*** SPOILER ALERT – This article discusses the events of the mid-season finale in detail! If you do not want it spoiled, stop what you are doing, watch the episode, and come back immediately! Doctor’s orders!***
This week’s mid-season finale of the Walking Dead met its expectations in spades. In many ways, the first half of the Walking Dead’s fourth season reminded me of the second season. Like season two’s farm, the prison had become a tired location. The addition of disease as a plot device had interesting narrative consequences, but overall, it was beginning to feel like the writers were just killing time. The ending of season three with the takeover of Woodbury, left the prison with a host of new characters, redshirts destined to slaughter as the writers picked their moment for events to truly feel epic. The handling of Tyrese and the death of his girlfriend felt tired and unconvincing. The exile of Carol also felt weightless. Yet in its final four episodes, this first half of the season truly became a narrative power-house. Akin to Game of Thrones, the writers created a beautiful no-win situation where lives would be lost, and no one comes out unscathed.
A Redemption Almost at Hand
In an almost cruel twist on the character, the reintroduction of season three’s chief antagonist, The Governor, was almost heart breaking. Never as evil as his comic book counterpart, the television version of The Governor was still a man of immense menace and steely-eyed reserve. It was thus jarring to see him as a broken man following his failed war on the prison in season 3. Dramatically sweeping visages of a man whose only cause had been ripped from him, he wandered in melancholy, and we the audience in turn felt for the man. It was a strange sensation. The relationship he built with Lilly, her sister, and especially Lilly’s daughter Meghan was quite heartwarming. Leaving the name Governor behind, his new adopted persona (Brian) had a warmth about him.
Such a life, however, was never going to work. If anything the writers are making a statement that no one actually changes. The man you are is the man you were, is the man that you will be. Brian tried to fight the inevitable, but with every step he took to avoid becoming a leader, it in turn re-cemented how far he would go to get what he wants, and there is only one thing in this world that he truly TRULY wants, the prison. It only took one walker to truly destroy Brian and bring back The Governor; one Walker, and with it the opportunity to permeate his new group with a heightened paranoia and a need for safety. Where else is more safe than a prison. It would take some convincing, but surely The Governor, charismatic orator that he is, could talk his new found survivors into a hostile takeover of the prison, ejecting its current occupants through the use of any and all forces at his command (including a really big tank).
“I have a tank!”
The fight for the prison made up for the luke-warm ‘War’ in last season’s finale. With this episode we truly got to see the writers unhinged and willingness to harm the ones we love. The last twenty minutes of the episode were visceral and grotesque. It may be somewhat far-fetched to think that The Governor’s new group of followers would actually fight it out with the prisoners. Rick’s pleas for cooperation and moral conscience at the idea of sacking a prison filled with both young and the infermed would certainly have placed doubt in the minds of many on the other side of the fence. These people, afterall, were not his loyal citizens of Woodbury. They had not had the years of safety under the watchful guise of the Governor. Nevertheless they fought, and the results were devastating to both sides.
One for the Departed
Those who have read the comic had some ideas as to the casualties of this raid. It was really a matter of how far the writers would go. Some who died in the comics had already been killed off in the show, most notably Laurie, but there were still several survivors who could potentially meet the same fate as their story-board brethren. The hardest loss was that of Hershel, the great father figure of the group who had only three episodes before been the primary character in his fight to save the lives of survivors from a deadly disease. It was a gripping episode and one that truly highlighted Scott Wilson’s skill as an actor. It was by no means shocking though that he met his end in the mid-season finale. What was gut-wrenching, however, was the manner in which The Governor dispatched Hershel. In the comic, Hershel is shot, having witnessed the death of his remaining son he pleads for the end. In the show, however, Hershel had become a beacon of light, a sign that humanity had not all been destroyed with the zombie apocalypse and that good was still a force in the universe. Using Hershel as a pawn to get Rick to open the gates of the prison, the Governor brutally beheads him with Michonne’s katana. My hat goes off to AMC for allowing such a horrid takedown of a beloved character. It is a moment that has stuck with me still, days after having seen the episode.
The other big loss was the Governor himself. Michonne’s story arc had become almost completely Governor centric so it made sense that the blow that brought him down came from her katana. What was great though was how she left the Governor on the ground in agony as if to leave him for the Walkers. He would not become dinner however as Lilly, the woman who came to love him as Brian and detest him as The Governor, put the final bullet in his head.
While significant casualties took place in this episode, the group is still a lot larger and stronger than it was in the comic post-prison raid. The survivors are left stranded without a home, but their numbers are still there. Surviving the conflict, Tyrese will hopefully become a boon to the series’ narrative. So far his use has been rather muted, driven by situational emotion. Removed from this, it will be great to see his character grow. The big question is Judith, is she dead? In the comics, the death of Judith during the prison raid is devastating to the utmost degree. The writers certainly want us to assume she is dead, eaten by the zombie horde that came to envelop the prison in its final moments, yet we have no visual proof other than a blood-soaked baby carrier. We will have to wait until the New Year to truly understand her fate.
This was an incredibly strong episode to finish off The Governor story arc. While the motivations of his new followers may be a little off-putting (maybe he put something in the water), it still served a solid helping of horror and dread and concluded our survivors time in the prison, something that needed to happen. I look forward to the new year. What will life be like outside the fences? Only time will tell.