Mid-season finale review: 'The Walking Dead' - 'Too Far Gone': Prison, break
A review of "The Walking Dead" mid-season finale coming up just as soon as we make plans to celebrate our anniversary...
Boy oh boy was "Too Far Gone" all over the map in terms of tone, quality and a general sense of direction (or the lack thereof).
The episode wasted even more time on the Governor doing and saying Governor things — even if he wouldn't let Hershel call him by that title — but it also had the good sense to finally eliminate him via a well-timed katana strike from Michonne. We were just going in circles with this character, and he in turn was forcing the show to circle the drain (in quality, if not in ratings, since our collective love of zombies trumps our collective interest in good storytelling), so better to be done with him.
It was a slog getting through the first half, first with all the Governor scenes, then as we got to the big moment where Rick was forced to resume leadership of the group. I know "Lost" is one of the models for "The Walking Dead" (Mazzara said that often, and Gimple sure seems to be following that lead), and "Lost" sure as heck obsessed with who is and isn't a good leader. But "Lost" had a host of interesting characters who all got to take a turn wearing the big chief hat, never settling on an answer until the closing minutes of the series finale. "The Walking Dead" has a sketchier group of characters, and all of them primarily exist to tell Rick (and us) what an awesome leader he is. So when the finale seemed to be building up to more Governor megalomania, and more of Rick reluctantly taking the reins and being the best and the brightest again, I groaned at how wildly the creative team seemed to be miscalculating their own series' strengths.
But then Hershel got his head chopped off, and while I'll miss Scott Wilson, that at least kicked off an impressive, prolonged action sequence. It was essentially a do-over for the climax that was so badly botched at the end of season 3, and if it was eight episodes too late, it was at least exciting to watch...
... even though so much of it didn't make a lick of sense.
Suddenly, Lily is just showing up in the field with Megan's body? The Governor and his lackeys didn't have a Plan B that didn't involve destroying the fence and blowing holes in the wall of the prison, defeating the whole purpose of going there? Michonne disappears and reappears at random, depending on the needs of the plot?
And then there was all the nonsense with the little girls, which drove an awful lot of the plot of the closing minutes, how various characters got paired up in their escape from the prison, and the enormous, character and series worldview-altering death of baby Judith, who got abandoned by the girls because... Carol gave them bad advice? There wasn't a single other person in Rick's group(*) to keep watch on them? They have all become deadeye shots by osmosis, and had to demonstrate this gift more than they needed to hang onto the baby?
(*) A group still large and redshirt-filled enough that it was difficult at times during the gunfight keeping track of which side people were on.
Judith dying(**) is huge, especially in an episode where Megan also gets killed simply for digging in the wrong pile of mud. The show has killed children before, but Sophia was a non-entity at the time she died, and Carol barely more than that back then. For good or for ill, this show (and the comic book before it) has thrown all of its emotional weight behind Rick Grimes; in a sense, things don't really matter unless they are happening to him. L'il Asskicker's birth was a dark moment for the series because of Lori's sacrifice, but her existence — and Lori's decision not to try terminating the pregnancy — was a rare bit of hope in this bleak universe. So, for that matter, was the shelter and relative peace the prison offered. Kill the baby, trash the prison, and scatter Rick's group to the five winds, and you've taken away Rick's hope, and by proxy the hope of the audience that things can get better. We can debate the appeal of a show that wallows in misery to that extent, but this big emotional turning point shouldn't come because Judith was being watched by a bunch of poorly-characterized kids who decided they had other things to do.
(**) UPDATE: Lots of you are going with the "no body = no death" theory on Judith. And while she could turn up alive down the road, it was very strongly implied otherwise (bloody car seat, and why would anyone take her out of such a useful carrier in the first place?), and in the meantime, Rick and Carl are reacting as if she's dead, which brings us back to the point that they shouldn't have built this huge emotional turn on such a shaky foundation. Also, making characters believe the baby is dead if she isn't is a much cheaper trick than if it's an adult (like Carol last season).
I'm glad the Governor is gone. I'm glad the show has finally moved out of the prison set. And the idea of the group being separated, even for a little while, opens up some interesting narrative possibilities that will hopefully keep the show from falling into the kind of rut so many of you were unhappy with during the plague episodes. But even with cool action involving swords, tank artillery and Daryl using a zombie (or, rather, a poorly-disguised prop dummy) as a human shield, "Too Far Gone" didn't so much thrill me as make me worry about what the show will look like when it returns in February. For a while there this fall, it felt like Gimple had wrestled some of the series' weaker elements to the ground and found some much-needed consistency, but these last few weeks were full of bad ideas that felt like they had been thought up at random.
Before we go to the comments, it's time once again to explain how this blog's No Spoiler rule applies to this show:
1. No talking about the previews for the next episode.
2. No talking about anything else you know about upcoming episodes from other sources — and, yes, that includes anything Gimple and Kirkman have said in interviews.
3. No talking about anything that's happened in the comic that hasn't happened in the TV show yet. (Or anything that's been revealed, like character backstory and motivation.) As with "Game of Thrones," the goal is to treat "The Walking Dead" TV show as exactly that, and not as an excuse for endless comparisons with the comics. If you want to talk about the comics, feel free to start up a discussion thread on our message boards.
With that in mind, what did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org