Daryl (Norman Reedus, foreground) and Merle (Michael Rooker) come back… (AMC )
Honestly, “Home” threatened to be a bit of a bore for me until its well-nigh transcendent final 10 minutes. But those final 10 minutes were so good that they ended up boosting my opinion of the episode as a whole quite a bit. Hey, if you’re going to nail something in an episode of TV, you may as well nail the ending and leave everybody with a good taste in their mouths.
Let’s start at that ending, because I watched this episode a few hours ago, and already, everything that’s not the ending is slipping from my memory. Rick’s gone on a weird walkabout after the hallucination he keeps having of Lori, and Hershel’s concerned about him, quite rightly. They have a little conversation, and Rick’s not yet ready to come back. We get a bit more from the rest of the group, then, out of nowhere, Axel is shot through the head. Cut to the Governor and his Woodbury forces, who’ve all too easily taken up an offensive position and moved into place to pin our heroes to the ground. Zombies have been the terror so long on this show that it’s surprisingly bracing to see our team truly outgunned and outmanned. Though the Governor only has a handful of men working with him — perhaps to prevent the others in Woodbury from cottoning on to what he’s doing — they take superior tactical position and pin everybody down where they are. There’s only the one casualty, but things look grim.
They get grimmer. The Governor’s masterstroke comes next, as what appears to be an ice cream truck rams its way through both prison gates. In and of itself, this is a good idea, since it will expose those inside the prison to Walkers for at least a little while. But there’s, of course, more to it than that. The back of the truck opens, and Walkers flood out, even as the Governor’s men keep firing upon the main characters. Trapped out in the open, unable to move lest they take a bullet, Walkers closing in, it sure seems like most of the characters are goners, particularly Hershel, who’s, of course, lacking one foot and is pinned down in the grass.
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Now, the show can’t kill everybody, and even if it did, I’m not sure I would want it to. Somehow, Hershel’s become my favorite character on the show (this being a show where I thought it was impossible to have something like a “favorite character” even a few months ago), so I was all prepared to be upset at his death. At the same time, the back of my head knew it couldn’t end like this, so as the main characters began to slowly, steadily fight their way back, the scene became even more thrilling. Rick, pinned against the fence by two Walkers, fights them off long enough to be saved by the returning Daryl — pulling that Han Solo I talked about last week — with even Merle joining in. Michonne races across the empty field toward the truck, slicing Walkers with her sword the whole way. Our heroes arm themselves and start firing back. It takes excruciatingly long, everything playing out in what feels like real time. But the main characters manage to save their lives, if not their sanctuary. Even Hershel gets into the truck when Glenn swoops in at the last minute.
I was talking with a TV critic friend who argued that the Governor’s plan is tactically stupid, even if he has the advantage of surprise and superior position. He’s got more than enough men to wipe the prison from the map if he wants to, after all, and the prisoners have (apparently) sent away Tyreese and his group because Rick’s losing his mind. If the Governor is going to strike and strike hard, now is the time.
While I can see that point of view, I’m also not sure I agree. For one thing, the final action sequence is so thrilling that it makes up for any questions I have about the Governor’s tactics. (It’s also scored by the great TV composer Bear McCreary like it’s out of an old John Wayne movie, which adds to the feel of its intensity.) But for another, this is a sign of the Governor’s rash thinking and even his hubris. He’s so angry at our heroes that he can’t stop himself from striking back immediately, and to do that, he needs to keep things secret from Andrea, whom many of the other Woodbury folks are coming to trust.