Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Walking Dead: In Defense of Andrea

Until this week, I've seen the Andrea/Michonne thing entirely from Michonne's point of view, and as anyone who's been reading the Walking Dead analysis by myself and Joshua Winstead knows, I've been calling her out on every stupid thing she's done from the beginning of the show. But now I'm stepping back for a second and looking at it from Andrea's point of view, and it's no longer so black and white. (By the way, for the first time this year, Josh and I got our review of this week's episode out by Tuesday! You can read it here.)

The last time the prison gang saw Andrea, she was saving Carol's life and throwing herself in front of a zombie. For all they knew, she was dead until Michonne told her otherwise. And yet Carol was the only one with enough decency to remember that not-so-small act of heroics.

Has anyone ever seen Michonne smile? She might be a tough SOB and, well, pretty much the one you want to align yourself with in a zombie apocalypse, but it's probably been a pretty dark, sombre year for Andrea hanging with her. In Woodbury, people might have the wool pulled over their eyes, but Andrea's choice to just drink the Kool-Aid and hang out with people who are HAPPY isn't her being stupid; it's her being human.

Yes, she sided with the Governor, the man who (from her POV) she was sleeping with, who had put this town together, who was protecting these people... the person who loved his daughter so much he lovingly brushed her disgusting hair every night and was doing everything in his power to bring her back to life, who lived for her daily, who loved his wife dearly and was grief-stricken over her loss... the man who watched her impaled by Michonne (who admits to Andrea that she didn't return to Woodbury to show her the error of her ways, but to make her hurt... that sort of lessened her behaviour for me, I actually thought she had returned to show Andrea she'd been making a mistake and to try one last time to convince her to come with her), and the man who snapped when he lost his final tie to the world he'd had before this one.

Again, let's not forget that despite throwing around the term "evil," which even I've done (many, many times) when talking about the Governor, he's just as human as the rest of them. The man is on the other side of a nervous breakdown after losing his daughter, losing his eye, and losing his way.

We could also look at it this way: The Governor is putting together a village of people whom he protects against the walkers in the outside world, and along comes Michonne: bitter, angry, distrustful, wielding a sword and looking pretty damn dangerous. He tries to bring her around to his side and let her stay, but she'll have none of it, and so he casts her out.

Tyrese and his gang find their way into the prison, show their best behaviour while being locked up, they're polite, and tough, and good people, and have never exhibited an ounce of enmity towards Rick and his people. But Rick doesn't welcome them, doesn't try to bring them around, doesn't try to help them in any way, shape or form: he casts them out into a world of danger and zombies, probably sending them to their deaths, and he knows it.

To us, Rick = good; Governor = evil. Is it so clear cut?

Rick has chosen to be the leader - "this is NOT a democracy" - and makes no bones about him telling everyone what to do. And by losing his wife and killing his best friend, he's become unhinged.

The Governor clearly was rather powerless before, and now is enjoying the power that comes with his self-professed leadership. We saw him kill the army guys, and he's full of ulterior motives, so that is the main thing that sets him apart from Rick (the writers had to give him something to make him evil, and that was it — BUT, remember, Andrea doesn't know he's done any of these things) but otherwise, he, too, lost his wife and now his daughter, and has become unhinged.

And yet, in Breaking Bad we see Walter White mow down anything in his path because he now has power where he didn't before, and he uses fear-mongering to keep everyone in line. And we root for him every time, despite his antihero status. Or look at Tony Soprano. Or Vic Mackie. TV is full of antiheroes that we look up to, and Andrea has chosen the Governor for many reasons.

I truly believe that Andrea isn't stupid (I've revised my opinion of her after this episode**), but is willfully choosing a life that just seems easier after the hell she's been through. If I watched my sister die, and then tried to commit suicide and made my peace with it and was thwarted, and then continued to be with a group of people who shunted me to the side all the time and treated me differently, and was left behind for a year after saving one of their lives, and then lived with an angry woman who barely spoke and just glowered all the time (perhaps she was different with Andrea but we haven't seen much of that from her onscreen), I think I'd be ready to give up and just want something easy for a change. I think many of us would.

Andrea's just as human as Rick, Carol, the Governor, and the rest of them.

**I reserve the right to change my opinion on this and call Andrea crazy-as-a-shithouse in a few week's time...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Walking Dead: "I Ain't A Judas"

Biblical quotes, child soldiers, jockeying for position, friends turning into traitors, massive mistrust, defanging zombies, (almost) cauterizing eye sockets, and sweet-voiced girls singing Tom Waits… yes folks, it’s another episode of The Walking Dead! And as usual, I’m here two days later with my co-host, Joshua Winstead, to write all about it.

Let’s start at the beginning, which continued on from a discussion Josh and I were having over last week’s episode, which was: who should the leader be? Rick’s out of his tree, Glenn’s out for revenge, Hershel’s not physically able to lead… and yet we both agreed he was the best candidate. Well, this week we saw the next best thing (actually, possibly the BEST thing): Hershel using his strength — his powerful words — to yank Rick out of his funk and tell him to get the hell back in the game. What a moment. It’s somehow escaped my notice until now, but Hershel points out the very accurate fact that whenever the discussion gets rough, Rick turns on his heel and walks out, which is never helpful. This time Hershel won’t let him, and yells at him to get his ass back over there right now. “You said this was not a democracy,” he says firmly, “Well now you have to own up to that. I put my family’s lives in your hands so get your head clear, and DO SOMETHING.”


And with that, Rick actually goes outside and looks at what’s in front of him, and begins planning. And not only does he begin planning, but he pulls others in to help him. There’s a roundtable discussion (minus the table) between him and Hershel, Glenn, Daryl, and even Michonne (though she keeps her distance) and he actually turns this into a democracy after all. For the moment, anyway. For, the moment Andrea comes back, Rick once again becomes quiet and glowering, refusing to trust her, and when she doesn’t answer a question the way he wanted her to, he turns on his heel and walks out. Again. 

That said, if you put yourself in Rick’s position, and know what you know about Andrea and the Governor, would you trust her?

What did you think of this week’s episode, Josh?

Joshua: This was another of those necessary shuffle-and-deal kind of episodes, consisting largely of pieces being shifted into place as we continue to build toward the inevitable clash between the prison posse and The Governor's citizen army. And while there were parts of this episode that I found enormously frustrating – not all of which felt earned – I thought it did a great job in general of ratcheting up the tension, deftly handling several complications that I thought would get much messier and issuing some delicious surprises in the process.

This episode was written by Angela Kang, formerly of the writing team for my beloved Terriers (R.I.P.) and author of several previous TWD installments, including last year's 'Judge, Jury, Executioner,' which brought us more excellent dialogue in the big debate over what to do with Woodbury captive Randall (and ended with Dale's shocking death out in the field). I can always tell how much I enjoyed the writing of a particular installment by how many out-and-out quotes I record in my viewing notes, and there were a lot this week. Obviously everyone's treading lightly with regard to Merle's presence (including Merle himself, for a change), trying to prevent a grossly uncomfortable situation from spiraling out of control, but it made for some terrific exchanges, from his hamfisted effort to broker peace with Michonne, to the sweet conversation between Carol and Daryl about what constitutes a home, to he and Hershel's impromptu Bible study.

Hershel, ever the knowing, rational observer and absent the damning previous experience so many of the others have shared with Merle, approaches him right away, attempting to feel him out a bit, to probe just enough to get a better idea of how reasonable this guy is and how nicely he plans to play. They bond somewhat over their mutual amputations, and then Hershel uses that to segue into a fairly gentle acknowledgement of the general consensus about him – namely, that he's trouble, and that trouble breeds. The verse Hershel quotes (Matthew 5:29-30) is from Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount, and the gist is this: if one among you is inciting discord, cast him out, for it is better to lose one person, or two – no matter how valuable – than the body entire.

It was less surprising to me that Merle could quote the Bible chapter and verse as it was just how deftly he handled their encounter on the whole. First impressions are crucial, and I think it was quite canny of Merle to play nice here, keeping the more abrasive aspects of his personality in check. He obviously recognizes that Hershel could prove to be a valuable asset, and his conspiratorial assessment of The Governor and his character worked perfectly to both ingratiate himself and also play on Hershel's love and concern for both his remaining family and his friends.

Honestly, I was kind of amazed by how subdued Merle was overall this week, considering I fully expected him to jump at Rick like a man possessed just as soon as he had the chance. Perhaps he took the dressing-down he received from Daryl last week to heart, or at the very least perceives the precariousness of his own position and is willing to do whatever proves necessary to keep it.

Nikki: I think Merle has always been smarter than the gang gives him credit for. Just because he’s a redneck doesn’t mean he’s stupid, and he definitely proves that this week, as you pointed out. I, too, enjoyed the scenes where he was trying to ingratiate himself to others, especially with Michonne. He tries the old “I was just carrying out orders” card, and Michonne sees right through that one: “Like the Gestapo.” But Glenn refers to him this week as “a snake in the nest,” and he’s right. However, his idea to use him as a bargaining chip isn’t very smart; doesn’t Merle know a little too much about their position to just send him on back?

And that’s where Tyrese (yay!) and his gang come in, when they show up in the woods amidst Andrea and Milton turning one of the zombies into a Michonne puppy. Just a sidenote on that scene: This is how it played out in my house:
Me: Oh god, are they going to smash his skull on the rock? What the…
Husband: No, they’re going to turn him into one of those Michonne walkers.
[Andrea sets up the head, grabs the rock]
Me: (holding one arm over my face) AAAHHHH… [thunk sound on the TV] Did she do it?
Husband: I don’t know, I was covering my eyes, too!
[THUNK on the TV again]
Me: AAAAHHHHH, did she do it??!!
Husband: YES, oh aaaaauuuuugggghhhhh, oh my GOD!!!

So yeah. Can’t tell you what that scene looked like, but both my husband and I were in stitches at the end of it, mostly due to his reaction. BUT ANYWAY… back to Tyrese and company… I was pretty put out by Rick forcing them out of the prison and back into a world of danger just because he can’t get his shit together, especially when the group he’s now in charge of accepted him into it through Lori. It should be a world of Humans Vs. Walkers, and he’s dividing the humans. AND he’d already accepted Oscar and Axel, a couple of prison convicts. His reaction to Tyrese and his group made absolutely no sense.

But what it DID do was create an enemy out of Tyrese. He turns to the Governor, who brings him in, gives him a warm bed to sleep in, and offers him a car and a way out (of course, WE know he never had any intention of them taking that car and moseying on their way, but they don’t know that) and then the Governor “lets slip” that they have crazy enemies. Oh, it’s RICK, you say?? Yeah, that guy IS a crazy bastard. Let me help you take him down.

Tyrese actually did the thing any of us would have done in this situation, methinks.

Which brings us back around to Andrea. While we’ve come down hard on her, I’ve been thinking about her a lot this week, and I keep wondering what I’d do in her situation. She’s spent a year with Michonne watching her back, sleeping with one eye open, separated from her friends (who made absolutely no attempts to find her, by the way), and fighting zombies. Now along comes a really good-looking man who’s developed a town with a wall, with safety, who gives her a bed, lets her sleep through the night, and then develops a physical interest in her (something else she hasn’t had in a very, very long time). Would we say we’d be strong enough to say no to that?

And that leads to her ultimate decision to NOT kill the Governor at the end of the piece. I’m sure it elicited a lot of groans from the audience, but if she kills him, where does that put her? Exiled from Woodbury for killing the leader (or worse, executed), and pushed back to the prison, where everyone there has no time for her, distrusts her because of what Michonne told them, and she’ll be alone in the world again. Maybe a future with the enemy is better than no future at all?

But we should talk about the actual discussion between Andrea and the prison folk. Your take on that scene, Josh?

Joshua: Actually, my take was a lot like you two's reaction to the walker de-fanging...


This is the frustration to which I earlier alluded. And it ain't the first of its kind, by a long shot. I quoted my post-scene notes to you in an earlier email exchange between us, but for the benefit of our readers, what I wrote was: “Well. Super-shitty job of arguing your case to the other side, everybody. Way to suck.”

The tone is glib, but I truly mean it, with every ounce of sincerity I can muster. What the bleeding hell is wrong with these people and their feeble communication skills, that they repeatedly have such difficulty conveying salient details to one another? Is straight talk such a Herculean task? Jiminy crickets, man – SPEAK. Use your words. This is Andrea, your old friend, who pretty obviously wouldn't be there if she were wholeheartedly converted. Help her understand! Sure, she should have figured it out by now without any further details; I get that, believe me. But why would you withhold anything now? What do you have to lose by detailing her lunatic boyfriend's transgressions? Sure, I  see why Merle didn't say anything; he's a dick. But Glenn? Maggie? Michonne? Or how about just treating her like you're halfway glad to see her alive and well. That in and of itself might earn you who knows how many points, and certainly much more than angrily throwing her to the ground and frisking her like a suspected terrorist.

But no matter her treatment, Andrea's certainly complicit in the spectacular failure of their diplomatic efforts, too. She has never been more suspicious of The Governor, knows for a fact that he's feeding her lie upon lie, just watched him draft asthmatic children and arthritic old ladies into his crackpot militia, had to resort to stealth and deception just to get out of Woodbury in the first place, and yet she never voices any concerns whatsoever during their discussion? Why not? Who's she protecting? And what does she think would make them act this way towards her in the first place? Mass hysteria? Or legitimate terror? The way the whole thing played out, I couldn't help but wonder afterward why she even bothered to go at all.

Look: the world's gone crazy, I know. The paradigm has radically shifted, and healthy paranoia is the new normal – the only way left to survive, in fact. But has civility ceased to exist altogether? Rick's intractable attitude toward Tyrese is about to backfire on them in a huge way (i.e., that gigantic hole in the side of your fortress, kids; remember?); they know they're outmanned and outgunned by a significant margin; they're low on supplies and lower on morale; their choices have dwindled to nothing but bad and worse; and yet they choose to squander this spectacular, unexpected opportunity to win favor inside the very walls of the enemy's camp, for what? Petulance? Spite? Maybe I'm being unduly harsh, but I just don't get it.

And maybe that's the point. Maybe all this frustration is engineered, and we as mute viewers are supposed to bounce up and down on our couches in anxiety and helplessness by design. If that's the case, then I gotta say it's working like gangbusters, dude.

Nikki: You know, sometimes I just wish you’d stop holding back and tell us what you really think, Josh. ;)

But seriously, nail, head… you hit it perfectly. After Hershel stops Rick from storming out of yet another argument he can’t win, Rick turns heel and walks out again, as I mentioned earlier. And this could be one of the most important conversations of his life. Andrea saved many of their lives, they watched her lose her sister, they watched her relationship with Dale, and she spent countless hours sitting atop the RV with a gun in her hand, watching for walkers. No, she wasn’t perfect, and yes, Carol and Lori and Hershel’s girls couldn’t forgive her for not being in the kitchen waitin’ on the men like a good little girl should (no, I will never forgive them that chauvinism), but to grab her, throw her down on the ground, frisk her like a criminal, mutter, “Welcome back. GET UP.”, yank her up by the collar, toss her into the room and make her feel unbelievably unwelcome and dirty? Rick is starting to act less human than the walkers.

Thank goodness for Carol. Well, sorta. On the one hand, Carol reminds Andrea she does have friends in this group. But on the other, she tells Andrea that Rick is broken, exposes any weaknesses Andrea may not have gleaned for herself, and tells her everything about their lives. That said, it’s Carol who just comes out with it, and tells her she must kill the Governor. And Andrea almost does it. But as you say, she would have done it if she had known that:
-he didn’t just show up, guns blazing, but brought others with him and shot the place to hell… and maybe they should have put her together with Hershel, so he could have a heart-to-heart with her and ask what kind of man does something like that but reassures his girlfriend that he wouldn’t? (Remember: Andrea told him she didn’t know about it.) Maybe she would have started to think. Hell, Hershel could tell me calmly to walk off a cliff and I’d probably think, “You know, that tone of voice is very convincing. I could probably fly anyway, right?”
-he walked into an army camp a few weeks ago and killed every last soldier, people who could have been an immense help in the zombie apocalypse
-he sexually assaulted Maggie… THAT would have been a pretty important detail to tell Andrea… you know, his new sex partner?!
-remind her that he pitted Daryl and Merle against one another

Instead they just kind of stare at her and give her the “you’re no longer one of us” speech, which puts her on the defensive AGAINST THEM (not what you want, Rickie boy…) and makes her point out Merle and quite rightly ask why HE is allowed back in and SHE isn’t. Good question, there, Andrea. What do you think, Rick? RICK? Oh where the hell did he storm off to now?

And Michonne, SERIOUSLY, your “I’m not gonna talk unless it’s important” act is very grating. People loved her character in the comic, but even not having read it, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest they’re not doing as good a job with her on the show. She tells Andrea something about the Governor, but not everything. Michonne is angry and sullen, and Andrea probably chalks up her, “he would have killed you, too” story as just her being vengeful. I know I would have. (By the way, my notes during the Michonne/Andrea scene: “I never realized how much these two reminded me of Xena and Gabrielle!”)

However, in the end, they give her freedom to leave, and even give her a car to ensure her safety. The Governor wouldn’t allow her to go, and certainly didn’t make her journey easy on her. She might have ended up alone by killing him, but by leaving him alive, she maintains her position as his prisoner.

For the record, I closed my eyes during this as well...

Meanwhile, over at Woodbury, the Governor is putting together an army, including anyone 13 and up. One of the mothers objects (interestingly, she’s standing apart from the potential soldiers… why isn’t Mom considered able-bodied enough to be among them??), but as the Governor puts it, he’s not a child, he’s an adolescent. And in our world, I’d be objecting, too, but this isn’t our world. As undesirable as the Governor’s wishes are, he’s right. I mean… look at Carl.

And in the end, Andrea climbs back into bed with him, intent on killing him, but can’t bring herself to do it. He’s not a walker, and she’s never killed a human being in cold blood. As Tom Waits sings, “You share my bed, you share my name…”

Joshua: You're absolutely right to highlight the fact that Andrea has dispatched plenty of walkers, but she's never killed another living human being before. Even if she finally sees The Governor's madness for what it is, and even if she thinks he must be stopped, she simply isn't ready to take a life yet. Perhaps her own will have to be in direct jeopardy for her to make that leap. And with the way things are shaping up, I don't think she'll have to wait for long.

Though I may have given the impression I'm harping on this episode with my tirade, I really did thoroughly enjoy this week. The writers do a terrific job of manipulating my emotions – whether it be irritation over poor decision-making, or disappointment over unnecessary hardships, or heartbreak at tragic losses suffered, or utter disgust in the face of magnificently convincing horror – and I'd be lying if I claimed not to love every minute of it. I couldn't be much happier with the way this season has been building, and whatever they have planned for these next several weeks, I have no doubt it will be absolutely riveting.

Bits & Bobs:

• As you've mentioned: excellent choices on the music this week. It was great to hear Emily Kinney sing again; she has such a beautiful voice. (And The Mule Variations is one of my favorite Waits albums; I even named my dog Tallulah after the Louisiana town he calls out in 'Pony.') But let's not forget Chopin's Prelude No. 15 as well, which was playing on the reel-to-reel in The Governor's apartment when Andrea returned. The so-called 'Raindrop' prelude, intended to inspire feelings of solitude and inner contemplation, was supposedly composed while Chopin dreamed of drowning.

• You brought this up already as well, but Carol's awesome 'kiss me deadly' plan? Holy crap. Didn't know you had it in you, gal. Right on. As she was saying, “Give him the night of his life, and then kill him,” I had this incredulous look in my eyes but a huge smile on my face.

• Okay – this is really nit-picky, I know. But I'm pretty sure that knife Rick gave Andrea was a Benchmade. Which is, like, a hundred and fifty dollar pocketknife. I see them all the time in the movies and on tv, and it strains credulity every time. Remember that rusty piece of crap that Maggie used to operate on Lori? Or the raggedy one of Carol's that Daryl pulled out of the walker before he found her half-dead of dehydration in the cell? Unless they raided a pretty fancy store in the interim, where the heck did they get that thing? Hollywood: I realize they're beautiful, bad-ass looking knives. But the likelihood of anyone in this kind of situation (beyond maybe John Locke) possessing one is virtually nonexistent. Stop it already, will you?

• The line that elicited the biggest laugh of the night was from Milton: “I wouldn't advocate a move like that. It's just posturing.” Ha! Like it makes any difference what you advocate, Miltie.

• I will be very, very sad if Tyrese winds up on the wrong side of this thing. Fingers crossed he figures it out before it's too late.

Until next week, folks!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Book #3: Skim

Skim is a graphic novel that I saw in the library and just grabbed out of interest. Written by Toronto-based Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by her cousin Jillian, it's the story of Kim, who is called Skim by her friends (as she says in explanation of the name, "Because I'm not," referring to the fact she's overweight). It's high school life in the early 90s, when the school scandal of a popular girl whose boyfriend breaks up with her — before killing himself — eventually collides with Kim's own personal turmoil and confusion. It's a book that looks at all of the pressures of high school life, including depression, sexuality, popularity (or lack thereof) and what a confusing time it can be all around. In other words, the perfect book for Buffy fans. It's a quiet book, but very well done.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Walking Dead: "Home"

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to our weekly recaps of The Walking Dead, featuring the impromptu compositional stylings of myself, Josh Winstead, and your fabulous host, pop culture den mother and sovereign ruler of the Niktatorship: Miss Nikki Stafford.

This week's episode, “Home,” was a diverse one, giving us everything from flirty sweetness to sweaty madness and all manner of in-between. It also presented several series firsts, including Daryl and Merle together in both conversation and combat, Michonne volunteering helpful information, Rick expressing awareness of his ongoing breakdown, Andrea appearing to finally (maybe) pick up on the Governor's duplicitousness, a minor character embellishing his/her backstory as precursor to being unceremoniously slaughtered... wait, scratch that last one, because that happens EVERY TIME. Still, lots of great stuff to discuss and dissect, so let's get to it.

The top of the hour picks up right where we left off, with Rick still firmly in the grasp of a prolonged mental collapse. While on patrol at the front of the compound, he again sees Phantom Lori, wandering about the grounds wearing the same ethereal white satin dress in which she appeared on the prison walkway in last week's episode. He follows her out and into the woods, leaving unlocked gates behind him as he goes. Which, considering his position as leader and gate guard – not to mention the whole zombie plague thing going on – is rather inadvisable, really. But fortunately for Rick, Michonne was nearby to secure the gates, having taken up in an overturned bus out in the prison yard when he kicked her out of the big house for what I can only classify as exasperating social ineptitude. (I should probably note, however, that her absence of communication also extends to people who aren't there, too, so who's inept now, buddy?)

The ongoing situation with Rick hemorrhaging marbles is at this point most astutely observed by Hershel, who continues to be the smartest guy in every room this season and the only one of the survivors, even after last week's wild outburst, who knows the full depth and breadth of Rick's impairment. The group has probably never needed Rick more than they do right now, and of course that means he's never been less capable. Glenn, spurred somewhat by necessity but more by his anger and frustration over what happened to he and Maggie during their incarceration in Woodbury, is trying to take the reins, but his rage is clouding his judgment. Hershel, of course, knows the secret of Glenn's motivation (not that he's trying to hide it) and is desperate to pull the sheriff off the disabled list and put him back in the game. But Rick's illness will not be easily resolved, and at some point his inadequacy will need to be addressed, or I fear that it will cost them much more dearly than Axel's life.

I loved the debate between Hershel and Glenn about what to do next, anticipating the Governor's retaliation for the rescue mission against Woodbury. Both made excellent points during the discussion, and though there was not necessarily a 'right' answer, they certainly settled on the best crappy option by choosing to stay and try to defend the prison. The scene played beautifully, I thought, reasoned and organic, whereas comparable encounters in the past have struggled to find a similar authenticity. In light of the surprising events at episode's end, however, I'm no longer sure how much a difference reason and preparation will make in the coming conflict.

Nikki, what are your thoughts on the group's struggles for leadership in the face of this building storm?

Nikki: The theme of leadership was definitely front and centre in this episode. Whether it’s the Governor oddly stepping down in Woodbury or the question of who is next in line at the prison, leadership is definitely in flux. And it begs the question: what makes a good leader? Is it someone who can fight? Not really, because there are plenty of soldiers in any battle who can fight better than the leaders. A leader is someone who can make decisions.

Glenn and Hershel talk about leadership, and Glenn says flat out that Rick is basically batshit crazy, so that makes him the de facto leader. And I couldn’t help but think, really? Why isn’t anyone considering Hershel? Is it because he’s missing a leg? That doesn’t seem to have affected his calm, his reason, and his decision-making. He can tell a liar from someone who is trustworthy, and has a sixth sense better than anyone. He sees right to the heart of everything: he knows his daughter has been abused in some way, and while that must tear him up inside, he’s giving her the room she needs to deal with it. He knows that Glenn is going through horrible guilt and confusion of his own, and he’s let him know that he’s like a son to him, that he can talk to him whenever he needs to, and again he’s let him have his space. He knows that Rick is out of his tree, and he’s the only one not scared to approach Rick about it. When Rick comes clean (in a way he never would with anyone else in that compound), and tells him that he can see Lori, but he knows she’s not real (a VERY important admission, and one that gives us hope for Rick yet), Hershel immediately asks if she was also the one on the telephone. He’s putting together all of the events in the prison, and knows what people are thinking and feeling. He enters the picture to give advice and to listen, and leaves them alone to come to their own conclusions.

He’s a truly amazing character, and one that they all need at a time like this.

Merle and Daryl, as you say, also have an incredible heart to heart. LOVED that scene. I never thought they could humanize Merle, but they do. And all it took was for him to see his little brother’s back. He’s been so filled with hatred for all of them for abandoning them that he never realized it was HE who abandoned them. That he’d already abandoned Daryl to a much worse monster years ago — an abusive father — and poor Daryl returned to his big brother after that and continues to stand by his side. But it doesn’t take long for Daryl to realize that some things are hopeless, and he decides he’s better off with the group. “I might be walking away,” he says to Merle, “You’re the one that’s leaving. Again.” And he leaves.

And Merle, who saw the back and immediately stopped jabbering, who was silenced for the first time in the series, who actually apologized (!!) and saw the truth of the situation, stays alone for a nanosecond before realizing he will not abandon his brother again.

Last week we were all entirely convinced Daryl would have to kill Merle. And this week there’s a shocking possibility that Merle might be a part of the group (which, to be honest, is a more interesting turn of events!) I’m looking forward to seeing what happens there.

Joshua: Seeing Merle and Daryl on screen together has been something we've all been waiting for, and despite high expectations, Sunday's fulfillment of that longstanding wish did not disappoint. At all. And part of the reason for its unqualified success, I think, is that nothing about their time together played out quite like I thought it would. Daryl's anger and frustration toward his brother was a complete surprise, and I loved the way the progression of their scenes gradually changed the audience's perception of the source of that anger.

At first, it seems that Daryl is not so much upset with Merle as simply resentful of being forced into the decision to separate from the group – the real 'home' of the episode's title – and is taking it out on his brother as a convenient target. Then, as Daryl seeks out and assists the family under attack on the bridge, we're led to believe he's upset to find just how little Merle has changed in their time apart, that his brother is still every bit the bigoted opportunist sleazeball he used to be. And finally, in their near-throwdown afterward, all of Daryl's pent-up rage comes boiling out, and we learn the full extent of their complicated relationship in just a few well-crafted lines of dialogue.

I figured that it wouldn't take Daryl very long to be reminded of who and how his brother really is and just how much he was leaving behind when he elected to sacrifice his place within the group, but I never expected it all to happen so quickly. The downloads of exposition were never overplayed, and the acting between Reedus and Rooker was fantastic. So many moments – Daryl's gradual decision on the bridge to end Merle's ransacking of the family's car at gunpoint; the reveal of the Yellow Jacket Creek sign at the end, proving Daryl was right in their navigational argument; the look on Merle's face when Daryl says, “You lost your hand 'cause you're a simple-minded piece of shit!” – combined brilliantly to make the interplay between these two everything that fans hoped it would be.

And now, as you say, we have Merle's attempted integration to look forward to, and it's gonna be one hard sell, regardless of how hard up they are for trigger fingers and whatever possible tactical insight he might provide. Will he even be willing to commit to them at all, or will we instead find him playing double agent for The Governor, despite his ousting and Daryl's obvious allegiance to the opposition? It seemed like the attack on the prison at the end of the episode was more about The Governor testing the waters than anything else, evaluating their defenses and trying to put them on edge, and they proved ill prepared at best. Does that step up his timeline, or is it exactly in keeping with his suspicions? His smug smile certainly seemed to indicate satisfaction with the results.

Regardless, it would appear that he intends for Andrea to play a role in his plan of attack, however willing she proves to be. She's proven herself to be easily manipulable so far, and while there's still the possibility that she might grow a brain and find a way to help her old friends instead of continuing to play into the hands of her lunatic boyfriend, I'm not exactly holding my breath.

Nikki: During the prison ambush, I particularly adored the visual gag of the postal truck crashing through the gates and making a special delivery… of walkers. Brilliant. But, to your last point, I’ll admit that there was a moment when the driver jumped out — and appeared to have a woman’s build — where I thought, “Oh my god, is that Andrea?!” But the thought was momentary, and I pushed it away. I wouldn’t think Andrea would turn on her friends and shoot at them. She knows they’re good people, fighting to survive. Now, the Governor could skew it. He could tell her they came after him or come up with some argument, and she’s a little too gullible to see through it, despite the fact she’s spent a long time with those other people and fought by their side through thick and thin. But part of me just hopes that old Andrea is there somehow; would look at Carol and remember the abused wife who lost her only child; would look at Carl and marvel at how he’s grown; would notice Lori and T-Dog are missing and would mourn them; would remember how they all stood together to remember Shane, and Dale, and her sister, and everyone else they’ve lost. That she would look at Rick and be shocked at how far he’s fallen, and hope that he’ll be OK. That she’d notice Hershel’s leg is missing, that Maggie and Beth are still alive, and be sad that their sister and her husband are gone. That she’d notice how quiet Maggie is and how beat up Glenn is, and perhaps realize that it was Woodbury that did that to them.

Just as Daryl is heading back home, so too were these people her home once. I’m hoping against hope that she’ll remember that when it matters.

The Governor’s discussion with Andrea was false, as was everything he says. He reassured her that he wouldn’t retaliate against the prison (lie) and that he wants her to be the one in charge (lie). “I’ve done some terrible things,” he tells her. “I’m not fit to lead these people. You are.” Despite the fact that she’s not fit to lead a sing-along, the rest of his statement was true. But insincere, since he doesn’t actually believe any of it at all. Instead, he gives her the nerve to take charge, but then tells bumbling Milton to keep an eye on her. Andrea’s not in charge at all, and never will be.

The attack on the prison was shocking and exciting, especially with Rick trapped outside the fence. The Governor comes off as a crazy, insane bastard, the same way he pulled up and took out the army men in the first half of the season. Only with just one eye and shooting randomly in the air, he comes off as even scarier.

Was he trying to scare them only? He takes out Axel on his very first shot, from very, very far away. And then, after that, not a single shot actually hits anyone. Were they meaning to miss, or was this just classic television where a thousand rounds go off and everyone is a terrible shot, or was he really just lucky on the first one because Lyle was an easy target and once everyone hit the ground they were legitimately tough to hit? I loved Daryl and Merle jumping into the fray, bringing them back into the fold right away, and Glenn driving in with that “WTF?!” look on his face.

And then, just like that, they were gone again. What will this do to our survivors?

Joshua: Despite the fact that The Governor's raid was reasonably successful inasmuch as it took The Prisonaires off guard, wrecked a fence, and claimed a life,  I'm not so sure it will have the effect he intends. He thinks he's shaken them up, but I think he's only squandered the element of surprise. Remember, this is the same team we saw performing so efficiently at the beginning of the season, moving from place to place like a post-apocalyptic strike team. These are the same people who cleared the overrun prison and claimed it for their own, who snuck into Woodbury in the middle of the night – with no reconnaissance, no concrete plan of attack, led by a stranger who quickly abandoned them – and with a team of just three people, executed a successful rescue mission against a well-armed platoon of guys. They've suffered heavily this year, in a myriad of ways, but even in their current compromised state, they are not to be underestimated.

My hope is that this rather half-hearted preliminary attack will be just the impetus for focus and reconsolidation that they needed, because without question, they're fighting a madman. The detail that stuck out most clearly to me about The Governor's behavior during the attack was not his firing willy-nilly or that loopy grin on his face but the fact that as the bullets rained down on their truck, he never ducked, never flinched, never took cover. I believe the loss of his zom-baby also cost him his will to live, and since he already assigned no value to anyone else's life beyond whatever purpose they serve, now he's just a walking black hole – feral, irrational, unyielding and endlessly hungry. Our heroes better get ready, because I think the next assault will be very different indeed.

A couple of quick things I wanted to highlight for their specific awesomeness before I turn it back over to you for the wrap:

• Carol using Axel's body for cover was brilliant; her presence of mind here lately continues to impress the hell out of me.

• Daryl Dixon: redefining the term 'vehicular manslaughter,' one zombie at a time.

• So, are Tyreese & Co., like, gone gone? I thought for sure they'd be camped out by the fence like Michonne, but apparently Rick's breakdown was scarier than I thought, because they were nowhere to be seen this week. I predict they show up again just in time to save someone's life down the road... Carl, perhaps? We surely haven't seen the last of them.

• “You know I wouldn't have hobbled all the way down here if it wasn't important.” Made me laugh out loud.

• One last prediction: either Andrea is the one who kills The Governor, or he kills her. I feel it in my bones.

That's all I have this week, ma'am. With only six more episodes left this season, what do you think is coming next?

Nikki: You’re right about how savvy our survivors are. I loved the final image of the episode, where Rick, for the first time in a long time, looks straight ahead with a head full of resolve. The Governor’s raid just might have knocked some sense back into him. He’s still mad, but now he’s a madman on a mission. And that could be amazing to watch. The Governor, on the other hand, has gone wackadoo, and that will hurt him. I like the idea of Andrea and him going head to head.

As my final note I wanted to point out some of the production things that happened this week. That first opening POV shot through Rick’s binoculars was fantastic, because we could only see what he could see through that narrow lens, and his slow pan across the grounds of the prison made the opening very tense, because you couldn’t help but think there was evil lurking just outside what those binoculars could pick up, but he wouldn’t move the lens fast enough for us to see what was happening next. (Yes, I’m that person who would be snatching the binoculars from him and looking for myself. You don’t want me in your survival group.)

Secondly, the music seemed particularly extraordinary this week. From the haunting sounds we heard when Rick saw Lori, to the mournful song that played as Rick talked to Hershel through the fence, to the fast-paced sounds pounding through the ambush scene, it really stood out for me, and didn’t fade into the background as music so often does. In most cases, you want it in the background, buoying up the action, but every once in a while, I appreciate it when it jumps to the foreground.

And lastly, while I agree that Carol is kick-ass, I must ask: in an apocalypse, where the hell is she finding hair gel to spike out her coif, and where did she find that new purple embroidered top in a men’s prison?! Her new look is amazing, but I don’t see any shops in the immediate vicinity. But maybe they’ve made a run into town that’s off-screen. (Yes, I’m trying to come up with stupid answers to my own nitpicky questions.)

See you next week, folks!