"The Walking Dead" aired a midseason finale on Sunday that accomplished what a great midseason finale is supposed to: Leave fans dying for more.
Alas, the show doesn't return until February.
That leaves us plenty of time to dissect "Made to Suffer," an action-filled episode that finally provided us with the dramatic clash between Team Rick and the Governor's gang that we've been anticipating. And what a clash it was -- punctuated with gunfire, tear gas, zombie heads in fish tanks and some knock-down, drag-out combat between Michonne and the Governor.
Here's how it all went down:
The episode opens not in Woodbury, or at the prison, but in the woods, where a group of humans is fending off another walker attack. But these are not our human folk. They're random survivors we've never seen before, and one of the them -- a woman -- gets bit in the arm by a walker. They manage to flee and wind up at, of all places, the prison.
After the first commercial break, we return to Woodbury, where the Governor opens a cage in his home and calls to Penny, who is safely tethered to chains. He gently sings his fidgety little zombie daughter her a lullaby and asks her to "Look at me." But she's more interested in a bowl of raw meat he has by his side and when she won't calm down, he gets frustrated and returns her to the cage with a bag over her head.
Meanwhile, Glenn and Maggie, still under lock and key, are recovering from their abusive interrogation. Glenn wonders if the Governor sexually assaulted her in an way.
"No. He barely touched me," she tearfully replies. "...All this time running from walkers, you forget what people do, and always did."
They hug -- still two decent humans -- and a bloody-faced Glenn approaches the dead walker in the room, breaks off his arm and retrives a piece of bone. Major ick factor.
Just outside the walls of Woodbury, Sheriff Rick and his rescue squad are casing the joint. Meanwhile, the Governor is now hatching a plan with Merle to take over the prison.
"We'll wave the white flag like we did with the National Guard," he says.
But Merle is concerned about his brother and the Governor suggests using Daryl as their "inside man." As for Glenn and Maggie? The longer they're around, Andrea has a chance of discovering them. So the Governor wants Merle to execute them.
Back with Team Rick, Michonne has led the men into the room where she was interroagted. But Maggie and Glenn aren't there and Daryl wonders if Michonne might be leading them into a trap. Suddenly, a Woodbury resident comes in and they question him, but he doesn't seem to know where Glenn and Maggie are being held. They gag him and bonk him on the head.
Moments later, Merle and one of his henchmen go to retrieve Glenn and Maggie, who surprise them with a surprise attack at the door. Maggie takes out Merle's partner by knifing him in the throat (with the bone), takes his gun and points it a Merle,who has Glenn down on the ground. But reinforcements arrive from behind and take the prisoners back into custody.
But not for long. All the commotion has drawn Rick and his crew to the area. As Merle and his men lead their prisoners out of the building with bags over their heads, Rick tosses a tear gas cannister their way and wrangle Glenn and Maggie away.
By now, all the gunfire has the Woodbury residents quite alarmed. "Are we under attack?" they wonder. The Governor just tells everyone to get in their homes and lock their doors. Then he orders his guards: "Shoot to kill."
Team Rick takes cover in a Woodbury cafe, where they notice that Michonne is no longer with them. Glenn explains that it was Merle who turned his face into a bloody pulp. That news stuns Daryl, who wants to find his brother and try to "work something out." But Rick says they're in hostile territory and need to bolt.
"I need you," Rick says. "Are you with me?"
Daryl answers in the affirmative.
The Governor is rounding up his troops to go after the "terrorists." Andrea wants to help. She's good with a gun, after all. But the Gov, of course, doesn't want her to know her old friends are the ones they're after. So he orders her to stay back and do house checks, something she regards as wussy work.
A major gunfight ensues in the streets of Woodbury, all in a tear-gas haze. Andrea, of course, joins in, despite the Governor's order not to. She's stubborn, this one. During the battle, Rick is plagued by hallucinations (He thinks he sees Shane coming for him!). And their prisoner ally dies (Black people never seem to last long on "The Walking Dead").
While the funfight rages on, Michonne, sneaks into the Governor's house, where she discovers his demented collection of heads in fish tanks and finds the girl, with a bag over her head, in the cage. When she sees that Penny is actually a walker, she prepares to stab her ... until the Governor bolts in with gun raised.
"No! Don't hurt her!" he shouts.
With a pained look in his eyes, the Governor puts down his gun and pleads with Michonne to let Penny go. Michonne, stunned by this whole sick situation, thinks about it for, oh, maybe a second of two and then ... plunges her sword through the back of Penny's head!
The Governor goes ballistic. He attacks her and they both go at it in a vicious, brutal, bloody hand-to-hand battle. The Gov slams Michonne's head into one of the aquariums with a zombie head. The wrestle on the floor, and just when it looks like he has the upper hand, Michonne grabs a piece of broken glass and jabs it into his eye!
Michonne scrambles to her feet, grabs her sword and is about to behead this freak when Andrea rushes in with a gun (Oh, the timing of these people). The former allies circle one another for what seems like an eternity. Who's going to make the first move? Michonne senses that the woman she once saved won't pull the trigger, so she just turns and walks away, leaving Andrea to tend to the guy with the glass shard sticking in his eye.
Unfortunately, amid all this great action, the show returns us to the prison, where Carl hears noises and comes across our new group of survivors who just happen to be engaged in another battle with walkers. He starts firing away and helps them escape. Later, Carl offers to shoot the bitten woman, but they say they "take care of their own" and Carl locks them in the cell -- much to their dismay.
Now, back to Woodbury: The Govenor is being tended to at the infirmary, but Andrea wants to know why he was fighting Michonne and what that creepy wall o' heads was all about. And Penny? He has no good answers.
Meanwhile, Rick and his crew have made it over the wall, but where's Daryl? When Michonne shows up instead, a suspicious Rick pulls a gun on her, takes her sword and a demands to know where she's been. "You still need me," she reminds him.
In the town square, the Governor, with banddage over his eyes, addresses the citizens of Woodbury. "I failed you," he tells them. "I promised to keep you safe."
And just when you think he's playing on their sympathies, he throws Merle under the bus, telling them that he's the guy who led the terrorists here. "He's a traitor!" he shouts, whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
Merle is surrounded by men with guns aimed at his head. And then, one more big surprise: They've captured Daryl! In the square, the two brothers eye each other -- and the angry mob -- warily. This was not exactly the family reuniuon that they envisioned.
As Andrea surveys yet another strange scene in Woodbury, the Governor asks the crowd what should be done with these men. "Kill them! Kill them!" the sick-os roar.
And then the Governor fires a death-ray stare at Merle.
"You wanted your brother," he says. "Now you've got him."