After a frustrating third season full of jerky accelerations and sudden brakes, The Walking Dead brought the crazy to a jarring, effective halt in last night’s season finale. Facebook’s Walking Dead page teased me by coyly posting that 27 people would die last night – and the writers certainly made good on the shock value. The finale neatly wrapped up (almost) all the loose ends, got rid of the various characters who’ve annoyed the bejesus out of us all season, and instead of ending on a cliffhanger, gave our little posse a little peace and quiet for once.
The opening shot of “Welcome to the Tombs” is an effectively eerie zoom out from extreme close-up of the Governor’s iris. He winds up and punches the camera in the face, drawing the viewer directly into the drama. The “previously on” blurb, which reminded us that Andrea is still strapped to his torture-dentist chair, indicated the subject of his violence would be our blond waffler…but it isn’t. It is Milton, who I guessed last week wouldn’t be long for this world.
Poor Milton, ever the good guy. He asks the Gov what his daughter would think of him now. Honestly, the Governor answers, “She’d be afraid of me, but if I’d been like this from the start she’d still be alive.” This is a trope in last night’s episode; characters ask themselves “What if?” repeatedly, and discover the only way to know for sure is to preemptively strike. After beating the living hell out of Milton, his assistant and confidant, the Governor forces Milton to kill Andrea. When the good doctor tries to strike against the Gov, Phillip stabs him three squishing, unnecessarily gory times, twisting the knife. He steps out the door, knowing Milton will come back to life shortly and do the deed anyway. “In this life, you kill or you die…or you die and you kill,” he quips.
Meanwhile, the prison folks are gearing up for battle. Carl, who’s been relegated to the woods with the disabled and young, is thoroughly pissed off at Rick and pulling away. Glenn mentions to Rick that he’s never seen Carl this angry before, not even after Lori…and Rick dismisses him: “He’s still a kid, it’s easy for him to forget.” Carol and Daryl are companionable; she comforts him, telling Daryl that Merle “gave us a chance.” This is about all the mourning you’ll see for Merle, which is actually infinitely appropriate. After that sudden change of heart and martyrdom, he deserves a few lines and a brief moment of silence…and that’s about it. Dude was still a racist, sexist, gaslighting, brutally violent assassin. RIP Merle.
Michonne takes a moment to show Rick she understands his position. He had to think about handing her over; obviously, he did. If there’s one thing Michonne is good for, it’s a level head – and her level head knows even the most beneficent gentleman (or woman) on the face of this post-apocalyptic earth would have to think twice about sacrificing his own family for the sake of a veritable stranger. Rick, for what it’s worth, tells her “You’re one of us.” It’s not the last time we hear this.
In Woodbury, the Governor is gathering his forces. Tyreese and Sasha warily tell him, “We’ll fight the biters, but not other people.” Sounds familiar, yes? “Don’t kill the living” has been Rick’s motto up until this season. The siblings offer to stay and defend the children, and if he wants them when he returns, they’ll be there. Sasha’s nervousness is obvious when he approaches them with a big fuck-off gun – and hands it to Tyreese before thanking them for their service. They’re beginning to realize something’s not right in Woodbury (duh).
The Woodbury soldiers are not screwing around – they go at the prison with artillery shells, massive machine guns, and basically every weapon you can imagine. The guard towers shatter, walker heads explode, shells tumble to the ground en masse…but everybody’s gone. The Governor discovers an open, highlighted Bible, Hershel’s personalized message: “And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” How very Easter-appropriate.
In the Governor’s outpost/torture chamber, from the place where he is dying a slow, miserable death, Milton tells Andrea she can get some pliers if she scoots her right foot back far enough. He faked weakness, dropping a tray even as the Governor looked on, to ensure Andrea had access to a tool that might help free her. The question, mid-episode, is whether Andrea can liberate herself in time to keep zombie Milton from attacking and killing her. He tries his damndest to stay alive, and takes the opportunity to ask why she stayed in Woodbury once she knew her friends were out there. It’s a smart narrative move – and a question we’ve all been asking ourselves this season. She tells him she nearly killed the Governor after Carol suggested it, but changed her mind at the last minute. “I didn’t want anyone to die,” she says. Once again, it isn’t the last time we hear this.
At the prison, Rick’s crew ambushes the Governor’s soldiers. Using blaring alarms and exploding grenades, they frighten the soldiers back out of the prison before opening defensive fire. Beneath all that weaponry, these people aren’t soldiers at all. They’re citizens, frightened and exhausted, trying to survive by following a psychotically charismatic man. Carl, Hershel, Judith, and Beth wait in the woods. After fleeing battle, the youngest kid among the Woodbury contingent comes upon them. He tries to surrender his weapon to Carl, who shoots him in the face. “I’m sorry you had to do that,” Rick says, and Carl shrugs him off. “That’s what I was there for.” Hershel stays back to tell Rick, in no uncertain terms, that Carl didn’t need to kill the poor kid. Rick argues for Carl’s innocence (once a kid, always a kid), and Hershel, to his credit, stops Rick dead. “I’m tellin’ ya, he gunned that kid down.”
Here’s the point in the episode where the feces truly strike the perennial fan. After fleeing the prison, the Governor stops his cadre of frightened citizens to convince them to go back…and they refuse, wondering rightly why on earth they’re going in with guns blazing for a half dozen people who’re just trying to survive, same as they are…”We’ll fight biters, but not people,” someone says, which harkens back to Tyreese and Sasha’s previous assertion. To everyone’s surprise (and my profane exclamation), the Governor opens fire and cuts down twenty or so people in one go. He then takes the time to shoot some of them in the head so they don’t come back – what a gentleman. One woman lies very still beneath a dead body, saving her life…for now. The Governor leaves Martinez and one other soldier alive. The two are obviously afraid but continue to follow him even after that massacre. This single scene accounted for about 25 of those 27 deaths.
In the next scene, the writers grace us with a little bit of what was truly missing from this season. Rick, stumbling through his own personal hell, hasn’t bothered to notice that his kid isn’t a kid anymore. Carl, for whom “it’s easy to forget” according to his dad, remembers everything. When Rick tries to tell Carl he didn’t have to shoot that kid, Carl eerily lists all the times someone thoroughly messed up and didn’t kill another person, all the deaths that could have been prevented. Carl, as it turns out, is very tired of asking “what if?” and has turned toward killing so he doesn’t have to lie awake wondering about it.
Milton finally succumbs to his gruesome injuries, and then oops, he comes back again. He shoves himself into a standing position, and if this were a Romero film his guts would tumble out of his gullet, but alas, AMC is still subject to the censors. From behind the closed door, both Milton and Andrea release bloodcurdling shrieks.
Rick, Michonne, and Daryl go after the Woodbury crew, hoping to end it all…and on the road, they encounter the scene of the massacre. The woman who survived tells them exactly what went down, and when they reach Woodbury they’re spared. We can finally exhale; extracting the Governor from the situation means that Tyreese, Rick, and the citizens of Woodbury are exchanging information for once. If only everyone had known, from the very start, what was going on behind the scenes in Woodbury; how different things would be. The three of them enter Woodbury to find Andrea, knowing now that she had escaped but not made it to the prison.
From beneath the door of the torture chamber, a pool of blood sits, coagulating. They open the door, expecting the worst…and they find it. She’s bitten, feverish and anguished. Rick assures her she’ll always be one of them (once again, not the first time we’ve heard this sentiment in this episode). Michonne strokes her hair, but that level head prevents her from saying it’ll all be okay. They all know it won’t. I’ve been vocally annoyed with Andrea this season, but I appreciate the writers’ attempt to make sense of her frustrating inaction. She, better than Merle, redeems herself at last. “It’s good you found them,” she says to Michonne. She repeats, “I just didn’t want anyone to die.” After she tells Rick she has to kill herself, she smiles a bit and says, “I know how the safety works;” it’s an emotional reference to her early exploits learning to shoot with Shane. She sadly eyes Daryl and Rick. “I tried,” she says, and that’s as much as she needs to say. Michonne holds her hand and stays with her while she commits the final act. The camera artfully pans out the door, where Tyreese, Daryl, and Rick stand still as statues, waiting for the gunshot which finally comes after a lengthy pause.
What choice does Rick’s crew have, but to bring back all the women and children from Woodbury? The prison is the safest place for them, and these, after all, are the good guys. In the final scene, Rick looks up at the walkway where Lori has appeared to him all season. This time, though, we, at least, don’t see the ghost of his wife. Is this perhaps a sign that he’s conquering his demons? The episode ends on a shot of a makeshift grave, symbolizing all the death we’ve seen thus far – and all the death that’s sure to come. (Didn’t the first season also end on a similar shot?)
The episode was well done, brilliantly paced, and smartly written (though repetitive). It mostly wraps up the Governor’s storyline – he has lost his followers, and thus, one hopes at least, his power. Unfortunately, the writers didn’t show us where he went or what happened to him and his two final soldiers…so he could reappear in the next season like that bouncy clown – you punch it, it won’t stay down. This episode extracted the people we expected (Milton), and the ones with whom audiences were vocally frustrated (Andrea). Andrea was given her moment to shine, and Carl’s character was given much-needed time to reflect on his development this season. The finale sets up Carl and Rick to be completely at odds with one another over the importance of mercy, and saddles our prison crew with a whole lot of people who need protection.
How did you feel about the season finale? What frustrated you, and what thrilled you? Did you expect so much carnage, and how do you think the next season will pick it up? Share your thoughts in the comments!