- "That’s life now; you kill or you die, or you die and you kill."
- —The Governor
When I played back my recording for the season finale of The Walking Dead, I was expecting a lot. I came in expecting an epic finale full of gunfights, death, retribution, and more. Honestly, it's hard for me to say it didn't deliver; this episode has all those things and more. At the same time however, something felt missing. Something felt off. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it didn't feel like enough for a finale. Don't get me wrong, I think this was a really good episode; I'm just not sure it was a serviceable season finale.
Twists and Turns
From the beginning, I was pretty hooked. I was hooked from the first shot, actually. I really appreciated the mirror opening from the season première. The dialogue between Milton and Philip was good stuff, and it's really good to finally see him evolve as a character. As much as I hated Andrea, I still felt sucked in enough to worry about her dire circumstances (even if I was cheering for her to die).
The set-up for her situation was especially well-done, with The Governor telling Milton to kill Andrea. I pretty much knew how the scene was going to play out, but I still think it was a pretty good send-off for Milton. Like Merle, he died at the hands of the Governor, but not before getting in a bit of redemption.
Meanwhile, at the prison, Rick and company get ready to head out. Here, we get some touching moments between the members of Rick's group as it is implied they are about to leave. We also get some great dialogue between Michonne and Rick, as we get to see a sweeter side to the stoic Michonne. All of this was nicely punctuated with a great piano piece that evoked a melancholy mood as the group got ready to set out, say goodbye to their new home, and venture forth into the unknown.
At least, that's what the audience is led to believe. With a well-executed plot twist, the gang engages in some brutal guerilla warfare, forcing the Governor and his militia to retreat. I especially liked seeing that visual homage to the comics, with both Glenn and Maggie wearing riot gear. What follows however, are two genuinely shocking moments, even for The Walking Dead.
First, we see a young boy from Woodbury running from the Prison and straight into a hold-up. What follows is a tense gunpoint scene and a shocking murder. Just as the kid starts to hand over his gun (not a very smart move if he was actually trying to surrender), Carl suddenly shoots him down with his silenced pistol. This was unexpected and shocking, because of how plainly and suddenly it was done. It felt very real, and the hushed gunshot really helped to drive home how unceremonious his death was. Though he was surrendering, there's enough evidence to suggest he was going to try something, making Rick's actions justifiable. At the same time, he was surrendering. There's enough of a grey area here for me to conclude we'll never know his motivations, and whether or not Carl had to shoot him. I feel that this is exactly how we should feel; like us, the characters are unsure if that was the right thing to do.
Second, after their quick retreat from the prison, and his people retaliate, the Governor snaps, not unlike Shane or Rick. Unable to handle losing control of his people, he guns them down in a rage. This was quite a twist, although it didn't really mean much considering almost all the victims were extras.
The exception to this of course, is Allen. Allen is one of those character I felt should have gotten a bit more screen time. Even though we see his son die in the previous episode, we never really get to see his reaction. Luckily, he does mention it during the infiltration of the prison. At least we got to see some exposition before he was shot in the head.
Tension and Trouble
Andrea being strapped to a chair as Milton slowly bled out was suspenseful and tense, even if I didn't like Andrea. However, it kind of bugged me how she kept stopping to check on Milton. At those points, it felt like ham-fisted attempted at making the scene more dramatic than it needed to be, causing to fall into campy at times. On the whole however, it was mostly well-done.
Other than that, the only thing that really bothered me was Rick's guess that Andrea might still be in Woodbury. And sure enough, they manage to find the Governor's happy fun-time torture chamber. This part of the plot seemed to materialise a bit too continently for me, but it's only a minor distraction.
More Misdirection, Less Confrontation
Picking apart each individual scene, I find there's a lot to like with this episode, as most of them were well done, save for a few hiccups. So why is it that I walked away disappointed? Despite having some strong moments, I feel this wasn't an appropriate finale. Everything felt like it was coming to a headway as the season built up a large-scale conflict between the Prison and Woodbury. Sadly, this doesn't really come to pass. What we get is more misdirection and less confrontation. Those who came expecting a climactic showdown were likely very disappointed.
I don't want to sound like a hardcore comic-elitist, but I feel this climax was handled better in the comic book. Instead of seeing the Governor ride in on a tank, we see him charge in, get jumped, and charge out. Then he kills his soldiers. That's it. That's the big epic finale we were waiting for. Now, if this was the penultimate episode, I'd probably be a lot happier with it. As a finale though, it kind of fails.
The problem here is that everything kind of hinged on the death of one character, and because that character was the terribly-written Andrea, everything ended up feeling sort of vapid. There’s nothing really wrong with this scene in and of itself, it just lacks impact. In fact, I’d say that’s the problem with this episode overall: despite having plenty of merits and mind-blowing moments, it lacked the impact a climactic finish should have. Dunai Gurira really carried the whole scene as she burst into tears. Andrew Lincoln did a good job as well, but I kind of expect that from him at this point. Still, I didn't really feel anything for her death. Hell, I felt more for Merle when he died. You know, Merle? The racist redneck who endangers everyone in the group? Yeah. I was more sad when he died.
Maybe I was expecting too much from this episode. I was hoping to see Rick's iconic "We are the walking dead!" speech from the comics, and to see the Governor riding on a tank leading Woodbury into battle. More than anything however, I was expecting a cathartic climax. Unfortunately, everything got drawn out and the fight fizzled out before it got good.
But mostly the tank thing.