Most of Sunday's night's episode of "The Walking Dead" felt like one long, chatty therapy session. You had Hershel trying to coax Rick off the ledge and renounce his Crazytown citizenship. You had the brothers Dixon chewing over their daddy issues, Maggie and Glenn dealing with their torture trauma, and even Axel confiding to Carol about the bad choices he'd made in life.
But then a shot rang out and all hell broke loose. And the episode, "Home," culminated with an audacious, mind-blowing, breath-taking, oh-my-God gunfight at the prison yard, all precipitated by the Governor, of course.
It was a great example of something that "The Walking Dead" has perfected over its three-season run: The art of lulling us into a state of relative sedation and then -- bam! -- hitting us with a blast of high-level tension, until our pulses race beyond the speed limit.
But we'll get to that soon enough. First, let's weave our way through "Home":
Morning breaks at the prison and Rick is perched on an elevated walkway, surveying his kingdom through binoculars. He sees Michonne out in the yard. Then he spots a woman in a radiant backless white dress. Oh no, here we go again: It's the ghost (or the ghostly hallucination) of Lori, standing near three graves. Rick high-tails it down there, but "Lori" disappears and then reappears on the other side of the fence. Rick quickly unlocks the gate and goes searching for her until he finds her standing near a pond. She reaches out and caresses his face and his eyes lock in on her's, until ...
We see the scene play out through Michonne's eyes and realize, of course, that no one is there.
Oh so spooky.
After the opening credits roll, we find ourselves in Woodbury, where the Governor is trying to patch things up with Andrea. He compliments her on the pep talk she gave to the disillusioned townspeople and says she has the makings of a leader. In fact, he wants her to fill in for him while he takes some time to mentally regroup. "What about the prison (people)?" Andrea wonders. The Governor says things will be cool if they just leave us alone.
"So no retaliation?" she asks.
"No," he lies.
Meanwhile, back at the prison, retaliation is exactly what Glenn craves. He wants to sneak back into Woodbury with Michonne and put a bullet in the Governor's head and he wants to do it tonight. Hershel doesn't like that plan. There are breaches in the prison security, allowing some walkers to filter in. That situation, coupled with the possibility of an attack by the Governor's troops, has Hershel thinking it's time to flee. But Glenn wants none of that.
Glenn, of course, is still very much on edge about what went down in Woodbury, and what exactly happened to Maggie. He goes to talk to her, but she's really not in the mood. Still, with some prodding, she recounts the ugly details of her run-in with the Governor. Glenn wants to know if he raped her.
"No," she replies gruffly. "Do you feel better?" Then she pushes him aside.
"You got your answer," she says. "Now go away."
In another part of the prison, Carol and Axel are having a surprising little bonding session. He admits that he's no big, bad armed-robbery guy. That he doesn't even know the first thing about guns. This prompts her to give him a quick lesson, and you can tell: He's falling for her.
Things aren't so cozy out in the woods, where the Daryl-Merle reunion isn't going so well. They need food, but haven't managed to hunt down any game for a while. Nerves are frayed. Daryl's thinking they should head for the prison, but Merle's not down with that. After all, he knows that Michonne and Glenn both want a piece of him.
But then they hear a baby crying and when they follow the sounds, they come upon a group of Spanish-speaking travelers who are being besieged by a band of walkers. The baby is with its mother, trapped in a car, while a couple of out-numbered guys try to fend off the zombies. Daryl immediately joins the battle, killing off walkers with his cross-bow. Merle, meanwhile, doesn't lift a finger to help.
When the zombie threat abates, Merle pulls a gun on one of the men and ducks into the car with the intention of plundering it. Clearly, he has a vastly different moral code than Daryl, who points the cross-bow at his brother's head and orders him out of the car.
This, of course, ticks off Merle and the brothers get into it. They dredge up their messy past, including those tense moments on the roof and how Merle abandoned the family when they were kids. Apparently their dad was abusive. Merle insists he had to flee before he resorted to killing Pops. After a brief tussle, Daryl's shirt rips open and Merle spots scars on his brother's back. He, too, has had his run-ins with Dad.
Back at Woodbury, Andrea's getting suspicious. Where's the Governor? Milton tells her that he thinks he's on a supplies run. Milton is not a good liar and Andrea doesn't believe him. Little does she know that, earlier, the two-faced, one-eyed Governor told Milton that he wasn't sure about where Andrea's loyalties lie -- and to keep tabs on her.
A while later, at the prison, Hershel has caught up with Rick and, once again, is trying to get the sheriff's head back on straight. He tells him about how Glenn, all reckless and agitated, has headed back to Woodbury. And he insists that the group needs its leader back. But Rick rather talk about his Lori visions and what it all means.
"I'm waiting for an answer," he tells Hershel.
While this is all going on, Carol and Axel are once again in the yard, exchanging pleasantries. We sense some chemistry is building between these two. And just then ...
A bullet pieces Axel's forehead. The Governor is right outside the prison and he's brought some men! More shots ring out. Rick, Hershel and everyone else in the vicinity scramble for cover. More shots. And more. Everyone joins this incredible gun fight, even Carl and Maggie. The Governor has a man in the prison tower raining shots raining shots down toward everyone. He clearly has the advantage in this well-thought out ambush.
And then, a sick, audacious move by the Governor. He has a speeding truck bust through the prison gate and into the yard. The truck's back doors bolt open and out streams an overwhelming swarm of walkers. Our band of survivors now have to fend off not only the gun men, but the zombies.
Fortunately, Maggie nails the guy in the tower to put down that threat. But the walkers are everywhere. They're swarming Rick, who has picked a very bad time to run out of ammo. It looks like he's a goner ... until, Daryl and Merle arrive, like the calvary, just in time. And so does Glenn.
A wide-eyed, gasping Rick is saved by the barest of margins.
And that's how the episode closes. But something tells us this battle has just begun.