SPOILER ALERT: If you aren’t caught up through Episode 8 of Season 3 there are major spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

When Frank Darabont “stepped down” from “The Walking Dead” after its incredible first season, things weren’t looking too good for Rick and his band of survivors. The second season started with one of the most painful stretches of episodes I’ve seen in any show ever. The mid-season finale barely gave me the push to complete the season. But by the end I was more or less satisfied, still craving more zombies, more escapes, and more human drama.

Last night, “The Walking Dead” moved past its shaky writing and character development into “Breaking Bad” territory with its third mid-season finale, “Made to Suffer.” Since the premiere back in October, the show had been pretty damn consistent up to this showstopper, with a few really amazing episodes (“Killer Within” made me cry like a baby). But I was still expecting the show to falter at some point along the line. Instead I was left with my mouth agape and a shaking knee that will likely be permanent until the February premiere.

New life was given to the show with the introduction of Tyrese and his group of survivors as they enter the prison that Rick, Darryl, Michonne, and Oscar recently vacated in their attempt to rescue Glenn and Maggie from Woodbury and the wrath of the Governor. We don’t dwell too much on these new characters, but they do lend some great moments, proving Carl’s worth to the show for once, especially after his demise never came in the second season. How many times can a kid wander off in a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies and survive? Too many, as dear Carl proved last season. After Lori’s death in “Killer Within,” Carl has never been the same, and it’s reassuring to see him slowly transform into Rick: stepping up as the leader and, occasionally, executioner when needed. I’m certain he will play a pivotal role in the spring when the Governor eventually leads an attack on the prison. What a glorious day that’ll be!

Meanwhile, back in Woodbury, Andrea is still foolishly allowing our beloved Governor to seduce her while Merle tortures Glenn and Maggie behind closed doors. This episode really gave Glenn more room to transform into that crazed badass we’ve longed to see him become, and when he ripped the arm off that zombie to tear out its bones and use them as knives I was screaming bloody murder (half out of joy, the rest disgust). This season has essentially been utilized to help keep Glenn the fan favorite as well as keep his relationship with Maggie strong and the most compelling aspect of the show. Maggie’s father, Hershel, could not be further from this sentiment. Seemingly written as though he was meant to be played as comic-relief, every line from his mouth sounds exactly the same, and his medical “advice” might as well just be cut from the script since no one ever listens to him anyways. Honestly, they should have let him die in the premiere. He’s the new Carl, and I say that with the most disdain possible. If Maggie wasn’t likely to break down upon his death, I wouldn’t shed a tear for this one legged southern Santa Claus.

The other exciting aspect of this episode was the dance the viewer was put through as they awaited the prolonged reunion of brothers Merle and Darryl. Ever since his departure early on in season one, I’ve been dying to see Merle run into our survivors again, and his introduction in the premiere episode was truly satisfying. Although now his life is in jeopardy because of the man he put all his faith and love toward: the Governor.

Not since Gus Fring’s tenure on “Breaking Bad” has a villain left such a lasting impression on my mind. Without a doubt, the most important aspect of the episode was the final few scenes with David Morrissey’s twisted performance. Before “The Walking Dead,” all I knew about Morrissey was his work in the truly despicable “Basic Instinct 2” (don’t ask why), so I was preparing for failure. God damn was I wrong! Not only has he done an incredible job with the role throughout the season, but last night’s showdown between him and Michonne over his infected daughter Penny gave him the humanity we had only seen brief glimpses of up to now. Plus, let’s be honest, how badass is he going to look next spring with an eye patch?

In retrospect, I would have liked to see more character development and exploration of the citizens of Woodbury besides the select few we’re given access to, but I guess I can’t win everything. After revitalizing “The Walking Dead” completely, AMC has given me a reason to continue with their programming post-“Breaking Bad” (I’ve never seen “Mad Men;” I know, sue me) and that was difficult enough in its own right. Come February, I’ll be gearing up for the war of vengeance the Governor’s about to bring upon Rick and his group. I’m already certain that this season will end in tears, and not the kind I shed over the writing in the second season.

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