After last week’s episode of The Walking Dead, I expected this mid-season finale to take place purely at the Governor’s town, as Rick, Daryl, Michonne and Oscar came looking for Maggie and Glenn.  So it seems a little strange that the episode begins with the introduction of a new group of characters, led by Tyreese (Chad Coleman, aka Cutty from The Wire).  With the episode appearing to be set up for a confrontation between Rick and the Governor, its pre-credits sequence instead sees Tyreese leading his group (including a freshly bitten woman) into the prison from a previously unseen collapsed part of the building.

It’s not that I’m against the introduction of new characters and an expansion of the world that The Walking Dead currently exists in, but it seems to be an unusual time to bring in a new group of characters who ultimately don’t do very much in an episode that has more important things to be getting on with.  So all we really see from Tyreese and his group is Carl rescuing them as they (expertly, it has to be said) kill off some walkers inside the prison, before Carl locks them in a room separate from his group, albeit with food and water.

That’s basically that for the prison side of the story, although there’s the threat of the Governor sending some of his men (most likely led by Merle) to the prison, while Axel seems to be making unwelcome advances on Beth (and when Carol chastises him for it, he tells her that he thought she was a lesbian, and is delighted, while she’s disgusted, when he finds out she isn’t).  I’m not really sure of the point of this part of the episode, unless it’s hinting that Axel is eventually going to be killed off (most likely by Carl who has taken a liking to Beth).

But the real attraction of this episode is the first clash between Team Rick and Team Governor, as Michonne leads Rick’s group into the town as they attempt to rescue Maggie and Glenn.  They’re making an escape attempt themselves, as Glenn takes advantage of the walker he killed by yanking its arm off, and pulling out the bones to use as weapons (Maggie will later plunge her half into the neck of a no-line Governor hood).  While Rick, Daryl and Oscar continue their rescue of Maggie and Glenn, Michonne has other plans, lying in wait for the Governor in his home.  It’s then that she discovers the Governor’s zombiefied daughter, and she’s about to kill her when he returns.  He begs with Michonne to spare his daughter, but she, in typical Michonne style, sticks her sword through the girl’s face, prompting a furious response from the Governor.  Like Glenn versus the walker last week, it’s a punishing and visceral fight, with each side getting the upper hand before Michonne shoves a shard of glass into one of the Governor’s eyes.

It’s at this point that Andrea returns, with Michonne only just stopping herself from slicing Andrea’s head off.  While Andrea is initially angry with Michonne, that changes when she notices the severed heads from the Governor’s aquarium (which are snapping away on the floor like dying fish).  The Governor doesn’t really offer Andrea a reasonable explanation for his aquatic gallery, but for whatever reason she stays by his side, as Rick’s team is discovered and a shoot out begins.

Rick, Daryl and Oscar have rescued Maggie and Glenn just as Merle was about to execute them (they’ve got a handy supply of smoke grenades from the prison which are used throughout the episode to stop Merle and Daryl from seeing each other) which alerts the town to their presence, and although Rick escapes with Maggie and Glenn, and Michonne also makes it out, Oscar is shot (once by the Governor’s side, and then in the head by Maggie) and Daryl is left behind.

Where the episode ends is not exactly what I was expecting.  Although someone from Rick’s group being left behind on the Governor’s side always seemed likely, it’s not immediately clear what’s going to happen next as the Governor announces to the town that Merle is a traitor, and that he’s been feeding information to Daryl, who is now captive on their side.

So what happens next is a bit of a mystery (not that this is a bad thing).  How will Rick react to the new arrivals at the prison, and will they join forces to try and rescue Daryl?  What is the Governor planning for Daryl and Merle?  Will he make them fight each other?  Will he try to brainwash Daryl into joining his side, or will he send Merle out to the prison as a traitor (or posing as one) to get more information about them or to help launch a sneak attack?

It certainly leaves The Walking Dead in an interesting place, and it’s good for the show that what happens next isn’t necessarily predictable.  It maybe isn’t an explosive cliff-hanger that will leave you desperate for the next episode, but it does give viewers the time to wonder what might happen next before the show returns in February.