In this life now, you kill or you die. “¦Or you die and you kill.
So here we are, friends, at the end.
We’ve been waiting for this moment since the midpoint of the season, the final clash between the prison and Woodbury. When it finally came, it wasn’t quite the bloodbath I was expecting. The episode was surprisingly quiet and almost introspective, nothing like the Season 2 calamity that ushered out the farm. It had its moments of action, but that’s all they were ““ moments.
“Welcome to the Tombs” spent a lot of its time checking in with the Prison Gang, revisiting where they were emotionally after the events of the season. Daryl and Carol remain close, the brief moment they held each other’s hands speaking volumes about their relationship. Maggie and Glenn are back in sync, working as a team in chasing off the Woodbury incursion, and choosing to remain behind when Rick heads out to finish the Woodbury issue. Michonne and Rick seemed to finally come to understand each other ““ she understands he needed to entertain Phillip’s offer to exchange her for safety, and he explicitly tells her she’s one of them. Hershel and Beth are…well, Hershel and Beth, and while we don’t get a lot of them, we do see Beth killing her first walker, and Hershel leaving a bible verse behind as a message to The Governor.
Carl, who at many points this season has seemed to be the only one of the group to really have it all together, finally seems to be crumbling under his adult responsibilities. He’s a child and not a child ““ no matter what else is going on in the world, childhood pretty definitely ends when you have to shoot your own mother in the head to keep her from coming back as a zombie. He’s shown remarkable judgment on a number of occasions ““ rescuing both Tyrese and Michonne, among other things ““ and a capacity for kindness ““ rescuing the picture of his mother for Judith. And now, now he seems to be finally tipping over to the other side. When poor, asthmatic Jody comes across Carl in the woods, rather than rescue the scared teenager, Carl shoots him in the head. And when asked to justify it, his reasoning purposefully and frighteningly echoes The Governor’s quote that starts this recap. Kill or die. Or die and kill.
Rick, who has been plagued with insanity and doubt throughout the season, begins the episode still seeing visions of pregnant Lori waiting for him, and ends it by saying good-bye to her, finally, choosing to focus on the living, not the dead. He concocts a plan to scare off Woodbury but not slaughter them, wisely agrees to tactically take out Phillip to avoid future bloodshed, and, after turning his back on most of the survivors he’s encountered this year, and brings an entire busload of people back to the prison to join his own group. He embraces Michonne, and forgives Andrea, letting her know that she’s loved, part of a family, before she dies. And notably, and tellingly, he kisses Judith and hugs Carl, actually acting like a father, something we haven’t seen in a long time. It is, in fact, the first affectionate gesture we’ve seen him make towards the baby at all. Maybe there’s some hope left for him.
The Governor finishes his rapid decent into insanity with a series of brutal and horrendous acts. We open the episode with him beating Milton to teach him a lesson, and then stabbing the scientist in the stomach, leaving him to an agonizing death, in the same room as Andrea, so she has to watch her friend turn into her death sentence. He lies to the townspeople to get them to join him in assaulting the prison. When that goes so terribly wrong, he guns down almost every single able-bodied adult from Woodbury, and only dispatches a few of them before tiring of even that small mercy, and wandering away from the town and the prison, his only two henchmen in tow.
And that leaves Andrea. I knew that there were two major character deaths in the last two episodes of the season. Any betting man would have put money on Philip’s demise being the second one ““ as the Big Bad, of course the season would likely wind up that storyline with his exit. But it was Andrea who passed. She had seemed so untouchable all year, and even when she was captured, it seemed like a late season rescue by the prison gang would be the logical way to bring her back into the fold. We’ve seen her repeatedly kill zombies in close, personal ways, a dead shot to the eye. And yet, even though she had a weapon in her hand and Rick’s gang was already on their way, Andrea was bit fending off ZombieMilton. Michonne gets there in time to say goodbye, and the tears and obvious affection between them in that short scene makes me feel robbed of their backstory. Andrea asks for a gun to finish things. She doesn’t make someone else do it, she doesn’t ask for that. I’ve been hard on her all year, but even I’ll admit that Andrea is no coward. She’s brave at the end. And she wanted to save everyone, that’s all she hoped for, and she pays the price for her hubris in thinking she could make that happen.
Even with Andrea’s death, the show ends on a note of hope and change, with new life being brought to what’s left of the survivors. It was a shock when I watched it, but seems so logical now. How could these characters last if every season was trying to top the tragedy of the one before? Instead of running again, we’ll see them actually trying to live, to build a community with what’s left of humanity ““ the young, the old, and the infirm. I’m excited to see them deal with the prison more, which loomed so large over everything that happened this year, but still felt like a weigh-station on their journey. The Governor is still out there to cause problems, but so is the beautifully shot field of walkers, lumbering towards the prison.
But that’s next year. For now, a breath, a regrouping, and new life.
I’ve wasted a lot of time this season complaining about Andrea ““ some might say too much, and some have definitely critiqued my critique ““ but I can’t say I’m terribly pleased with the resolution to the story. Yes, the world in which TWD takes place is dangerous, so we can’t realistically expect all of our main characters to survive, even ones that the show seemed built around. But it is apparent to me that the show resolved the backlash against Andrea in exactly they same way they handled Lori ““ they just offed the characters instead of trying to correct their own damn missteps.
Fundamentally, Lori and Andrea suffered from the same basic issues. Their actions appeared wildly tone deaf to the world they lived in, their decisions were erratic in order to serve the whims of the plot, and whatever the original intent for the characters might have been, onscreen, in practice, their was little for the audience to identify with or like. Andrea made selfish, spoiled decisions that the show seemed to imply were good, noble choices. Lori made random choices that only served to push along other people’s story arcs. They had little in the way of subtly in their characterizations. It was all broad strokes. The best writing either character received was their death scenes; after three seasons, that should just be an embarrassment for the show.
Look at Merle’s treatment last week. Merle was a huge racist, a violent pig, the kind of character it’s easy to hate. But “This Sorrowful Life” was a fantastic send off for him, showing depth and complexity to a character we loved to hate, and built on several weeks of hints that there was more going on to Merle than what we expected. Some of this, of course, is thanks to Michael Rooker, who is an excellent actor, but the other part of it was the obvious care and intent that went into writing this arc for him. Where was Lori’s lovingly crafted arc? Where were her subtleties? Where were the hints of her background that explained why she acted the way she did? Andrea’s dying words were that she just didn’t want anyone to die ““ which certainly didn’t come across in an entire season’s worth of episodes. If those words were struck from the script and someone asked me to encapsulate Andrea’s motivation for the season, I don’t think ‘”she just didn’t want anyone to die” would have been on my short list of possible motives. And it’s even more baffling when it’s put against Season 2, Team Shane Andrea, who was pretty willing to be as cold as needed be to ensure her group’s survival. Yes, Dale’s death could have affected her, but we didn’t see it. Her friendship with Michonne could have changed her, but we didn’t get to see that either.
And one, final thing. The Talking Dead’s behind the scenes clips this week confirmed that the Govenor’s black henchman, who was in almost every single Woodbury scene and had not one single line, doesn’t have a name. He was identified as “The Bowman.” That’s just embarrassing, TWD. Fix it.