury, the lie of the phone call. And the reason it's so seductive is that it's all anyone has wanted to believe since the nightmare started, and they're willing to accept just about anything – madness, murder – to make it true.
Conversely, it's the same lie that Michonne has never really let herself believe, which is why she's running from a Woodbury death squad as the episode opens. Turns out the Governor isn't very fond of people who recoil in horror because they see his true face, and since Michonne spent the last several episodes staring at him like he was secretly a spider in a human skin-suit, he's sent Merle and three other men into the woods to hunt her down and take her out.
Merle unwisely decides to taunt the hiding Michonne, daring her to "leap out of the woods, one against four, all of us armed to the teeth, and you with just your little pigsticker." While he's busy laughing, she does exactly that thing he just said, cuts down half the group, and disappears back into the brush like a ninja. Who's laughing now, Merle?
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Back at the prison, Rick is on the phone with the mystery caller from last episode, a woman who claims she was just randomly dialing numbers when he picked up. She says she lives in a safe place, and when Rick asks what makes it safe she answers, "It's just... away." Remember that for later. Rick wants to bring his group to this magical Shangri-La, but the woman hesitates at this request and says she'll call back. A couple of questions: How is the phone company seriously still in operation at this point in the zombie apocalypse? Why would someone who was already someplace safe dial random phone numbers, especially if they weren't sure they wanted more people? The answers to these questions are fairly obvious if you're willing to see them, which Rick is not.
Soon another mystery man calls back from the same mystery location, and asks for some rather odd things, like a personal inventory of all the people Rick has killed. Rick says there are four: two outsiders, and Shane. Math tells me that only adds up to three people, but then there's the kicker: the man asks about the other death that Rick blames himself for: "What happened to your wife?" Rick says he doesn't want to talk about that, and the line (appropriately) goes dead.
Andrea runs across the Governor in the streets of Woodbury, and gets back up on her high horse about how creepy and brutal the zombie MMA fights were, a position that would be a lot more convincing if she didn't immediately follow it up with a request to shoot zombies from the walls of the city. The Governor finds a young archer to teach her how to use a bow, but when the first couple arrows go astray during practice Andrea loses patience, jumps off the wall – which is verboten -- and takes the walker down face to face. She stands up beaming, exhilarated at the kill. “What's wrong with you?” shouts the archery teacher. Good question.
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After a brief sequence of mutual stalking, Merle and Michonne finally have their hand-to-hand showdown, and just as they've incapacitated each other, wouldn't you know that some walkers show up? Michonne manages to disembowel her zombie attacker while lying on the ground, its intestines spilling all over her just before she disappears back into the woods. At first it seems like just another gratuitous horror gross out, but this one actually has a point! When she encounters a cluster of walkers shortly afterward, she learns what Rick figured out back in Season 1: Zombie guts are basically camouflage, and they make the walkers stroll right past her.
Merle tells his compatriot that he is officially sick of Michonne's mad katana skills, and they should just head back to Woodbury and tell the Governor they killed her. Unaware of her new zombie immunity, he also says she's a goner anyway, since she's headed for the ominously named "Red Zone." When the other man objects, perhaps aware that Merle is actively creating a problem that will come back to bite them later in the season, Merle shoots the guy in the head. On his way back, Merle runs into Maggie and Glenn while they're in the middle of a run for baby formula, takes them hostage, and forces them into their car. Their destination, surprisingly, isn't the prison where Merle's beloved brother Darryl is living; it's Woodbury.
Back in the Governor's office, Andrea confesses not just to jumping off the wall but to her lie: Turns out the reason she complained about the zombie MMA fights wasn't because she didn't like them – it was that she liked them too much. “I didn't like that I liked them.” Their obvious sexual tension parlays itself into an afternoon of drinking whiskey in the Governor's garden, where he tells her she shouldn't be ashamed of liking the fight; it's part of the world they live in, and part of being alive.
He tells Andrea that he prefers to forget the old world, even the good parts, and live in the present. It sounds like a nice philosophy, but there's darkness underneath the skin of it. When most people say they want things to be “all right” again, they mean they want things to be the way they were before. He doesn't. The Governor is a man made for the time that he lives in, and it is an intoxicating idea: letting go of the past, and finding joy in the present, even if that means embracing things that might have once repelled us. It's also a dangerous garden path to walk down, because who knows where it ends? For Andrea, at least for today, the answer is “the governor's bed.”
Speaking of Darryl, the far superior Dixon brother not only saves the presumed-dead Carol this episode, but also has a heart to heart with Carl about dead moms. Darryl reveals that his own mother was killed in a fire when he was a kid, and it felt like she'd suddenly been erased. “It just made it seem like it wasn't real, you know?” Carl quietly lets him know that things are already pretty real for him, given that he watched his mother die and then personally shot her in the head. No lies here.
The person who really needs to have that conversation is Rick, except he's still too busy trading highly improbable phone calls with people who somehow seem to know his name and intimate details about his life. The final voice that comes on the line is familiar, and it should be: It's Lori. And the callers before her were the also-very-dead former cast members Amy, Jim and Jacqui. And that's when we realize that Rick is having a complete psychotic break, talking into a phone that might as well not be plugged into the wall. As the imaginary connection to the afterlife starts to break up, Rick says goodbye to Lori as her garbled voice dissolves into static, into a memory of something that used to be alive. Maybe this is closure?
Denial is a kind of love, or an unwillingness to let go of the things that mean more to us than truth. We can pretend that change isn't real because we aren't ready to let go of the way things used to be, but it doesn't change the world; it only keeps us from living in it. Say what you will about the Governor, but that isn't one of his problems. After Rick hangs up, he heads back to his people, picks up his baby for the first time, and walks out into the yard to stand in the sun.
And who does he see standing beyond the fence, among the straggling walkers? Michonne, covered in blood, a shopping basket full of baby formula in her hand.