The bookends of this week’s “The Walking Dead” were so phenomenal that much of what happened in between couldn’t help feeling underwhelming by comparison, but taken as a whole, “Home” fits perfectly into the exceptional framework of Season 3.
The hour opened with an incredible four minute dialogue-free sequence of Rick on lookout duty and having another vision of Lori. In a masterful display of narrative economy and silent, emotion-driven storytelling we quickly surmised that Michonne has set up camp in an overturned prison bus just outside the main cell block where everyone else is staying. That made her the only witness to Rick’s odd behavior.
The vision of Lori lured Rick first to the graveyard and then outside the prison fences, where he finally was able to experience what he’s been longing for: Lori’s touch. (The presence of Sarah Wayne Callies in the flesh and clear as day — as opposed to her shadowed and shrouded appearance last week, made the moment all the more powerful.)
All the while Michonne sees Rick — the man who decided she wasn’t fit to formally join the group — for what he is: a leader who has clearly lost his marbles. The delicate balance between Rick’s catharsis and Michonne’s concern played beautifully, and it’s heartening to see the series still finding ways to convey information in the same bold, cinematic style as Frank Darabont’s brilliant pilot.
It was such a terrific set-up that the episode initially appeared to take a step back as it settled into the business at hand: the Governor convincing Andrea she should be Woodbury’s new leader and reenforcing Milton’s commitment to the Woodbury cause; Glenn’s need for revenge against the Governor and Hershel’s attempt to calm him down; Maggie confessing to Glenn what exactly the Governor made her do; Carol and Axel casually bonding as they attempted to secure the prison; and Daryl realizing that he may have made a mistake by leaving Rick’s group behind for Merle.
The cast handled all of this quite capably (especially Norman Reedus, Scott Wilson, Lauren Cohan and Steven Yeun) and there was a solid bit of down and dirty action in Daryl and Merle’s encounter with the Mexican family, when Daryl began to fully realize the differences between his brother and himself. The only storyline that felt a bit dubious — Carol opening up to Axel — was ultimately a moot point by the time we figured out what was really going on.
“Home” was structured to make the Governor’s obligatory attack on the prison as surprising as possible, and it worked. While Glenn’s paranoia, Michonne’s reveal about the Governor’s fish tanks, and Merle’s insistence to Daryl that the Governor would be out for blood kept the threat at the forefront, the rest of the hour distracted us from how quickly the Governor’s retaliation might happen. In that way “Home” was both a cleverly constructed episode and another example of the show picking up the pace and moving the story forward faster than we saw in Season 2.
At any rate, the attack sequence worked like gangbusters. It was stunning and tense and thrilling, from the moment Axel got that shot in the head to the closing image of Rick, looking menacing and reinvigorated for the epic battle ahead.
– R.I.P. prisoners. Axel’s death meant the last of the inmates introduced back in the season’s second episode is now gone, at the exact same time the gang realizes the prison isn’t going to much of a safe house anymore. Funny how those things work.
– Obviously the Governor is still manipulating Andrea (those references to Penny were a nice touch for undeserved sympathy) and she’s still not fully aware of his true nature. But how long will this last? Finding out about the attack, and realizing he flat out lied to her about it, should be the last straw. The bigger problem may be her attachment to the people of Woodbury, but can she convince them to turn on the Governor too?
– We found out a little more about the Dixon brothers backstory: The situation at home was not good (surprise, surprise) and Daryl still resents Merle (at least a little bit) for leaving him behind.
– Death by station wagon back door: best walker death ever or greatest walker death ever?
– No offense to Axel, but it was a bit of a relief that none of the long-term regulars went down in the Governor’s attack. We’ve still got six more episodes to go in the season — and no guarantee everyone will make it out alive — but it keeps things even more suspenseful, and strengthens our connection to the characters, if they’re all able to survive every once in awhile too.
– Who was that masked woman? Karen? She was still in Woodbury when Andrea got hip to the fact the Governor was on a “mission.” But maybe that was part of the plan…