By its very nature, the concept of a midseason finale must bear a variety of conflicting elements. We as viewers will expect a certain degree of closure in the narrative, while also catching glimpses of what is to come when we finally get to move beyond the halfway point. This can be a daunting task for any television writer, but if there is indeed any doubt to consider, we need only remind ourselves that this is the middle of the third season of The Walking Dead, a weekly program that has already proven that it knows how to execute such a task with equal parts depth and grace.
While perhaps not as emotional as previous seasons, this time around there are more cards at play. Rick and his loyal soldiers have infiltrated Woodbury in search of the captured Maggie and Glen, Michonne is back to settle a score with the Governor, and Andrea makes a discovery that may test the strength of her allegiance to the man in charge of Woodbury. Back at the prison, little Carl has discovered a new team of survivors, including the fan-favorite Tyrese, making his television debut. Despite Carl’s young age, he has grown up rather quickly, strongly enforcing his father Rick’s newly adapted moral code. He helps the new group by shooting down a swarm of walkers with exact precision, yet he wastes no time in locking the newcomers behind bars to protect his own. They try to reason with him to let them join their group, but Carl refuses without hesitation. We find ourselves intrigued with the shift of power in this scene. In this world, even children must take on the responsibilities of keeping their families, even their elders, safe from harm.
But this exchange is minor, as our main focus is on the happenings at Woodbury. Glen and Maggie are successfully retrieved, but the operation is not a smooth one. A literal gun-war is instigated, made all the more chaotic by the constant use of smoke bombs as both distractions and cover. This type of chaos is both an easy and effective way to add to the dramatic tension of the situation. Because we cannot always clearly see what is happening to our heroes, we become more concerned for their safety and whereabouts. To make matters worse, we find that Rick may still be haunted by his inner demons. In the chaos of the fight, we see what appears to be Shane, Rick’s deceased partner from the earlier seasons, slowly walking towards Rick with a gun pointed at him. Rick hesitates at the sight of him, but then fires on what later appears to be the body of just another henchman. Even when we have grown to trust our leader, there is a yearning deep down in all of us for that trust to be shaken in just the right way.
The final straw of the messy rescue is the escape, or more appropriately, the lack thereof. While the others make it back out of Woodbury, Darryl is taken prisoner. The Governor, having just lost an eye and his zombified daughter in a brutal scuffle with Michonne, now stands before his congregation as a man with no essence of humanity left. He speaks in the voice of a warrior who has lost, but will not stop until revenge is certain. We begin to understand the great danger that will be unleashed on Rick and his colleagues back at the prison, and that which faces Merle and Darryl as they are reunited for the first time since season one. Here they are, staring at each other, expected to fight to the death. With more than a few allegiances in question, we are met by the end of the episode, leaving us with a very, very long two-month wait.
In my reviews for these episodes, I have mentioned on several occasions how the institution of society is affected and even perverted in the world of the undead. As The Walking Dead moves towards the end of the third season and beyond (and there will be plenty of beyond), we find ourselves moving inexplicably farther away from any conceivable reality. The world we once knew is now long gone, and in its place, we are left with a life where there is no hope left. No matter how you die, as long as your head is physically intact, you will rise again to become what you once fought so hard to survive from. The comforts of a nice home with friendly neighbors and a big screen TV will never truly be enjoyed again, as every waking moment could very well be your last. Yet, these characters are human beings, and will always have the striving capacity for hope. Where to find it, however, will always drive the story forward, and is what captivates us to keep on watching.