I suspect some people will be disappointed with this episode for not being the slam bang finale they were hoping for. There definitely was some "bang", but not the all out war they expected. I also suspect others will be rejoicing at the death of a much maligned character; did you shed a tear, or squeal with joy? Regardless of which camp you are in, what this episode does, and does well, is latch on to one of the shows strongest underlying themes, and apply it to three characters. The theme is how one adapts to the new, post-zombie apocalypse world, the characters are Carl, The Governor, and Andrea. Lets discuss.
Of all the characters on the show, Carl has shown the most progress, although in this episode he takes steps towards something different. I've mentioned it before, and it's never been more clear than now- who the surviving children grow up to be will seem almost unrecognizable to people like us. They have no reason to be beholden to the world that came before. Carl experienced some of it, but is obviously shedding it quickly. Judith will literally become a new type of person. These ideas are explored quite well in Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road, and it's always great to see this show tread similar territory. The Governor says "Kill or die, or die and kill", and Carl explains to Rick just how much he believes in that philosophy. to be honest, Carl lays it out so maturely and plainly, it's hard to argue with him. The fly in that ointment being the fact that Carl killed someone in cold blood. We were all so impressed when Carl started dispatching walkers with ease, but are we impressed now? The Governor's words reference killing the undead, or else you will become an undead killer, but they have a third meaning as well- "Die and kill" also suggests one can lose their soul, and kill with no compassion or remorse. Is Carl becoming something soulless and dangerous, or is he just ultimately adapting to the new world? It's clear after this episode that Carl blames his mother's death squarely on Rick, an event that perhaps washed away the last vestiges of the old world in Carl. How big will the rift between father and son grow?
There was a lot of talk about the Governor dying in this episode. Had the character run his course? Was it time to move on? Personally I was glad to see he will be sticking around, as I don't think the character has yet to reach his full potential. It also prevents the show from following the "big bad" formula, keeping a villain's presence to just one season is a bit too neat and tidy. It's far more interesting if you let them grow and change as well. Speaking of, in this episode the Governor's transformation is complete. The dark and psychotic side he tried to keep out of the sun has blossomed into the realm of super villainy. He takes his own parable to the extreme. Here's a man who decided to remake himself in the new world when the opportunity presented itself. At first he held on to who he used to be in the shape of his caged daughter, but now that he is fully committed to "kill or die", he believes his downfall was not following this philosophy sooner, even if it meant appearing as a monster to his daughter. He takes this to the level of unthinkable by gunning down a mass of innocent Woodbury residents. They would not kill for him, so they die. The Governor has completely stepped over the edge, and that makes his character all the more interesting for next season.
That brings us to the most divisive character on the show- Andrea. Strapped to a chair, time ticking away, and all of us wondering just how she'll fit in if she gets out of this one. Her fate it seems is tied to the fact that she simply could not adapt. Sure, she tried- she learned how to effectively dispatch walkers and flirted with the bad boys, but in the end she was applying an old world idealism to people and situations that were now wholly different. In her own words she says she thought she could save everybody, even the Governor. Despite what you felt about Andrea, you have to admit her death was a bit tragic. It's no wonder she always felt indecisive and out of sync, she was unwilling to accept the new philosophy of survival and barbarism, unfortunately she was surrounded by deaf ears. She had her chance, "kill or die" was writ large that night she stood over the sleeping Governor with knife in hand, but her conscience won out, which should be a good thing, but in this world it will seal your fate. At least she got to see her friends one last time, and Rick gave her the closest thing to absolution one can in this world- "You're one of us".
I was sad to see Milton go, Dallas Roberts put in his best performance yet, and it made the tension in the room that much more palpable. If Milton and Herschel had the chance to share idea, who knows what could have been? Who will take up the responsibility of recording this new world's history?
I was glad to see our prison dwelling heroes had a bit more gumption than they led us to believe, and defended the prison with their heads as much as their guns. Never underestimate home field advantage. The scene between Rick and Michonne was well done, both of them recognizing the difference between the prison's philosophy and the one the rest of the world adheres to. Is that what Rick's group will become? The last bastion of humanity and compassion? The people from Woodbury they take in are not fighters, those folks are all lying dead in a field for their loyalty. Rick and company will now be protectors more than ever.
Season 3 was The Walking Dead's best by a country mile. There were still a few episodes that felt like bumps in the road, but overall it ran at a clip that will be hard to top. We lost more major characters than ever before, and many in very surprising ways. I don't want to harp on death, but it is one of the other major themes of the show. Can season 4 live up to the bar set this year? Is the show truly going in its own direction now, or will threads from the comic present themselves? How far down the rabbit hole will Carl go? And just where did the Governor drive off to? I have a feeling these questions will keep us talking until October
Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.