From the second The Governor took Hershel and Michonne hostage during TWD’s mid-season finale, I think we all knew which one wouldn’t make it out alive. And with Hershel’s death, so goes one of the most important representations of hope in The Walking Dead’s Universe.
This season started with a bang: It showed us an unusual enemy (the virus) that did its damage within the prison walls; it left the confines of the prison to give us some character conflict on the road; and finally, it provided a two-episode arc of one man’s attempt to escape his hideous past. Up until now, the story appeared to be heading somewhere surprising, but after the mid-season finale, one has to wonder, what was it all really for?
It’s not that this episode was bad. But after the smoke had cleared and the dust settled, it just wasn’t very surprising. And so at the end of it, we’re left at pretty much the same place we’ve been at many seasons before. Everybody loses everyone, and no place is ever really safe.
Moving on to the episode, last week I wrote that this show isn’t usually blatant (given its premise) in asking the audience to suspend our disbelief over a small plot point in order to drive the main story. Well, this episode it paused every few minutes to say “just go with it,” starting with The Governor’s influence over the RV group and frequently thereafter. I suppose we can buy that The Governor, who is new to this camp, can become its leader so quickly, but are we to believe he’s able to talk these previously peaceful people into taking up arms and attempting to take over a prison where people will likely get hurt or killed? Ok, I’ll just go with it.
As the members of the camp prepare to take the prison, Lilly and Meghan stay behind. The Governor tells Lilly to stay in the camper by the water (where she and Meghan will be safe), as the “biters” can’t make it across. Well, I’m with Lilly when she suggests to scrap the plan and just go someplace by the water. In fact, why doesn’t the whole remaining population just set up residence by the water? Maybe the answer to this whole Zombie apocalypse is for people to get their hands on some boats and go live on islands – but then the show would be over.
The Governor doesn’t listen to Lilly’s request and proceeds with his plan. Meanwhile at the prison, we finally get to see Rick tell Daryl that he exiled Carol. Daryl’s reaction, though, was very anticlimactic. He was just too passive about the whole thing. I guess the writers didn’t have time to deal with it, because maybe in their minds, the showdown between Rick and The Governor was just so much more interesting. If that was the case, however, why didn’t we get it last season?
Bringing The Governor back and giving us a character study made it seem like his transformation would mean something to the storyline this season. There was the possibility of an uneasy, or even hostile, alliance between Rick and The Governor. That would have made a unique story, but the show didn’t want to take us down that road. Instead, what we got followed the familiar tropes of every villain ever introduced in fiction.
As we get to the final showdown between Rick and The Governor, the pace of the episode quickens. The Governor, armed with a tank, wants to talk to Rick, but Rick, still the reluctant leader even after all this time, lets The Governor know he isn’t the one calling the shots anymore. However, once the Governor reveals he has Michonne and Hershel, (and because the writers like it best when Rick is in charge) Rick, armed with only a pistol, makes the trek through the open fields to confront the army that has amassed at the prison fences.
The Governor lets Rick know that he and his group are taking the prison, and Rick and the others inside the prison must vacate the premises by sundown. Rick attempts to appeal to The Governor’s humanity, though why he would think The Governor would care if there are sick children in the prison is anyone’s guess. Whatever the case, it doesn’t work, and The Governor continues to demand Rick take his people and leave.
We get a break from the prison action just long enough to see Lilly foolishly allowing her daughter to play at an unsafe distance. It’s just Lilly and Meghan, so it would be pretty unwise to not have Meghan within arms’ reach. For goodness sake, the little girl just had a close call with a walker while playing tag, so what sense does it make to let her play down in the mud while the only person who can protect her is standing on top of a camper and would need to take the time to climb down from a ladder and run 40 feet to get to her? But if it made sense, then the show wouldn’t have been able to take away the one person who could have possibly redeemed the Governor, so Meghan had to go.
Back at the prison as the showdown continues, Carl – standing guard 50 yards way – wants to shoot The Governor, but Daryl tells him to trust that his dad can handle the situation. These days, however, Carl seems to have more sense and composure than Rick. Even from 50 yards away, he should have taken the shot.
Rick gives an impassioned speech to The Governor’s group, letting them know if they put down their arms and walk through the prison fence all will be forgotten and they can all live together in peace. He tells them nobody is too far gone to change, and after four seasons of angst about what he has had to do to survive, he finally proclaims that people can come back from the things they have done. The declaration makes Hershel proud, and as we get a close up of him – tied up, on his knees, sword to his neck – peacefully smiling at Rick, we know he is only seconds away from death. And so The Governor, knowing he can never be redeemed, calls Rick a liar, and slices through Hershel’s neck. And as Hershel, a symbol of wisdom, goodness, and hope falls, we can hear the show call Rick a liar as well.
Rick, for all his pontificating, ended up getting Hershel killed. Ultimately, he told The Governor he wouldn’t leave the prison. It’s hard to swallow that Rick, who was run off the farm in Season 2 and still kept his group together and safe, and who also sent Carol away when she chose the group over individual lives, would have chosen to sacrifice Michonne and/or Hershel for the sake of the prison. Also, Rick was all about trying to live in peace and tend to his crops this season. The most peaceful decision would have been to give The Governor the prison. But perhaps Rick never believed The Governor would actually let them all go without bloodshed. However, unless the writers made it clear that this was Rick’s mindset, then this speculation is just an attempt to fill in the illogical gaps.
This episode had some heart pounding action sequences, but it also had some head-scratching moments:
– Why was Hershel still able to crawl away with his head hanging off his body like Nearly Headless Nick from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Was it just to rub salt in our already wounded hearts?
– How did Lilly walk to the prison- when everyone else drove – without being attacked by walkers and while carrying her dead daughter the whole way?
– Why did Michonne, after putting her katana through The Governor’s chest (just in time to save Rick from being strangled to death) walk away when she saw the Governor was still alive? Yes, I know, so Lilly, The Governor’s love, could be the one to deliver the final death shot. But still.
– Why was The Governor’s group irrationally mowing down the fences and blowing holes in the walls of a place they intended to live?
– Why doesn’t anyone on this show ever know where the children are? Don’t they have a plan that would include a responsible adult ALWAYS keeping track of the kids during an emergency? Seems a lot of heartbreak could have been avoided if they did. But more on that below.
Regarding the loss of baby Judith, we don’t actually have confirmation that she’s dead. During the battle when some of the prison group was boarding the bus and Maggie asked about Beth, it sounded like the lady on the bus said Beth had gone back to look for Judith. We know Beth didn’t find any of the kids because she told Daryl, but maybe, just maybe, someone else from either the prison or the RV camp picked her up and brought her to safety. Yes, the car seat was soaked in blood, but perhaps Judith or somebody who grabbed her is injured. This may be reaching, but the other option is just too horrific, even for The Walking Dead. If Judith really is dead, then the episode where Lori sacrifices herself in order for Judith to be born safely (despite Lori not being a fan favorite) becomes less powerful, and one more symbol of hope is gone from The Walking Dead’s universe for good.
At the end of this episode, we’re left with the surviving members of the prison (and the RV camp, for that matter) scattered in all directions and without a home, much like in the Season 2 finale. In retrospect, the episodes of the first half of this season have all been good in isolation, but taken together, and especially after this mid-season finale, the path that the show is asking us to walk constantly winds around tragedy and despair. Of course, we’re not watching a show on the Disney channel, but unlike the walkers, we are human beings, and we humans like to have a little thing called hope show up in our stories from time to time. Without it, a show becomes less entertaining and more draining to watch. Sure, The Walking Dead will continue to have impressive ratings and keep people tuning in (because the action sequences can’t be beat), but if Rick and his group are doomed no matter what they do, then anything interesting that happens to them is pointless. And how long will we still enjoy investing in characters who are simply biding their time until their own inevitable destruction?
The Walking Dead returns Feb. 9th, 2014, when we’ll see how Rick and the others start to rebuild their lives. Maybe in this second half of the season, despite everything, they’ll somehow find meaning in their circumstances, just like Hershel would have wanted them to do. Then again maybe not, but regardless of what the show tells us, hope can still endure.