After last week's brilliant road-trip episode, "The Walking Dead" returned Sunday to the major conflict at hand as we finally get to see Rick and the Governor meet face-to-face for the first time. But it doesn't come in a way we might have expected -- in the heat of battle. Instead, we're invited to sit in on some bizarre, tension-filled peace-treaty negotiations between the two men.
The session depicted in "Arrow on the Doorpost" was engineered by Andrea, who desperately dreams of a day when harmony comes to the Zombie Apocalypse. But then she was rudely locked out of the boys-only talks by the Woodbury Cyclops. And so we ask again: Why is she still with him? Why? Why? Why?
But onto the matter at hand:
Rick and his bodyguards, Hershel and Daryl, arrive for the talks at what looks to be an abandoned warehouse. Everyone is tense. Looking around. On guard against an ambush. Rick enters the building, wondering where his enemy might be. Finally, the Governor emerges from the shadows.
"We have a lot to talk about," he says.
Rick thinks things are pretty clear. You attacked us, he says, labeling One-Eye as the aggressor. "I could have killed you all. I didn't," the Governor replies. Then, the Governor reaches for the gun in his hip holster. This gives Rick an itchy trigger finger, but the Gov explains that he's only removing his weapon -- as a gesture of good faith -- during their friendly little chat session. But we know better, and sure enough, the camera pans down to reveal that the Governor has a pistol taped under the table. One more sign that this man is not to be trusted under any circumstance.
Outside, Hershel and Daryl don't like the feel of things and they get more jumpy when an SUV arrives with Andrea, Milton and Martinez, one of the Governor's goons. Andrea, surprised that Governor got here so early, walks up to the bargaining table and tells the men that they can solve their differences and bring a halt to all the bloodshed.
But something tells us that Palestine and Israel may have a better chance of coming together than these two combatants. Rick pulls out a map and suggests that the Governor and his Woodbury citizens can have the territory west of the river and that the prison gang take they east. No one crosses. No one trades. Andrea likes that idea, but the Governor doesn't. "I'm here for one reason," he tells Rick. "Your surrender."
Then the Governor tells Andrea to step outside, dismissing her like some sort of kitchen maid on "Downton Abbey." She appeals to Rick, who says, "I came to talk to him." It's one more glaring reminder that the Zombie Apocalypse is very much like the real world, where men make most of the rules, as well as the wars. Oh, if only more women were in charge.
After Andrea leaves, Rick tells the Governor that he has no respect for him, or puts no stock into his leadership status. "You're the town drunk who knocked over my fence or ripped up my yard. Nothing more," he snarls. The Governor responds by playing mind games with Rick, telling him that he knows about the baby (Judith) and how it could be Shane's -- and yet Rick cares for it anyway. I admire that, the Gov says. It's restitution for lack of insight -- failing to see the devil beside you."
"I see him all right, Rick says, staring lasers into the Governor's one good eye.
Outside, the guys representing Team Rick and Team Woodbury have been busy calling each other names and marking their territory. They spot some walkers, leading Daryl and Martinez to play a game of one-upmanship as they kill the stiffs. Daryl shows off his bow-hunting skills and dagger-throwing abilities, and Martinez makes like Barry Bonds with a baseball bat, whacking zombie heads with powerful uppercuts. You almost expect them, at any moment, to yank out their penises and compare.
After the walkers are vanquished, the dudes suddenly have respect for each other and make some small talk. Even Milton and Hershel are starting to warm up to each other. Ever the scientist, Miltie wants to know all about the doctor's amputated leg.
"I'm not showing you my leg," Hershel says. "At least buy me a drink first." And then they share a tension-breaking laugh and it all feels a little too script-writerish and way too easy.
Of course, nothing is coming easy with the peace talks, even though the Governor is now sharing his whiskey with Rick and telling him the sad story of the day he got a call telling him his wife had been involved in a fatal car accident. It seems like a ploy to get Rick thinking about Lori and maybe slip back into Crazytown mode.
Meanwhile, back at the prison, Merle is stir-crazy. He has been making overtures about wanting to crash the peace talks. He's allegedly worried about Daryl and wants to kill the Governor, but Glenn thinks that's a horrible idea. Merle calls Glenn a sissy (or a word to that effect) and they get into a wrestling match. Michonne looks like she wants a piece of the action, but then little Beth (the woman we tend to forget is even there) fires off a gun to break everything up.
Apparently, the wrestling match has turned Maggie on because moments later, she and Glenn somehow find time for a little nookie and to apologize to one another for the distance that developed between them in the days since their Woodbury trauma. It's their own version of peace negotiations -- with benefits.
Back at the powwow between Rick and the Governor, the latter removes his eye patch to reveal his gruesome wound. Then, he finally tells Rick that what he really wants is Michonne. Hand her over and the war will be over. Just like that. So, why didn't he say that right off the top instead of wasting much of this talky episode with a bunch of other blather?
Rick is surprised. He thought the Governor was all about leaving a legacy in Woodbury -- about turning it into a prototype community amid the chaos of the Zombie Apocalypse. Why risk it all on a two-bit vendetta? "Killing Michonne is beneath you," he says.
But no, the Governor clearly wants payback. He tells Rick to give him an answer in two days. Then, they walk out to their respective vehicles and Andrea the lunkhead goes with the Woodbury gang -- this only moments after Hershel told her: "You're family. You're one of us."
When the Gov gets back to Woodbury, it comes as no surprise that he tells Martinez his real plan: Wipe out Team Rick and keep Michonne alive -- presumably so he can torture her. Naive Milton overhears this and is stunned. Meanwhile, Andrea asks the Governor what the terms of the peace talk were. He refuses to divulge them. She is dissed again.
Rick is like the Governor in at least one respect: He's not above strategically lying. When he returns to the prison, he tells his troops that the Governor wants the prison and that he wants them all dead. "We're going to war," he proclaims. And then, one by one, we get close-up shots of a bunch of solemn faces.
Later, outside in the yard, Rick tells Hershel what really went down -- that the Governor has specifically asked for Michonne, who, they both agree, has earned her keep. Hershel wants to know why Rick didn't tell the group. "They need to be scared," he replies.
"Then why are you telling me?" Hershel wonders.
"Because I'm hoping you can talk me out of it."