12/1/2013, 9PM, AMC
Though it may not always earn it, “Too Far Gone” is as cathartic as The Walking Dead has been this season. The Governor (I’ll call you whatever I want) is dead. Michonne finally got the savory pleasure of ending the bastard. Captured to start the episode, she salivates over her proximity to the wacko, enumerating, undaunted, the extent to which she’s going to kill him. Her moment of justice is one awaited for a season’s worth of episodes (which in a way makes sense given how the arcs have interloped this season with the last). Even as the katana jutting out of the Governor’s chest juts out from a relatively been-here midseason finale, when left to rest, his death ultimately feels like the show shaving excess.
I wrote last week about The Walking Dead’s problematic dynamics between momentary and long-term payoff. Far more often the show opts for a visual or situation that might shock (or risk eye-rolls) over the foresight, patience, and nuance necessary for equally powerful narrative. Consider how good the show is at inserting compelling self-contained stories as short sequences—last week’s abandoned house—or as full episodes—“Clear,” the series’s high-point—that do more for atmosphere and theme than character or narrative.
Here’s the thing. After all this time—half a season and a two-plus episode break from the main cast at their most dramatic cliffhanger—“Too Far Gone” is Season Three Finale Redux. The Governor gets a second chance to exterminate the prison group. Rick gets a second chance to unfetter his identity as a man and leader against something like his evil twin. Michonne gets a second chance for justice. In a way, this makes “Too Far Gone” unique in the landscape of the series. The Walking Dead has not been a universe ample with second chances. Yet, the writers even unleash on the Governor some cosmic vengeance. Just as the Governor validates the episode’s title, Lilly wanders up to the frontlines with a dead Meagan, his supposed reason for all his rekindled cruel-pragmatism-but-really-just-cruelty. Typically, this sort of punishment has been reserved for naïvely admirable characters.
But the departures from template can’t quell what “Too Far Gone” signals to us about the preceding episodes. Structurally, the half-season has been every which way. The decision to leave the prison camp just as the show built to the blowback from a refreshingly conflicted morality dilemma was an ill-advised one, if only for the fact that the pursuant episodes slapped in the face the bubbling momentum the show had built. The Crusades of Brian Harriet, as a result, felt too tangential to do much more than distract us with the ceaseless question: “Why?” The Governor’s off-handed response to Meagan’s death confirmed what we for weeks knew was actually going on but had seeped only sporadically into the show’s subtext: that this man had devolved into an shell of a character with perhaps the presumption of internal struggle. The writers teased us; ‘wait, could they actually resurrect his soul?’ Nope. Not a chance.
So, again, why? Why take unnecessary time to second guess haphazard character development when that character is about to die anyway? “Live Bait” and “Dead Weight” add nothing to the Governor’s exit from the show. Imagine if the Governor had simply gone guerilla on the prison camp for an episode or two, the audience gradually seeing that he’s enlisted new minions, before finishing with the climactic showdown of “Too Far Gone.” Or, god forbid, imagine if he’d been intercut from day one of season four—a wary but impending, slightly present enigma over the narrative. By giving him his own redemption-or-no special, the writers structured a promise upon which this show could not deliver.
The Governor’s is not the only regular blood spilled. Hershel is with Michonne when the Governor takes her, and so the old farmer winds up a prisoner too. Positioned next to her in classic execution position—on knees, hands behind head, back to the executioner—when the Governor, tank in tow, makes his stand against the prison, director Ernest R. Dickerson (who’s helmed episodes of The Wire, ER, Dexter, and Treme) doesn’t invest much effort into deceiving us about Hershel’s fate. Deception would’ve been overkill. The show’s suggested Hershel’s death for weeks (though I would’ve swapped in Glenn with enthusiasm). Dickerson effortlessly compensates for the telegraphy by prompting Hershel’s beheading with an enraged Governor. Rick, for the Governor’s ear, comes to his own version of the plea Hershel had so often implored of Rick. Everyone can come back, Rick beseeches. Hershel grins with the warm satisfaction of closure. The Governor eventually whispers, “Liar.”
It’s an excellently directed scene. The score could be accused of manipulation, as has often been the case this season, but when the whole of the moment is carried out so effectively, it’s easy to submit to the otherwise cheap emotion. If the previous seven episodes had more precisely built the here-released emotion, the scene and the ensuing sequence would’ve rocketed to near the top of the show’s achievements. As it stands, though, “Too Far Gone” feels more like a finale for a season of television stretching from 3.9-4.8. There’ve been some runners this season that’ll linger into season four-part two—the zombie feeding psycho, the full ramifications of Carol’s identity as the murderer. Thematically, however, “Too Far Gone” is resolutely on season three’s terms. Walkers, just as Rick warned the Governor, overrun the prison after the firefight. The prison survivors flee, separated. Rid of the Governor, we’ll see who emerges as their next foe more pressing than death. Until then, no digging in the dirt.
- Is there any chance Lilly shot a zombie and not the Governor?
- By the way, Could there have been a mother more unfit for a zombie apocalypse than Lilly?
- Daryl knows about Carol. Tyreese doesn’t, but the two girls who had been in her care saved him. It’s a testament to the disappointing architecture of this season that these developments couldn’t find their way into the main write-up.
- Walkers beware. Crazy Carl’s lost his sister.
- The sequence leading up to Meagan getting bit was so well handled. The swoop from the daughter up to the mother—the shot-reverse shot as the walker emerges from the woods—easily the most inspired bite staging in a long time. Kudos again, Mr. Dickerson.
[notification type=“star”]Episode Rating: 67/100 ~ OKAY. Though it may not always earn it, “Too Far Gone” is as cathartic as The Walking Dead has been this season.
Midseason Rating: 65/100 ~ OKAY.The first half of season four has felt more like the second half of a series of television stretching from 3.9-4.8. There are worse takeaways, but the inconsistency has been discouraging.[/notification]