The Walking Dead season finale needed to hit it out of the park, as the post-Wintermission half of Season 3 dragged interminably in the lead-up to the final showdown between the Prison and Woodbury. There were a few exceptions: Morgan’s return in the bottle episode, Clear, and Merle’s redemption in last week’s episode, This Sorrowful Life, but overall, Season 3 had gotten nearly as contemplative and plodding as the episodes had on Hershel’s farm. There were only so many ways to volley the action between the two sets of survivors in the two locations. There’s a reason chess isn’t much of a spectator sport.
(Nothing but spoilers ahead.)
Tonight’s season finale began exactly as the season opener did (same director) — with a tight shot of an eyeball that pans back to reveal, in tonight’s case, The Governor, administering a beating to whomever is in the camera chair (in the season opener, it pulled back to reveal a zombie in an abandoned house, just before Rick and T-Dog came bursting in to clear it).
Initially, it could be Andrea that’s taking the beating, but it quickly becomes clear that it’s Milton. “Time for you to graduate… You kill or you die.”
“What would your daughter think?” Milton asks, and the Governor answers honestly. She’d be afraid of him. But if he’d been “like this” from the beginning, maybe she’d still be alive (psychopathic?).
The Governor then tosses Milton into Andrea’s torture chamber, and commands him to kill her. “No way you’re leaving this room without killing her.” (The phrasing is key there.) Milton tries to turn his weapon on the Governor instead, and is instantly mortally wounded in the struggle. The Governor explains he’ll still die, and then when he turns, he’ll tear Andrea apart.”You kill or you die. Or you die then you kill.” He leaves them to it, after telling them he’s off to kill all her friends back at the prison.
This gives Milton and Andrea time to chat, and for her to justify her series-long habits of bad decisions under the catch-all, “I wanted to save everyone.” (Nice try.) He’s conveniently dropped a pair of pliers where she can get at them with her feet, but even in a pretty dire situation, she still pauses constantly to run her mouth.
Back there, everyone’s packing up. Carl and Beth and Hershel and baby asskicker are banished to the woods to watch the Woodbury vs Prison war from relative safety. Carl is in a snit about it. Ghost Lori is looking on reassuringly. Daryl is explaining to Carol how out of character Merle’s sacrifice was. Carol is grateful he gave them a chance. Michonne is letting Rick off the hook. He had to take his shot at the Governor’s hostage-trade chance. (Disagree.)
As the Governor fires up the Woodbury troops, Tyreese peacefully makes clear he and his sister will go to war against walkers, but not fellow humans. They’ll stay behind and guard the children, but they won’t take the War to the Prison. Miraculously, the Governor hands them a weapon and says Thank You, though he clearly plans to settle up with them when he returns.
The Woodbury Army arrives gun blazing. They take out hordes of walkers. They blow up the guard towers. They encounter a mishap or two (spike strips take out a few tires), but they head inside to find…nobody home. Just a Bible open to a highlighted passage: “And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”
He takes his troops down into the tombs. Now, the title of the episode suggests that there might be a tremendous Surprise waiting for them down there. Alas, it’s just a flash bang or two and the prison alarms going off (drawing more walkers). Flushed into the open, Maggie and Glenn shoot at them, armed in full riot gear. The troops (inexplicably) retreat, and the two congratulate each other, “We did it!” (Really? One is reminded of Harvey Keitel’s admonition to Jules and Vincent in Pulp Fiction, “let’s not suck each other’s dicks just yet.”)
Back in the woods, one of the asthmatic teens has run off from the Governor’s crew and is intercepted by Carl and Hershel, who orders him to drop his weapon. He doesn’t drop it, but he does go to hand it over, “here, take it,” when Carl shoots him. Hershel is horrified.
The prison gang re-convenes in the yard for more premature backslapping. But nothing has been accomplished. The Governor’s been successfully repelled. Once. Daryl, Michonne, and Rick have to return to Woodbury. Hershel tattles on Carl. “He gunned that kid down.” (Carl’s later explanation to his father is that when he didn’t kill the walker, the walker killed Dale. When Rick didn’t kill Inmate Andrew, Andrew baited the zombies that caused Lori’s death. “You were in a room with the Governor and you let him go. And then he killed Merle. I did what I had to do. Now go, so he doesn’t kill any more of us.”) In fairness to Carl, their Trio — a girl, a baby, an old man, and a kid — wasn’t exactly equipped to take prisoners or hostages. And if the show had really wanted to go dark, baby asskicker could’ve started crying, tipping the Governor and the zombies to their location, and Carl could have smothered her to death, a la M*A*S*H. The new showrunner is interested in the loss of innocence (he directed the Sophia-exits-the-barn episode), so we’ll likely see more of this meditation in Season 4.
Meanwhile, the Governor pulls over his retreating troops on the road. “We need to dig in!” he barks at them. They mutiny. “That was a slaughter!” “We’re not soldiers!” Slaughter, you say? “I don’t think that means what you think it means.” He immediately begins spraying his own army with bullets, wiping them out, though he accidentally leaves one survivor, Karen. Even Martinez and the Other Henchman are taken aback, though they do get back into the truck with him… very carefully, making no sudden moves.
Glenn and Maggie stay behind to defend the prison. Rick, Michonne, and Daryl head back to Woodbury, discovering the Governor’s carnage and lone survivor Karen along the way. She accompanies them the rest of the way, explains the situation to Tyreese at the gates, and gets them all inside, where they, sadly discover the Governor’s torture chamber. Milton is dead (and dead again). Andrea is alive, but bitten. Possibly sensing just how strongly the fan base came to loathe her and the amount of screen time afforded her this season, she is given noble exit comments about the greater good, and how hard she tried. Rick hands over his gun, and Michonne stays with her (tearily), as she finally gets that suicide she argued for so intently back at the CDC in Season One. “I know how the safety works.”
Sun rises on the prison. Rick and his crew return. And they’ve brought what’s left of Woodbury along with them. It’s Mrs. McCloud and the rest of the arthritics and asthmatics filing off a bus. “They’re going to join us,” Rick tells Carl, who stomps off in disgust. Rick looks up — no more Ghost Lori. Zombies continue to roam the yard, and the camera lingers on one last, longing shot of the makeshift cross over Lori’s grave (airing on Easter Sunday, no less).
And so Season 3 ends, in a slightly more optimistic place than Season 2 did (when they were refugees on the road, burned out of Hershel’s farm). They’ve retained the Prison. (Though it would’ve seemed more prudent to occupy Woodbury, which is much cleaner, and has intermittent power.) Daryl Dixon (the heart of the group and the show) and Michonne (the sword) are still alive. Tyreese is finally poised to become a central character. Michonne is finally a little more three-dimensional. Still, the Governor is at large. Will he be the central villain of Season 4, or (more likely) will he just dip in and out of the storyline periodically, like Morgan? The prison is a larger community now, but it might be tough to rebuild civilization with a bus full of elderly arthritics and asthmatics.
Season 4 returns October 2013.
The Walking Dead Season 3 Episode Recaps