If you don’t realize that there will spoilers contained within a review of the mid-season finale, then you deserve to be spoiled. There… I said it.
If there was any doubt as to what the theme of this season has been, Too Far Gone, the mid-season finale of the fourth season of The Walking Dead, makes it crystal clear; after all of the horrors that must be committed in order to merely survive in the zombie apocalypse (or any apocalypse and/or war), can someone return to being a decent person? For some, such as Rick, yes, they can… for others, not so much.
It’s this overarching theme that has made the fourth season my favorite in the series thus far. Under the direction of new showrunner Scott Gimple, each episode has looked into this question in a variety of different ways, and with a number of different characters. It would be easy to try and boil it down to a showdown between Rick and The Governor, they are obviously the main protagonist/antagonist duo of the series, but Gimple has done something far more nuanced and intelligent than simply giving us a binary system of yes or no, he gave us multiple examples and allowed each character to act as people would behave as opposed to creating stereotypes and tropes incarnate.
It’s this very human approach to story telling that seems to have caused some to hate the direction the show has taken, and more than a few cases of impatience and armchair showrunning. I am certainly guilty of being a bit frustrated in the first couple of episodes with how the character of Tyreese was being handled. What I didn’t understand at the time is that Gimple seems interested not only in actions and reactions, but in motivations. If there was any complaint I had about the first few seasons (in fact, I had more than a few), it was the constant swing between irrational action and reaction and people standing around yelling exposition at one another. This season, there appears to be a bit more space within scenes, more room to breathe, allowing mood to take control, and much more thought being put into the “why” of each action.
Why did Rick take up a pacifist viewpoint and start farming? He felt his decisions as the leader of the group directly caused the death of his wife and everyone else who died under the Ricktatorship. Certainly we all wanted to see him pick up the Python and take the reins of control again… but why would he have done that? There needed to be a compelling and viable reason for someone to assume a position of power after having felt such total and utter defeat… and even in this episode, Rick must reluctantly speak for everyone as he is called out as being the leader. We as viewers also needed to understand why he makes a good leader… and just because we like him isn’t really enough.
Why did Carol become so hard and callous when her character was so warm and sweet early on? After enduring an abusive marriage,the death of her daughter, followed by feeling helpless as others around her fought and died as she stood around unable to defend herself, we could see a trajectory, and she became the warrior by shutting down the part of her that cared for anything other than survival. Yes, she cared for Lizzie and Mika, but more as a concept than as individuals.
The debate about whether or not Rick made the right decision in banishing her is nowhere near being over. What Rick saw in her behavior and her intent, told him everything he needed to know about what her motivations had become, and I believe Rick saw that not only could she not come back, but that she had no desire to do so. Much like Morgan, reason and some nice speechifying can only go so far… and when you are that far gone, it may be best to cut that person loose… and to keep checking your rear-view mirror on the way out.
But enough about the first half of the season… what about the episode itself? From beginning to end, I loved every moment. A fantastic hour of television that had me screaming at my TV, raising my hands in the air on at least two occasions, and getting all misty eyed more than once. There were moments lifted directly from the comic and other moments that were simply a shock. Although somewhat light on the hardcore gory zombie action we’ve come to expect lately, they more than made up for that with some compelling and hard to stomach human drama.
I must say… although I knew going into this that Hershel would more than likely loose his head (in the comic it’s another character that gets decapitated), when the moment came… my heart and stomach sank. The way that scene was shot, the lead up to moment, Rick’s impassioned speech about being able to live together in his most desperate and sweaty manner, and having Hershel give an Obi-Wan like smile to Rick’s Luke as Rick made his plea for peace… remarkable. Such great acting in this particular scene (and I have been very critical in the past of some ham-fisted acting and writing) with a shockingly emotional impact.
Even a more minor character such as Tara delivered an incredible performance as the one and only conflicted member of Brian’s (at least we know he no longer likes the moniker of The Governor) merry band of warmongers. For as eager as she was to take out the prison, her difficulty with being asked to kill people that seem to be offering, not just an olive branch, but a genuine helping hand in a bleak and terrifying world was on target and totally believable. What wasn’t believable is just how quick these people were to take out complete strangers based on the word of, essentially, a complete stranger; and to see Tara’s girlfriend, Alisha, take up arms so readily made for a great contrast in, yes… once again… motivations. Tara had lived in relative peace for the better part of the apocalypse… Alisha has had to struggle in camps and is probably somewhat inured to the realities of this world. The opportunity for something better must be quite the siren call for those desperate enough.
Where are we left now that the half-season is over? The prison, which had been our survivor’s home for the last season and a half, is gone. The only known existential threat to the security of our gang other than the zombies themselves, The Governor, is dead. Everyone we care about is scattered to the four winds; Rick and Carl are on their own for the time being; Michonne’s whereabouts are unknown; Glenn was the only major character on the bus; Tyreese ran off with Lizzie and Mika (who saved his ass in one of the more surprising moments of the battle); I think Maggie may be with Sasha and Bob; Daryl, after being as Daryl as he can be by not only handing out weapons in the most Daryl-like way he could, but then hiding behind a bullet proof file cabinet, avoids being bitten, uses an apparent bullet proof zombie as a shield, then proceeds to take out a tank with a single grenade [only works if you happen to be Daryl], then calmly shots Mitch in the heart… all in a day’s work for Daryl Dixon, the most unbelievable character, second only to the zombies themselves… well, I forget where Daryl is. I’m just going to assume that the wings on his leather vest sprouted and he will now be able to fly (can you tell I have my issues with Daryl as being a bit too Dr. Manhattan).
There are also a few still unanswered questions and mysteries to look forward to. Who was feeding the rats to the zombies? Who dissected and properly mounted the rat/squirrel/bunny/critter that Tyreese found in the tombs? Did Carol really kill Karen and David, or was she covering for one of the spooky The Shining girls, Lizzie and/or Mika? What was in that box that Bob seems to be coveting? More booze? Pictures? Rats? Tasty granola bars? And the big question for me… is Judith really dead? I don’t think she is. Then again… I thought she would die with the sickness… and I completely anticipated her death, along with Beth, in this episode… obviously, an oracle I am not.
I feel the need to mention a few key moments from the comic that were brought to the screen in an amazing way. First of all, “Kill them all!” In the books, after having escaped Woodbury, and not knowing whether or not The Gov was still alive (I will leave some mystery for those who want to read the books), the return of Philip Blake is a great scene of him standing atop a tank as it rolls up to the prison fence, cars in line much like it was in the show, and him yelling out the now well known line. From that final page of the issue we get an issue or two of backstory filling in the events that happened with The Governor between the time we last saw him and his first attack on the prison. Sound familiar? For those who complained about taking two episodes out of this season to fill us in on the wanderings of The Gov, there is precedent.
Of course the decapitation of a beloved character is another nod. I won’t mention that character that dies in the book… but it gave me the same disgusted and upset feeling in my gut on the page as it did on the screen. Actually, the events in the comic affected me more.
Having Lilly take him out is another call back that I was happy to see. It would have been a shame to have introduced the character who eventually kills Philip Blake and to not have her do it. Nice touch giving Michonne a shot at him though… he was a great baddie, why not give him two deaths. Personally, I prefer the situation as presented in the comic… but I can see why they chose a slightly different route.
The final scene lifted from the page that I’ll mention is the final scene… Rick and Carl running from the prison, and Rick telling Carl not to look back, just keep running. If you were to show me that scene, and the scene in the second episode of the series, Guts, when Rick meets up with Lori and Carl at the first camp, and Carl comes running towards his dad… I would assume the show is an exact duplicate of the comic, panel by panel… they are that well crafted.
Overall… the fourth season has been amazing. Although I had a few early gripes, specifically the tone of the Clara scenes in the first episode (and yes, I saw that she makes a brief appearance in the end) and the early characterization of Tyreese, I could not be any happier with the direction Scott Gimple has taken the show.
I wonder how much of the question of “can you come back” refers to what Mr. Gimple must have wondered after having taken over a show that seemingly went off the rails, at least in regards to how the series most notable villain was handled. Many have speculated that the two Governor-centric episodes were somewhat of a do-over for the character. Although I don’t view those episodes quite as harshly as others have, it did give us an opportunity to reassess what we knew about the character and to reconfigure the situation enough so that it was make his actions more understandable, at least in terms of why.
Now it’s just a matter of biding our time until February 9th, when The Walking Dead returns to complete the fourth season. Remember… Rick has been shot in the leg, and he an Carl are on their own. Will everyone reconvene at a previously decided location, or will everyone be forced to fend for themselves? Will we ever see Carol again, and if so, will it be on the new spin-off? Will Tyreese ever discover who killed Karen? Will David ever be mentioned again? Will Rick ever not appear totally sweaty and desperate? Will we ever find out just how bat-shit crazy Lizzie and/or Mika is? Time will tell… and in that time, might I suggest reading some of the comics if you haven’t already… because there is no greater feeling than having that smug satisfaction of thinking you know what will happen next… then to have that knowing smirk wiped from your face as the show throws you a curve ball and gives you a damned Daryl Dixon to contend with.
Honestly… I have a lot more I could say about this episode and the series as a whole, but that would be better for a conversation. Feel free to email me any questions or comments you may have to firstname.lastname@example.org. For those that are only reading my The Walking Dead reviews, I look forward to your readership in February… if you are reading other reviews, stayed tuned… I have quite a few things lined up and ready to go.
Don’t look back,
Cornelius J. Blahg
PS: Sorry about getting carried away with the gifs. There were just so many made I couldn’t resist. One more…