In these last few episodes prior to the season finale, The Walking Dead has found itself, more often than not, in the right gear. That is to say: the series' writers have managed to keep things moving while maintaining the episode's concentration on a single facet of the overall story, rather than spread the narrative and the characters thin, trying to give equal face time to the main characters.
After the successful bottle-episode that was 'Clear,' the concern was that the series would ride out the remaining few episodes by drawing out the escalating Rick vs. the Governor conflict with a single story that might only have felt totally cohesive when looked upon as a whole.
Instead, the last two installments, 'Arrow on the Doorpost' and 'Prey,' have handled their stories in a more succinct and satisfying manner, creating a clearer sense of drama and circumstance within the confines of a single episode.
If anything, 'Prey' succeeds because it manages to tell a compelling story by focusing almost solely on the Woodbury side of the storyline, and because it does so within the span of a single complete chapter. Sure, it ends on a fairly unsettling note, but the episode, as a whole, feels considerably more substantial and direct than the episodes offered immediately after the hiatus.
In addition, 'Prey' puts the spotlight on a character whose arc has been somewhat taxing this season and, if nothing else, allows for the moment when she literally lives to regret her past decisions.
For the most part, the story is told from Andrea's perspective – a fact that's readily evident in the early moments of the episode, as she's now the one donning a conspicuously well-tailored and slightly tacky jacket – and while the main thrust of the hour is spent with Andrea attempting to dodge the relentless Governor while making the trek over to the prison, there are some other overt examples of conflicts yet to come. And although they've not yet come together (and it's unclear if they actually will), those conflicts mostly pertain to Milton, Tyreese and Sasha.
After his heart-to-heart with Hershel last week, it seems the passive, man-of-science that Milton was seen as since his introduction has partially given way to a slightly more assertive voice against the Governor's more violent will. Milton reveals Philip's plans to Andrea early on, but holds her back as she once more waivers in her decision to assassinate the source of everyone's problem.
It's weak, but it makes sense: Killing Philip will solve one problem, but it will also leave a power vacuum in which Martinez seems the likely successor to the Governor, leaving them in essentially the same predicament. It seems the conflict is now in these individual characters' ethics that are rooted in a sense of community, which may or may not take precedence over what they know to be right or wrong. In many ways, this mirrors Rick's conundrum in regard to Michonne and the offer he received from Philip near the end of their meeting in 'Doorpost.'
Weighing the superiority and continued safety of Woodbury over the lives of the people (the children, mostly) in the prison is also at the heart of Tyreese's primary conflict. Before running off, Andrea insists that Woodbury and the guy running it aren't nearly what they seem, and what he sees later raises some significant moral concern. Tyreese's inclination toward making waives on ethical grounds initially puts him at odds with Martinez, and, to a lesser degree, the Governor, but it also presents an additional quarrel with Allen that feels like too much of an effort to make the Allen character relevant. Still, there are enough hints of where that's headed to balance this issue out.
As far as the Governor goes, 'Prey' sees him in the less complex, but far more suitable position of being a total psychopath, setting up a torture chamber and chasing after Andrea with the kind of dogged determination that would earn him applause from the likes of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees – especially his surprise return from certain death that keeps Andrea from reaching the prison or alerting Rick while he's on sentry duty.
If anything, the pace of the episode, coupled with decent (or, at least, clearer) representations of the Governor and Andrea help make this a solid entry into the latter half of season 3 that, grim outlook for one character aside, bodes well for the season's final two episodes.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with 'This Sorrowful Life' @9pm on AMC. Check out a sneak peek below: