If Shane was the example of how the zombie apocalypse can change a man for the worse, Daryl has become an example of how it can also change a man for the better. Freed of his asshole brother and an abusive father, he transforms from someone who was planning on robbing the rest of the group to an angry loner keeping his distance to a valued leader to someone who’d risk his life to save strangers, not looking for any reward.
The transformation is all the more striking now that big brother Merle is back on the scene—and caught somewhat off guard. Daryl’s decision to leave the group and go with his brother wasn’t a matter of choosing past ways or regressing into old habits. It was because he’d become an honorable man and felt a duty to his blood. “Home” makes that very clear as he helps save a family and turns his crossbow on Merle, who’s trying to steal supplies. As Carol said last week, “Daryl has his code. The world needs men like that.”
Glenn, too, has come a long way from the meek delivery boy of Season One. But ever since The Governor abused Maggie, he’s been seething with rage. The trauma has driven a wedge between Glenn and Maggie, and he’s obsessed with getting his revenge. With Rick off in crazy world, Maggie traumatized, Michonne keeping to herself, Daryl gone and Hershel down to one good leg, it’s an unfortunate time for Glenn to come unhinged. The group is in no shape to defend itself from a demented assault from The Governor.
Delivering a van full of walkers into the prison yard is the kind of ploy that makes the Gov such a bad-ass villain. The attack spells the end for Axel, who was just beginning to make the slightest progress in his pursuit of Carol. Carol only survives by using Axel’s body as a human shield. In the end, it’s Daryl and Merle who save Rick as the Governor and his soldiers head back to Woodbury.
It’s an action-packed episode that still spends a fair amount of time developing its characters—everything that’s made the show such a hit with fans (last week’s mid-season debut was watched by a record 12.3 million viewers and beat American Idol in the 18-to-49 demo). Hopefully the attack was also enough to snap Rick out of his search for ghost-Lori, though I’m not sure trauma has ever really been the cure for post-traumatic stress. Maybe he just needs Daryl back in the fold to pick up his slack. Score some small points for Woodbury, but the war is just heating up.