The Walking Dead Plot Departure

Latest episode breaks from current narrative in a bracing way; 'Homeland,' take note

The Walking Dead” and “Homeland” keep providing coincidental compare-and-contrast opportunities this season, and the former’s detour to focus on a single character was a case in point – one that reflected well on the AMC drama.

“Homeland,” of course, used its third episode to update viewers, sort of, on what’s been happening with Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis). (WARNING: Spoilers ahead)  The character was then absent for an extended stretch — taking a break at what looks like the worst Club Med ever —  before being reintroduced into the narrative by Sunday’s cliffhanger, adding considerable “oof” to a show that still hasn’t fully recovered from its second-season creative tailspin, and risks tripping over its multiple twists.

By contrast, “Walking Dead” (and warning: More Spoilers ahead) cleverly teased the return of the Governor (David Morrissey) the previous week, then went full-Morrissey on Nov. 17, with an episode bringing the audience up to speed on where he’s been since the community he headed fell apart amid hails of gunfire and questionable decision-making. Plus, we’ve been reminded there’s really no easy way to pack and ship one’s collection of pickled zombie heads.

Buoyed by Morrissey’s performance, Sunday’s episode introduced the Governor to a small group of survivors, and connected him to a young girl who, understandably, is suffering emotional torment because of the world having gone to hell around her. That’s a particularly clever wrinkle, given the loss of his own daughter, with the question of whether he can save this surrogate providing perhaps a path toward redemption for those abundant sins of the past – or, alternately, utter madness and damnation.

There were other small touches of note, too, like the fact not everyone has figured out head blows is the way to incapacitate the zombies – or can explain why that works.

Foremost, this break from all the regular characters very neatly leads back toward that closing scene when the Governor showed up outside the prison, inviting all sorts of speculation and tension regarding what has happened (and who might have been lost) in between.

In short, the show exercised the freedom to throw in such an interlude in a way that didn’t detract from the main plot, but rather — by clearly building toward something bigger — promises to significantly enhance it. That’s a fairly stark departure from “Homeland’s” Brody breather, which raised more questions than it answered, other than garnering some value from Lewis, what with his name still in the credits all season.

Admittedly, “Walking Dead’s” explosive ratings make it easy to ascribe all sorts of genius to its various flourishes, but it’s never a given going in that the audience is going to respond favorably when you the rest of the show on hold for a week.

Time will ultimately tell how well it all meshes together on both fronts, but so far, it looks like “Dead’s” latest revision to its creative brain trust keeps clicking on all cylinders, while “Homeland,” with apologies to the Beatles, still has a ways to go to get back home.

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