The Walking Dead Home

Well, that was better, huh? After Rick’s mental breakdown sunk the show to new lows last week, a stirring gun battle between Rick’s group and the Governor’s posse ends up making “Home” the most effective episode of The Walking Dead since Lori was still alive. Oh, there was still some dumb stuff leading up to it, mostly involving — surprise! — Andrea. But the Governor’s attack on the prison was an exciting and effective piece of television, strongly directed by Seith Mann in his first episode behind the camera for this show.

For starters, it was shocking. Oh, unlike Andrea, I’m sure we all assumed the Governor wasn’t about to leave Rick and his group alone. Nope, he was going to want revenge for what they did to his eye. I just didn’t think it would come so soon. And Axel taking a bullet to the head while in mid-conversation with Carol was the best kind of surprise — one that you didn’t see coming and reminded you that this show doesn’t always play by conventional TV rules. It made me perk up on my couch in a way The Walking Dead hasn’t managed to do in a while. And the whole gunfight was just excellent, from Rick snapping out of his mental haze to lay down some fire to Carol using Axel’s body for cover, trying to pull herself closer and closer to the dead man while bullets slammed into his other side. I’m not sure how sound the Governor’s plan to release a bunch of zombies inside the prison’s outer-gate was, but it came across as appropriately pulpy and evil.

Prior to the gunfight, “Home” was more of a mixed bag. Rick’s mental state is still an issue (both for the characters and for we viewers at home), but it was wisely contained tonight. In the pre-credits sequence, we see Rick fully engaging with a returning Sarah Wayne Callies, which solves the mystery of why she’s still featured in the opening credits. Then, later on, Rick babbles about needing to find answers to why he’s seeing Lori while Hershel tries to reason with him. None of this was particularly great, but it also wasn’t as groan-worthy as last week’s overly dramatic final scene.

Those of you hoping we’d get a few episodes of “Daryl and Merle on the Road” as a show-within-a-show are out of luck. The two almost immediately turn on each other this week when Daryl insists on helping a family of Mexicans trapped on a bridge while Merle insists on calling them “beaners” and robbing them after the zombie threat is neutralized. (Yes, Daryl, your brother is an asshole and a racist. Are you really that surprised?) Daryl ends up pointing his crossbow at Merle and then decides to head back toward the prison, with or without his brother, who ultimately decides to tag along. The pair get back just in time to fend off the Governor, which will likely buy Merle enough goodwill to get his foot in the door.

Glenn, meanwhile, is going a bit overboard with his action heroics. His rage over what happened to Maggie in Woodbury (which, strangely, was still a little vague to him; I assumed the two had talked) is causing him to make rash decisions, like wanting to head straight back to assassinate the Governor. When Hershel talks him out of that, he makes a convincing speech for taking a stand at the prison rather than running. I figure that’s going to be a harder sell after the Governor’s attack.

And then there’s Andrea, who finally … maybe … starts to suspect that the Governor is not a very nice guy and doesn’t always tell the truth. First, she has to get through a poorly acted scene where he promises not to go after her buddies and informs her that he’d like her to be Woodbury’s de facto leader for a while (both of which she seems to accept without question). But she does get all nosy and concerned when the Governor disappears later in the episode and Milton doesn’t really want to say where he went. So at least there’s that. (Speaking of Milton, he’s played by Dallas Roberts, who you know from being awesome in things like Rubicon and The Grey. I wish The Walking Dead writers would give him more to do than be the Governor’s lackey.)

So, all in all, the good certainly outweighed the bad in this episode, which, considering the show, we’ll take. Let’s hope the momentum carries over to next week. If it doesn’t, try not to be too shocked, okay?

A few more thoughts on “Home” …

— In light of last week’s awful episode, and the uneven tone of the show in general, I got to thinking. Maybe these showrunner changes aren’t such a bad thing. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m sure AMC is pushing people out for all the wrong reasons. But maybe The Walking Dead would be better served by the network bringing in a different showrunner with a unique vision for each new season, similar to the way movie series with different directors for each installment are handled. Or comic-book runs with different writers and artists coming and going. For most shows, I wouldn’t advise this. But for a show as unstable and creatively unbalanced as The Walking Dead, how much could it really hurt?

— Where did Tyreese and his people go? Did they just leave the prison? They were nowhere to be found this week, and if there was a line of dialogue explaining their absence, I missed it.

— Michonne finally said something this week! And it was actually pretty cool! “He keeps fish tanks full of heads — walkers and humans. Trophies. He’s coming.” Maybe she should try to talk more.

— Zombie kill of the week: Daryl uses a hatchback to explode a zombie’s head.

— How great was this exchange?

Merle: “I can’t go with you. I tried to kill that black bitch! Damn near killed the Chinese kid.”

Daryl: “He’s Korean.”

Merle: “Whatever, man.”

Oh, Merle, please let your disgusting racism continue to entertain us all.

Follow Bob on Twitter: @robertbtaylor