Here's the problem with the awesome, crazy and ballsy move of killing off Lori and (our beloved) T-Dog (may he rest at the right hand of the father) in the middle of your season. What you gain in "Holy shit anything could happen at any time!" you lose in "Hey, it's the mid-season finale and nothing as crazy as Lori dying has happened." I think it was a good move overall, and when you remember that mid-season finales are more an invention of production schedule and network promotion than anything approaching a "real" finale, it shouldn't be considered a problem. But anyone expecting madness on that level in last night's episode "Made to Suffer" might be disappointed.
We'll begin with the episode's extremely welcome addition of fan-favorite character Tyreese, who fights his way into the prison with his own group of four. He enters a seemingly bombed-out part of the prison, and I wondered for a minute if we were getting some kind of Breaking Bad-esque flash-forward to after the Governor's assault, but it's not. Anyways, one of Tyreese's crew gets bitten, and rather than leave her to distract the zombies with her delicious, delicious body or shoot her in the head, Tyreese allows her husband to drag her along. Wha? Someone extending a bit of human kindness amidst the zombie apocalypse? We all know it's a risky if not outright dumb move, but Tyreese quickly acknowledges the danger - that she will definitely turn (she's not going zombie-surprise the group later) but that the husband needs a bit of time to say a proper goodbye. It's probably the kindest thing anybody has done in The Walking Dead all season, and it makes Tyreese instantly awesome.
Obviously, the meat of the episode is in Woodbury. Glen and Maggie have an impossibly tense reunion, one well-played by Lauren Cohen and one fantastically played by Stephen Yuen. The whole torture sequence has allowed Yuen to stretch his chops considerably, and he's become - or revealed himself to be - one of the show's strongest actors. His bitter detrmination when ripping off a zombie's arm (the zombie he killed while duct-taped to a chair, it's worth remembering) in order to pull out the radius and ulna to use as a shiv is awesome. Let Rick go wander around the prison and imagine phone calls if he wants; when Glenn has a bad day, he's gonna get shit done.
Rick, Michonne, Daryl and Oscar enter the town thanks to a secret passage found by Michonne; the group sneaks tensely around the town until they come across and subdue a guard. After a brief fight - in which it should be noted Maggie and Glenn are only stopped from killing Merle and escaping on their own is another influx of armed guards - Rick, Oscar and Daryl run into them on their way to "The Screaming Pits" (wherever the hell the Governor had ordered the prisoners to be sent), throw some smoke grenades, and manage to grab both Glenn and Maggie without Daryl seeing Merle. I was all set to point out this ludicrousness, but at least Glenn instantly told Daryl about Merle at the first chance the group got, thank goodness (specifically, Glenn told Daryl Merle beat the shit out him). Daryl has a moment of wanting to see his brother, but Rick, rightfully acknowledging that Team T-Dog is pretty much doomed without Daryl, talks him out of it.
Back in the prison, the convict Axel is trying to mack on both Carol and Herschel's 17-year-old daughter (he goes after Herschel's daughter first) when Carl hears Tyreese's crew's screams, and being the tiny little psychotic badass he is, goes to help. He pretty much saves their asses and helps get them to a safe part of the prison. Carl's all ready to extend a further helping hand by shooting their infected (and now dead) friend in the head, but Tyreese explains they "take care of [their] own." Carl - being both helpful and practical - then locks them in that section of the prison, away from the original group. One of Tyreese's members freaks out, clearly thinking she can intimidate a little boy (HA HA HA HAHAHAHAHAHA) until Tyreese stops her and points out that there's no reason Carl should trust them, the prison is the best place they've been in a quite a while. And then Tyreese thanks Carl, and becomes The Most Likable Walking Dead Character of All Time.
Meanwhile, the Governor instantly realizes the people attacking are Andrea's former group, and awkwardly tries to keep Andrea from accidentally running into them by sending her to do housechecks; despite Andrea's complete inability to follow directions in service of a greater good, this doesn't happen. Then the Governor goes to check his office, where he finds Michonne in his zombie head aquarium room, seconds away from executing his zombie daughter Penny. The Governor is terrified. He instantly puts the gun he drew back in its holster, lets his gunbelt fall to the floor and begs - I mean begs - Michonne not to kill his daughter. Michonne, of course, stabs his daughter in the head with her katana, and the Governor freaks the fuck out.
What ensues is certainly the best fight The Walking Dead has ever staged, as The Governor and Michonne beat the shit out of each other. They punch and kick and bite and slam each other into zombie head aquariums and then try to maneuver the other person into the still-biting zombie heads that are now strewn about the floor like little mines of undeath. Maybe it was the acting or the editing or the choreography or something else, but I had no problem believing that David Morrissey really, really wanted to kill Michonne in this fight. Michonne only wins by grabbing a lengthy shard of aquarium glass and shoving it into the Governor's eye. She's about to administer the killing blow when Andrea Batmans in out of nowhere with a gun; she protects the Guv, and Michonne leaves.
First, I'm glad Andrea sided with the Governor here, because there was absolutely no reason for her not to. The Guv gave her food, shelter, safety, booze and sweet, sweet David Morrissey-style lovin', and while Michonne may have kept Andrea safe while she was sick, she also abandoned Andrea without giving her any real reason other than she didn't like the Governor for some unarticulated reason. So while I still think Andrea is really annoying, this move still makes perfect sense to me.
Here's what I don't understand: What the hell The Walking Dead people meant to show in the Michonne/Governor scene. Because the Governor is so worried when he sees Michonne about to kill his (straight-jacketed and thus not that much of a threat) zombie daughter, so scared, so human. He begs Michonne for his daughter's unlife, and it's clear that he would give up Woodbury in an instant if it just meant getting his darling little brain-eater back. And then Michonne kills her anyways.
In my few episodes I've talked about how not-evil the Governor seems - creepy, sure, incredibly controlling, definitely - but seeing as he has a goal, and that goal is protecting his people, it's been hard to see his actions as any less noble than Rick's. Sure, maybe the Governor enjoys making these hard, cruel decisions, but if TWD has shown us one thing over and over again, it's that in the zombie apocalypse ends matter a whole hell of a lot more than means. So to have this scene between the Governor and Michonne - a character who's primary trait in the show has been "sullen," and has not come close to engendering the goodwill and popularity of her comic counterpart - to have this scene be about Michonne straight-up murdering the Governor's daughter in front of him while he begs her not too… that's fucked up. Because it's almost impossible to look at this scene and not think of Michonne is the villain.
But back to what I don't understand: IS The Walking Dead doing this on purpose? I felt they've been blurring the line between Rick and the Governor pretty hard all season, but I've never quite been able to tell if this comparison has been intentional on the part of the writers, or just a weird result of them not making the Guv villainous enough and Rick and Michonne heroic enough. Maybe I'm still reeling from the horribleness of the first half of season 2, when people were literally walking around saying "I AM SAD BECAUSE THERE ARE ZOMBIES" all the time, but it's tough to imagine that the writers would have the subtlety, let alone the balls, to make their main protagonists this unsympathetic. Or maybe I just expected Michonne to be katana-wielding Wonder Woman because I'd heard of her through the comics, and assumed she'd be heroic all the time. But things have improved, so maybe they've improved this much and we're getting into a seriously complex look at what morality actually mean when human society no longer exists. Either one.
Anyways, Rick and Maggie and Glenn escape, although Oscar is killed in the process and Daryl is captured. Michonne quickly meets the crew outside of Woodbury and points out Rick needs her help to get everybody back to the prison safely. It is, oddly, the one scene in this entire seasonwhere Michonne seems human, and scared, and not trying to pretend she's the Man with No Name, and I really, really hope it's a permanent change.
The Governor gets his eye bandage, a vendetta against Merle (since he told the Guv Michonne was dead) and what is obviously going to be an all-consuming desire for revenge. He gives a pretty goddamned inspiring speech to the citizens of Woodbury about how they were attacked by terrorist (an annoyingly heavy-handed metaphor, but one that brings home the fact that to 90% of the people of Woodbury, a bunch of gun-toting lunatics broke into their town and starting killing people for no apparent reason at all). He points out Merle as the "terrorist's" inside man, and brings out the captured Daryl, too.
I've had my doubts how evil the Governor's been in the first half of this season, but it's clear once episodes start back in February, he's going to be out for revenge. Sure, he's a troubled man out to inflict as much damage on those he thinks wronged him, but here's the thing: They actually wronged him. The Governor doesn't know Michonne isn't really part of Rick's group, but he knows that someone broken into his home and killed his daughter right in front of him. The fact she was a zombie doesn't matter to him at all. The Governor may be a monster now, but if so, he's a monster of Rick and Michonne's own creating.
• The Rule of T-Dog means only one black male lead is allowed in the group and on the show. As comes Tyreese, so goes Oscar.
• As awesome as Glen's pulling out the zombie radius/ulna to use as a shiv was, I couldn't help but think "man, if he has any open wounds on his hand, he is fucked."
• The Governor tells Merle to take Maggie and Glenn to "The Screaming Pits." For a dude who obviously knows his PR, you'd think he'd have a less obviously evil name for it, like Shady Acres or something. Dude, even the Empire thinks you're being a little overdramatic, and they have a goddamned Death Star.
• Other than Tyreese and Carl, is there anybody people are rooting for more than Maggie and Glenn? You know that means they're doomed, right?
• When Michonne discovers the Guv's aquarium room and Penny play area, and she's a little girl chained up in a dark room with a straightjacket on and a bag on her head, she clearly fears the worst, and the worst is definitely not that she's a zombie. It's an incredibly dark moment, but a powerful one.
• I don't know if Axel the Other Convict is technically a pedophile, but if you ask someone their age, and they reply 17, and then you say "Interesting…" you deserve at least a month or two in jail.
• As creepy as that was, I did find his utter bafflement that short-haired Carol wasn't a lesbian a little adorable. Seriously, he had no idea a short-haired heterosexual woman was even a thing that was possible.
• Speaking of germs, there's no way the Guv's zombie head aquariums were ever cleaned, right? I mean, cleaning aquariums sucks when they're only full of fish. Since the heads are still decomposing, wouldn't that effectively make everything aquarium full of zombie juice, meaning the glass of the aquarium is covered in zombie juice? And wouldn't that mean when Michonne cuts herself on the glass and then stabs the Guv's in the eye with it, wouldn't they both turn into zombies? This obviously isn't going to happen, I'm just thinking out loud.
• A pet peeve of mine: When people go on a rescue mission, and lose exactly the same number of their team as they were trying to rescue. It's like, why even bother? Just stay home and save the ammo.
• This is how I remember the conversation between Carl and Herschel going; correct me if I'm wrong:
/a woman screams
Carl: I'm going to help her.
(Herschel blocks him with his crutch)
Herschel: You can't.
Carl: Okay. I guess we'll send your 17-year-old daughter, the pedophile macking on your 17-year-old daughter, the middle-aged woman who isn't here, or one-legged Santa Claus.
(Herschel lowers crutch)
Carl: You're one-legged Santa Claus, by the way.
Herschel: JUST GO.
• FYI, the governor keeps all the zombie heads in his aquariums so he can force himself to look at them and acknowledge the horror. That's weird, but it's also not actually evil.
• I'm also pretty sure the nurse lady told the Governor: "It looks pretty bad. You have a giant shard of glass in your eye." THANK YOU, DR. HOUSE.
• I know what the show is going for when the Guv calls Rick's crew "terrorists" over and over again, but I almost strained my eyes I was rolling them so hard.
• That said, I am open to changing my mind of someone makes me an image of Rick face photoshopped into Osama bin Laden's beard and turban.
ª The AV Club's Zack Handlen points out the almost 100% certain idea that the Governor has staged Merle's "arrest" so that he can "escape" with Daryl to discover the prison location. I didn't think of this because I am dumb.
• Rick's Shane vision was wholly unexpected and totally great. It's moments like this when I can actually believe TWD writers actually have a plan now.
• Everyone on the planet can get a headshot with 100% accuracy when they're shooting at zombies, but as soon as there's a live target, they turn into Stormtroopers.
• Walking Dead, if you want to turn into the Tyreese and Carl Zombie-Killin' Hour, I will be 100% okay with that.
• Seriously, let's take a quick look at the Governor/Michonne relationship from the Governor's point of view. 1) Michonne arrives at Woodbury. 2) Governor welcomes her in with open arms. 3) Michonne is really, really rude to the Governor. 4) Michonne leaves. 5) The Governor sends Merle to kill her, possibly out of vindictiveness but also possibly in an extreme and not entirely misguided attempt to keep Woodbury safe by keeping it secret. 6) Michonne sneaks in the middle of the night and kills the Governor's daughter as he begs her not to. I hear that story, I'm siding with the Governor.
• Chris Hardwick's Giant Hashtag-Promoting Head was not as bad this week as last week, but it's still really, really distracting and awful. Seriously, AMC, run them before a segment starts. A nation tired of Chris Hardwick's Giant Hashtag-Promoting Head will thank you.
• See you in February, folks!