The mid-season finale of ‘The Walking Dead’ did not feel much like a finale. Perhaps that is because every episode this season has run at such a high velocity that they all packed the finale punch. This episode, penned by Robert Kirkman himself, moved fast, showed growth, introduced new characters and hinted at the terror that will come in the second half of the season.

“Made to Suffer” opens with a glimpse at a group very much like those we know and love. It can be easy to forget there are other survivors exactly like ours. Usually, when we see other survivors, they are dangerous, or presumed to be dangerous. Tyreese, a long awaited character from the comics, and his crew seek refuge in the prison, not realizing it is already occupied by more than the undead.

Carl, meanwhile is settling in as man of the house. Sadly, but smartly, he is operating as if his father is never coming back. Judith, Hershel, Beth and Carol are all he has. It is this practical and fearless attitude that leads him to find Tyreese and the others in the prison. Carl makes the best decision possible and locks the newcomers out of their section of the prison but he leaves them access to food and water. Tyreese immediately understands Carl’s reasoning and realizes that in order for the others to accept his group, they must play by the house rules.

This scene exemplifies what is so great about this season. There is no need to telegraph the obvious. It seems as if the writers trust the actors more to convey the unsaid and trust the audience more to understand the nuances of these interactions. I wish they had that trust in season 2.

Carl’s line of thinking is said aloud in a different scene and by a different character. While Maggie and Glenn are recovering from their torture, Maggie says, “all this time running from the walkers, you forget what people do.” The true horror of any zombie apocalypse is never the zombies, it’s always the people left behind, driven insane by tragedy.

Glenn is not about to wait around for Merle or the Governor to come back and torture them again. Last week I said Glenn was clever and resourceful. This week he uses the bones from the zombie he killed (while tied to a chair!) as makeshift weapons. Their attempt at an escape is thwarted by Merle, who, in turn, is thwarted by Daryl and the gang.  Reunited, everyone finds a safe place to hide and regroup, while Michonne goes in search of the Governor.

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to feel any sympathy for the Governor and his rotting daughter after last week. The show tries but it never translates. We all understand why the Governor has lost his mind but his actions are beyond the pale, no matter his motivations.

Michonne enters the Governor’s home and discovers Penny. She mistakenly and stupidly thinks Penny is a real girl, until she pulls off her hood. The Governor walks in as Michonne is about to kill her. This is where we are supposed to feel sorry for the Governor as he pleads for Penny’s “life.” I don’t. Neither does Michonne. She puts her sword through Penny’s mouth. He lunges at her and they fight. The Governor holds his own for a while, but his fish tanks full of heads do not survive the brawl. Eventually, Michonne stabs him in the eye. She is about to kill him when Andrea walks in with her gun drawn. Andrea is clearly disturbed by the zombie heads all over the floor but she does not waiver. She does, however, allow Michonne to leave. Numb with sadness, the Governor barely notices his missing eye as he cradles his twice-dead daughter.

Meanwhile, Glenn tells Daryl about Merle’s role in their kidnapping and subsequent torture. Of course, Daryl wants to see his brother but Rick asks him to choose between saving his friends and seeing his brother. Daryl chooses the good guys. As they make their finale escape attempt, there is a full on shootout between our crew and the residents of Woodbury. Unable to see who is who due to a smoke bomb thrown by Daryl, Andrea has no idea that she’s firing on her friends. Oscar is shot during the fight and Rick, apparently still not quite over his psychosis, hallucinates that it is Shane who shoots Oscar.

Any humanity left in the Governor died when Michonne finished Penny. That act also killed any sense of loyalty or trust the Governor had in Merle. The episode ends with the Governor rallying Woodbury against the “terrorists” that attacked them. He throws Merle and Daryl into the Zombie Thunderdome and incites the citizens of Woodbury to cry for their blood. Andrea looks horrified but she’ll probably be mooning over the Governor in 5 minutes – or in February when the show comes back.

The Walking Dead returns Sunday, February 10, 9/8c on AMC.

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