NOTE: SPOILER ALERT
Following a second season of inconsistency and odd character choices, the showrunners behind AMC’s The Walking Dead seem to have taken many of these mistakes into account and have amped up the action, suspense, and drama in the current season. Some of the most hated and marginalized characters have gotten the chance to show genuine humanity and emotion. Both new and returning faces have also been handled well, for the most part. And, of course, the main reason we all keep coming back, the ceaseless zombie violence and gore has been just as brutal as always.
Sunday saw the mid-season finale, leaving viewers with a semi-cliffhanger until February. In what was only really the second biggest moment of the episode, Daryl and Merle Dixon were reunited (even though this is actually the first non-dream sequence they share together). The lovable badass and his magnificent bastard brother were surrounded by a town full of people calling for their deaths. I not only expect a violent, gladiator-esque trial to await them when we see them again, but also a new depth to each of them. Daryl has always been devoted to his group, in spite of his rough nature, and Merle has only looked out for himself. If they eventually end up back with the prison group, Merle’s presence won’t sit well with anyone, but presumably the two come as a pair. He may turn into a necessary evil for the group, or another difficult choice for Rick.
Shortly before the reunion, we saw the most brutal fight the show has offered so far. Michonne and the governor, two polar opposite examples on the spectrum of character development, fought among broken glass and decapitated zombie heads that were still biting. Michonne, a character who so far has provided great action but little underneath, waited in ambush in the governor’s office. Like most of her actions this season, her reasons for this are unknown, if not outright forced for the sake of plot. While few people will argue against a samurai sword wielding loner as a bad thing to have, I would at least like to see her as more than just that. Her perma-scowl and unwillingness to talk about herself are no substitute for real personality. Hopefully she is given more meaningful things to do in the last half of the season. (Very surprisingly, Carl has made a recovery as a character that should provide a standard for how to develop Michonne and other, lesser characters. He has developed an actual personality this season and has gone through a compelling turn of events in which it’s actually believable that he has been forced to act mature very quickly.)
On the other hand, seeing the governor confronted by his own twisted nature has proven how well he has been written. His injury now makes him match his comic book appearance, at least a little bit, in a moment that was severely cringe-inducing. His affection for his zombified daughter has been convincingly creepy and his reaction to her death felt genuine. This moment recalled last season’s slaughter of the walkers in Hershel’s barn, although in a far more twisted set of circumstances. Hearing his explanation of the heads in the aquariums to Andrea also seemed justified, again in a twisted way. As a constant reminder and preparation for the horrors of the world outside, it raises the question of how morality can still exist in these circumstances. We’ve seen Rick and his group face conflicts without easy solutions lately, progressively becoming more desensitized to killing in order to survive. The inevitable meeting between Rick and the governor will undoubtedly draw parallels between the two. The ultimate question is how long anyone could survive before turning to the savage way of running things that has seemingly kept the order in Woodbury.
The gunfight in Woodbury was also interesting and suspenseful, even if it seemed mainly like a backdrop to bigger events at times. It was established early this season that the group has begun working very efficiently together and the rescue of Glenn and Maggie only solidified the group dynamic. Rick’s vision of Shane in the middle of all the shooting was the strangest occurrence and is bound to continue, along with his hallucinations of talking with other dead members of the group. The episode’s only casualty was the inmate Oscar, not a significant loss but still a bit unfortunate. The inmates have yet to receive too much characterization (aside from Mr. Mustache’s pervy side this week) but Oscar still had a few moments beforehand that made him endearing. He had just found some comfy slippers only two episodes ago.
This episode’s intro also brought a new group into the fold for this week’s B-plot. Fans of The Wire should be happy to see Chad Coleman (Cutty from Season 3 onward) as Tyrese, the presumptive leader of a few new survivors. Our first glimpse of this crew was a familiar one, running from a horde and taking shelter under dire conditions. Their brief debate of how to handle one of their own who was bitten showed real conflict. They had to act quickly, but could hardly bear to be so inhuman as to leave her behind to be eaten. Their run in with Carl gives them another source of conflict. They have already been forcibly separated from the other prison survivors, with one member angry enough about the situation to yell at Carl to open their gate. The two groups will without a doubt combine, but as always the question is how well everyone will get along together. Maybe Rick will need more hands for another mission or maybe the mustachioed inmate will try acting on his more uglier impulses, resulting in a situation where Carl is forced to trust the others.