By John Keegan and Paul Pearson
The previous instalment of The Walking Dead was a bit disappointing. Most of its attempts at drama fell flat, especially the decision to split off Daryl and Merle from the chain gang, and the only real progression of the plot was done in an awkward, jarring way that didn’t ring true. Sadly, much of “Home” follows the same trend of indulging in sideplots and character beats that don’t feel important or necessary to the main story. It’s only the very strong climax that puts the episode back on track in a big way.
Rick descends further into madness, almost putting the prison at risk in the process. Glenn, with his newfound determination to resist the Governor, tries to step up and take the mantle of leadership, but he immediately comes into conflict with Hershel, who thinks it’s time to abandon the prison and find somewhere safer. Daryl and Merle’s relationship is strained when it becomes clear how much Daryl has changed since the brothers were separated. And Andrea is offered a place of prominence within Woodbury, unaware of what the Governor is scheming behind her back.
It’s not that Andrew Lincoln is a bad actor. If anything, it’s on the strength of his performance that Rick’s breakdowns have been so compelling thus far, but we’re getting a little too far into plural territory. We’ve seen this story before, and revisiting it feels like an excuse to have one of the most capable characters on the show faff about for an episode or two until the writers are ready to kick off the big conflict. By the time Hershel begs Rick to come back, we don’t quite buy the idea that Rick really should be in charge, and a lot of that tension falls apart.
In a similar vein, Daryl and Merle’s sojourn in the woods is an excuse to keep these characters out of the way for an episode, and to manipulate the plot into doing what the writers want instead of letting it unfold organically. But it works better than Rick’s adventures in hallucination, thanks to both a good spate of zombie-killing action and some great character beats for the brothers. We learn a little more about the brothers and get one of our first real indications that Merle cares about Daryl, and it’s also evidenced how much Daryl has grown into a heroic character in his brother’s absence.
Sorting out the growing discord between Glen, Maggie and Hershel was important, and there’s something both frustrating and real about how things played out. It’s nice to see a different side of the Glenn/Maggie relationship, which had been very lovey-dovey up to this point, and it’d be a disservice to not deal with how their experiences in Woodbury affected the two, but how they’re doing it isn’t working. It feels like more filler, while we wait for the real story to kick off. The same goes for much of the Woodbury plot, which saw Andrea pushed a little further onto Woodbury’s side while we, the audience, know the Governor is messing with her.
It’s the final act that turns things around for “Home”. Things kick off in a shocking way that goes to show the importance of developing even the secondary characters, and it never feels like an exciting, elaborate action scene. Instead, like the best fight scenes in “The Walking Dead”, it feels like combat, with all the intensity and danger that comes with fighting for one’s life. It caps off the episode with a renewed sense of purpose, for both the characters and the show, and a promise to charge into the big plot of the third season with all guns blazing.
John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Paul Pearson is Critical Myth's reviewer for The Walking Dead.