Gene Page/AMC
February 27, 2015 at 07:24 PM EST

The Walking Dead ended the first half of its third season with an episode that was thrilling and frustrating. Thrilling, because it finally collided the show’s two worlds — Rick Grimes’ prison-dwelling community of hunter-gatherers and the Governor’s wonderful little town-with-a-secret Woodbury — and the resulting conflagration played out like the strike-sparking first battle in an all-consuming war. (The battle on the Main Street of Woodbury felt like Call of Duty meets Red Dawn meets Lexington & Concord.) Frustrating, because in the process the episode showcased all the series’ faults. And it also made you wonder if those faults — which were almost entirely absent from the great four-episode sequence that started this season — are actually deeply ingrained in the show’s structure. Call it the Oscar Problem. The Walking Dead is so good at killing zombies, but it’s curiously inept when it comes to building actual characters — and since most new characters, like Oscar, seem to be just biding their time until their inevitable death scene, the whole show is filled with dead people walking. It makes you love a character like Merle: He might not make any sense at all, but at least he has a pulse.

It was the best of Dead, it was the worst of Dead: A midseason finale which left me feeling a bit grumpy, but which also had me on the edge of my seat, yelling at my TV set. The episode got off to a running start. The first shot was of the forest, dark and mysterious. I mentioned in last week’s recap that the whole idea of “The Forest” has become a weird running motif of this season: It’s a nowhere zone, a mystery box that might throw out a zombie herd or a brand new character. This week, it did both: A man named Tyreese ended a blonde walker with a really big hammer. Even if you haven’t read the Walking Dead comics, Tyreese instantly vibed important, because he was played by Chad Coleman. Coleman, as we all know, played the ex-con boxer/broken-soul-of-the-streets Cutty on The Wire. He was also, as I mentioned, carrying a Really Big Hammer. At this point, viewers of Walking Dead know that anyone with a Distinctive Weapon — crossbow, katana, Colt Python, knife-hand, any gun with a suppressor enhancement — is probably important.

Tyreese was traveling with a few people: a woman, and a father-mother-son family unit. They were fleeing a zombie herd. Tyreese said, “I thought a saw a tower past the trees.” They started running; Mom got walker-bit. They knew what they had to do. She was slowing them down. But they carried her along with them. (Rhetorical Question: When someone is Walker-Bit, is it more humane to let them die of a zombie bite — roughly equivalent to being poisoned — or to kill them, and end it faster? Which would you prefer? Personally, I prefer option C: Let me become a zombie and then eat my loved ones. Don’t be so selfish, family!) They clamored over a fence and walked into a broken-down building. The camera slowly panned right…and we saw the familiar barbed wire fence of the Lori Grimes Memorial Prison.

My first thought: “Say, this is a really smart trick! We knew they were going to introduce Tyreese, a fan-favorite character from the comic book, and we knew that Tyreese would find his way to the prison. But now it looks like he’s actually finding his way to the prison at some point in the future, when something terrible has happened at the prison, and it’s possible to just walk in from the outside! It’s a flashforward. That’s the only possible explanation, right? It’s not like the Grimes Gang, having specifically taken over the prison to create a safe space, would just happen to leave one corner of the fence wide open. Right?”

More on that later. Back at Woodbury, Andrea and her boy The Governor were starting another beautiful small-town day. Andrea had promised to help Milton bury Mr. Coleman. That left The Governor alone to talk to his beloved zombie daughter. He turned on a lovely little song — I’m not sure who was singing, but the lyrics are the old nursery rhyme “Bye, baby Bunting” — and let his daughter out of her little cage inside the wall. He tried to be gentle, but his little daughter doesn’t really know any emotion anymore, besides Pure Unrelenting Hunger. “Look at me!” he pleaded.

Over in Woodbury’s Abu Ghraib facilities, Glenn and Maggie were recovering from their respective tortures. “All this time running from walkers, you forget what people do,” said Maggie, helpfully paraphrasing this season’s tagline theme. In a moment that was simultaneously tender and terrifying, Glenn obliquely asked Maggie if the Governor had…done anything to her. (Maggie said no.) Then Glenn had a light bulb. He went over to the walker corpse lying on the ground and, in what amounts to the single grossest thing The Walking Dead has ever done, broke his arm off, then broke the arm in half, then pulled out some sharp walker bones: One for him, one for Maggie. Now, I’m not sure which bones these were. I’m no scientist. I have no clue if it’s actually possible to use decaying human bones as weapons. But that was awesome.

NEXT: The Governor plots

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AMC’s zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.
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