"Walking Dead" recap: The Governor at the gates

Rick & co. are forced from the prison in the bloody -- and not always convincing -- midseason finale

Published December 2, 2013 1:53PM (EST)

Andrew Lincoln in "The Walking Dead"              (AMC/Frank Ockenfels 3)
Andrew Lincoln in "The Walking Dead" (AMC/Frank Ockenfels 3)

Last week's episode of "The Walking Dead" felt like the conclusion of a carefully considered character study. Last night's episode, "Too Far Gone," -- the title is all too telling -- was more like a necessary evil, or rather a necessary exorcism of evil. Whereas The Governor's retreat from violence and vengeance would have been an interesting and, I think, clever end to his journey through darkness over the last few installments, I can see why the show's creators were not willing to rely on redemption as a thrilling and ultimately cathartic mid-season finale. And so we end up with Hershel on his knees outside of the prison, The Governor -- excuse me, Brian -- holding Michonne's blade at the kind, old counselor's throat. Unfortunately, the ensuing battle was no more convincing than the speech on which it was predicated.

You know what I'm talking about: Who are these lemmings in Brian's new camp that he could so easily persuade them to march to war against a walled prison full of reportedly dangerous strangers? From their history and the looks of them, some were former military, not unlike Mitch and his dead brother Pete. Not one of them was willful enough to ask to see or question Brian's kidnapped prisoners for themselves? For that matter, it never occurred to any of them that their leaders began to die mysteriously only after One-Eyed Bri arrived -- and now he was their leader? The storytelling truth is this: Brian's time at the new camp was rushed. We watched him bond with his adopted family in an earlier episode. But his new followers and his relationship to them were not developed. They were never more than TV extras and died as such.

I won't say too much about the firefight. It felt chunky and staged. Incidents seemed disconnected from the whole. Not that any battle sequence should be overly choreographed, but there was little sense of momentum or flow. This is disappointing and somewhat surprising, considering how successful -- if gory and occasionally upsetting -- the show's action sequences have been throughout its history. (It's also noteworthy that the blasts from Mitch's tank conveniently interrupted the exploration of ongoing threads from this season. Guess we'll have to wait until February to find out who has been feeding rats to the walkers to lure them to the prison -- although it hardly seems as important now that the prison has been decimated.)

As much as I've enjoyed watching Brian Heriot wrestle with his inner Governor, finding out that the two were actually one and the same was a bit of a letdown. Maybe it was all just a matter of illuminating the changes in Rick. Faced with an enemy that will not and cannot relent, Rick exposes his new peaceful, more rational self. You can tell by the smile that crosses Hershel's face right before he loses his head, that the old man feels proud and maybe a bit responsible for the better leader that Rick has become.

Or maybe it was all just a matter of getting Rick and Co. out of the prison. They've spent two seasons within the relative safety of its walls and fences. Maybe the showrunners just felt it was time to move on, and the Governor at the gates was the most dramatic way to make that happen. Either way, his literal and figurative return now seems oddly functional. Perhaps I'm being naive. There is, after all, no way that he could truly rise from ruin. The show only has room for one deeply flawed hero.

By Neil Drumming

Neil Drumming is a staff writer for Salon. Follow him on Twitter @Neil_Salon.

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