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How to encapsulate my thoughts on this episode? Let’s try: This was a good episode, but a very unsatisfying season finale.
Starting with Andrea and Milton in the Governor’s torture chamber, we get a nicely staged and paced event. Milton is dying from a stab wound, will soon turn into a zombie, and chew on Andrea who’s bound to a chair. But he hid some pliers behind the chair before the Governor gutted him, and we get to watch Andrea’s race against time to get those pliers and free herself before becoming lunch. This event, spread throughout the show into bite-sized scenes is really tense. It’s annoying that Andrea repeatedly stops her quest for freedom to have deeply emotional conversations with Milton–multitask, Andrea, talk and work–but dramatic license and all. And once again, the Governor is just evil. He’s gone total supervillian, not content to just kill someone. No, they must die in some extra horrific manner.
The other event insterspersed througout the episode is the Governor’s assualt on the prison and its aftermath. This is the really unsatisfying part for me. It sets up nicely. We see Rick and the gang packing up, apparently to get out of Dodge. We see the Governor and crew arrive with heavy weapons, blasting the guard towers with RPGs and mowing down zombies with a fifty cal. We, and the Governor quickly learn that it appears Rick’s group got out in time–the cell block is empty except for a bible with a knowingly highlighted passage which I could not read fast enough to gain any context from. Anyway, The Gov & Co continue on into the depths of the prison and we get to the part where things go south for me. There are alarms and zombies and smoke and gunfire. And the Gov & Co retreat completely out of the prison, back in their trucks. They come under fire in the yard from Maggie and Glenn in body armor from barricaded catwalks. Okay, so this was some sort of ambush. We learn that the non-combatants from Rick’s group, plus Carl, are hiding out in the woods. But this leaves Rick, Daryl, Michonne, and Carol unaccounted for. Were they in the prison? Outside the prison? Covering other avenues of possible escape the Governor might have taken? It’s unclear. And unsatisfying. A two second cut of Rick triggering the alarms, Daryl throwing a smoke grenade into the halls, and Carol opening a door that releases a bunch of zombies would have let us see through action that the chaos in the prison was actually a trap and shout “yes!” in support of our heroes. But it was all just mildly confusing guesswork.
That confusion continues with the Gov’s retreat. Once presented with the gunfight they were looking for (Maggie and Glenn) why don’t they bring their overwhelming firepower we were shown earlier into play? Why do they run in the trucks? It becomes clear in the next scene that the Gov wasn’t actually leading the retreat. His truck cuts off the truck carrying his “army” and we learn they’ve abandoned his fight. But this really should have been staged better in previous scenes. My brain had to retcon the prior scenes to fit what the show was telling me just happened–because I didn’t see it at all with what was shown. It would have been pretty cool to have experienced him losing sway over his troops to mounting panic, but I didn’t see that on screen. I just heard about it after the fact. Unsatisfying.
And then the big scene where all that becomes retroactively clear and he mows them all down. Surprising, but it really should have been shocking, and tense. We could have used some of the melodrama the show applies liberally elsewhere. We should have experienced the Governor’s mounting frustration, his loss of authority, and his final realization that his reign was over with these people. And then the machinegun should have come out. But it was very out of left field. Just an occurrance because the prior scenes didn’t develop well toward this breaking point.
And the storytelling weaknesses on the other side didn’t really make the Governor’s breakdown feel much like Rick and the gang’s victory over him. Man, this season really set things up amazingly for an epic confrontation between these two groups, and we get some confusion, a retreat, some after-the-fact piecing together of what happened and one side self-descructing. Unsatisfying.
In concept that all should have worked swimmingly. In execution, not so much for me.
And then he drives away in a funny scene where his two remaining lackies have to decide whether to get into a car with the nutjob who mowed down all their friends. Funny, but ultimately unsatisfying. The Governor plotline deserved a conclusive resolution. And he gets to drive off into the sunset, perhaps to terrorize our heroes in a future story arc, or perhaps not. I don’t like the not knowing here. A loose end that I would have preferred tied off.
There was a very strong subplot with Carl. He kills one of the Governor’s army in cold blood, a kid who surrendered out in the woods. When confronted by Rick about it, he says he did what needed to be done, and if Rick had done the same they wouldn’t have lost so many people. This was a real highlight. He’s his father’s son! (And by that I mean Shane’s son.) Wonderful.
And then we get to the big scene. So sad. Andrea didn’t quite get out of the chair fast enough and got bit. Rick, Daryl, and Michonne have dropped by Woodbury to see her final moments. I liked Andrea. She added to the show. The writers seemed to think her story was done with her failure to make peace between the two groups but I’m not on board. Last week Merle’s story felt complete. It was time. This one feels premature. I generally like how characters on the show feel very mortal (except Rick). It might have worked better as a counterpunch to a rousing defeat of the Governor, but as a coda to the ambiguity of the Governor’s fate it was just the show hitting my while I was down.
Even as is, if this had occurred with 2 or 3 episodes left in the season I probably would have been fine with it. But as “the climax” of the story arc, it left me cold.
Wow. Finally the show is back on track. The previews for this episode had me fooled into thinking it would just be more wheel spinning.
So we start with Rick preparing to turn over Michonne to the Governor. We get a few quiet moments with the group, all strong: Michonne has a good defensive idea, Carol’s growth is acknowledged by Merle, and Glenn tells Daryl why he can’t forgive Merle, and Merle of all people recognizes that what Rick is considering is exactly what the group has condemned Merle for. All the while, Merle is planning to take matters into his own hands knowing RIck won’t follow through. Of course Rick reconsiders. I wish he could have done it without seeing ghost Lori, but, oh well, nothing’s perfect. And of course, Merle kidnaps Michonne anyway before he even confirms Rick won’t go through with it. All nicely staged.
From here things don’t go as expected. Michonne goes zen about Merle nabbing her. And she talks. (She also gets a cool zombie kill using the wire that’s binding her hands.) This is Michonne’s strongest episode. She opened up a bit with Carl a few weeks back and the writers are finally giving her some personality. It’s refreshing.
Soon enough, Daryl follows alone on foot and because of the small world syndrome established over the past few weeks he can’t be far behind and a brother showdown is on the horizon.
Meanwhile, we get a couple more nice, quiet scenes. Glenn asks for Hershel’s blessing, and then proposes to Maggie with a ring chopped from a zombie’s finger. Ah, romance!
And lo the moment of truth arrives. Michonne’s zen schtick works on Merle. He let’s her go. Color me surprised. But he continues on alone and engages the Governor’s thugs in a nicely staged ambush. Surprisingly, Merle gets to go out in a (small h) heroic fashion and I was suprised to find myself rooting for him. Alas, alone, he’s unable to get the Governor himself who then kills Merle by shooting him in the chest. Not a head shot. So Merle come back as a zombie. Man, the Governor is just an ass, even when he’s killing you. Poor Daryl arrives and is forced to do the final deed on his brother with, by my count, about 700 knife stabs to the face.
Back at the prison, Rick gets his single best scene of the entire series. He’s finally realized what the audience has known for a while–he’s been a terrible leader for a while and the group needs to be involved in decisions. Go Rick. Nearly three seasons to get to a single moment where I sympathized with the guy.
Great episode. Can’t wait for the season finale.
Great first scene. Simple and effective flashback that reveals a bit of who Michonne is while semi-answering who her zombie pets were. And then sliding into the Governor preparing his revenge chamber with the leashes was cool.
After that, I didn’t have particularly strong feelings one way or the other about the bulk of this episode. Once you accept the ridiculous odds of the Governor stumbling across Andrea (twice), or that Woodbury is now close enough to the prison that you could walk it in an afternoon, the little cat and mouse of the primary story was nicely staged suspense. The little door moment of triumph was really well done. Go Andrea. And then the reversal comes and it was more “meh” for me than “oh no!”
The best moments, and the parts that were good character and story advancements, were left to the secondary story. The pit trap with the windchime lures was a neat detail. So it looks like Tyreese, Sasha, and Milton, have had enough of the Governor’s nonsense, while Martinez and Allen are sticking with him. I really hope Tyreese was just playing along in that final scene because he was worried about their safety rather than believing another contrived explanation for the Governor’s nuttiness. (But it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been hoped in vain for more decisive characters.)
Earlier in the season it seemed like the pacing issues had been worked out, but over these last few weeks the uneven pacing has returned to some extent. I can’t wait for the showdown and it looks more and more like it’s going to be crammed into a single season finale episode.
There’s the concept about creating drama that goes something like “if you introduce a gun at the beginning that gun better fire before the end.” The Walking Dead has this bad habit of introducing figurative guns that never fire. A couple weeks back it was the suggestion that Andrea assassinate the Governor in his sleep. This week it’s not just a literal gun. It’s two literal guns that never fire. One strapped to Hershel’s leg. The other hidden under the negotiating table by the Governor. That’s the last we see of either and it’s vaguely unsatisfying.
So this was very much like some of the episodes in the middle of season two. Perhaps I’m getting impatient, but coming on the heels of a wheel-spinning episode, and a stand-alone episide, it felt like a bit too much to spin the wheels again. By that I mean we end the episode right where we start–the war is coming. Rick, of course thinks he’s got a way out, and has a moral choice about whether to take it, but we the audience know it’s a false choice because the Governor is a backstabbing scumbag.
Enough of the downsides though. We do get a small bit of forward progress. Andrea takes a step closer to understanding who the Governor really is after a short discussion with Hershel. Milton and Martinez build a bit of empathy with the good guys. (What’s up with the stump festish though, Milton?) Martinez and Daryl got the only action/zombie scene and while some will probably prefer the arrow through-and-through kill the one that got me was the bat to the head, “exploding punkin,” kill by Martinez and especially yanking it free from the battered skull while flashing a toothy smile. Yikes.
It was also nice to see the Glenn/Maggie relationship get back on track. The timing felt about right. I’m happy the didn’t drag it out further.
Backtracking slightly, the subplot with Merle wasn’t my favorite. Why is he allowed near the guns at all? And after a bit of teamwork to subdue him, the let him right back near the guns and with the option to take some and go off anyway? Maybe I missed some detail, but it all seemed pointless.
So we’re left with the main throughline of the episode, the meeting between Rick and the Governor. It creates some decent tension. The Governor’s “negotiating” tactics are neat. First deflect blame about the past by blaming Merle. Then when that doesn’t work, well, the past is the past and let’s move forward. Well, not really because the only thing I’m going to discuss is the terms of your surrender. No white flag? Let’s try metioning you may not even be the father of your new baby. Oh, not backing down, well real men like us can settle it over whiskey. Not drinking? I’ve got a sob story that’ll make you want to drown in my sorrows. (I’m kinda surprised it worked given the horror that Rick and pretty much everyone has gone through. Rick really should have let that glass sit on the table untouched.) And then we finally get to the final offer, trade Michonne for a truce. But after all the BS that the Governor has tossed his way in this short period Rick really should know this guy is not the pinacle of sincerity. He’s not even on the same continent with sincerity. It seemed like Rick wasn’t buying into any of his nonsense, but that last offer is eating at him.
So we exit where we entered–the war is coming. Sigh.
But it wasn’t boring, nor bad for the most part. It was actually entertaining between the bouts of mild frustration. What we’re left with is the weakest episode of this block of season three, perhaps all of season three. It’s still better than most of the episodes in the middle of season two.
This week brought on some mixed feelings. It was an odd and disappointing choice to stick in a standalone episode at this poing in the season. I’m invested in the larger story. Last week they spun the wheels a bit on that story. And now, we get away from that story entirely for the entire episode. We don’t see Woodbury at all. And so I wonder–are they out of story beyond the climactic confrontation? Do we have two or possibly three more episodes of waiting? Ugh..
On the other hand, it was a pretty good standalone episode (unless you’re a hitchhiker.) So Rick drags Carl and Michonne on a random macguffin hunt so this other story can be told. It’s a story worth telling–what happened to Morgan who saved Rick back in season one before he found the group? That brings up the second downer of this episode: it takes place in Rick and Carl’s home town. This creates a really small world syndrome. They’ve been traveling for a year or more, and they’re a short drive from where they started? Wouldn’t that make the town of Woodbury and the prison familiarish places to Rick? I know where the prisons, towns and other major landmarks around me for a large radius. It feels a bit retcon to place them so close to home for the convenience of telling this story and not structure this as a larger, more critical, trip.
Back to the plot, Morgan has set up a really inventive kill-zone for zombies and (equal opportunity) any humans that stumble on him. I loved all the cool little touches like the warnings and the color-coded escape routes. They make Morgan’s lone wolf survival seem plausible. So our heroes stumble into Morgan’s trap and things aren’t looking so good until Carl saves the day with a point blank shot. Carl’s a stone cold killa even if it’s a human. But Morgan survives thanks to body armor and we learn soon enough that he’s three cars ahead of Rick on the crazy train. We get a nice moment where Rick is talking more to himself than to Morgan about how you can come back from crazyland–the trains run both ways. And I get the sense Rick has turned the corner while we learn that it’s too late for Morgan. I hope we’re done with ghost Lori. That’s a good step forward if it sticks.
Meanwhile, Carl and Michonne are off on Carl’s secret mission for Judith. And we get another quality character moment among the zombie killin’. Michonne finally gets slightly humanized. Her relationship with Andrea at the start of the season hinted that this side of her existed, but the writers have done a really lousy job of showing any hint of it in the screen-time she’s been given before this episode. Honestly, nothing before tonight has really lived up the the amazing intro she got at the end of season two. But tonight was good. She’s built a small bond with Carl, and with the audience. More progress. Don’t regress to brooding stares next week, please.
So, in the final analysis, not the episode I wanted to see, but an episode which told a story well and provided some nice character work for the few that appeared in it. Can’t complain about that.
We get the best scene of the episode right out of the gate. Hershel tells Rick to suck it up and lead in front of the whole group. And then Carl follows that up privately by telling Rick he needs to step down as leader. Nicely done. (I’m with Carl.)
After that we get our first real filler episode. Things shift around and get in place for the coming confrontation, but little actually changes. Somehow Merle is accepted into the group. They touch on the friction, but it’s a stretch. At least Glenn wants
Oh noes! Poor Axel. I wonder if the secondary actors know that when they finally get an episode with 2 good scenes after weeks of slightly above extra work they know the writing is on the wall? As a viewer I should have known, but it still caught me by surprise. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
We start with Rick following around his vision of Lori that jacked up everything with Tyreese at the end of last weeks episode. Not the most compelling viewing. We get a glimpse of Michonne so she hasn’t been booted from the prison, but no hint that Tyreese and co. are still around. (Michonne’s improved condition makes me think we’ve jumped ahead a few days.)
After confirming Rick is still full-loco, we drop into Woodbury for a bit. The Gov is still sweet-talking Andrea while bringing the evil behind her back. I just can’t see how he thinks this will eventually backfire. Hubris? I guess that’s the idea. But it just seems dumb. We learn that Milton is the worst liar ever, and Andrea suspicion see-saw swings back to the high position.
The Dixon brothers do a bit of wandering in the woods and as predicted last week, Daryl is quickly tiring of Merle’s ‘tude. Daryl is a changed person. It’s dramatized a bit bluntly over the course of this episode, but it’s earned and fun to watch. These two are just good even when their material doesn’t always live up to their charisma. They also get the bulk of the gruesome effects budget with the nicely staged zombie scene on the bridge. (How did this family survive this long?)
Back at the prison, Glenn and Maggie not talking about what happened graduates to half talking about it. I’m still not sure from the conversation what each of them is feeling about it. These half-chats occur a lot in The Walking Dead, and they never fail to frustrate. You make a guess at maybe what it’s about, and hope for a new scene with zombies.
Soon enough we get to the meat and potatoes of the episode–the Governor’s prison assault and it’s a doozy of a sequence, starting with Axel’s farewell mentioned before, Rick being trapped outsize the gates, Hershel stuck far from cover, and the rest of the group pinned down by gunfire. And then the Gov’s coup de gras arrives in fine form with a delivery truck that crashes through the prison gates and drops off a load of zombies. (Dang, who drew the short straw and had to drive the truck, and where exactly did he run to?) This who thing was a pile of fun with everyone in danger and getting a share of defending the homefront. I expected Tyreese to play the role of cavalry, but we got the Dixons instead. I’m a bit bothered by Tyreese vanishing without a word for the whole episode, but having Daryl and Merle back with the group so quickly isn’t undesirable. I think it’s going to be a reeeeal stretch to bend the other characters enough to let Merle back into the group after the garbage treatment Michonne and Tyreese have recieved when coming in with white flags waving and zero baggage. We’ll see how it goes I guess.
So it probably reads like a lot of complaining, but I enjoyed the episode quite a bit. Season three is good pulpy fun. It would be nice if the could step up to having great characters making rational (from their point of view) choices too but they’re delivering more than enough each week to keep me watching.