(If you haven’t seen this week’s episode of The Walking Dead yet, herein, you will encounter SPOILERS!!!, so perhaps you’ll want to save this one until you see the show. Really, big SPOILERS!!! ahead. You’ve been warned…)
Holy cow, you guys. Now that was one hell of a mid-season finale. The only time The Walking Dead pulled its punches last night was so it could reload its sidearm and shoot us point blank right in our emotional core. While longtime comic readers like myself have been smiling since the Governor got his hands on a tank last episode, the show definitely took its sweet time getting to this point in the narrative – a showdown for the fate of the prison itself. Although the show perhaps unnecessarily extended the Governor’s life cycle by a half season, the payoff was definitely sweeter than season three’s meltdown that saw Ol’ Blinky gunning down his own people in cold blood. While staying faithful to the comic is a hot button issue for some, The Walking Dead has undeniably become its own creature, one which hearkens back to the source material and strikes out in bold new directions. The show continues to both meet and play with our expectations in new and exciting ways that have made season 4 noticeably more enjoyable than previous outings.
Can we have a moment of silence for the man who gave us Spaghetti Tuesdays? Hershel’s death was as quiet, elegant, and heartbreaking as having one’s head hacked off with a katana can be. Savvy fans knew that someone was going to die when the Governor showed up to negotiate, and the visual of Michonne and Hershel kneeling before the Governor’s assault force drove that point home. Killing Hershel may have seemed like the “safe” choice to some, but Scott Wilson has delivered a tour de force performance this season, particularly in the Hershel-centric “Internment,” which made his death sting just that much more.
Not just that – it was a calculated move by the Governor, or “Don’t call me ‘Governor,'” as he prefers nowadays. Killing Michonne might have been a smarter tactical decision, but killing Hershel, who tried until his last breath to negotiate a bloodless transition of power, was a calculated, vicious move that’s indicative of just how “far gone” the Governor really is. Hershel is everything the Governor is not: a compassionate, rational, clear-headed man who can see alternate routes to resolution apart from violence. The Governor even goes so far as to tell Hershel that he’s a better man than Rick, a feat that he himself couldn’t replicate when he donned the “Brian Heriot” persona. When Rick tries to make a plea for peace, telling the Governor that they all can change, it sends him over the edge. “Liar,” the Governor whispers venemously before sinking the blade into Hershel’s neck. Following after Hershel to make sure the job was done? Brutal beyond words, and the only way it could have gone down.
Though some viewers may not like it, the standoff between Rick and the Governor was inevitable. They have been two sides of the same coin this season, each one striving to crawl back from the brink of personal abyss. Rick Grimes has been through a hell of a lot, but Andrew Lincoln spits out “I DON’T MAKE DECISIONS ANYMORE!” like a crazed toddler. “You’re making decisions today, Rick,” the Governor shoots back. Staring down the barrel of a gun – attached to a tank – was how it was always going to happen with these two. Rick may not have had any issues with exiling Carol, but he is clearly not comfortable with being in charge. Making decisions in this world comes with life or death consequences, and in this case, it meant Hershel’s life. The show’s moral compass shuffled off this mortal coil, but hopefully Rick managed to absorb Hershel’s lessons so they can live on.
One thing is for certain: the Governor had this coming. His ascension from broken husk of a man to charismatic cult leader happened quite quickly, but his single-minded obsession with finding a safer place, his insatiable hunger for more, is what ultimately did him in. In a powerful, telling moment, Michonne stares at the Governor writhing and bloodied on the ground and decides he isn’t worth putting out of his misery; rather, it is Lilly, having carried Megan’s lifeless body from the campsite to the prison, who puts the final period at the end of the Governor’s sentence. Despite knowing how dangerous it would be, the potential for loss of life, the Governor couldn’t put aside his obsessive, quixotic drive to take what he thought was rightfully his, and the people he cared about most, especially Megan, died as a result. He was just too far gone.
If I have a major complaint it is that, from a week-to-week viewing standpoint, the Governor’s two-episode arc was effective in building his character, but lessened the impact of other plot points and conflicts that had been brewing at the prison all season long. The confrontation between Rick and Daryl about how to address Carol with Tyreese felt flat mainly because I’d sort of forgotten that it was something that needed to be addressed. It lost some of the punch, and the urgency surrounding that whole debacle at the beginning of the season, as a result, although seeing Carol’s lessons come to fruition with Lizzie and the rest of the children was just as chilling as it was meant to be. Seeing her shoot Alisha in the freakin’ face without batting an eye was one of those “hold on to my couch for dear life” moments, the kind that makes this series such a thrill ride.
All in all, this was a highly effective, savage, and deeply compelling episode that nicely capped off this season-and-a-half-long arc, and has me genuinely excited for the show’s next chapter. The Governor’s iconic “Kill ‘em all,” the frenetic chaos and carnage of the ensuing melee, Daryl’s epic one-two dispatching of both the tank and its driver – this was a hugely satisfying midseason finale. The status quo is irreparably changed, and who knows what villain lurks on the horizon. Our survivors are scattered to the winds, our heroes are wounded, and we haven’t even had a chance to catch out breath and count our dead. If nothing else, the shock of seeing Baby Judith’s bloody crib and the mystery surrounding her fate will keep us talking about the show until it comes back into our lives this February.
Odds and Ends
– “I’m gonna keep you alive. You’re gonna keep Megan alive. The only judgment I care about is that you two are still breathing.” Don’t write checks your ass can’t cash, Governor.
– “The two of us will never be able to live together. Michonne and I will never be able to live together.” You can’t reason with the Governor, Hershel, but I respect you for trying.
– “If you understand what it’s like to have a daughter, how can you threaten to kill someone else’s?” “Because they aren’t mine.” In case there was any doubt about the Governor’s blood type being icewater.
– Is there a Sasha/Bob Stookey love blossoming?
– Flash flood mud zombie. You just knew something awful was going to happen, especially to Megan, but you didn’t know it would be that. Stupid Chekov’s mud.
– Brutal shot of Governor over Hershel’s decapitated corpse, especially as it transitions to Lilly with Megan’s dead body.
– Kind of crazy that Carol’s kiddie kill squad were the ones who saved Tyreese.
– A little heavy handed having a zombie step on the Suicide King chess piece. What is this, the last shot of The Departed?
What did you think of The Walking Dead‘s midseason finale? Let us know in the comments below or say it with a katana to my neck on Twitter.