No offense to Sophia, but the ending of tonight's midseason finale of The Walking Dead — which found both Dixon brothers, Merle and Daryl, in the f***ed up Woodbury gladiator ring in a fight to the death — was the best/most horrifying way to end this half-season (and not just for the legions of women who love Daryl). Sure, the episode had its fare share of disappointments — like Michonne's continuous, maddening silence and the fact that nobody saw Andrea, but Glen Mazzara left fans with a very satisfying cliffhanger heading into 2013. Plus, there was Cutty from The Wire, the Governor holding his now fully dead daughter, sobbing, with decapitated Walker heads chomping around him, and the final, complete 180 redemption of Carl. And we learned that Axel thinks that all women with short haircuts are lesbians. He's going to have a hard time buying Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables, huh?
Anyway, speaking of Hathaway, a lot of people dreamed some dreams in this episode. The Governor dreamed that, despite the death of Milton's experiment Mr. Coleman, his daughter would have some human consciousness left. Rick and Daryl dreamed that they would enter Woodbury, snag their friends Glenn and Maggie, and leave in one piece. Michonne dreamed of killing the Governor, Andrea dreamed that her new boyfriend wasn't a complete psycho, and Oscar dreamed that he'd be the first second black guy to live through a zombie apocalypse. Sorry buddy, not all dreams are meant to be.
But the main mission — rescuing Glenn and Maggie from Woodbury — was a success. Steven Yeun and Lauren Cohan had one last great captivity scene before the cavalry arrived, where a bloodied and shirtless Glenn cautiously asked Maggie if she had been raped. Her answer was shocking: No, she said. "He barely touched me. All this time running from Walkers, you forget what people do." It's interesting that Maggie doesn't want Glenn to know that the threat of rape was very much on the table, but either way, Maggie really touched upon the overarching problem they've been facing in Woodbury/this entire season. Walkers were barely present this episode, and the ones in Woodbury were just there to shed some light on the Governor. All of the hideous violence we saw tonight was human on human, and even the big "death episode" earlier this season only happened because one ruthless man decided to open up the gates of hell. Walkers have ceased to the be the true "bad guys" on this series, they're just that ever-menacing threat waiting to chomp whenever someone isn't being careful. Like the Gov found out with his daughter (and what Andrea has been telling him all along), Walkers don't have free will. They do what their weird zombie brains tell them to do. It's the surviving humans, with their lack of actual authority, that can be truly terrifying.
Of course, it's characters like Merle and The Governor that are the real psychopaths, but for the town of Woodbury, the Governor was right — Rick, Daryl and co. were terrorists. The gang got past the walls that they thought kept them safe, and came in with their guns blazing. Maggie stabbed a dude in the jugular with a Walker-bone — retrieved by Glenn, in the most disgusting and bad-ass way possible. Rick also took his fare share of shots, and terrorized the streets with his smoke canisters. (Aside: I sort of hated these canisters, since — in addition to helping Daryl/Rick/Oscar rescue Glenn and Maggie, which was fine, they helped ensure that certain characters wouldn't see each other. Convenient, and very frustrating.) In short, for the seemingly safe and chock-full-o'-nostalgia town of Woodbury, these people were scary. It was brilliant that, in the end, the Governor effortlessly played the role of effective, vicious leader by coming out with his buzzword-heavy speech and designated scapegoat (Merle). Der Führer, indeed. (Aside: The terrorism imagery was heavy on both sides. From the burlap sacks over Glenn and Maggie's heads to the low-budge smoke canisters, they pretty much shoved it in our face. "Fight the dead, fear the living", right?)
NEXT: Michonne, The Governor, and a Wall Full o' Heads
It's funny, because the Governor is bats*** insane — before the Grimes Gang attack, he was telling Merle how he planned to infiltrate the prison gang, killing everyone but Daryl — but you have to wonder how many of his constituents would stick with him even if they found out about the wall o' Walker heads and dead daughter. Again, he's managed to establish rule via the proven effective method of provoking nostalgia (See: the popular obsession with '90s Nickelodeon shows), and these people have already accepted his death pits as a fun, necessary pastime. Of course, the real test here will be how Andrea reacts when she learns the whole truth about the Gov, but so far she seems to be willing to accept anything.
Anywho, back to the attack: Once Oscar/Rick/Daryl grabbed Glenn and Maggie, Michonne ran off to find the Governor, and the lovebirds told Daryl his older brother was still alive. Daryl wanted to see him, but Rick made him swear that he'd stay on point. There was a massive shootout in the street, again maddeningly filled with smoke canisters so that Andrea wouldn't see who they were fighting. Stupid stupid. Things got even weirder when Rick saw Shane emerging from a smoke cloud, especially because Shane was sporting an impressive playoff beard that he never had on the show. Of course playoff beard Shane wasn't real, but he did manage to fatally shoot Oscar. Isn't it great how, a few episodes after T-Dog died and Oscar was introduced, Oscar died, and Tyreese was introduced? This might sound nitpicky, but the cliche writes itself.
While all of this was going down, Michonne managed to sneak into the Governor's apartment, discovering his wall o' Walker heads. She also discovered his daughter, and told the "girl" that it was okay, she wouldn't hurt her, before she took off the Governor's burlap sack and discovered that the child was a Walker. "WTF," said Michonne's face. The Governor came in just as Michonne pulled out the katana, and he tried to use his good boy Southern charm when he begged her not to kill her — "don't hurt my little girl," he pleaded. This is when things got INSANELY OH MY GOD AWESOME: Michonne plunged her katana straight into the girl's brain, and it exited VIA HER MOUTH. The Governor didn't like this, so he charged at Michonne full-throttle, leading to a fight that included, among other things, a lot of choking, and the Governor using Michonne's head to break his Walker-head aquariums.
Oh, sweet hindsight! This last part proved to be a mistake for the Governor, since Michonne then used a shard of glass from the busted aquarium to stab him in the eye, blinding him. She was about to take the final swing with her katana when Andrea walked in, gun in tow. Ugh, REALLY, Andrea? The two friends had a Mexican standoff of sorts, though gun always beats sword, so Michonne walked away and let Andrea comfort her sobbing man — who was now holding his daughter — while decapitated Walker heads gurgled on the floor. This scene was bananas and visually amazing, but it also apparently wasn't enough to make Andrea rethink her taste in men. That sex must be really, really good.
So, Michonne rejoined the now Daryl and Oscar-less Grimes Gang outside of Woodbury, where she was greeted by Maggie pointing a gun at her head. They weren't happy that she wandered off, and they questioned her sincerity of her intentions. This is where I have to complain again, since, why the HELL wouldn't she mention anything about the Governor, or Andrea? She knows that this is Andrea's old crew, and this information would be highly pertinent. She managed to convince the Gang that they needed her — whether they wanted to return to prison, or rescue Daryl (PLEASE DO THE LATTER) — and Maggie dropped her gun.
Which brings us to the final, long-awaited meeting of the Dixon brothers: The town of Woodbury (Andrea included) had gathered by their fire pits, awaiting the now eyeless Governor, who came out to ensure that his secretly dictatorial reign would continue. He gave the scared and battered town his version of FDR's reassuring fireside chats ("I'm afraid of terrorists who want what we have!"), then provided them with two scapegoats — Merle, the terrorist from within, and his brother Daryl. "This is one of the terrorists," he said. "Merle's own brother!" The entire town of Woodbury screamed for their blood (it was honestly like a high school musical where all of the chorus members have to pretend to be having conversations and intermittently shout things out), while Andrea — FINALLY — appeared to be questioning her choices. Holy cliffhanger, this was brutal — "You wanted your brother, now you've got him," The Governor said. So, a fight to the death it is. A fight to the death that includes Daryl. My imaginary boyfriend Daryl. I think The Walking Dead just effectively ruined Christmas.
Next: Carl's a man. A manly man man.Naturally, to intercut all of the terrifying things happening in Woodbury, we were treated to some cool goings-on in the prison: The introduction of Tyreese and his crew helped show us that Carl (that's right, I said CARL) might be turning into the most competent member of the Grimes Gang, and we had approximately 2 minutes of time with Axel. He used that time to hit on Beth and accuse Carol of being a lesbian, but hey — character development, yo.
Anyway, Tyreese and his friends infiltrated a section of the prison, and Deputy Carl heard their screams as they fought off the Walkers. (Aside: How do we think they entered this prison? Isn't it supposed to be impenetrable at this point? To be continued, I guess.) He (very effectively) helped them defeat the Walkers and get to safety, and showed his — maturation? Sociopathy? — when he instantly held his gun to a bitten woman's head. (Aside: Maturation and sociopathy on this show might be the exact same thing.) I suppose that Tyreese's crew hasn't had as many casualties as the unlucky Grimes Gang, as they still hadn't had the whole "how do we graciously and humanly let this woman die?" talk yet. They ended up covering her face before they bashed her brains in, which is sort of savage and humane at the same time.
Carl ended up pulling a Daddy Rick when he locked Tyreese and his gang into their separate cell block, but he pointed out that they had food and water, which is a plus. Tyreese's lady friend wasn't happy about this arrangement, but Tyreese used his Cutty from The Wire-esque wisdom to calm her down: "Let the man go," he said. (Carl is a man now, y'all! If you didn't know it before, you know it now.) "Look around you. This is the best we've had in weeks. It's his house." Tyreese then assured Carl that they didn't want any trouble, and him and his gang sauntered off — but they'll be back again come February, along with the rest of Woodbury and the Grimes Gang.
At the end of the day, it was an overall successful episode. The things that didn't work — the smoke canisters, Michonne's silence, playoff beard Shane — were very frustrating, but we've still come such a long way from last year, and I'm greatly looking forward to the show's return/writing more of these recaps while drinking wine to numb the pain. Please do let me know your thoughts in the comments. Don't hold back, y'all! Carl wouldn't, if he had access to the Internet.
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[PHOTO CREDIT: AMC]