Andrew Lincoln Andrew Lincoln

Forget zombies and monsters. Humans are the real killing machines this weekend, as two of TV's bloodiest shows sign off Sunday night, in direct competition — followed immediately by repeats, so you can watch one and then the other, and then good luck trying to get to sleep.

AMC's relentlessly intense and horrifying The Walking Dead (Sunday, 9/8c) wraps the first half of this punishingly brutal season, with eight more episodes to come starting in February, while HBO's Boardwalk Empire (Sunday, 9/8c) brings its uneven third season to a frenzied close, with a fourth year already green-lighted (presumably to return, as it always has, in the fall).

The Walking Dead midseason finale, ominously titled "Made to Suffer" and written by comics and series co-creator Robert Kirkman, promises a showdown between the people of Woodbury, led by the deceptively folksy but privately tormented Governor (an impressive David Morrissey), and the rescue party from the prison, led by tragic hero Sheriff Rick (Emmy-worthy Andrew Lincoln). Our rooting interests are clouded by knowing more than either side does about what's at stake. Rick's crew is determined to save the captured Glenn and Maggie (Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan) from a fate possibly worse than death — and seriously, if anything dire ever happens to this young couple, that might be the last straw for me — but they have no idea that their former ally Andrea (Laurie Holden) is within, bonding and even sleeping with the enemy. Also seeming to be headed for an unexpected collision: backwoods brothers Daryl (Norman Reedus), Rick's most valued warrior, and Merle (Michael Rooker), the Governor's sadistic Captain Hook of a No. 2.

How this all plays out I wouldn't tell you even if I could, but the tension building up to this encounter couldn't be higher, which has been the case all season. The Walking Dead is TV at its most gripping and, yes, gruesome, a shattering and thrilling survival epic rendered on an intimate and personal scale, which only makes the graphic twists that much more stomach-churning and heartbreaking when they happen. (RIP, Lori.)

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