Here there be spoilers.
Episode 11 is one of those sideshow episodes where we wander off and focus on one or two secondary characters for a while.
We start off with Merle laying down his knowledge of the Governor, talking up the Gov’s tactical brilliance and his superior numbers in terms of troops and guns. It’s kind of a great scene: Merle is always bitching about back when he was locked to the roof in Atlanta and had to cut off his hand. And now he’s right back in Rick’s captivity. He’s almost sympathetic, especially when conversing with Herschel. We learn Merle even has a brain as he starts citing bible verses and spouting scripture back at Herschel. I guess if East Texas cheerleaders can surprise us with scripture, so can Merle.
Merle’s warnings about the Governor establish the raised stakes: There are underdogs and then there is the Rick Grimes Gang. It’s looking like an Alamo kind of situation. But at least the good guys have the prison on their side, and the fact that they aren’t (like the governor) trying to raise a child army.
Then we get the big Herschel/Rick confrontation. “You once said this isn’t a democracy? You have to own up to that. I put my family’s life in your hands.” Exactly. Rick, please stop following hot hallucination/ghost Lori around the prison yard. Even your son wants you to back off.
(And Rick does. It’s not his episode.)
Much of the episode is dedicated to Andrea’s journey to the prison and back, in direct defiance of the Governor’s orders. Her exit isn’t exactly the Great Escape. It’s unclear why she appeals so idealistically to Milton and asks him to help her get out of Woodbury. Of course Milton goes straight to the Governor with news of Andrea’s “betrayal” (Milton’s entrance falls immediately after the Governor takes the bandage off his eye—looking uglier by the day, Gov!). “Help her,” the Gubernator says. It’s clumsy evil but still evil enough to keep us going, all things considered. With walkers crawling around all over and Rick descending into madness, we don’t need the Governor to be anything more than a straw man with an army.
Andrea’s quest allows us the gruesome scene of her going all Michone on a walker, first double amputating it and then using a rock to take out its teeth, while Milton holds it down. I’m going out on a limb and saying that this scene was the second most disturbing example of “curbing” ever caught on camera, after this one. I guess the joke is on Milton after all! He seems like the kind of guy who has bad dreams.
The problem with Andrea’s quest is that no one believes her tie to the Governor, or “Phillip” as she calls him. He keeps heads in fish tanks and his zombie daughter in a closet—typically a bad sign in a man. So her need to be this mutually interested ambassador between her friends (understandable) and this guy (fish tanks!) falls a little flat.
That said, the prison visitation allows for some intense moments for Andrea, especially during the scene with Carol and the baby, when Andrea first learns 1) that Rick killed Shane; 2) that Shane loved Lori, and in fact loved her enough to try to kill Rick; 3) that Shane probably wasn’t all that into Andrea, however it may have appeared at the time; and 4) that her post-apocalyptic track record with men is shoddy.
Even as Andrea’s episode sunsets, we see the raising of other stakes: The chess pieces are moving. The Governor gets his military intelligence: First by picking up Dennis-from-”The-Wire” and his fellow rejects, who know the inside of the prison and don’t like Rick; and second from Andrea, who confirms that Michone and Merle are with his other enemies. Of course he doesn’t know that his enemies are moving against him, with Rick promising to leave on a run in the morning. He’s taking Michone to test her, and Carl.
Some fathers and sons fix a car together as a rite of passage, but not Rick and Carl Grimes. No, they go on a “run” through zombie country to fight a cyclops. Could Carl’s Rite of Passage possibly be as bizarre as Harmar Cow Jumping?