The Walking Dead series three – and Greg Mazzara’s tenure as showrunner – ends not with a bang, but with a rather spectacular cop-out. There were two things that I was sure would happen in this finale: Milton would die (poor doomed Milton) and the Governor would go out in a blaze of crazy. A show always needs to know when to kill off their villains. If they outstay their welcome then they lose their power, and the sense of danger that they bring to a show. The audience becomes used to them. Arguably, that’s where Heroes first went wrong: They copped out in the series one finale and didn’t kill Sylar. The character went on to lose his bite and become a bit of a mill-stone round the neck of the show, despite Zachary Quinto’s charismatic performance. With him still around, the show couldn’t evolve, or go all-out with a new villain. With the Governor still alive at the end of this episode, I fear the same thing will happen to The Walking Dead.
The entire series built up to the big Woodbury vs the prison fight, only to have the untrained Woodbury citizens turn tail and run without a real fight even taking place. The Governor doesn’t get a climactic end – he just kills all his own men then drives off with a couple of henchmen. Not the ending we were expecting. Looks like we’re going to have to wait for series four for the Governor to get his big ending – unless they drag the character out for even longer. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love David Morrissey’s portrayal of the Governor. He’s been an excellent addition to the show, and his scene with Milton at the start of this episode was absolutely riveting, but he’d served his purpose. The producers are going to have to really wrack their brains to find a way to make him equally compelling in series four.
The Governor might have survived, but at least Andrea died. Mazzara tried to explain away her actions across the series with a death speech about how she just didn’t want anyone to die. While that explanation makes sense, and would make for a compelling character arc (and could have made for an interesting counterpoint to the Governor: a woman who is not willing to compromise her humanity in order to survive in this new world versus a man who is), it just wasn’t in evidence anywhere else in the series. So, rather than being the emotional climax of the series as it should have been, Andrea’s death was met with cheers. The scene was played perfectly by Laurie Holden and especially Danai Gurira, as Michonne’s hard exterior finally cracked, but it just had no power. Especially as it had been preceded by half an episode of Andrea failing to pick up a pair of pliers, in true Andrea fashion.
The episode began so promisingly, as the Governor’s men mowed down zombies and blew up guard towers. New theories popped into my head constantly – maybe Rick’s rigged the prison to explode when they go in? Maybe the prison gang have doubled back to take over Woodbury in the Governor’s absence? Hmm, Rick, Daryl and Michonne seem to be missing from the fight, they must be off doing something important that will be revealed later! But no – there was no surprise plan. Everything that happened was just at face value. There weren’t even any shock deaths. But still, it was nice to see Rick return to Woodbury and for Tyreese to finally come into the fold (without Rick even apologising for going all crazy on him).
Instead, the show ended on a surprisingly life-affirming finale. Rick has made the human, moral decision for once and brought all the old folks and kids from Woodbury to live at the prison, along with new regulars Tyreese and Sasha. But over the last three years The Walking Dead has turned its viewers into hard-hearted survivors, numbed by the unrelenting bleakness on screen. So we’re not touched by Rick’s decision to protect the weak survivors of Woodbury, we’re merely miffed as to why he’d take in so many new mouths to feed.
Which brings me nicely to the one saving grace of this finale: Carl. Remember when he was the little brat who just wouldn’t stay in the damn house? That Carl is long gone. One thing this show has been able to show beautifully is just what being brought up in a zombie apocalypse would do to a kid. Carl has seen his best friend turned into a zombie, killed Shane, put a bullet in his own mother’s head and seen his father’s moral decisions (or ‘weakness’, as Carl clearly sees it) lead to the deaths of his loved ones. So it’s really no surprise that Carl would shoot a Woodbury deserter in cold blood. The disturbing thing is that, hardened viewers that we are, we can see it from Carl’s point of view. The guy didn’t drop his gun when Carl told him to. He was a potential threat, and Carl was protecting his baby sister. The guy had to die. But it was his utter lack of regret, guilt or horror that was so shaking. The kid is a monster. And thanks to Andrew Lincoln’s performance when Hershel told Rick the whole story, we know that Rick fears the same thing. Perhaps that’s why he brings Woodbury’s weak and feeble to the prison – he’s trying desperately to humanise his son. If the show manages to develop a big enough set of balls, Carl could become the most terrifying thing in the whole series – a new Governor. And that would be a very interesting direction to take indeed.
It’s a shame that such an impressive, bold series was topped off by an episode that lost its bottle and veered at the last moment from the fatal path that the Governor was surely on. I was hoping for the episode to set up an exciting new direction for the next series, as the season two finale did with the destruction of the farm and that tantalising final glimpse of the prison. But sadly it looks like season four is going to open with more of the same. But at least Tyreese is going to be a regular.
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