A stunning episode of The Walking Dead

Wow. I'm writing this after taking in a truly phenomenal episode of The Walking Dead, a harrowing and disturbing and exciting hour of television - and I think I might actually be in shock right now. Just, wow.

(Warning: This post contains MAJOR spoilers from last night's The Walking Dead - Season 3 Episode 4, "Killer Within")

Last night's episode closed with Rick collapsing to the ground in grief, before cutting to the end credits - no music, no sound of any kind, just white text flicking past on a plain black background. And honestly, I think anything else would have ruined those final scenes. I'll admit: I was a little misty-eyed. I sat on the couch, stunned, not wanting to hear or see anything else. I needed to dwell on what had just happened for a moment. I needed to recover.

More than anything else, I'm surprised by that response. I was legitimately shocked by the death of Lori. For all the jokes about how she had become an annoyance, a character who existed for the sole purpose of getting herself (and, by extension, Rick and Carl) into trouble, she was more important to the group, perhaps, than I had given her credit for.

Or perhaps it's just that her death hit a nerve that exists in all of us. Perhaps the most emotional part of those final few minutes, the element of those scenes that cut so deep, wasn't that Lori had died, but that Carl - and his new baby brother or sister - had lost a mother, and that Rick had lost a wife. We can all identify with loss.

Whatever the reason, this was a hard-hitting episode of a show that is at its creative and gratifying peak right now. And unlike the deaths of Shane and Dale in the final few episodes last season, this was a moment that transcended the element of surprise inherent in any unforeseeable death. This was more like the moment when Rick was forced to shoot Sophia, inasmuch as it sent shockwaves both through the other members of the group and through the audience.

All credit goes to writer Sang Kyu Kim - his first lead writing credit on the show - and frequent director Guy Ferland, whose combined work soaked the episode in a level of intensity and desperation that television can rarely hit.

From the opening moments, that pre-credits scene with a faceless man leaving a trail of guts for the walkers to follow, the episode built, leading us through the hopes of the gang (planning to dispose of the corpses and start planting crops) and the success of Herschel's recovery (up and about, with the aid of a pair of prison crutches), while flicking back to the relative tranquility of Woodbury and the comparatively trivial concerns of Andrea and Michonne.

But it was those final scenes - Lori's tearful, disturbing farewell to Carl; the close up of Maggie cutting into Lori's belly; the piercing wail of the newborn child; Carl's insistence on pulling the trigger so his mother wouldn't turn; and Rick's breakdown in the prison yard - that made the episode. Brilliant work by Sarah Wayne Callies and Chandler Riggs, a pair of actors who haven't been forced to extend themselves too often, plus a fantastic few moments for Andrew Lincoln, one of the most under-rated leading men on television, to cap off a truly brilliant episode of serial television.

Wow. Just ... wow.

A few other thoughts:

- Okay, yes, the Woodbury storyline was a little pointless because it didn't tell us anything new - Andrea wants to stay! Michonne wants to leave! - but it had the clever effect of juxtaposing its sleepy Midwestern atmosphere with the complete and utter turmoil taking place at the prison, including one transition - the Governor hits a golf ball, but the sound effect is a gun going off at the prison - that nearly made my girlfriend jump off the couch.

- Is the Governor really an all-out villain? When I last wrote about the show, we hadn't met the charismatic but subtly-creepy character, played by David Morrissey - and we still know very little about the man, other than that he has a wall of fish tanks full of human heads and is experimenting on "biters" in a secret lab. The British actor is doing a fantastic job, playing the character as a mix of slimy politician and Tamaki-like religious leader. But I'm not entirely sure that our problem with the Governor isn't just based on the fact that we're predisposed to distrust those kinds of people.

- RIP T-Dog, we hardly knew ye. But I don't think Carol (Melissa McBride) is done yet; the episode went to such lengths to show the manner of both T-Dog and Lori's death, that it's unlikely Carol - who is a bigger character than T-Dog, narratively speaking - would be allowed to die a vague off-camera death.

What did you think of last night's The Walking Dead? Remember: no spoilers from future episodes, please.

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