Major spoilers follow...
The nail-biting end of episode 7 saw Rick, Daryl, Michonne and Oscar on the feral side of Woodbury’s fence. One query I had last week was whether Merle, the Governor and Andrea would head off to the prison and the two groups would miss one another by a mere few metres or minutes. Fortunately the tension is amped up when our heroes enter into the Woodbury community whilst the Governor and his band still plan from within their base. Maggie and Glenn are still being held prisoner and their fates (among many) hang in the balance.
The episode does not start where we left off but instead begins with a foggy shot of a wood with the accompanied sound of a high-pitched scream. We cut immediately into the wood to a group of survivors led by a burly black man (Tyreese played by The Wire actor Chad Coleman). As well as introducing new characters (mostly a bonus in this show) this epilogue contains some of the best prosthetic work so far. Recently CG has taken over some of the walker kills but as Tyreese hacks his way through the undead there is either invisible CG work at play, or just fantastic make-up effects. The scream came from an injured member of the party whilst another one is bitten as they run for any kind of cover. In their desperation to find shelter and a place to recuperate, they walk into the prison (open thanks to a split fence – how walkers have not got in this way so far is slightly befuddling); more stories intertwining for this finale.
As well as the Governor, the townspeople of Woodbury are put in jeopardy by Rick and co who are unaware of what kind of place it is. They have one clear goal and that is to find and rescue Glenn and Maggie. They do this stealthy (thanks to Rick and Daryl’s cunning and tactical nature) but not without an eventual retaliation. This is where the episode falters somewhat and most action is shakily shot. What’s more, the smoke grenades that cover Rick and his crew fogs most of what the audience can see. It’s all integral to the moment but one can’t help wonder if this event couldn’t have been played out in a less choppy way.
Back in the prison Tyreese and his group are stuck in the boiler room with a load of zombies only to have Carl save them. As one of the new characters is bit Carl has to bring them all back to a safe cell, though has to lock them in fear of the bitten one coming back as a walker. Tyreese seems collected even under the circumstances and appreciates the space around him – more safe and secure than they’ve known for weeks. He’s bound to become a great new character (plus, as a Wire cast member, there’s no doubt in his acting ability).
There is a lot to absorb in the 40 minutes, arguably more events and overlapping than we’ve seen up until now. My main interest for the next 7 episodes is Daryl imprisoned in Woodbury and how he’ll hopefully get out. The argument that things happen too quickly for this episode may not be considered by some viewers as the action does play out in a realistic time (frantic and for good reason). Still, to my mind, I would have preferred the new characters to have been introduced in February’s episodes and to have all the focus on Rick, Daryl, etc, and the Woodbury lot. That way Oscar’s death wouldn’t have been skipped over so fast, Glenn and Maggie’s close execution may have seemed more dramatic and Daryl’s disappearance and capture could have been investigated (it would be interesting to see how they caught the agile and aggressive hillbilly). Apart from episode 6 this is the least entertaining episode yet, but still miles ahead of what other TV has to offer.
Piers McCarthy - Follow me on Twitter.