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.