So, a couple of notes (to put it mildly) on the mid-season finale.
In one of the more creative deviations from the source material, The Governor survived the initial prison assault in the season 3 finale. To top this, once he returned, the show actually managed to incite a certain amount of pathos towards his character. While I don't think anyone ever thought he had truly changed, there was reasonable doubt as to whether or not he had reformed, which made him more 3-dimensional than his comic counterpart.
That being said, from Dead Weight onward, the show immediately rushed to the conclusion that he hadn't changed at all. Having joined and assumed leadership of this new group over the course of a few days (correct me if I'm wrong), he managed to convince them to go to war based solely on his word that their opponents were evil. This coming from a one eyed stranger whose arrival marked the almost immediate death/ disappearence of two of their leaders? When he led woodbury against the prison, he had enough evidence to paint Rick's group as the villains, but this time he had none whatsoever. It was mentioned briefly that his current group had run low on supplies, but they were never depicted as being desperate enough to wage war with such little provocation. If The Governor had first captured Hershel and Michonne and blamed them for the murders he'd committed, that would've been different. So what was the point of deviating from his fate in the comics just to bring it up again later when he was just getting interesting? To my mind, his return should've been delayed until season 5, so that the direction they meant to take with his character could have been supported by a sufficient passage of time.
In this season in particular, Hershel had proven himself to be a great character and a fixture among the group, and while his death is certainly a loss to the group, was it at all shocking? Of all the blogs I'd read speculating how the mid-season would turn out, Hershel was the one character everyone seemed to agree would die. Between his age and his disability, his survival would've been among the biggest shark jumps the series has ever done. So rather than placing him in a situation where his death seemed pretty obvious, why didn't they just kill him off during Internment? It was easily his finest hour and didn't directly mirror anything from the comic.
I personally found Rick's dialogue with The Governor cliched, but I can appreciate the pressure he was under with everyone's lives suddenly depending on him, and considering what generally happens to people who depend on him. But to me, his biggest mistake was not trying to appeal to The Governor's clearly conflicted people. True, he made one comment to Tara, but didn't really press the matter. Had he made a better case for why they shouldn't trust The Governor once it was made clear that he couldn't be reasoned with, he could've let The Governors people draw their own conclusions once they saw him kill Hershel. The Governor started out by claiming he could find them shelter without shedding any blood, yet when everyone saw Rick trying to appeal to him, offering them the shelter they wanted, no one stopped to think that maybe they hadn't been told everything when The Governor wouldn't budge?
Unless I've overlooked something, the two primary deaths of this episode were Hershel and The Governor, and while they were significant, Hershel's death was predictable and The Governor's was a cop out. Keeping in mid that this was an episode in which people needed to die, and I anticipate a wide variety of responses for this, I believe Daryl should've been one of, or the, major death of this episode. Keep in mind, I like Daryl, but I'm not one of those "If Daryl dies we riot!" people, and I acknowledge that his character has become somwhat cheap, but I don't completely consider him a "cash cow". What I mean by cheap is that all of the issues that made him compelling (conflicted loyalty to his brother, determination to find Sophia, guilt over not having found her, reconciling a lifetime of racist beliefs, loss of aforementioned brother) have all been resolved, so there's little more that can be done with him outside of action sequences. Despite this, his screen time takes away from the development of characters that are either new, or have only recently become prominant. The loss of half the cast of survivors in the comic was meant to cripple the group so that the road would present a challenge, yet all of their key fighters, as well as some background characters, all made it out alive. Daryl's death would not only have been a crushing blow to the remaining characters, as well as an untold number of fans, but it would've left the survivors at a severe disadvantage.
However, the one element of this episode that I thought was handled excellently, albeit with a grain of salt, was the implied loss of Judith. Rather than displaying her brutal murder, having her fate left on such an ambiguous note leaves an even greater emotional impact on Rick and Carl. Had they seen her die, they could've eventually moved on, but not knowing her fate leaves them conflicted over their potentially having abandoned her to save their own lives. They don't have the luxury of being able to tell themselves that there was nothing they could've done. Unfortunately her implied loss is clearly meant to make up for the fact that, apart from the two main characters and the extras we didn't even have a whole season to get to know, so many main characters survived. Last season the solution to this problem was to kill 20+ extras, now it seems one baby is enough. I'm not saying I don't care, but it just feels manipulative to have the only substantial loss be one in which the audience seemingly has no choice but to feel something. The comic had the argument that a baby was a vulnerable target among the many potential casualties, an argument that, to my mind at least, does not apply in regards to the shows execution of these events. And leaving Judith's fate open ended also means that she could've survived somehow, rendering the emotional impact of her implied loss both manipulative and redundant.
Among the many problems that seem to plague this show is that the writers seem to have a very difficult time incorporating original ideas with those of the comic. When it doesn't see fit to stay accuratel to the comic, it does it's own thing, which I would normally encourage except that A: Most of their orignal ideas tend to fall flat, and B: Once they've made their choice to deviate from the source, they just backtrack and do a mediocre job of incorporating ideas they'd originally avoided (Examples, the inclusion of Tyreese and his group, the prison battles). I've heard rumors that Kirkman is planning a sort of spin-off of the show with a new cast of characters, which to my mind, is what should have been done in the first place. I will say that the show has seen gradual improvements over it's course, but many of those improvements seem to have been uprooted by the mid-season finale. Hopefully, the remainder of this season will make up for it, but I'm not crossing my fingers.