by Kat Rosenfield
We can't say they didn't warn us: in the week preceding last night's episode of "The Walking Dead", executive producer and showrunner Glen Mazzara promised a mid-season finale that would blow the ever-lovin' minds of fans everywhere, full of action and angst and a frankly enormous cliffhanger. And considering the bar set by Season 2 — first with the mid-season shocker of Zombie Sophia, and then with the barn burner of a finale that included the actual burning of an actual barn — most of the show's avid viewers were coming at this one with expectations ramped up to eleven.
Did it deliver? Well, we'll get there. But we will say this: five seconds into the episode, someone is already screaming.
A new someone, it turns out! Wait: FIVE new someones, including fan-favorite Tyreese! The group of survivors flees through the forest, taking down walkers as fast as they can. But there are too many, a bite is sustained, and the panicked four haul their wounded companion over a crumbled brick wall... which leads to (you guessed it) the prison.
The newbies arrive just in time to interrupt Axel, who's gamely providing one of the episode's two tiny moments of comic relief by hitting on 17 year-old Beth (and explaining himself thus to Carol: "Well, Maggie's with Glenn, and you're a lesbian.")
Carl, playing the hero, follows the sound of screams to the boiler room, where he takes out a couple of the buttload of zombies they've brought in with them. They follow him back to the cellblock, but they still won't leave their bitten comrade, who is either actively dying or not yet actively dead. And in the ensuing argument over who should do the obligatory re-killing, Carl closes the door between them and locks it. Attaboy, Carl! Never trust anyone, ever!
But that's it for the cellblock brigade. The real action? It's in Woodbury! Where the Governor, alone at last, is trying to have a magic moment with his floating heads and his zombie daughter — and also hatching a grand plan to take out his neighbors at the prison down the road. Little does he know, those neighbors are right downstairs: Rick, Daryl, Oscar and Michonne have managed to sneak past the walls, where they're regrouping and subduing the Woodburian equivalent of a mall cop who wanders into their midst.
And in the meantime, Glenn and Maggie try to make their own escape: the two burst into the hallway, armed with the sharpened arm bones of a dead walker! And they kill one guy with an ulna! And it's great! For a whole ten seconds, that is, until more goons arrive to execute them. But let's give Glenn all the awards for creative repurposing of body parts... and let's be glad that the hubbub caught the attention of their would-be rescuers next door. One smoke grenade and a getaway sprint later, the group is reunited.
The smoke obscures Daryl and Merle from each other, but Glenn and Maggie spill the beans, causing Daryl to momentarily balk at the prospect of leaving without a family reunion. But only for a moment! Rick needs his righthand man to make their great escape, and Daryl's no deserter. And so the group goes about the business of busting back out, which is wildly smoky and noisy — so much that Andrea, who's been resisting the Governor's attempts to sideline her from the action, goes out to see what's what. But her one chance to wise up is lost: she sees only Oscar, who she doesn't know and can't recognize, and that's right before shizz goes crazy.
The prison group runs for the walls in a scene that's like something out of Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, only with semi-automatic weapons and an acid trip on the side, as Rick sees...
Shane? Oh, nevermind: he's just hallucinating again. Daryl lays down cover fire, leaving himself horribly exposed as the others flee and the bullets fly. Bang, Oscar goes down! And uh-oh, Daryl is missing.
And he's not the only one: Michonne, who's got her own ax to grind, has gone back to assassinate Woodbury's number one... but hey, what's behind that closed door? Why, it's a room full of soft mood lighting and floating heads! Michonne, seeing the Governor's collection, looks as scared as we've ever seen her — and that's even before she hears the moans of what she thinks is a living child. She flings open the gate, she peels back the head-sack, and:
"NOOOOOOOO!", screams the Governor, who has arrived just in time to stop Michonne's killing stroke. He drops his gun, and all pretense. He begs. "Please don't hurt my little girl?"
But a zombie is a zombie, guv'nah, and it's a katana through the mouth for young Penny. She goes down, and the man goes berserk. He launches himself at Michonne, snarling, as the two ricochet off the walls. He has the upper hand! No, she does! No, he does, as he pitches her head-first through the aquariums — which tumble like dominoes and give us Moment of Comic Relief #2, as the two grapple with each other whilst trying to avoid the chomping dead heads that are scattered all over the floor. And we hope you enjoyed that, because it lasts only as long as it takes Michonne to plunge a glass shard into the Governor's eye.
But just when it looks like this non-elected official's term limit is up, a voice calls out for her to stop. It's Andrea, with a gun. And it's Michonne, lowering her sword and walking out, leaving her ex-friend to survey the carnage.
And while the remaining rescuers — and their rescuees — regroup just outside Woodbury's walls, the town's main man is out an eye, a daughter, and about a dozen waterlogged heads. But still lying! Always lying! And Andrea's still buying it hook, line, and sinker, which leaves our dear Governor free to worry about: a) Merle, and his whopper of a story about having killed Michonne, and b) the frightened populace, who need to be good and scared! Why? Because "terrorists"!
Terrorists like Merle! Who registers not even the slightest surprise at his leader's j'accuse, but does have the decency to look upset when they bring out Daryl in a prisoner's hood. The two men are accused of masterminding the attack, and the crowd is screaming for blood. And the shrieks of "Kill them! KILL THEM!" grow louder and louder...
Previous "Walking Dead" Recaps:
Episode 3.07, "When The Dead Come Knocking"
Episode 3.06, "Hounded"
Episode 3.05, "Say the Word"
Episode 3.04, "Killer Within"
Episode 3.03, "Walk with Me"
Episode 3.02, "Sick"
Episode 3.01, "Seed"