I have a love hate relationship with The Walking Dead, so much so that I’ve banked on this joke three times now. At its best the show effortlessly creates incredibly suspenseful horror with the perfect blend of human emotion and moral ambiguity to pull at your heartstrings, but at its worst it’s a logically frustrating show that loses focus from time to time. Normally the show would find ways to keep drawing me back in, either through high-energy finales or hanging story arcs waiting to be resolved. However these last three episodes of season four may have finally pushed me over the edge, so much so that it’s stirred me out of my two month writing hiatus to try and explain to myself what went wrong. I’ve found nothing but high praise for these last three episodes of Walking Dead and I’ve begun to question my own critical compass. So consider this not a review, but a public plea for help to understand why these last three weeks of The Walking Dead were terrible.
Fair warning the following paragraphs are going to be discussing The Walking Dead in detail with spoilers. If you aren’t caught up with the most recent episode of The Walking Dead then I suggest you skip this until you have watched through the mid-season finale.
The problems with the last three episodes of The Walking Dead can be traced back to last season. Season three had its moments but it was often weighted down with the task of introducing a new cast of characters in Woodbury, specifically the main villain, the Governor. It also didn’t help that the show ambitiously decided that this new cast was strong enough to hold up entire episodes on its own, which didn’t turn out to be the case. Despite the talents of David Morrissey, I never felt the show ever developed the Governor as much as they think they did. I always felt that we were told more about his evilness more than we were shown (save for his treacherous interaction with Maggie) and I only felt like the Governor was ever a big deal because he was a big deal in the comics (which could also be said about Tyreese). Sure, decapitated walker heads in a fish tank isn’t exactly a sign of wholesome goodness, but it’s not exactly evil either. Sure, keeping zombiefied love ones is also weird but isn’t that what Herschel did with like twenty of his family members back in the barn?
Maybe my memory is failing me but I’m having a hard time coming up with memorable scenes where the Governor acted with pure malice instead of just his own sense of retaliation and justice.* In ways there were few differences between Rick and the Governor and I never felt convinced for this evil reputation the show promised but never delivered. However, I looked past it and decided to buy what they were selling, mainly because the show was still entertaining when it wanted to be. A season of back and forth blows between Rick’s prison group and the Governor’s Woodbury group was seemingly leading to an all out war to end the confrontation between the two. However, the finale was nothing short of unsatisfying, wasting a lot of built up energy that fizzled out with nothing much changed. In the end the Governor was left alive, albeit alone and on the run.
* I’m currently in the process of rewatching all of The Walking Dead and I’m specifically going to track the progress of the Governor with a more critical eye in regards to the show’s ability to create a convincing villain.
This loose Governor plot line hung over the series’ fourth season like a dark cloud. I had many conversations with friend stating that I would be entirely okay with the Governor staying away from the show as long as possible. The Governor’s only real strength was his golden voice and the fact that he had already amassed a following willing to do his bidding. Now that he was alone and exposed for the untrustworthy person he was he had nothing to fight back with. The only way he could serve as a potential threat to the prison group is if he somehow found a new group of mindless followers, or became a super villain capable of taking on the prison who clearly out numbers him. The former option would feel too much like a reset of last season and the latter ultimately ridiculous even for a show about the walking dead.
However the fourth season seemed to be headed in the right direction. Focusing on the aftermath of the supposed ‘war’ with Woodbury we saw a new prison group working hard to restore a sense of society. A much more calmer Rick turned farmer grappled with his demons and shied away from the gunslinger he once was. The season opener posed the question how far is too far-gone and do we get to come back from the bad things we’ve done? This narrative theme held together an impressive string of five episodes that dealt with an entirely new type of threat that the group hadn’t faced before. A fast moving flu virus outbreak began to plague the prison and set off a chain of events that introduced us to a lot of great stories. New characters were introduced, old favorites were tested, and we ultimately received one of the best episodes of The Walking Dead has seen with Internment. There were a lot of plot lines setting up for interesting conflict among the group. Daryl and Bob were at ends after the incident involving the alcohol, Tyreese was on a war path looking for Karen’s murderer, the prison was left in shambles from flu, and of course the awaited reaction from Daryl after Rick’s decision to let Carol go was on the horizon. The half season could have ended here and I would have been entirely happy with these five episodes instead of what was still to come, but unfortunately the show’s dark cloud couldn’t stay away forever, coincidentally answering its own question posed in the opener.
Coming to a complete halt, season four shifted its entire focus from the prison to the Governor in the sixth episode. My initial reaction was indifferent but after some mulling over I began to warm up to it. Despite the series once again banking on its overconfidence in the strength of a new cast to anchor a whole hour, the episode was able to inject a little more humanity into the Governor than we ever saw last season, even if it did beat you over the head with its symbolism. I actually liked this version of the Governor more than the one we got last year and I actually cared more about his exploits. Realizing his mistakes we saw the Governor try to turn a new leaf, start a new life, and become a better person. It was an interesting way to handle this character and it mirrored the story line we were watching unfold with Rick. I wasn’t fond of the vacation slideshow like progression of the characters, especially the forced love angle between the Governor and Lilly, but even still I was prepared to eat crow for my doubt in the return of his character. That is until the show decided that it wanted to go back on the work Live Bait had started and give us back the super villain like Governor in Dead Weight.
So it turns out the Governor can’t change who he is and returns to the psychotic killing machine we knew before in Dead Weight. Not that big of a deal but it meant we were entering the first scenario of the Governor’s return that I feared. He brings Lilly, her daughter Meghan, and Tara to a new group run by his former partner Martinez. When Martinez unexpectedly dies (at the Governor’s hands), the next in line to step up is Pete. Then after Pete unexpectedly dies (also at the Governor’s hands) the Governor steps up to take charge of the group. I find it hard to believe that in roughly 48 hours two deaths go unquestioned and the group willfully allows this mysterious newcomer to take charge of the camp. Especially if we take into consideration that Pete’s hot headed brother Mitch knows the Governor killed Pete. Yes the Governor’s power is his golden pipes of persuasion but getting this peek at how he amassed such a following like he did the first time around is like finding out that the force is dictated by a person’s midichlorian count. There are some things better left unexplained. The biggest crime of all is the fact that Dead Weight leaves the previous episode Live Bait ultimately feeling pretty useless. Why spend the time making an argument for a changed Governor just to do away with it the very next episode? It’s a frustrating way to lay foundation for this big Governor return and it only gets worse.
Too Far Gone takes the cake as far as The Walking Dead blunders go. After two weeks of being singularly focused on the Governor we finally make a visit back to the prison and try to pick up right where we left off, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a little too late. The episode tries to rekindle the energy left hanging on the line by shoe horning in moments that didn’t feel nearly as impactful without the proper build up. Rick’s confrontation with Daryl lost the impact it once had after this two-week hiatus. Bob and Daryl didn’t get the time it needed to hack out their differences and Tyreese’s outrage is lazily paired with the almost forgotten rat plotline that doesn’t seem to matter anymore. These little plot lines feel rushed in favor of the Governor vs. the Prison round two in a last ditch effort to make up for last year. However, Too Far Gone is filled with so much annoying frustration and logic that it boils down to nothing more than hollow action. It had its exciting moments but in the end this finale is even more frustrating than the season before it.
Rallying at the prison fences the Governor calls out to Rick with a small militia and tank at his side. He’s captured Herschel and Michonne and is giving them until sundown to vacate the prison. Despite holding all the cards, Rick pleads with the Governor and his people to take the civil way and share the prison. Although he makes a convincing argument, delivered wonderfully by Andrew Lincoln, the Governor calls Rick a liar and slashes through Herschel’s neck with Michonne’s katana instigating the war.
The Walking Dead is no stranger to dealing deaths to characters that are fan favorites but for a character I loved so much, a character that delivered a powerful performance in Internment, a character brought to life by that amazing talents of Scott Wilson, I felt nothing for the death of Herschel. Instead I was only annoyed by the show’s mishandling of all the emotional build up wasted from the first five episodes in an attempt to bring back a Governor who had long out stayed his welcome. Herschel deserved better than that and the show made a huge mistake not capitalizing on the energy built up from Internment. On top of that, the death of the Governor isn’t even that satisfying. Michonne delivers a heavy blow by stabbing the Governor in the back while he was busy strangling Rick, but instead of finishing the deed Michonne walks off leaving the Governor to lie on the ground.
It’s not the group we cared about getting to deal the final blow on the Governor, but Lilly who hadn’t even been a factor until these last two episodes. I get that it was suppose to be a big moment for Lilly since apparently she and the Governor were in love, but when the show only took an episode to establish this love it seems like the wrong person got revenge especially when the characters the Governor impacted way more suddenly didn’t care to finish the Governor off for good. Oddly it seems fitting that the writers were so unsure who got to finish the Governor that he gets passed around like the confusing character he was so that everybody gets a piece of him. In the end the Governor left the show much like he reentered it, meaningless and trying too hard to be symbolic.
I’ll concede that the virus storyline may not have been the flashiest string of episodes that The Walking Dead has ever done but it at least made sense narratively and worked well together. Slamming on the brakes to insert the return of the Governor disrupted so much of the season that it questions what exactly the show was trying to accomplish. Was keeping the Governor alive and well last season worth bringing him back for just three more episodes? One of which didn’t matter, and the remaining two that felt like nonsense. The only way the Governor even convinced his camp to take on the prison was by lying to them and telling them that the prison group were murders that could not be reasoned with. It was them who deserved the protection of the prison walls and it was theirs for the taking. However, even after Rick pleads with them to take the civil way and live together, basically offering entrance to anyone of them who wanted to go in, the group still blindly follows the Governors orders to kill them all. They damage the fences, they blow up the concrete walls, and they attract more walkers to the place that they’re supposedly trying to take over for their own protection.
Where was the logic in that? Why did no one besides Tara decide to listen to reason and realize that the Governor was insane and power hungry? As a whole they were basically faceless characters whose only purpose were to serve as a weapon for the Governor to wield against the prison in this season three reset. It was a huge mistake calling on them to hold up entire episodes on their own, especially when the show isn’t exactly known for it’s great character development. If they were so dead set on this Governor story than why not weave it in and out with the first five episodes to fill out the season? It would have at least been more effective paralleling Rick’s character. Both Rick and the Governor were two sides of the same coin and it’s interesting to see the different paths they took. At least in this way we still get the emotional build up from the virus arc all while knowing that the Governor is slowly stirring against the prison. The inevitable wrath of the Governor paired with the almost insurmountable threat of the virus would have created so much drama and suspense for our beloved group at the prison that it would have been more satisfying. Herschel’s death wouldn’t have felt all for naught and the powerful performance’s that the actor’s gave would have been complimented nicely with good story telling. Despite Too Far Gone being the finale we deserved last season, there was nowhere near the same amount of energy leading up to the conflict like there was last year even without its payoff. It’s such a shame that the show seemed so focus on correcting last season’s wrongs that it hurt this season even more. Instead The Walking Dead should have listen to the advice Rick gave to Carl. Don’t look back. Just keep walking.
The simplest answer to why these last three episodes of The Walking Dead were terrible is that different people have different opinions and ultimately it’s just a TV show, but the discussion is what makes it fun. So what’s your take on season four so far? Are you happy with the way things have turned out or are you close to calling it quits as well? The only thing keeping me coming back for the second half of season four is the fact that the Governor is finally gone and the hope that Scott M. Gimple and the rest of The Walking Dead crew can pick up the pieces from here. This constant cycle of starting strong and finishing weak is getting old and it won’t be long before The Walking Dead is too far-gone.
The Walking Dead’s second half of season four returns to AMC on February 9th, 2014!
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