Overall Rating: 9.3 + 0.5 for the shear horror effect = 9.8 Total
WOW that was terrifying. Both the action sequence (which lasted a full 25 minutes!) and the psychological torment that followed.
This episode was truly ICONIC in scope and cinematography...and the details of the shocking events within can be found at the all-knowing wikipedia.
I don't think I can remember a single horror (TV or film) story that I ever saw that was any more effective at truly horrifying me than this episode of The Walking Dead. And what's really cool about how it was done - they tortured their audience in so many ways and equally well with or without help from the walkers. The episode essentially had three movements - an action horror climax that paid off an entire 19-episode arc of walker movements shown one piece at a time, a series of "running scared" scenes in which we got to linger on a few reactions to the walker stampede, followed by a (very temporary) moment of joy as the remnants of the group reunited on the highway and finally...Rick's big confession and the terror of realizing that your leader may no longer be the man he once was (thanks to the horrible things he's had to do to survive).
In movement one, the herd utterly overruns the farm and all of the best laid plans of the group are crushed. The group scatters in an attempt to corral the walker flood, but there are simply too many of them and they are everywhere. Unfortunately, in the chaos, we see Jimmy and Patricia cut down by the walkers (in truly brutal fashion *shudder*) and Andrea flushed out away from the group and forced to flee on foot into the woods. Carol, too, is nearly eaten alive, but is rescued at the last moment by Daryl on his motorcycle. Maggie and Glen escape in one car, Hershel, Rick and Carl in another, and Lori, Beth and T-Dog in another, the RV is lost to the walker herd, and the farm is torn to the group and all the livestock destroyed. Non one else survives but Andrea, who then spends the next twelve hours running from walkers in the forest and killing them one by one using every tool at her disposal until being rescued by sword-wielding men in hoods (presumably inmates from the nearby prison?). Pretty much every camera shot, every line of dialogue, and every moment of walker-scourging in this sequence is gut-wrenching to watch and the viewer gets essentially no reprieve until we get a final view of the burning barn collapsing as they drive away in shock.
The second movement lets us see just how emotionally scarred everyone really is (with the possible exception of Glen, who seems to be stepping into a leadership role in his own right, at least with Maggie...he even finally admits that he loves her...which is a real sign of maturity that we haven't seen yet). Maggie is an emotional wreck, Lori can't think of anything but Carl and wants to run straight into walker country to look for him, T-Dog is ready to abandon everyone and head for the coast, Hershel's faith is utterly destroyed with the loss of his farm and his daughter. Only the reunion of the group on the highway seems to, at least temporarily, brighten their spirits. Especially Lori, when she sees that Rick and Carl are alive.
The third movement demonstrates that the group's unquestioning trust in Rick is breaking. He admits that Janner had whispered something in his ear (this we saw...but we assumed it was about Lori being pregnant)...everyone in the world is infected by the virus and carries it. When they die, they will all become walkers. He also admits, first to Lori, then to the whole group, that he murdered Shane because Shane he tried to kill him. Lori reacts as though she can't even look at Rick and pushes him away. The rest of the group considers abandoning Rick's plan to camp for a night, find fuel in the morning and head east to the coast. Rick responds by giving them an ultimatum - stay with him and make him group dictator, or go it alone and see how far they get. In the terrible silence that follows, they all realize that they need someone to lead them...even if it's a dictatorship, not a democracy.
My thoughts on all of this...apart from...YIKES!!!...is that it was absolutely necessary that the group be removed from their illusions of safety. They were kidding themselves thinking the farm was safe from walker invasion. They were nuts to believe that in a time of crisis, dissent in the ranks could really be tolerated (or beneficial for that matter), and they needed a better long term survival plan than "let's hope the cold slows the walkers down." I tend to believe that Lori is being unfair to Rick (perhaps understandably, but still). Not three episodes ago, Lori was telling Rick that Shane was a threat that had to be dealt with, and now that he has, she's horrified at what he had to do. And it's not exactly like he had a ton of options. Shane was planning to murder him...and the only reason he backed down was because he realized that Rick was right about the group not accepting his stories about Randall and Rick's mysterious deaths. He'd have killed Rick sooner or later, just like he did Randall and Otis.
BUT...that said, although I am sympathetic to Rick's frustration given how hard he's tried to keep them all happy and together in this ugly world, their dissent (they were acting like a bunch of ingrates, IMHO) had to be mortally painful to see...Rick has changed a lot in these two seasons...he's getting less caring, less attentive to the needs of his fellow tribesmen, and less fair-minded with every passing death. He's sacrificed a lot for their safety and gotten no thanks for it whatsoever, but he needs to keep their hope burning...not just keep them alive...or else their survival will mean nothing. And people cannot be hopeful when they are oppressed.
All in all...this was an edge-of-my-seat thriller from start to finish and a damned good bit of writing. My interest in the series has never been greater...a shame it's not coming back until September or October. ARGH!
The episode gets the perfect 10 both for its outstanding use of character/dialogue and for its thrilling pace.
We also get some truly stellar acting in this one...even from cast members who haven't been much utilized of late and who aren't generally thought of as brilliant actors (including Carl, oddly).
A cold hard shot of reality right in the face earns this one an extra point in an otherwise message-free episode.
I gotta give this one our fourth movie category for its iconic camera work (things like the view of the barn burning to the ground as the terrified survivors escape, including Lori, whose face is visible in the glass through the car window and the initial sequence where we follow our herd all the way from Atlanta...just awesome) and the gritty realism of the chaotic escape sequence.