Tonight marks the midpoint of the fourth season of The Walking Dead, and with the build-up over the last three weeks since we first saw our old friend the Governor watching Rick and Carl from the forest, viewers have been anticipating the inevitable confrontation. The Promo and Sneak Peek videos (which I previewed earlier this week) showed us snippets of this clash of groups and ideologies, with a plethora of uncertainties. We see the Governor with blood on him – but whose? We see Rick firing his gun – but at whom? And does he hit? We see Carl saying he can “end things right now” – does he? To find out, continue reading after the break.
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead Mid-Season finale, S04E08, “Too Far Gone.” Read more at your own risk.>>
Ordinarily, I begin my reviews by going through the episode scene-by-scene, parsing as I go, and then sum things up along with further thoughts at the end. However, I just want to start this one by saying: Fare thee well, Hershel – we hardly knew ye. Hershel was the moral center of The Walking Dead, and while it took me some time to warm up to him in Season 2, he has become one of my favorites, especially post-Dale. While I do believe he was the moral center, I don’t feel that his death means that there is no longer one among the group; rather, I feel that he’s managed to pass on the necessary wisdom to ensure that the group will still remain grounded, despite the tragedies that visited them tonight. I’ll get into this more once I’ve discussed the episode in detail.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled program.
The episode begins with a “Previously” montage that shows scenes including Michonne stabbing zombie-Penny through the head, and Carol being banished by Rick. The Carol scene is a bit of a tease; we don’t get to see her elsewhere in the episode, but the flashback is here to foreshadow Rick’s conversation with Daryl about her.
The episode proper has the Governor talking with the combat capable members of his group, intercut with scenes from outside the prison. While he speaks, we see Hershel and Michonne pouring gasoline over a pile of dead walkers, heading back to the truck. The Governor ambushes Michonne, hitting her in the jaw with the butt of his gun, knocking her out. Hershel goes for his gun, but is too slow – he carefully puts it down, and raises his hands. Back in the survivor camp, the Governor is describing the prison, and tells them that he’s captured two of their people. He says they’re the key to getting the prison without shedding blood, that he wants to take it without killing anyone. Now, for those of us who know the Governor and his particular brand of megalomania, this does not sit all that well. It just isn’t his style. I believe that a part of him wants to think that he’s changed, but another part is calculating that it is only through showing a humane and compassionate face that he can get people to become the cold-blooded murderers he needs to take Rick’s group out.
We now see the speech that was on last week’s episode of Talking Dead, where he lies and rallies the troops, convincing them that the prison people are bad and worth fighting against. Tara is the first person to say, “I’m in,” and the rest of the group takes up her assent in chorus. It isn’t that Tara is bloodthirsty; rather, it’s that she’s come to trust the Governor. Once he’s finished with his speech, the fighters disperse to pack and get ready. Lilly comes out from behind some bushes and confronts “Brian.” She’s visibly angry with him, and when he tries to mitigate her anger by saying, “I love you,” her response is an unequivocal “I don’t know who you are.” If only she’d realized this a bit earlier. At this point, if she could talk to Tara, it might make a difference in the plan to attack the prison. With Tara’s influence on Alisha, one of the Governor’s best fighters might be willing to question his ideas. But instead, Lilly goes to help get things packed – she feels unable to confront the events that are unfolding. It’s a shame that, for her character, she only finds her true strength when things are well beyond her control.
We go to a trailer with Mitch standing guard outside. Inside, the Governor is putting a bandage on Michonne, and tries to give her and Hershel some food. They’re sitting on a bench with their hands tied in front of them. The Governor tells them something of his plan – that he’s going to use them to get the prison peacefully – but Michonne will have none of it. The Governor explains to her that he knows Penny was already dead when Michonne put her down, that he accepts that now. I believe that Hershel takes this as a sign that the Governor is recuperable, that he may have taken a step back from crazyville. Michonne tells him she’s going to kill him, but before she can go into too much detail, Hershel hushes her and tries to use reason with the Governor. I do love Hershel, but hasn’t he learned that you can’t negotiate with crazy, even if it’s taken a step or two back? The Governor refuses to listen to him, telling him that his plan is the only way. He finishes, saying, “This way you get to live, and I get to be…” He doesn’t finish his thought. Get to be what? I think he means he gets to be Grand Pooh Bah all over again, but realizes before he says it just how crazy he’ll sound. Hershel and Michonne both know exactly who he was, and most likely still is – they aren’t his new naive acolytes needing soothing words and subtle twists of the truth.
We head back to his new group. Their campers are all pulled up to a river bank, and the Governor tells Lilly to stay here while he and the combatants go to the prison. He says the walkers can’t cross the river, that they’ll be safe here – so why can’t they just move near water, then, she asks. He explains that all the good places are taken – a pure fiction, as he has no clue what other groups might be out there. He uses her daughter to convince her to go along with his plan. “Think about Meghan,” he says. “I am,” she replies. “What’s she going to be. In this world?” “She’s going to be alive,” he tells her, ending the conversation. He goes to Meghan and asks for a hug, which she happily gives him, getting mud all over his jacket. He’s almost fatherly in this moment, and we get a glimpse of who he may have been once, who he might have still been, had certain choices not been made or actions not been taken. This is no longer a question of redemption, but a momentary flicker of some alternative Governor that can no longer exist.
We go to the prison for the first time in three weeks (for us – in continuity terms, we’re caught back up to exactly where we were three weeks ago). Glen is lying in bed, with Maggie talking to him. He’s obviously still quite weak, and he talks about how it’s their anniversary soon. She laughs – time doesn’t mean as much when people are spending most of their days just trying to survive. In answer, she tells him a story of when she was young. Hershel took her to Amicalola Falls, the highest waterfall in Georgia, and when she stood at the top she felt like she might be able to fly. This is par for the course with The Walking Dead: just before things really go bad, we have to have a few of these human moments where we remember who these people are, and why we really like them. There’s the bittersweet knowledge that Maggie is about to find out her father is captured, but there’s also the foreknowledge that one or both of these well-liked characters might not be around too much longer.
Daryl is pissed off – you hear him before the scene has even completely switched locations. Rick has apparently just told him about Carol, and his decision to banish her from the group. He tells Daryl he did it to avoid having to confront Tyreese with her present, but Daryl calls him on it, telling him he could have dealt with Tyreese. Instead of being angry at Carol’s attempts to help the group by murdering two sick individuals, he tells Rick that it wasn’t the Carol they know – he’s suggesting that something’s happened with her to push her over some line or another. He goes into pragmatic Daryl mode at this point. He knows there’s no point in getting angrier at Rick, no point in getting in his face – what’s done is done, and Daryl is nothing if not practical. Instead, he worries about what they’ll do about the two girls, Lizzie and Mika. Rick tells him they’ll take care of them, that they’ll be okay. He also tells Daryl that he has yet to speak with Tyreese, that he doesn’t know how he’ll respond, so Daryl says, “Let’s go find out.” Even though he’s angry and upset about Carol’s banishment, he’s still got Rick’s back. If there was a vote for who is the most noble and consistent character on the show, Daryl would get mine hands-down.
We see Bob, a sealed box in front of him, looking down at it sadly. Does it have a bottle inside? Sasha shows up and thanks him for his help with her medicine – he doesn’t want to accept her thanks, but she insists. He picks up the box and heads out – apparently he’s simply carrying his things to go find a secure cell, after the breach that occurred in episode 405. So, perhaps it’s only personal effects, and not booze. Bob still has a way to garner sympathy with me.
Rick and Daryl find Tyreese deeper inside the prison, but he won’t listen to them until they come see something he’s found. He shows them a small animal – definitely a rodent, although it’s hard to say what species – that’s been nailed to a board and opened up as though it’s been autopsied. He tells them that he thinks it’s the same sick bastard that killed Karen and was feeding rats to the walkers, but Rick tells him it isn’t. Before he can explain, an explosion rocks the prison, and the three men run to find out what’s happening. The Governor has arrived.
Outside, the prison survivors stand behind the inner chain link fence, staring down at a row of vehicles, the tank in the middle with the Governor standing on it. He shouts, “Rick – get down here, we need to talk.” Rick tells him, “It’s not up to me – there’s a council now, they run things.” The Governor asks if Hershel is on the council – he produces Hershel with his hands tied in front – and then if Michonne is on the council – and she’s lined up beside Hershel. They’re both forced to their knees facing the prison. The Governor insists that he will only negotiate with Rick. Rick looks askance at Daryl, who nods slightly. Rick goes down. While he’s heading there, Daryl starts quietly issuing instructions, telling people to get to the bus if things go awry. Rick arrives at the outer fence, and says, “Let him go. Right now.” He offers to stay at the fence in exchange for Hershel, but the Governor won’t budge. He issues his demands – that the group leave by sunset or be attacked – and ends by saying, “I have a tank and I’m letting you live. What else is there to say?” Above, Daryl is now moving their weapon stash carefully out of sight, and handing out weapons. He hands a machine gun to Bob, and asks, “You good?” Bob tells him he is.
Back at the river, we see the scene released by AMC last week as their Sneak Peek. Lilly is on top of the camper, watching the river, while Meghan plays in the muck she was in when the Governor said goodbye to her. Lilly sees a walker approaching, but it turns out the Governor was right – it falls into the deeper water, and gets carried away downstream. Meanwhile, the board that Meghan was struggling with comes loose from the mud – it wasn’t a hatch or a doorway, but rather a sign that says, “Warning, Flash Flood Area.” She wipes it off, as the mud behind her begins to stir. A walker, buried beneath the muck and the sign, reaches out of the mud and grabs her. It sits up, an earthworm crawling out of one eye-socket. She screams, and Lilly comes running. Just as she arrives, the walker bites Meghan right on the neck – she’s done, and is the first death of the episode. Lilly shoots the walker in the head, but she’s too late. We don’t find out in the television series just how the Governor’s daughter was killed, but I suspect that this death is intended to be a surrogate for at least the circumstances, if not the exact method. If the Governor does not talk all the best fighters into joining him at the prison, if he listens to Lilly and finds them somewhere safe to live, Meghan survives. Instead, she is dead directly due to his choices, and more importantly, his inability to learn from his past mistakes. Where we see Carol learning from the death of Sophia, and toughening up Lizzie and Mika in order to make them self-reliant (and thus better survivors), the Governor wants to relive a life that he has already failed in at least twice before (losing Penny, losing Woodbury). His inability to adapt is why he ultimately fails each time he tries to relive and rewrite his story, and why he is most definitely not a better leader on any level than Rick.
At the prison, the Governor continues. “We’ll win, and you’ll be dead, all of you,” he says to Rick. He then turns and carefully shoots two walkers at range with his handgun. At the inner fence, Carl is taking a bead on the Governor. “I could end this right now,” he says, but Daryl talks him down, pointing out that while he might end one thing, he’d be starting another. Inside the compound, the children are running to the bus carrying Judith in her car seat, sans Lizzie. Lizzie shows up and tells Mika that they have to remember to be strong, like Carol taught them. “They have guns,” she says, “we should have guns too.”
At the outer fence, Rick looks at Hershel, and Hershel nods almost imperceptibly. He’s telling Rick that it’s okay for him to make this decision for the group, that he supports him. Rick tells the Governor that they can all live together, but the Governor disagrees. “Not after Woodbury. Not after Andrea,” he says. This is interesting, because it is as close as he’s ever come to admitting culpability – while he may blame the fall of Woodbury on Rick and the prison survivors, bringing up Andrea is a sop – a misbegotten sop, but a sop nonetheless – to Rick and Michonne. It’s not exactly a mea culpa, but it’s another sign that there is something new to the Governor’s game. Rick tells him straight out, “We’re not leaving.” He points out that if the Governor insists, they will defend the prison and the ensuing battle – and more particularly its noise – will attract a horde of walkers from the surrounding environs. The Governor jumps down from the tank, and taking Michonne’s katana, places it against Hershel’s throat. Rick begins a speech that sums up his entire philosophy and ethos. It’s erudite, it’s moving, and it is aimed at the people who are following the Governor as much as it is at the Governor himself. The essence of it is this: that no matter how lost we are, how far removed from our own humanity we become, we can come back. “We get to come back,” he says, using his own inner turmoil, his demons fought and defeated as inspiration. As he hears this, Hershel smiles. He doesn’t smile because he thinks Rick will win over the Governor; no, he smiles because he realizes in this moment that Rick has taken to heart all of the lessons he has tried to impart to him, and that things will be okay for the prison group moving forward, even if he has to die. It’s the look of a father recognizing the nobility in his son, the realization that he has done his job and done it well. The Governor listens intently, his mouth hanging open and the sword momentarily lowered. We see Rick from his perspective, and his lack of balance is a mirror of his own inner struggles that we’ve been watching the last couple of weeks. But it is most definitely the Governor, and not “Brian,” who replies in a whisper, “Liar.” He swings, hacking into the side of Hershel’s neck, and a stunned looking Hershel collapses to the ground.
Mayhem ensues. Rick yells and fires his gun, and is hit in the leg as he pulls back behind an overturned bus. Maggie and Beth shoot randomly at the enemies below, screaming as they watch their father bleed to death. Michonne drops to the ground and rolls out of the line of fire, trying to find a sharp piece of metal to cut off the rope tying her hands together. Even tied, she trips one of the enemy combatants and kills him with a crushing boot to the throat. The Governor gets winged in the arm, and drops down between the tank and another vehicle, where he finds Hershel. He walks over to him, turns the dying man over, and proceeds to hack viciously away at him until he finally takes Hershel’s head completely off. He’s covered in blood, and a maniacal rage burns in his one eye. Losing Hershel is hard – he’s a beloved character, a kind of grandfatherly figure that hasn’t an evil bone in him. To see him savaged like this was both a great choice by the writers, and a terrible thing to have to sit through as a viewer. I’ve never hated the Governor more than I did in that moment, which is exactly what they wanted me to feel. Kudos.
From the treeline behind the tank, Lilly emerges carrying Meghan’s body. The Governor drops the katana, and shambles toward her. He takes Meghan, and without an ounce of emotion, pulls his gun and shoots her in the head. He has, in fact, learned at least one thing from Penny’s death and his earlier experiences; unfortunately for him – and for everyone else – it wasn’t a lesson that was strong enough to change him for the better.
Tara is freaking out. She drops her gun, and Mitch orders her to fight, which she ignores. She talks to Alisha, and points out the obvious: the Governor is insane, and he’s taking them all down with him. Alisha, ever the soldier, is committed, and tells Tara to stay by her, and to stay alive. The Governor, having dealt with his surrogate daughter, returns to the battle, telling Mitch and the others to drive their vehicles right through the fence and up to the prison. As they go forward, the prison survivors retrench. There are casualties on both sides, and activity around the bus as Maggie gets Glen on board, and panics when she finds out Beth isn’t there. As the Governor’s people, shielded behind the tank, pass by the other, overturned bus, Rick jumps out and tackles the Governor. An all out brawl begins, first Rick getting the upper hand, then the Governor. The one question I have – Rick had a gun in his hand when he dragged himself behind the bus, so why didn’t he simply hit the Governor in the head with it and take him down, no nonsense? Obviously a writing decision – a knock ’em down, drag ’em out fist fight is much more exciting, and allows for a more visceral and emotional proximity between the two antagonists than would otherwise be present. Still, a little niggling.
The fight enters the courtyard of the prison. Maggie ends up with Bob and Sasha, and Bob is hit – a through-and-through – which forces them to retreat, but too late to get on the bus which they watch driving away. Tyreese is pinned down by Alisha and another soldier, and just when it looks like he’s done for, the second soldier falls down, shot. Alisha turns and sees Lizzie and Mika holding pistols, and she just stares at them, shocked. Big mistake. Lizzie pulls the trigger, and a hole blossoms smack in the center of Alisha’s forehead, saving Tyreese. Daryl is systematically taking out enemies, but doesn’t see a small group of walkers approaching him from behind. Just as one grabs him, its mouth inches from his shoulder, the scene cuts to another part of the battle. We come back to see the same walker moving forward – but there is a bolt stuck through its chest, Daryl holding it in front of himself as cover as he approaches the tank. He very efficiently takes out a couple more enemies with a grenade, then sends a second grenade down the barrel of the gun. We hear Mitch inside yell, “Grenade!” and he comes popping out the top just before the hatch explodes. He sees Daryl, who now has his crossbow trained on the other man. He starts to raise his hands in surrender, but Daryl puts a bolt right through his heart. Beth comes running, and both her and Daryl take off together in order to regroup – the entire place is becoming overrun by walkers attracted by the battle. I need to point out here that throughout the well-choreographed sequence, Daryl barely broke a sweat, nor changed out of his usual intense grimace. He makes everyone else in the show pale in comparison to his fighting prowess – definitely the winner not only of noblest character in my books, but most kick-assingest as well. In fact, his movements and demeanor reminded me a little of the scene at the end of The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, when Legolas does his dance with the orcs, using his arrows both as missiles and as daggers.
Back in the yard, Rick and the Governor continue to trade blows. Both are tiring and are covered in blood, but finally the Governor gets the better of Rick and begins to choke him. Rick’s face grows red and swollen, and just as he chokes out his last breath, Michonne’s katana bursts forth from the Governor’s chest. He rolls off, and Rick gasps, “Where’s Carl?” He heads up towards the prison, and Michonne stands over the Governor. He’s clutching his chest, spitting blood. She just shakes her head at him, and walks away. She’s going to give him the death he’s given to so many others – let him die slowly, and come back as a walker. This is fitting. Michonne has done, in her words, what needed to be done. She dismisses him now that he’s no longer a threat, a punishment in some ways worse for him than actual physical death.
Rick finds Carl, and together they search for Judith, only to find her car seat with blood smeared all over it, and no baby. Judith is gone, but we don’t know where – is she dead? Has she been taken by someone else? Lizzie, Mika, and Tyreese haven’t been seen again, so she might be with them – the girls would have known where the car seat was – but that doesn’t explain why they wouldn’t have just carried her in it. I suspect she’s dead. Carl fires off the last of his rounds into a walker, and then clicks on the empty chamber several times until Rick grabs him from behind to stop him. They cry together, and get out of the prison.
In the yard again, the Governor is still struggling to breathe, and Lilly walks up to him holding a gun. She looks down at him, utter loathing on her face, and shoots him in the head. A small part of me was saddened that we won’t get to see a zombie-Governor suffering a fate worse than death, but the bigger part of me was just glad to see the bastard get what he deserved. He’s caused so many deaths over the past season and a half, that the only way he could truly be dealt with was to die himself. The shot switches to a close-up of the chess piece from episode 406, the king that Meghan drew the eye-patch on. A walker steps on it, sinking it into the ground – the king is dead, and there is no king to replace him.
The last shot is of Carl helping Rick walk away from the prison. We can see it engulfed in flames from the tank’s shots, and walkers overrunning the now destroyed fences. Carl glances over his shoulder, and Rick says, “Don’t look back…Carl. Just keep walking.” This sums up the events of tonight, and of the season so far in a nutshell. There’s no going back; there’s only moving forward. If you can’t, you’re dead, as the Governor has shown tonight with his inability to overcome himself and his true nature. Rick was able to overcome his own doubts, his own brush with insanity, and as a result, he is victorious in the personal battle between him and the Governor – but at what cost?
Several people died tonight. Meghan and Alisha were decent enough people, but had barely enough time to gather much of a following. It is sad that Meghan died, and it would have been nice to see the Tara/Alisha storyline explored further, but ultimately they are two also-rans who will be largely forgotten in the grand scheme of the series in its entirety when it has finished its run a few years from now. More importantly, two major characters died tonight, one that will be much lamented because he was loved, and one that will, I suspect, be just as lamented, but for different reasons. The Governor is hated just about universally, but he had become such an integral part of the show, a bogeyman made flesh, that in losing him the show will need to find something equally evil or dangerous to continue to amp up the tension. A lot of that will come naturally from the dispersed nature of the group. We have several sub-groups out on their own: Rick and Carl; Tyreese with Lizzie and Mika; Daryl and Beth; Maggie, Sasha, and Bob; Glen with the group on the bus; Michonne back on her own again; and Lilly at least from the Governor’s group, with the possibility of other survivors such as Tara being out there to be found. What about Judith? And the other children? And did this finish off everyone left from the Woodbury group? I think that this attack on the prison is going to act as a complete reboot of the show. The survivors that made it through the attack are divided, low on supplies, beaten and physically exhausted, with no chance of respite in sight.
I will miss Hershel’s wisdom and moral certitude, but I think that in many ways he was ready to die. Dale, who was the moral compass in the Shane era, died when Rick was ready to deal with Shane; Hershel, who took over from Dale, was ready to go now because Rick has completed the long and torturous journey back to find himself. Rick has taken his earlier strengths – his leadership and decisiveness – and tempered them with experience and knowledge, developing thereby enough wisdom to lead, even if his group is no longer together. The Governor worked not only as a foil to Rick’s character, but as a true mirror, a bizarro-universe version of what Rick could have become had he gone the route that Shane approved of, or that he himself was tempted to take in the early days at the prison. Rick, should he survive his traumas, will become a stronger character for it, likely just in time to pass the metaphorical torch to Carl. Speaking of Carl, this was one of his strongest episodes, partly because he spoke little but did much. He was efficient, he listened to, and absorbed, Daryl’s short but important lesson that in ending things, one often begins new, unexpected things in the process, and he showed again what a good shot he is. He also showed that he’s still human in his reaction to Judith’s apparent demise. And he literally becomes the pillar that supports his father as they leave the prison. Rick will have to lean on him some more in order to regain his strength, so it’s good to know that Carl appears to be ready to take on that role.
Steve’s Grade: A-
A set-piece battle that absolutely put last season’s finale to shame (how can you beat a tank?), and the deaths of one of the show’s most endearing characters, along with its most hated. The show won’t be back until February 9th – I can’t wait.
Bonus Fact: If you thought that female zombie center shot in the last sequence looked familiar, you were right: on Talking Dead they told us that it’s Kerry Condon, who played Clara in episode 401 – the Irish woman who was staying near her turned husband, and committed suicide in order to be with him forever.