I watched Facebook blow up with “HOLY WHOA WALKING DEAD” exclamations on Sunday night, all the while lounging around with the dude and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix instead. Frankly, The Walking Dead has disappointed me repeatedly, and at least I know what I’m getting into with Buffy and Riley (ugh, season four – and it was the episode where they can’t stop doing it, and it is so ridiculous). But I digress. When I sat down to watch The Walking Dead in my empty house last night, I was expecting some folks to bite the dust, some to make good decisions (I was giving too much credit), and some to pop back out of the woodwork (Carol, where are you when we need you?).
Well, some of that stuff happened. The only way I can describe the events of Sunday’s mid-season finale is “total shitshow.”
In the opening scenes, the Governor calmly tells his own crew of naive, kindly folk that they’ve gotta take the prison. He manipulates them by mentioning Martinez’s name (boo hiss! I liked Martinez), asserts to them that the prison people are murderers and thieves (though of course they’re “not all bad”), and tells them the prison people killed his daughter. He doesn’t, of course, mention that she was already dead at the time. As his disingenuous, infuriating speech to the trailer posse continues in voiceover, we watch him capturing Michonne and Hershel. “They’re the key,” he says, to taking the prison. Tara and Alicia are the first to say they’re down to attack the other group. Gentle Lily wants nothing to do with it, and asks if it’s really necessary to kill them, if they’re not all bad people. “Well, they’re with bad people,” says Philip/Brian/The Governor. “Am I?” Lily asks him, and suddenly we get the feeling she’s sharper than we gave her credit for. Oh yes, that is the question. When One-Eyed Bri says he loves her, she responds, “I don’t know who you are.”
Inside his trailer, Hershel and Michonne are trussed up, but not gagged. The Governor tells them his master plan, asks for their help in conquering the prison. Hershel rightfully asks how, if the Governor (who really, really doesn’t want to be called that anymore) had/has a daughter, he can kill somebody else’s kid. “Because they aren’t mine.” The Governor’s skinnier and stranger-looking than he used to be. Lanky in a slightly embellished cowboy jacket, sidling along as though his hips and legs are sore. He agrees to let Lily and Meghan stay by the river, where the walkers surely can’t get them. Surely. When he hugs Meghan goodbye, he lets her put muddy hands all over his jacket, telling her she made it better. Nothing in this world goes untarnished, he seems to be saying, and sometimes the key is getting down and dirty, sometimes the answer is to play in the metaphorical mud.
Since Melissa McBride is still listed in the credits and Rick’s banishment of Carol was featured in the “Previously On,” I assumed we’d be seeing Carol again in this episode. Alas, no luck – but we do get the pleasure of Daryl’s reaction to Rick’s news that Carol murdered Karen and David. (All things considered, it was lower-key than I expected, but to be fair, this is about when the proverbial feces started to hit the proverbial fan.) We get a brief moment with Sasha and Bob, she trying to tell him he’s good people, he trying to tell her he’s not. Tyreese, wandering around the actual bowels of the prison in a crazed stupor, finds a dead rat, pinned and pried open, organs on display. When he reveals it to Rick and Daryl, screaming about Karen’s murder (“I’m not gonna sleep till I find who did this!”), Rick tells him it wasn’t the same person – and suddenly the whole building shakes and starts to crumble.
Standing tall atop his newly acquired tank, the Governor/Brian/Philip puts Rick right back where he was before (and never wanted to be again): in charge. The Governor tells Rick they’ve gotta go before sundown or everybody dies. Rick responds that there are sick children who wouldn’t survive if they left, and a few of Gov’s people start to look doubtful. What is this thing they’ve gotten themselves into? Behind the prison fences, Rick’s posse starts to gather its weapons and form a plan: basically, fight if you must, but run as soon as you can.
Back at the Governor’s empty, unprotected camp, Meghan is still playing in the mud (the literal kind, this time) and Lily’s sitting atop the camper watching for walkers. Distracted by a zombie that starts to cross the river even after the Governor assured them it was impossible, Lily doesn’t notice that Meghan is digging into the soft ground. The little girl unearths an ancient sign: WARNING FLASH FLOOD AREA. Unfortunately she also excavates a walker, little more than a chomping skull and clattering bones after lying in the mud for who knows how long. A series of shrieks and one gunshot, too late, little Meghan is no more.
The kids of the prison, Carol’s denizens, are anxious to jump into the fray. Daryl tells Carl to just wait a damn minute while Lizzie implores the other little girls to get guns, too. Rick continues to try to negotiate – once again, he’s too soft for this world. He warns the Governor’s crew, rightfully, that gunshots will bring all the walkers from a ten mile radius, and without the fences the prison is useless. He offers that they live in separate cell blocks, coexisting uneasily until peace can be made. Tara looks confused and doubtful. Rick tries to persuade the Governor’s crew that although everybody’s done horrible things, they can come back, they’re not too far gone: “I know we all could change.” Hershel gives him a slight smile, approving the sentiment while also understanding those may be the last words he hears. “Liar,” the Governor mouths softly, and slices Hershel’s neck with Michonne’s katana. And then he just keeps slicing. It’s hard to watch. I might have yelled oaths at the television. Tara puts down her gun and says the obvious. “He chopped a guy’s head off with a sword.” In other words, I am not doing this. This is totally insane. WHY IS NO ONE DOING ANYTHING ABOUT THIS?!
When Lily appears, carrying her dead daughter in her arms, the Governor shoots Meghan in the head without a single thought, then tells his newly appointed captain-at-arms, Mitch, to “kill ’em all.” I repeat: why on earth is no one stopping this?
Maggie and Beth, both immeasurably distraught over, you know, watching their father’s head chopped off, keep it together pretty well. Maggie runs for Glenn as the Governor and Rick duke it out in the yard in front of the prison. Gunshots fly every which way, occasionally taking down another person (it’s all too fast to see who survived). Maggie finds a weakened, pale Glenn, gets him on the bus, and then has to go back for Beth, who went to find Judith. This is how whole families die, you guys. I understand, but MAKE GOOD DECISIONS. (Apparently I’m still yelling at the TV the next day.)
Meanwhile, as Rick predicted, the gunfire is drawing all the walkers from miles around, including one with a nail through his head that makes a handy shield for Daryl. Somebody throws a grenade and Tara stumbles away, shell-shocked. Sasha and Bob are just behind the bus when it drives away without them, prompting Sasha to say nervously, “We’ll figure it out.”
Alicia and Tyreese face off with semi-automatics, and she has him cornered behind the water tanks (the same water tanks, it’s worth noting, whose emptiness Carol used as an excuse to leave the prison walls, demonstrating a possible death wish). But suddenly, Lizzie and her sister appear, packing heat. Lizzie shoots Alicia in the head. (This caused a “WHOA” reaction – that girl creeps me out, and I’m pretty sure she’s the one who’s dissecting rats and feeding them to the walkers.)
The Gov is beating the life out of Rick, beating him to death, and the moment he starts to strangle him and I’m yelling “WHY THE F*$& IS NOBODY DOING ANYTHING ABOUT THIS?!” Michonne’s katana takes him out. Straight through the heart. Likewise, Daryl shoots Mitch in the chest with his crossbow, ignoring the other man’s “I surrender” gestures.
Rick shambles up the hill looking all the more like a walker himself, his face crushed and bloody, drawing flashbacks of Lori, screaming “Carl!” at the top of his lungs. Carl, luckily, has the presence of mind to shoot the walkers Rick’s screaming attracts. The next thing he asks about is, of course, Judith. Carl doesn’t know – and the last people to have the baby were the freaky little gun-toting girls. Grimes the elder and Grimes the younger find Little Ass-Kicker’s empty car seat, which is splattered with blood. “You can’t look back,” Rick says. “Don’t look back.”
It’s Lily who takes out the Governor. He left Meghan unprotected, he decided to go on his vendetta…and everybody died.
So basically, to sum up: Judith is missing and/or dead (more likely the former), Hershel’s lost his head (sorry), Alicia and Mitch (the two most militant of the bunch, it’s worth noting) are casualties, Michonne has slunk away somewhere after doing her part to kill the Governor, Tara and Lily are unaccounted for and not very well armed against the walkers, and Meghan’s dead. Sasha, Bob, Carl, Rick, and Tyreese are wandering around by themselves, many of them wounded and at least one of them a little crazy. In all the hubbub, I missed where Daryl, Maggie, and Beth went. Like I said, it’s a total shitshow.
Playing in the mud doesn’t make anything better. Rising above doesn’t seem to do much good either. Can people change? Once you’ve crossed a line, can you step back into the light? These are the themes the show does best; not the stupid speechifying, not the gory walker action (though I don’t mind that), not the family melodrama. The actions of desperate people in a violent, terrifying post-apocalyptic world. Can humans remain…human? It is to be seen.
I’ll have to find something else to recap in the upcoming weeks, as The Walking Dead doesn’t return until February. I’m paying attention to a lot of other currently airing television: Scandal, Revenge, American Horror Story: Coven (which also causes a lot of cursing and big gestures every week), among others. It is Oscar time, though, so I may divert my focus to movies. Taking requests, if anybody wants to give them! Leave a comment!