This was going to be one of those adorable back and forth things with the Trombone but, being as he’s churning out so much other content with Under the Dome and focusing on his “career” whatever the fuck that means, I’ll go it alone this time. Perhaps he can chime in later on. First off, what the hell is a “midseason finale” anyway? It would seem to be a fictional event created to manufacture hype and ratings. In the current season of The Walking Dead, it was actually a legitimate event that brought about the closure of significant story and character arcs.
I caught the big episode on Monday evening after spending the whole day avoiding Facebook, Twitter, News outlets, blogs I like, and basically all the other parts of the internet that cover the entertainment industry. The episode deserves credit for doing something that, through three and a half seasons, TWD has never done. With apologies to the Season 2 arc that saw the Rick and the fuck around gang get forced off of Hershel’s farm only to immediately regroup and move to the prison, the showrunners gave the inexplicably growing fan base the first ever payoff episode in the history of the series.
A brief aside to complain about the show in general. My biggest gripe with the show is that it moves at a glacial pace. The two episodes that preceded the midseason finale were epic in their sucktitude. Let’s hang out with the new Governor, a lot like the old Governor. Like past seasons, the characters don’t develop, they simply change. We were introduced to Emo Rick, hell bent on peace, for the first time in the beginning of Season 4 and left with the image of the weeping Grimes boys at the end of episode 8. I thought Carl had morphed into an uncaring, unfeeling, sociopathic hardo, no? Character “development” aside, the last episode stands alone as a great one because, for once, something actually happened.
One more beef while I’m at it. Shouldn’t this episode have occurred at the end of season 3 rather than the odd and unfulfilling conclusion that left the Governor and his crew scattered and Rick and company right where they started. This half season really played out like two separate story arcs; 1) Prison v. The Flu and 2) Governor v. Prison. There wasn’t any great character development of the Governor that occurred in his three episode arc that would make his killing any more meaningful now then it would have been last year. In fact, in the space of two episodes he went from remorseful and sensitive weary traveler to brutal manipulator hell bent on revenge.
Still, I don’t want to hold my overall complaints with TWD against this individual episode. I though the initial setup, displaying the Governor breaking down strategy to his new flock with Hershel/Michonne abduction clips mixed in was an awesome way to put the viewers right into the action (why didn’t anyone notice them missing at the prison is another question?). I enjoyed the zombie attack of the small child on the flood plane simply because it looked cool but also because it guaranteed that the Governor would not stay in touch with his humanity even if he had temporarily found it (BT Dub, how do you let your little girl play in the mud, near a rushing river, surrounded by woods, in a zombie apocalypse?). I also appreciated the fact that we didn’t spend a ton of time fucking around, the episode itself was very action packed, right up until the credits rolled.
I thought the main action sequence was excellent and, for the fans of the comics, it was cool too see the Governor standing in front of the tank growling, “kill ‘em all,” just like it was ripped right out of the book. The death of Hershel will be controversial but, ultimately, necessary. The show did Andrea the great disservice of phasing her out of the protagonist group and making her unlikable due to her stupidity when she died. Lori was never popular to the fans when she died. Merle only found redemption just prior to his demise. The last big deaths on the show that were really felt by the fans occurred way back in season 2 when Dale and Shane expired. The show had to take out a main character who the audience was connected to in order to really put together a meaningful episode and they picked the best one to kill. Not because Hershel is a bad character, but because he’s the character who keeps the group together. The glue. It will be interesting to see what depths the others will reach in his absence, particularly Glen, Rick, and his daughters.
The battle between Rick and the Governor was satisfying as well. Again, how did this take so long to happen? These guys hate each other. I was a little puzzled that the Governor’s army didn’t buy in a little bit more to what Rick was saying during predictable unsuccessful plea for peace. Also, why not have one of the many Woodbury survivors at the prison come down with Rick and talk a little sense into the people surrounding the Governor and explain to them that their mysterious leader is actually a complete lunatic? Even further, why does the Governor call Rick a liar prior to lopping off Hershel’s head? Has the Governor deluded himself enough to believe that Rick was the aggressor in the initial conflict? I did get a real kick out of the one Governor recruit who turned to her comrade while trying to lay down her weapon stating, “this is crazy. He cut off that guy’s head with a sword!” It was a light moment in a heavy sequence that pointed out the absurdity of the whole situation.
An inconsistency to consider. I totally get the Governor not caring if he destroys the prison in the process of trying to “take it over.” This was never about invading the prison for him, this was about finishing what he started in season 3. I have a hard time understanding why his cohorts would follow his lead in destroying the safe haven. For them, this was about peaceful takeover up until the moment Hershel lost his head. None of them “hate” the occupants of the prison the way the Governor does. Sure they’ve heard his propaganda, but certainly anyone who has survived the apocalypse as long as they have must be a little bis of a skeptic when others start spinning yarns. I understand they’re getting shot at by the prison gang but, still, how do they benefit from destroying the gated security of the prison on their way to a dangerous on-foot invasion? It’s a scene that mimics the book, but in the book, the Governor was running with his original crew that was just as twisted as he is. These people had to be strongly convinced to agree to the “peaceful takeover” plan in the first place. I just don’t see how they allowed this debacle to happen.
As for the Governor’s actual death, I would have liked Michonne, Rick, or Maggie to have taken him out. In the book, Michonne does stuff to the Governor that would really push the boundaries on cable TV. I would have liked to have seen that. At the very least, something less humane than a single bullet to the head to put him out of his misery. He deserved to get eaten, hacked in to little pieces, or run over by the tank. Something disgusting. This is really a small quibble (as long as the TWD folks don’t jerk us around 2 seasons from now and show us that Lilly actually shot a walker coming in for the kill and scooped up the Governor before nursing him back to health… PLEASE DON’T FUCKING DO THAT).
All of these thoughts having been crystalized, I really did enjoy the whole episode from start to finish. That’s the first time I can say that with a straight face since season 1. They gave the prison arc the ending it deserved even if they flopped on the beginning and the middle. I’m hopeful for what’s next as well. They need to keep the gang on the move and get away from long term encampments for a little while. They also need to stick with the practice of killing likable characters. It happens all the time in the book which is what makes it so good. It’s high time to get a little more dark and twisted (like the set up with the dissected rat in the prison basement) and a lot less introspective and mopey (Season 1 Episode 1 through Season 4 Episode 7). The book provides plenty of subject material in that vein as well.
The second half of Season 4 picks up in February.