If there’s one signature accomplishment from the first half of The Walking Dead‘s third season, it’s not the introduction of The Governor or Michonne or Woodbury. The show’s creators succeeded wildly in taking these key elements from Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels and bringing them to life, (for the most part) pleasing both fans of the comics and those of us who are experiencing the story for the first time on television. Instead, the greatest feat Glen Mazzara’s team managed to pull off this season was to bring the polar stories of Woodbury and the prison together using two characters that didn’t even exist in the comics—the Dixon brothers.
Way back in season 1, when Merle escaped from Rick’s handcuffs on a roof in Atlanta by hacking off his own hand, it was clear he would return to wreak some kind of havoc on the story. He did indeed come to his brother in the form of a hallucination as Daryl battled walkers and the wilderness in the middle of the Sofia watch. Daryl and Merle became two of the most important characters on the show—Daryl took over as Rick’s top lieutenant with Shane’s departure and Merle proved (not surprisingly) to be The Governor’s henchman in Woodbury.
Even though there were signs that a Dixon showdown was imminent, the brothers’ reunion was what actually drove the narrative for the past few episodes. Mazarra and his writers kept us distracted with The Governor’s bizarre forms of personal and public entertainment; a budding Andrea-Governor romance; Rick’s momentary lapse in sanity; and of course, Michonne’s katana-swinging awesomeness. But it was the subplot of two brothers who found themselves on opposite sides of a war—a story as old as stories themselves—that propelled us to an amazing climax to end the first half of this season.
When we left off last week, Rick and his small raiding party were poised at Woodbury’s gate, while The Governor and Merle weighed options for eliminating the threat of another civilization. It was actually Glenn and Maggie who touched off the battle, when in a remarkably fortunate piece of good timing, they decided to attack their captors using zombie bones as weapons. The scene where Glenn breaks off sharp chunks of a dead walker’s arm was brutal and gave us an early preview of the kind of carnage we were in for the entire night.
The Battle of Woodbury was an old fashioned street skirmish as Rick and company had to fight their way back to Woodbury’s main wall. In the middle of the shooting, we were actually treated to a surprise cameo as Jon Bernthal returned as Shane in a quick figment of Rick’s imagination. Rick blew Shane away, only to find out that it was one of The Governor’s soldiers. Rick proved every bit the cool-headed battle captain as he led his troops out of the city, but we did lose poor Oscar just when we were really getting to like him. Granted, Oscar was a big target, but how in the world did more people from Rick’s group not get shot climbing over the wall?
On the other end of the firefight, The Governor proved that he’s not exactly the tactical field general he made himself out to be. He spent most of the battle yelling at Andrea to get off the street, refusing to utilize her talents to help repel the invaders. But The Governor did prove himself one hell of a brawler, going toe to toe with Michonne in his study. Michonne finally pulled back the curtain on The Governor’s twisted, secret hobbies, which included plunging a sword through his daughter Penny’s head. The ensuing fracas was absolutely savage, as the episode’s director, Billy Gierhart, let the camera linger on Michonne grasping a shard of glass as it cut into her hand, then he kept us right in the fray as she plunged the glass into The Governor’s eye.
The shot of David Morrissey turning towards the camera, his gouged eye patched up, was the sign that The Governor has finally arrived. But his job this episode wasn’t finished yet. The Governor may not have been the best field marshall while the bullets where flying, but he knows how to win over the crowd. After a solemn and effective speech, he pinned the entire invasion on Merle and produced the captured Daryl as the proof. It was a brilliant act by a masterful politician. Throughout this season, we’ve seen The Governor be a bit of a sociopath, but always either out of guilt for the loss of his family or a sense of duty to keep the people of Woodbury alive. The new, more ruthless Governor will leave no doubt who the true villain is. And as he leads the citizens of Woodbury to avenge the deaths of their own, it appears that last night’s battle was just an opening skirmish in a war that will get much bloodier before the end.
Zombie Kill Report: Last night was another double digit evening thanks to Tyrese and his crew of newbies, who dispatched about a dozen as they were fleeing through the woods. By my estimation, in the eight episodes this season, that’s at least 200 to 250 walkers killed—with the prison clearance operation yielding the most carnage. Special awards have to go to Michonne for her katana skills and the group as a whole for figuring out the phalanx fighting technique, allowing themselves to save more ammo. Now that the humans are fighting each other, the zombies become just another obstacle. But don’t forget, they’re the reason we’re in this mess in the first place.
The new crew: The episode opened, as some others have, by showing new characters before we meet them. This is a great reminder that it’s a big world out there, and so far the entire series has taken place in central Georgia. Tyrese and his crew may prove to be Rick’s badly needed reinforcements. Now that Daryl has been captured, Carol is his top soldier besides Carl. Not exactly the best people to defend against an attack from Woodbury.
The man of the house: Perhaps no other subplot was more satisfying than seeing Carl mature from annoying little kid in a way-too-big hat into a decently productive fighter. Carl not only dispatched his own mother to keep her from turning, he fought and killed his fair share of zombies throughout the season. So perhaps the most fitting line from last night’s entire episode was when Tyrese tells one of his crew, referring to Carl, “Back away from the door and let the man go.” Even though Carl is still a ways away from shaving, he has grown up into some semblance of a man this season. It’ll be fun to see where he goes next.
Knowns and unknowns: Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was famous for saying that there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns. What we know for certain is that there will be another battle between The Governor’s army and the little band of survivors left in the prison. Our biggest known unknown is how the Dixon brothers and Andrea will factor into this war, but don’t forget that Kirkman and Mazzara are masters at pulling tricks and surprises when we least expect it. All the more reason to look forward to more Walking Dead episodes come February.