“The Walking Dead” – Made to Suffer midseason finale review 1

Carl steps up while Rick’s away rescuing Glenn and Maggie

★★★★½

Even without the ominous episode title, I think we all knew this week’s Walking Dead wasn’t going to turn out well for the characters. If these writers are good at one thing, it’s the last-minute plot twist. Though this week, they started with a pretty big one, too.

The episode opened on a lovely shot of the woods at dawn, which is quickly punctured by a woman screaming. Walkers were swarming and just when I was trying to figure out who would be out in the woods, surprise! Whole new group of survivors. They’re smaller than Rick’s group: Tyrese and Tasha are clearly the leaders, and there’s a small family (husband, wife, teenage-ish son) too. The wife gets bit, but they take her along anyway, all the way to their new sanctuary: the prison. It looks like an explosion rocked the back entrance here; there’s char marks on the walls, and the whole back end is blown off in a pile of rubble. Well, here’s where some of those walkers might be coming from.

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Predictably (though infuriatingly), Tyrese’s group isn’t brought up again till much later. Instead, we’re treated to a domestic shot of the Governor and Andrea to prove to us how into Woodbury she’s getting before stuff starts getting good. Once Andrea leaves to help Milton cremate Mr. Coleman’s body, the Governor heads to his Batcave of creepiness.

This time, he’s here to see Penny, who he keeps hooded and restrained with her straightjacket and chain leash in a cell. Did he always have a cell in his house or did he build himself one after Penny turned? These are the things I wonder about. Luckily, I was soon distracted by how damn good at acting David Morrisey is in this scene. The change in his whole demeanor is palpable; his voice turns soft and sweet, and his face earnestly searches for some kind of conscious response from Penny. He even sings to her, and I finally realize this was probably why he was having Milton do those tests on Mr. Coleman. I so want to hate the Governor with all my heart and soul, but scenes like this really start to make that complicated.

Down in Glenn’s cell, he and Maggie are huddled against a wall. He can’t bring himself to finish his question about the reason for her being shirtless, but she quickly reassures him the Governor barely touched her. They’re so in love with each other, and they manage to make their reunion cutesy despite the dead walker in the corner. Glenn goes over to it and breaks its arm off, halving the bone so he and Maggie can each have makeshift weapons for when the guards come back. Not going to lie, I watched that particular bit with half-closed eyes; this special effects team is a little too good at what they do.

Merle and the Governor meanwhile are discussing the best course of action to take about the prison. The Governor rejects the idea to relocate Woodbury there; he just wants to take Rick’s group out and let the biters have the place. He appeases Merle by suggesting they make Daryl their inside man and promises not to hurt him. Yeah, that sounds genuine.

Rick, Daryl, and Oscar follow Michonne into Woodbury through the house she was questioned in. The guys are starting to get anxious about Michonne, wondering if she’s a traitor. They’re interrupted by the arrival of a Woodbury citizen who saw movement from outside. Rick questions him rather aggressively before gagging and knocking him out when he didn’t know anything. I think Rick losing a bit of his moral center is going to be a major theme throughout the rest of the season. He’s already started with his “this is not a democracy” speech from last season and he’s still reeling from the loss of Lori. One more bad thing, he’ll probably go over the edge.

In the prison, Axel hits on Beth, who’s taking care of Judith, by asking how old she is. When she says seventeen, he starts to get mighty interested. You can practically see Carl beating him up in his head. Carol overhears and pulls Axel aside for a chat (read: stern warning). He makes a pathetic excuse about being locked up with only guys for so long, and then says Beth is the only option since Maggie’s taken and Carol’s a lesbian. You know, because of her short hair. Carol’s amused face is just gold, especially when she turns him down after revealing that she’s straight.

After the one lighthearted moment we’re allotted per midseason finale, everything really starts to pick up. Maggie and Glenn fight off the guards at first with their bone shanks, but Merle and his reinforcements get the upper hand. At first it seems that they’ll be killed execution style on their knees, but the guards put hoods on them and march them out of the warehouse.

Rick and his team arrive just in time to set off a smoke bomb and wrest Glenn and Maggie away. Thank God, because if I had to watch them be killed in front of each other, all while staring in each other’s eyes professing their love I think I would have totally lost it. They’re two of my favorites, and I am so glad they survived this episode.

The gang makes it safely into another building, though Michonne slips away to find the Governor. He’s busy ordering Andrea away from the chaos sparked by Rick’s group and giving his guards orders to shoot to kill. Glenn’s hurt the worst out of their group, and he tells Daryl it was Merle who did it to him. Norman Reedus is another actor who shines in this episode. As soon as Glenn confirms Merle’s alive, Daryl’s whole persona shifts. His face softens, and suddenly he’s Merle’s kid brother again, asking Rick permission to go find him and bring him with them.

In what I’ve dubbed the Woodbury war room, the Governor briefs his guards on the situation, calling the intruders terrorists. He relegates Andrea to house-checking duty, reassuring the citizens that everything’s okay. She’s not so much a fan of this idea; she wants to join the firefight, but he’s obviously afraid she’ll recognize her old group.

Daryl tosses a couple more smoke bombs into the street and they slip out in the confusion. Side question, where did the smoke bombs even come from? Not that it matters in context, really. Just another one of those details. Andrea joins in on the gunshot exchange and almost gives the Governor a heart attack when she says she saw them. She only saw Oscar, though, and she obviously doesn’t know him. You can practically see the Governor sigh with relief.

The fight scene is kind of confusing to watch with all the haze and flashes of gunfire going on. It works out that Daryl and Rick split off alone to provide cover fire so Maggie, Glenn, and Oscar can make it over the line of buses. Rick sees Shane of all people walking towards him with a shotgun raised. He’s so bewildered that Oscar ends up shot by the real guy with the shotgun before Rick comes to his senses. Maggie takes Oscar out so he can’t turn. I’m kind of upset we didn’t get more of a chance to explore his character. I certainly liked him better than Axel, and now he dies with no fanfare whatsoever. I hope they take the time to mourn him in the next episode.

In the prison, Hershel provides some expository information about how they have enough formula to last a month before they start hearing screams from the other part of the prison. Carl, brave soul, takes his gun and goes to investigate. He finds Tyrese and his group in the boiler room and helps them take out the walkers that they’re fighting. He’s a good shot now, I might add. Taking charge just like his dad, he yells at them all to follow him. He even tries to get them to leave the bitten woman behind, but Tyrese shuts him down fast on that one.

Now, this particular part of the episode was my favorite. Michonne, sitting with her sword drawn in the Governor’s house waiting for him, suddenly hears a noise from his secret room. She breaks the door down and is properly horrified at the wall of walker heads in tanks. She coaxes Penny out of her cage, under the impression that she’s a real girl, and I take back ever questioning Danai Gurira’s acting ability. Seeing Michonne be so caring and kind was such a radical shift from her usual scowl; was she always so guarded or was that the walkers? I’m probably never going to know enough about her past, am I?

Anyway, she takes the hood off Penny and freaks out (well, as much as Michonne ever “freaks out” about anything), raising her sword only to be stopped by the appearance of the Governor. He puts his gun away, and suddenly he’s softspoken again, trying to soothe Penny while begging for her life. Michonne looks utterly disgusted, and stabs Penny through the back of the head. I honestly didn’t expect her to do that, and I certainly didn’t expect the fight scene that came next, with Michonne and the Governor wrestling for the upper hand among the wreckage of a row of tanks.

Michonne gets the upper hand when she stabs him in the eye with a piece of broken glass, and he backs off in anguish. Ick, I can’t stand to even think about eye injuries too much. I think that moment was the most sickening for me in recent memory on the show (how messed up is that?). Andrea shows up, and lets Michonne walk away at gunpoint. The steel in her eyes as she looks at her former friend is really well done. Thankfully, the damage to the Governor’s eye is one of the least convincing special effects to date, so I didn’t have to throw up as he sobbed over Penny’s body. Andrea looked like she might, though, and we finally get to see how she’d deal with his secrets.

In the prison, the bitten woman has finally succumbed to the illness, and Carl offers to take care of her for them. It’s sad to think that he’s only thirteen and already has to take on this role. Maybe if Rick really does lose it, Carl will take his place. Tyrese says they take care of their own, and her husband kisses her before embracing his son. Carl locks them in on his way out, and at first Tasha’s furious, but Tyrese just wants them to know they aren’t looking for trouble. I can’t wait to see how Rick deals with even more new people in his prison after this.

The Governor gets his eye patched up by the resident doctor and dodges Andrea’s questions about Penny. He says he made himself look at the heads to prepare for the horrors outside, but somehow that doesn’t feel like the whole story there. Milton and Merle join them, and Merle asks to be put over the wall to find them in the morning.

Michonne rejoins Rick, Maggie, and Glenn outside the walls, and Rick takes out his anger on her. She points out that no matter what he does from here, either heading back in to find Daryl or going to the prison, he’s going to need her around. He grudgingly accepts that to be true, though I don’t think he’ll actually trust her for a very long time. Maybe never, if something terrible happens to Daryl.

The episode ends on a pretty fantastic scene in the walker fight arena. The Governor walks in, ever the tragic hero leading his people, and makes a speech about wanting to reassure them all of safety but not being able to for fear of the terrorists outside their walls. Hello, post-apocalyptic social commentary, I was wondering when we’d see you. The Governor makes Merle the scapegoat, the one who betrayed Woodbury to the “terrorists” because his brother was one of them. With that, captive Daryl is brought into the ring and he sees Merle for the first time since Atlanta, and Andrea sees him too. The crowd calls for blood, and the episode ends on an ominous profile shot of the bandaged Governor.

Like most midseason finales, there is little closure here, but it doesn’t really matter. This episode was well-acted, and more than exciting enough to bring everyone back in February after the break. I know I’m already excited for more of this season. I know it’s only halfway over, but what do you guys think? Best season so far?