[SPOILER WARNING: This review has a lot of them]
Well, that was unexpected.
Not in a good way, either. What the entire Walking Dead Season 3 had been building up to — an epic face off between the Governor and the prison — turned out to be as lackluster and unfulfilling as it could get. In fact the entire episode seemed to sit somewhere on the “meh” scale with some lite sprinklings of plot and resolution and shock.
There were still some promising developments that could set up the show’s return next Fall, but they were buried in six feet of muck and a misused room.
First, the room.
Milton, perhaps the best new character this year outside of Michonne, is stabbed by the Governor and left to “turn” in Andrea’s cell. This is the same cell that we’ve been led to believe is a location for some secret and brutal torture tactics. “In this world you kill or you die. Or you die and then kill,” the Guv says. The line, while perfectly designed for the moment, reverberates with more impact later on (we’ll get to that shortly). Milton has gone from sniveling sidekick scientist to someone with a bit of a spine, though it took all season to do so. We knew his death was eventually coming, and placing him in the same room as Andrea as he talked her through his zombification was certainly intriguing.
Andrea, on the other hand, has been someone who’s had an important purpose all throughout the season. At least, we’ve felt like she was going to at some point. Apart from a few run-ins with the Woodbury crew and trying to convince Rick to give up, she’s never lived up to being more than a human telegram between the two factions. When the prison team finally rescues her, we come to find that Milton did lay one good chomp on her shoulder before she killed him. She opts to put herself out of her misery, and essentially does the same for those of us who’ve become tired of her lack-of-focus character. Laurie Holden’s performance is spot on, but we’ve always wanted more from her in the plot this year.
So again, this room has been foreshadowed as one of extreme torture and pain, with Andrea seemingly at the center of at least some incredible upcoming interrogation, and all we get is a couple of scenes that could have taken place in a locked bathroom. Consider us let down at the potential.
Back at the prison the pack never really decides what the best course of action is — should they stay and fight the Guv or run? They opt to protect their turf, setting up an elaborate trap to corner the Woodbury army that involves channeling them into the zombie-infested catacombs of the prison. Mind you, there have been several visitations to the catacombs, and possibly hundreds of zombies slaughtered there this season, but they always seem to find more. It’s an endless zombie portal, more like it. At the first site of the slow creatures the Woodbury folk turn tail and run, even though they’re packing some serious heat and numbers.
Darryl and Michonne never get the justice they’ve been looking for. We got to see a pretty bad-ass zombie Merle last week, still sporting the knife-arm and now hungry for blood. Darryl had every right to take down the Governor but never gets to do it. The same goes for Michonne, who had been stalking the Woodbury leader for the entire season. We’ve had emotional build-up, but not enough of it let out in the way we’ve wanted to.
But it wasn’t all mediocre.
There are points in the episode which start to finally get onto something worthwhile. Carl’s killing of the Woodbury kid is handled well, and we’re left wondering if Rick’s pessimism and post-apocalyptic survival aggression has finally rubbed off on him. Rick has essentially become the Governor; losing Lori affected him more than it should have considering he still has a son and newborn daughter to look after. He’s become a heel, a nonsensical aggressive douchebag that I doubt any of the other characters would want to be around. Carl has felt the full brunt of having a father essentially ignore him during his growth from boy into manhood. Carl had to put down his own mother earlier in the season. Rick never once gets to put down his demons.
So now Carl starts to become his father, who had himself become a cross between the Governor and Shane. Their conversations next year are going to be interesting to say the least.
“In this world you kill or you die. Or you die and then kill.” As we look at that line again, we come to realize that it’s not necessarily about becoming zombies, but about become soulless men. Both Rick and the Governor were on the same path. Rick’s visions of Lori twisted his perception, and the Guv’s sick ideals for control twisted his. But it wasn’t until the very end of the conflict where we find out who is able to withstand the mental breakdowns of this new world that we realize what death really is. Rick lives, the Governor (psychologically) dies. His breaking point is brilliantly executed; his army is defeated and decides to give up, causing him to snap and open fire on them, killing all but the few who have thus far fallen in line.
That specific scene is horrific, depicting a human who has completely and utterly given up on humanity — HIS humanity — and died. He’s now as bloodthirsty as the walkers around him, and he only has a taste for Rick and the survivors’ death. For anyone that’s followed the events of the past few years, the Governor’s metaphysical death and subsequent slaughter talks an eerie parallel to the mass murders we have witnessed recently, in which psychotic gunmen do much of what we saw here.
But the Governor escapes, setting up what will assuredly become part of next year’s plot developments. And, with Rick and crew rescuing all of Woodbury and transporting them to the prison (instead of, say, moving everyone to the fully-stocked and reasonable Woodbury), the influx of new characters gives the show more people to kill off next year.
It’s been a decent season, better than the second one by a long shot, but the show needs to get back to what made that first season so wonderful: fear, terror, and zombies.