The Dixon brothers square off with zombies and each other as the prison comes under attack at the worst possible time.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "Home"

Writer: Nichole Beattie

Director: Seith Mann

Previously on "The Walking Dead":

Episode 3.09 "The Suicide King"

During its third season, “The Walking Dead” has excelled at catching the audience off guard by shuffling events around to fool even the people who have already read the comics. In “Home,” screenwriter Nichole Beattie lulls the viewer into a false sense of security… right before someone takes a bullet and the group faces imminent danger.

There are full spoilers ahead for “Home,” so if you aren’t up to date on “The Walking Dead” then you should probably skip this review if you don’t want another visit from Ghost Lori.

Alas, poor Axel (Lew Temple). We really didn’t know him that well, but his sudden death and the immediate appearance of the Governor (David Morrissey) and his men was one of the best commercial cliffhangers in recent memory. Up to that point, “Home” had been a very good episode. But the ensuing battle between the Woodbury attackers and the prison survivors elevated it into one of the best hours of the season.

We all knew this was coming, but it seemed safe to assume that the writers would hold off on showing another shootout between the two factions for a few episodes. The attack managed to take the audience and the characters by surprise. And the Governor’s strategy to use a van full of walkers as weapons in his assault was brilliant. If the Governor had actually brought more than a handful of men, the prison survivors probably would have fallen. 

Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) had his very public meltdown in front his group in last week’s episode, so they’re all aware that Rick’s no longer sane. But only Hershel (Scott Wilson) has any idea just how crazy Rick really is. It was touching that Rick opened up to Hershel about seeing his dead wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and both Lincoln and Wilson were great in that scene. Rick still has enough sanity to realize that his visions aren’t real, but he can’t accept that they have no meaning. They’re just delusions of a mind pushed beyond its breaking point.

While Rick is broken and wandering outside the prison gates, Glenn (Steven Yeun) steps up and declares himself the leader. Except I don’t think that there was ever a hierarchy where Glenn would be the man leading the group. The newly kickass Glenn is fun to watch, but he seems to be taking leadership cues from the worst days of Rick and Shane. It’s like those two and Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) were the only examples of masculine leadership that Glenn had to draw on and he can’t quite pull off the imitation.

Glenn is so wrapped up in his quest for vengeance that he forces Maggie (Lauren Cohan) to recount her experience with the Governor before she’s ready; which only angers her. It was probably Glenn’s drive to avenge Maggie’s brutal treatment that drove him to this point, but neither she nor Hershel seem to be able to get through to Glenn.

Out in the woods, Daryl slowly realizes that it was a mistake to leave the group and stay with Merle (Michael Rooker). Merle may care about his brother, but no one else matters to him. So while Daryl rushes off to help an innocent family in danger from walkers, Merle mostly holds back and takes his time helping out.

“Home” was actually the first time that the Dixon brothers have shared any significant screentime with each other and it did offer some interesting glimpses into their background. It wasn’t surprising that the Dixons were both physically abused by their father, but their plan to rob the survivors way back in the first season was an eye opener. Daryl has evolved since then, but Merle is the same psycho he’s always been. Yet faced with no other option, Merle follows his brother back to the prison and he actually helps save Rick near the end. But there’s no way that anyone should trust Merle, even if the group does let him stay.

Back in Woodbury, there is an intriguing idea that the Governor will step aside and let Andrea (Laurie Holden) lead the town. But the Governor instantly undercuts that by keeping Andrea out of the loop on his retaliation plans and by getting Milton Mamet (Dallas Roberts) to spy on her. Andrea’s character does get a lot of complaints from fans for being so quick to fall for the Governor’s lies and half truths. And while Andrea isn’t calling the Governor out on his collection of severed heads, she at least seems to realize where he’s gone and what he’s doing.

Which brings us back to the prison, where Axel met his quick demise. When given something to do, Lew Temple’s performance as Axel was winning me over.  And in Daryl’s absence, Carol (Melissa McBride) was no longer treating Axel like something she scraped off of her shoe. Any romantic possibilities were quickly cut off, but should we read anything into Carol using Axel’s body as a shield against the bullets? That does seem kind of symbolic for her.

It will be disappointing if we don’t see Tyreese (Chad Coleman) and his group again, but I suspect that we will. Their absence in this episode was logical, as they’ve never seen the good side of Rick. Their only glimpse of Rick was the crazy man they saw shouting at nothing and waving a gun around to get them to leave. It’s hard to see how they would team up with the prison survivors after that. But then again, the end of this episode has Merle standing side-by-side with Daryl and Rick, so stranger turns have happened.