We've reached the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, and after the non-stop tension of the half-way episode, I think we all could definitely do with a breather.
The audience was 'made to suffer' intoxicating levels of excitement as we witness Rick's group storm the prison in search of Glenn and Maggie, Michonne strike her revenge against the Governor, and brothers Daryl and Merle reunite at long last.
Like father, like son
The end of last week's episode was all set for a showdown between Rick's group and the Governor's, but here we're wrong-footed from the start when a third party is introduced. A small band of five survivors fight their way through the woods, led by Cutty from The Wire (Chad Coleman).
Instead of using his fists, in this show his character's weapon of choice is a hammer, as he goes about cracking the skulls of the undead. They seek shelter in the prison, entering the complex through a ruined façade that could be a worrying indication of how easy an invasion could occur in the future.
Only a small group remain in the prison to welcome the fellow survivors, and even though Carl is the youngest of the group, he understands that now is his time to lead and take action. He helps escort the new group to a secure cell before locking them in.
Echoing the actions of his father, Carl's ever-growing maturity sees him recognise a need to balance compassion with perspicacity in order to protect the interests of those he cares about. When Beth asks him why he won't help them, he curtly responds, "I did".
Smoke gets in your eyes
Meanwhile his dad is trying to help free Glenn and Maggie escape the clutches of the Governor by staging a full-on assault of the town. Nail-biting from start to finish, we witness the group sneak into Woodbury, drop a couple of smoke grenades, and in the fog of war snatch up Glenn and Maggie away from their would-be-executioners.
But they're far from safe, as a shootout begins between the two sides in the middle of the town. Whilst The Walking Dead has always been a violent show with plenty of action it's never had a proper gunfight before, and even then this battle here is not a hyperactive thrill ride with bullets flying everywhere.
In the darkness of the barely-lit street, neither side really knows what they're up against. Seeking protection first, bullets shoot out in short bursts and Rick's group are only concerned with fleeing the frenzy as quickly as possible.
But Rick becomes paralysed after he sees Shane in the heat of battle. The demented vision of his former friend is rather perplexing. It could be just another manifestation of Rick's fragile mind that is still struggling to deal with Lori's death, or a way of him equating the brutal militaristic practices of the townsfolk with the same dogmatic code Shane employed. He manages to pull himself together and join the rest of the group over the wall, safe from the Governor's grasp for now.
In all the carnage they don't notice that Michonne is not with them. Showing off her vengeful/psychotic streak, she makes her way to the Governor's home and lies in wait to slay her nemesis.
We know Michonne holds a fairly low opinion of the town's charismatic leader, but even she had no idea just how deranged he was. Spotting first the grotesque fish tank full of severed heads, she is then drawn to the sounds of a wailing Penny trapped in the cupboard.
In a rare glimpse of sympathy, Michonne tentatively approaches the child saying, "Its okay, I'm not going to hurt you". But when she pulls the sack from Penny's head and discovers she's a zombie, she shows no hesitation in killing the girl.
The Governor begs Michonne not do it, pleading, "There's no need for her to suffer". With cold-hearted stupidity she kills the undead child, sending the Governor spiralling into savagery as he launches himself at his newfound archenemy.
The fight between the two is scrappy and brutal, with the fish tanks shattering around them as they pound and pulverise one another into submission. In a shocking flash Michonne stabs the Governor in his right eye, and is on the verge of killing him, when an armed Andrea steps in. Starting off this season as close companions, when the two look into one another's eyes they seem to not know each other anymore.
Eye for an eye
From slaughtering the national guardsman to threatening Maggie with rape, we've witnessed what a vindictive and malicious character the Governor really is. This is why the strong sympathy we feel towards him whilst he despondently cradles his dead child is so remarkable.
Drawing a dark parallel to Rick, here is a man pushed over the edge by love into orchestrating the most atrocious acts. Perhaps he could have found redemption, but after Michonne's actions it's likely we'll see the Governor more crazed and dangerous than ever.
Similar to tyrants like Stalin and Pol Pot, he's now swept up in paranoia, believing those closest to him to be traitors. Michonne's appearance, after Merle said he had dispatched her, confirms in his mind that he must be plotting against him.
In the gladiatorial pits, he announces to the town that Merle is a traitor, before revealing that he has also captured his brother Daryl. Having not seen each other since that Atlanta rooftop in season one, it's a brilliant stroke to have their reunion be set in a similar perilous situation. The Governor, with eye-patch cumulatively bleeding, whips the town into a frenzy and gets them baying for the brothers' blood.
God knows how they'll get out of this situation, but my money's on Andrea having something to do with it. She knows both Merle and Daryl and right now is the closest to the Governor's ear. But we won't know what will happen until February when the show returns to our screens. It's going to be an agonisingly long winter of waiting.