A low-key finale is always a good idea for a dramatic show, especially after the inherent rising tension of the episodes previous to it. Hell, shows like The Wire and The Sopranos made it a habit for the largest events of the season to play out in the penultimate episode, to give us that cooling off period most shows call the “unfilmed summer vacation.”
But to get to that ending, one has to earn it – and The Walking Dead certainly did not earn it with ‘Welcome to the Tombs’, an episode that felt nothing like a season finale: there’s no satisfying ending, there’s a few noticeable leaps of logic in character motivation, and what events do occur are so short and muted (one of them taking place completely off-screen…. TWICE), it feels nothing but a bridge to the next bloated 16-episode season.
When the story needed it the most, the writers of The Walking Dead completely drop the ball with the last prison confrontation of the year: the Governor walks into a setup, ultimately being scared away by a few smoke bombs and walkers. There are a few seconds where the Governor is trying to organize and keep the troops under control, but when that doesn’t work, he makes the smart move and bails.
And then he kills everyone in a fit of rage, condemning them for being pussies who ran away and dared to question him.
I suppose in a way this makes sense: it inverts the climax of the comic’s prison arc in what some might call an ‘interesting’ way. But that’s all there is to it: one person says something, he kills everyone, and then drives away, never to be seen again. The unhinged lunatic leaves to live another day, although he presumably has abandoned everything he’s been fighting for all season, in the most inanely insane fashion possible. Essentially, the Governor did Rick’s job for him: he eliminated just about everyone who protected him… because they showed a human side for half a moment?
At this point, there’s nothing left to do with the Governor. Sixteen episodes of parallels between the Governor and Rick ultimately led nowhere, even with THREE extra episodes for them to fight with each other. I don’t want to say we deserved a more satisfying ending – as an audience of a television show, we don’t really deserve anything at all. But when an entire arc is constructed to present Rick and the Governor as worthy adversaries, building up to nothing, disappearing the Governor through a contrived sleight of hand to have him and the crew run away from the prison borders on misleading.
And what’s left to do with the Governor? He’s transformed from leader of Happy Town to wildly homicidal and crazy – what else is there to explore? We now know why he keeps heads (memories of past battles, a scalping of sorts), and his journey feels complete, even with a half-hearted, half-assed attempt to overtake the prison as his final move in this deadly game of chess with Rick. Why keep him alive? They make the connection between him and Carl… why does he need to continue to exist? I’m going to guess and say it’s for reasons related to what happens in the comic book – but obviously, I’m not going to assume anything moving forward.
Even the casualties of the episode don’t really drive home any themes or plot lines for the season: Milton dies because the Governor’s killing everybody, and he leaves him dying with Andrea to eat her once he awakes (which he does successfully, off-screen). Her scenes trying to open her handcuffs added a nice element of suspense and tension to the episode (the only tense scenes of the entire 44 minutes), but it’s an anti-climatic end for a severely underdeveloped character.
Apparently she wasn’t supposed to die in the original script of the episode, and new show runner Scott Gimple stepped in and rewrote the scene. It’s a smart move on his part (and if he truly was in creative control of the episode, the only one): Andrea’s been written into such an unlikable corner, the only way to get out of it was to kill her for her inability to make a choice. Mike Ehrmentrout taught us all the values of “half measures”, and Andrea’s killed her in the end. They found the most sympathetic way to send her out, too: doomed by the bad writing of previous episodes, she had to come face to face with her own failure to do anything, ending her own life with Michonne by her side.
I want to go back to Carl: I really like what was being attempted here, but again, it’s all set up for next season instead of serving a distinct purpose in the episode. Rick doesn’t condemn what Carl’s done – and it’s clear he doesn’t recognize that he’s turning his own son into the Governor, a person who’ll kill anyone and justify it with his own interpretations and truths later. Rick’s half measures have had an effect on the world around him, as well – unlike Andrea’s, however, it’s turning Carl into a monster instead of himself. Besides, isn’t this the same kid who hesitated when he had the chance to shoot Morgan a few weeks earlier? What drove him from that point until now? Merle’s death? He got dumped on the playground? Carl ‘going dark’ is interesting – but he’s gone from shooting his mother, to being hesitant and obedient, to straight murdering someone without hesitating for a moment.
I’m still a little dumbstruck just how light the plot was in this episode – for a season finale of a 16-episode season, you’d think the writers would want to reward an audience sticking around through the months-long hiatus and number of fluff episodes and thumb-twiddling story lines throughout its run. There’s just no sense of satisfaction with any of the arcs or character beats, events and stories that could’ve been accomplished in ten episodes time, leaving three (or six) more episodes for the show to build up an actual climax between the Governor and Rick.
‘Welcome to the Tombs’ ends a second half of a third season much weaker than its first, despite ‘Clear’, one of the best episodes in the series. Instead of following through on anything it set up in the first episode, ‘Welcome to the Tombs’ drags out two easy resolutions (Milton and Andrea), introduces a bunch of new ones (Carl’s sudden sociopathic qualities, the Governor running away), and then fades out to nothing, marking the arrival of April Fool’s Day a few hours early.
Unfortunately, the joke’s on us, the audience, who just loyally watched a too-long season of television, only to be told to come back in seven months to get an ending.
Season 3 (Part 2) Grade: C
Season 3 Grade: C+
– “You live or you die… or you die and you kill.” THAT’S the Governor’s signature line in the episode? SERIOUSLY?
– maybe Andrea would’ve lived had she not spend every five seconds staring at Milton, checking to see if he was alive or not.
– Michonne’s willing to forgive Rick for nearly selling her out – she’s one of them now, so he’s willing to listen.
– Hey look, there’s Beth and Carol! How’s the background treating you?
– Merle’s eulogy amounts to one line from Daryl: “he’s never done something like that before.” Such insight.
– I really liked how the POV shot opened – I was hoping he had Glenn or Carl or Daryl in the chair, and the first half of the episode would flash back to how he captured them, with the second half playing out the big battle they seemingly were leading up to. ‘Twas not to be, however.
– and so ends another season of The Walking Dead reviews. Hope to see you back in the fall to talk about season four; thanks for reading!