The midseason finale is an episode that presents a conundrum for television showrunners, much more so than a season’s final episode. Even in the days of Netflix and binge-watching, most readers expect that shows will come in seasons (when else will they film new episodes?) Tension and plots build to the season finale, and producers can close subplots and character arcs while throwing in everything but the kitchen sink to leave viewers saying, “Wow!”
But the midseason finale — nearly always dictated by scheduling — is a catch-22 of the highest order. Knowing that they’ll lose viewers to the holidays, bowl games and NFL playoffs, writers and producers still need to wow the audience, but in the immortal words of Hank Williams, they have to leave them also leave them wanting more.
This season’s midseason finale, “Too Far Gone,” resembled last season’s halfway episode in that there was a battle, some very important (and surprising) deaths, and plenty of questions to keep us guessing over the next two months. The two parts of this season — the prison and the plague, and the reemergence of The Governor — collided in the only way they could, with our main villain and some new characters we don’t really care about attacking the core group we can’t live without. I doubt many fans thought The Governor would win the fight, so the only questions remaining were who in our core group would die and what would be the total damage?
Let’s go with the latter first. The collateral damage was severe. The prison is now in shambles and overrun by walkers; our group is once again on the run, and some of them are wounded; and to make matters worse, they’re scattered and separated in at least three or four batches.
Did it have to be this way? In a word, yeah. The Governor is a a consummate villain — that’s what fans love about his character. We couldn’t keep tap dancing around the issue of when he would confront Rick and show his true colors as a psychopath with a leadership complex. But to their credit, the writers didn’t just ratchet straight into the fighting. They gave The Governor a chance to justify his intentions and David Morrissey a chance to show some of his incredible acting skills. In a series of rhetorical questions, some answered and some not, we got an explanation for why he wanted to go to war. When Lily asked him what Megan was going to be in this world, The Governor answered, “alive.” When he said the people in the prison were with bad people, Lily asked, “Am I?” He gave no response.
The Governor had only one goal in mind, not revenge (although he likely would have relished that), but to keep little Megan alive, and he was convinced that taking the prison was the only way to do it. The episode started out with The Governor seeming, not necessarily as pure evil, but as more of a sociopath, willing to kill or maim whoever stood in his way. In the end, though, he gave in to his nefarious rage, calmly dispatching Megan with a bullet to the head. The results of his wrath were predictably tragic. He ignited the violence by killing Hershel in a rather dramatic and brutal way. Tara put it best when she said in shock, “He cut off a guy’s head with a sword!” One final act of brutality that perfectly set up The Governor’s own demise.
Hershel is a big loss (more on him below). As for The Governor, he will be missed, both for the importance of his character and the gravitas Morrissey brought to the role. Characters enter and leave in ones and twos, strutting and fretting their hours upon the stage, but the anchor of The Walking Dead is the core group. The Governor was a huge part of the story, but in the end, his story hand simply run out.
And now for a (figurative) hail of bullets:
Zombie Kill Report: This was another episode where the walkers played more of a peripheral role. They stumbled in to wreak some havoc, but it was the humans who were causing each other the most damage. The kill of the night would have to go to Daryl — the scene where a walker crept up behind him had a nice cut away where we didn’t know what happened to him, but of course he came out of it using the zombie as a shield. (I’m not sure that would work in real life, but it was badass.) The best pure zombie scene belonged to Megan digging on the river bank. The shot of a hand coming slowly out of the mud resembled the final scene in Carrie (not the new one, the Brian De Palma classic).
Classic weapons and gunslingers: Any military nerds out there surely noticed that while the battle featured lots of modern carbines, there were a few classic weapons in the mix. The Governor’s main threat came from a very functional M60 battle tank. According to our story, Mitch was a tank driver in the National Guard and he made off with the beast when the world ended. In reality, the M60 has long been retired and last saw action in the Gulf War. The producers said on Talking Dead that the tank was actually used in Vietnam and now belongs to a private collector. It’s too bad they couldn’t get ahold of the M60s successor, the M1 Abrams, which was featured in the Season 1 scene in Atlanta when Rick first meets Glenn (remember? — “Hey you in the tank.“) For most of the fight, Tyrese is running around with an M14, the predecessor to the M16, which was widely used early in the Vietnam War. A few infantrymen still carried those in Iraq and Afghanistan because they’re very reliable rifles.
Weapons aside, I for one was profoundly disappointed with the beginning of the gunfight. For a bunch of people who routinely pop off head shots against walkers, hundreds of rounds went in both directions and no one hit anything! It’s hard to wow us with shootout scenes because we’ve all seen thousands of them on T.V. and movies, and this one was much better than the terrible one in the last season of Breaking Bad. But before we have another gun battle in this show, or any show for that matter, the directors would do well to re-watch Heat, which features perhaps the greatest shoot out ever filmed. I’ll provide a convenient link here.
He who lives by the sword…During the Talking Dead that followed the episode, the producers showed a quote from David Morrissey where he discussed The Governor’s demise. “I always felt that Rick and The Governor had this hatred for each other,” Morrissey said, “but his real nemesis was Michonne.” It was a fitting end, and good to see Michonne back in top form.
The final lesson: Before last season’s finale, I predicted, incorrectly, that Herhsel would be killed off. I’m glad I was wrong. We wrote a bit a few weeks ago about what a fine actor Scott Wilson is and how TWD is only a small part of his remarkable career. That episode was a fantastic demonstration of Wilson’s abilities and the importance of the character, and it makes his loss more profound than that of Shane or Lori or Andrea. We never really missed any of those characters after they were killed off. Yes, Hershel’s little life talks were incredibly annoying at times, but he’s a character who greatly impacted the show. Scott Wilson and his dulcet southern drawl will be greatly missed.
And the questions: The episode left us with the obligatory dozen or so questions: Is Judith alive? And for that matter, what about Beth, Sasha, and Bob? Tyrese is still alive, thanks to Carol’s girls and the tough love they thankfully internalized, but everyone is now scattered, on the run, hurt and heartbroken. Sounds like a recipe for a heck of a beginning to the second half of the season. See you in February!