As some of you may know, I was out of town over the weekend getting my geek on, and while I was able to catch the season finale of The Walking Dead a few hours after it aired, I was far too knackered to even attempt to review it. All for the better, frankly, because if I had reviewed it Sunday night, you would’ve found a 1,500 word essay full of loathing and rage. The Game of Thrones premiere, a day of mulling it over, and a rewatch has tempered my table-tossing fury into a solid dislike. I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, “Oh great, another review where Alex hates on something I love,” but it’s not that bad, I swear. Just hear me out….
First, let me admit I was wrong. So very wrong. My predictions about how this season would play out fell spectacularly short, and for that I offer my sincerest mea culpas. Of course, my predictions would’ve made for a much better ending to the season, but I’ll hold my complaints until after the recap.
The Governor decided the best way to deal with two problems—Andrea and Milton—was to let them finish each other off. He stabbed his former bestie in the stomach and locked him in the torture chamber with Andrea, who was still handcuffed to the chair. As he lay dying, Milton told Andrea about the pair of pliers he hid from the Governor, and since no one thought to tie her feet down—Seriously? If her legs are free then she can kick, which means she can defend herself, even if only barely. Doesn’t anyone think things through anymore?—she was able to drag the tool into her hands. Because Andrea was the worst, she couldn’t manage to have her heart to heart with Milton while simultaneously reaching for the pliers, but eventually she got free just in time to brain the newly zombiefied Milton, but not soon enough to avoid getting bitten.
At the prison, the Governor launched a large-scale attack on what at first appeared to be an empty prison. Earlier in the ep we’d seen Rick and co. packing up camp, but since the whole point of positioning the Governor and Rick as arch enemies was to have them duke it out in a bloody, violent boss fight, of course the prison group were still around. Carl sulked like the child he is about having to babysit Hershel, Beth, and Judith while the grown-ups went to war, but he eventually got to prove his manhood by gunning down a surrendering teenage boy. The Governor’s crew got spooked when they were shot at by Rick and his gang, who were hiding in the rafters. The Woodburyites hightailed it out of there, and that was pretty much it for the battle royale. The Governor shot everyone but his two lieutenants, then went on walkabout. Rick, Michonne, and Daryl went back to Woodbury, helped Andrea kill herself before she turned, and then made the bizarre and utterly ridiculous decision to bring all the old, infirm, and underage people back to the prison.
The writers were obviously attempting to end on an optimistic cliffhanger, but to me if felt like a waste of a perfectly good plot line. Why gear the whole season to Rick and the Governor having a showdown at high noon only to have the bad guy take a pass? If they wanted to stretch him out for two seasons—and I really don’t think he needs 32 episodes dedicated to his evil schemes—this was not the way to go about it. The whole thing was irritatingly anti-climactic, but I would’ve been more inclined to accept it if the resolution wasn’t dependent upon everyone making choices that should’ve been set up half a season ago. Rick’s shift from the bastard who takes a backpack off a dead hitchhiker to a guy who loves puppies and long walks on the beach shouldn’t have happened over night. And don’t even get me started on Carl. That kid’s personality is all over the map. The way the writers are treating him now, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he ends up the season 4 version of Lori and Andrea.
What did the show do right in the finale? For one, the Governor, at least up until he decided he needed a nap between Rick fights. Crazy town banana pants Governor is more predictable, but is also a helluva lot more interesting than Shane 2.0. The writers didn’t just settle for Patrick Bateman, they picked the “Bond villain” setting and cranked it to 11. Delaying the final payoff until season 4 could explain why they didn’t show any torture this season. The writers may be planning to hold his arc from the comics until later, which would at least give him something to do other than being ominous in the background. Gunning down his army was unexpected and frightening in the best way. It establishes what sort of man he is now—Rick wasn’t the only one that made some dramatic life choices—and sets him down a path he can never get off. He no longer cares about death, who causes it or who suffers from it. More than that, he is excited for the prospect of lives ending, especially if he’s the one doing the ending. It makes for a rather obvious yet still dramatic counterpoint to the new/old Rick.
The show also did right by the leadup to the shootout, which was excellent. The Woodburyites searching the barren prison was tense and exciting. When you go for a fake-out, this is the way to do it. Not only did the prison group appear to have vacated the premises, it looked like they had never been there. The place was spotless, pristine, untouched, as if the guards had sealed up the joint before the apocalypse took hold. It was eerie how empty it was, how devoid of personality. It also made me realize that despite them living there for at least a few months, they never made the prison home. They never cleared out the rest of the walkers, planted crops, or even decorated. Which begs the question: why bother fighting to the death for a something that’s little more than a place to squat? To follow that train of thought, why bring the remaining Woodburyites back to the prison at all? I like that Rick is a changed man now—really, he’s just back to being the man he was before he found out Shane was banging his wife—and him rescuing the abandoned citizens was the right thing to do. What I don’t understand is why they didn’t just move into Woodbury instead of bringing everyone back to the prison. Woodbury has electricity, running water, crops, decent living quarters, and is heavily armored and defensible, whereas the prison is the exact opposite of all of that. Neither location is Governor-proof, but by pulling the borders in closer, Woodbury would be easily protected. Then again, this is The Walking Dead. Plot logic isn’t part of the game here.
The problem with The Walking Dead on AMC is that the writers are struggling with what story they want to tell, what story the fans want them to tell, what story the studio thinks the fans (in this case I mean “fans” as in the target demo of 18-49 males) want them to tell, and what story the studio actually wants them to tell (as in fitting in with the channel’s brand). Mix in a hefty amount of studio and Kirkman interference—particularly in re: budget and story direction—and what you end up with is a show that tells a story, but not very well. Don’t think there’s not a reason why it has had 3 showrunners in 4 years.
The Walking Dead wants to be a drama about what it means to survive the apocalypse and where civilization/morality/ethics go from there, but that doesn’t bring in the ratings. AMC is out to make bank, not art (see their constant bickering with Matthew Weiner over Mad Men), and philosophical debates about the nature of humanity don’t book Hall H at Comic-Con. Zombies eating faces does. But you can’t structure a whole show out of face-eating zombies, so you’ve got this weird zone of trying to throw as many gross-outs as possible in 42 minutes but also trying to make the audience care about what happens to the people suffering the gross-outs. And that never works out well for anyone. In the end, I liked what the season finale was trying to say, but I really didn’t care for the way it was said. They had some great plots and scenes, and some much needed character development, yet most of it was wasted, left unexplored, or came out of left field with no explication. Actions and personalities were dictated not by the characters or basic human logic but by plot necessity, all of which makes the non-confrontation seem less like a cliffhanger and more like a a cop-out caused by lazy writing.
If nothing else, at least Andrea’s dead. She was the worst.
- “What would your daughter think about what you are?” “She’d be afraid of me. But if I’d been like this from the start, she’d be alive today.”
- I didn’t get too much into Carl, but his B-plot was another good thing the finale did. It set up the change in his character, no matter how abrupt, in such a way that we’ll get to watch the consequences unfold in the next season. Quite looking forward to where this is headed.
- I also didn’t talk about Tyreese or Sasha, but they didn’t do enough to merit a whole paragrah. Hopefully next season we’ll get some actual plot out of them.
- Thanks for joining me for an entertaining yet often difficult season. Season 3 was overall better than season 2 (of which a significant portion was epically atrocious). Here’s hoping new showrunner Scott Gimple can get this show back in the black. See ya’ll in October!
Alex Brown is an archivist, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.