Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Walking Dead: "Welcome to the Tombs"

Nikki: A pupil dilates, the camera pulls back to reveal a close-up of an eye, and as we pull back further, it’s
a) Jack Shephard, looking up to see the plane flying overhead as he clutches his fatal wound
b) Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo
c) the torture-cam view of Governor “I’m Crazy as a Shithouse Rat!” Phillip.

Yes, folks, we’ve left the island and given up chasing mysterious blonde women: this time around, it’s the season 3 finale of The Walking Dead!

Whew. So much ground to cover this week, so let’s get started on our second wake in as many weeks: Andrea. Just as Merle had pretty much come to the end of his character arc, Andrea’s been that character that everyone has heaped on for weeks: surly, incompetent, and loyal to all the wrong people, she’s the one that most fans have dumped on now that Carl’s actually learned to stay in the house. (More on him later.)

As with Merle, she becomes sympathetic in death (who doesn’t, really…) and her repeated phrase this week — “I just didn’t want anyone to die” — is the perfect mantra for her entire character. In season 1 she wanted to commit suicide, but when Dale put himself in the room and said she’d have to kill him, too, she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t commit murder on top of suicide. So she continued on, and she lost so many of her companions, and after being abandoned by the prison folk she continued on with Michonne, and when she found the comforts of Woodbury, she stayed, despite Michonne knowing this was the wrong thing to do. When she knew the Governor was bad news, she had the chance to kill him, but didn’t take it. Then when she was convinced and finally had the courage to kill him (to prevent further deaths at his hand), Milton stopped her because, like her, he didn’t want anyone to die.

And look where that landed both of them.

This week she’s trapped in a room with Milton in one of the most brilliant ideas for a torture scene I’ve ever seen: kill the guy first, and leave him in a room with a woman tied to a chair, knowing that she’ll have to watch him die, wait for him to reanimate, and then die horribly by the now-walker’s hand. Except Milton left some pliers on the ground.

Despite Andrea being someone who is a hell of a fighter, her nerves are completely shot in this scene (at first I thought, “OH COME ON why isn’t she just drilling him in the head with the damn pliers? I swear I’ve seen her kill zombies with her own fingernails, she’s so tough” but when you imagine just how much the Governor has tortured her to this point, and how terrified she’s been at the anticipation of it all (not to mention listening to what he’s done to Milton), she hasn’t slept in days and her reflexes are a little slow. Too slow, unfortunately. At least she was done with Milton before he was able to actually eat her alive.

Just as Merle’s death resonated because of Daryl’s reaction, so too does Michonne’s heartbreak make Andrea’s death scene all the more sad and realistic. Despite Michonne’s anger and resentment and hurt towards Andrea for Andrea having chosen the Governor and the comforts of Woodbury over her, you can tell how deeply she still loves her friend. Andrea’s the only person left in the world who truly understands her, and we can only imagine everything the two women went through in the year they were together and we didn’t see them. Despite the cold shoulder she got from the prison folk when she visited them a few days earlier, she dies knowing that Rick and the gang consider her one of them, which is pretty much the best we could have asked for in the situation.

RIP Andrea.

So, what did you think of this finale episode, Josh?

Joshua: Andrea, Andrea. You know you've had a rough season when you finish out with a more mixed reaction to your death than that of Merle Dixon.

It's no secret that I've had issues with the way Andrea's arc was handled this year, and any more than a cursory glance around the internet shows I wasn't alone in those feelings. Her goal, as you said, was ambitious enough: “I just didn't want anyone to die.” But ultimately, her best intentions cost her everything. What could have been a noble sacrifice in different circumstances winds up a cautionary tale instead, a textbook example of too little, too late. Vita incerta, mors certissima. Requiescat in pace.

From a dramatic standpoint, the situation with Milton and Andrea in the world's worst dental office worked perfectly as a framing device, keeping the hour focused and sustaining tension in an episode that might otherwise have been lacking in light of the unexpected and decidedly anticlimactic way in which the 'final showdown' played out. The beauty was in its simplicity, as the mechanics functioned regardless of how one felt about Andrea; those who hated her wanted to see if she could manage to escape the literal jaws of death just as much as those who (for some mysterious, inexpiable reason) still supported her.

What I ultimately found so disappointing about Season Three Andrea, however, was that no matter how I view it, there seems to be nothing gained by her death, either narratively or symbolically. In fact, it leads me more in the direction of Carl's argument with Rick than anything else, proving further justification to his twisted, ruthless “I did what I had to do” logic. I'm not sure whether to offer kudos to the writing staff for the courage of committing to such a downbeat statement on which to end a season, or instead to offer condolences for wasting months of a good actor's career on a trajectory that, in conclusion, proved the antithesis of her character's raison d'être. I can't help but feel like I'm missing something, but I'm pretty sure it simply wasn't there. And that's a real shame.

But rather than focus too much on the aspects I found deficient, let's talk about the things I liked: namely, that aforementioned anticlimax. Though I haven't looked around much since its airing, I'd be willing to wager that reactions to this finale episode are sharply divided. Such is the risk you run by spending half a season building up to a fight that never really happens. I'll say without hesitation that what was presented in this finale was nothing at all like I expected. Not better or worse; just different. But maybe it was better simply by virtue of being different, of so thoroughly subverting our expectations.

What do you think, Nikki?

Nikki: Agreed. Last week I made a comment that I hate when the penultimate episode is that strong, simply because it usually means the finale will never live up to it. And they’ve built up for most of the season to a huge apocalyptic battle between good versus evil… one that never came. Merle decimated their numbers in the last episode, and then when we were waiting for Rick and company to take out the rest of them… we see Maggie and Glenn in riot gear, Hershel, Beth, and Carl hiding in the woods, and the rest of them are pretty much nowhere to be seen. Where were Rick and Daryl? Did I miss something? I thought they were further down the road, setting up some major attack barrier (we saw them packing the cars) so when the Governor’s people turned tail he’d be waiting elsewhere. And then poof, there he was at the prison, running up to Glenn and Maggie and talking to them.

And then, there WAS an epic gunning-down of the Governor’s people… BY THE GOVERNOR. Didn’t see that coming. Although I feel like I should have. His mind already up and left him a few episodes ago, and he’s so far gone in this one he’s just not even there.

And then he’s gone. Huh? I thought we would see his death, although as my husband said, it’s far scarier not knowing where he is.

But back over to what you said; I agree that in the end, if Andrea’s death is the only major one in this episode, it’s rather disappointing, and her character seemed to be wasted. BUT… I actually think her death WAS meant to be the very cautionary tale you mentioned. As I said above, yes, her modus operandi was to act in such a way that no one would be killed. But because of her actions, SO many people died. If she’d just taken out the Governor when she could have, most of Woodbury would still be alive, and so would she and Milton. And they wouldn’t all be running for their lives and hiding from the ghostly Guv from this point on.

When Carl shoots the kid between the eyes, Hershel is horrified, and he goes back to Rick and tells him point blank that his son is a cold-blooded murderer. When Carl actually did it, I hate to say it, but I said aloud, “Yep. You did what you should have.” I hate to see a boy (he’s still a boy, regardless of us wanting to see him as a man) doing what Carl did, but the world has changed. Rick’s the one kicking Tyreese and his people out of the prison and being all cold and hard, and his son has paid attention and is doing the same. That kid was NOT handing over the gun. Hershel told him to drop it, and he slowly began to hand it over, finger still on the trigger. Carl knew damn well he was going to flip the gun around at the last second and kill all three of them, and he took matters into his own hands. He made the right call.

When faced with this, he says to Rick quite flatly and blandly that maybe if his own dad would ball up and kill more people, fewer loved ones would be dead. He mentions Andrew, the inmate who got away, hid in the woods (we assume) and then let the walkers loose in the prison, leading to the death of T-Dog, and Lori being holed up in a room giving birth and dying rather than under Hershel’s care and living. He mentions all of the Domino effects that have resulted from Rick’s sympathies and non-actions. It’s cold, and it’s terrible, and as he was talking I began having less sympathy, but maybe he’s right. Has Carl started down the road to Governor-like insanity, or is he actually the most realistic person there?

Joshua: It's reminiscent of the Governor's conversation with Milton in the opening, as he attempted to appeal to whatever vestiges remain of Phillip's humanity by bringing up his lost daughter and what she would think of what he'd become.

“She'd be afraid of me,” he answered, “but if I'd been like this from the start, she'd be alive.”

Perhaps he's right, and perhaps not, but the sentiment sticks because it could be true. And that, to me, is the real beauty in the way the show chose to present this argument, because there is no clear answer, no blatant Right and Wrong. Between the two most recent episodes, we saw three long-time character's lives come to a close. In retrospect, their paths could not have been more different to end in such similar places. Andrea, however oblivious, always did the best she could to stay true to herself, to her instincts, and to protect what she saw as precious. Merle's journey, on the other hand, was a torrent of crooked, self-serving behavior capped with a redemptive final act of clarity and heroism. And then there's Milton, who falls somewhere in between, not deliberately hurting others but certainly turning a blind eye to leadership behavior that grew less acceptable as time wore on.

All of these people believed in what they were doing, and in all three cases, it ultimately cost them their lives. Yet, in Merle's case, he managed to foil the Governor's plan and take out eight of his troops in the process. In contrast, Milton and Andrea only managed to take out each other. Merle used his evil for good, and it made a significant impact; Milton and Andrea used their good for good, and it canceled itself out. All of it was purely circumstantial, really, so what does it mean? What's the key?

When I mentioned the discussion between Rick and Carl earlier, I called the boy's logic ruthless, but I didn't say it was inaccurate. Our behavior as human beings is dictated by countless factors; so few decisions we make are clear and simple, and the outcomes are always unpredictable, even at the best of times. All we can do is try – to make decisions we can live with, and to face the consequences with courage and determination. Because the truth is that sometimes it just doesn't matter what you do. Sometimes our best intentions will still go horribly wrong. Sometimes the 'bad guy' can kill all your friends – and his friends, too – and still drive off whistling into the sunset in the end. Because reality will never conform to the rules we believe it ought to follow. The universe stubbornly refuses to mete out justice based on merit. We don't have to like it; we just have to live with it.

This issue of defining humanity has been the through-line of The Walking Dead since the beginning, but I think they're growing more comfortable with representing it honestly as the show goes on. The truthfulness at the heart of that ambiguity is an uncomfortable one, to be sure, and it's pretty ballsy to present it in such an uncompromising manner. I believe the writers were very conscious of delivering mixed messages, and I love seeing the courage of their conviction play itself out in such a provocative way onscreen.

Nikki: And even more realistically, there will always be people who see it as a black and white situation, and nothing ambiguous about it at all. Hershel is definitely one of those people, a god-fearing man who believes in retribution, but not an innocent dying. When he knows the Governor is coming, he leaves his Bible behind, with the John 5:29 passage highlighted: “And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” The Governor interprets this passage the way Hershel intended — “This means you, buddy.” If Carl had shot that boy in the head while the boy was holding a gun at Beth’s, Hershel would have called him a hero. But the circumstances weren’t obvious, and instead he believes Carl is lost. He is one who has done evil.

Let’s move over to Tyreese for a minute: he and his sister tell the Governor they won’t be a part of his plan, and that they’ll stay behind to protect the children. The Governor reaches for a gun, in a moment that’s meant to make the audience go, “OH MY GOD he’s going to KILL them!” and then, of course, hands over the gun, thanks them for protecting his sheep, and he leaves. But we know nothing about the Governor is what it seems, so at first we wonder what their fate will be when the Governor returns. Of course, the Governor ain’t returning (and if he does, it’s to an abandoned ghost town) and instead, he and the people of Woodbury have seen the light (took a lot to show it to them, but better late than never) and have headed over to the prison. I wonder how he and Rick will get along now that we’ll basically have two alpha males again? (Shane and Rick didn’t work out so well.) Do you think they’ll be able to work together? Tyreese seems to me to be someone who will listen to Rick and offer his opinion, but try not to step on any toes. I think he has the ability to lead them and to come up with good ideas, despite the fact his loyalty will be tinged with some distrust after what Rick did to them. I do believe he’ll be able to work with him, and I’m excited to see all of these people working as a team.

Carl, on the other hand, looked pretty pissed that their little family just became a large community. What do you think is next, Josh?

Joshua: I haven't the slightest idea. There's no precedent for this course of events in the comics, so your guess is as good as mine. That said, I'm really excited about the possibilities. We have a wealth of new characters in the Woodbury survivors, most of whom we haven't met. This story choice opens up an endless variety of avenues, as the group could contain anyone from new love interests to dangerous sociopaths and all points between. These refugees were mostly the folks deemed unfit for service in the Governor's militia, so we only gain a couple of new fighters (Tyreese, Sasha, and Karen, the massacre survivor), but there are also younger kids that can be trained up, as well. At any rate, there are many more mouths to feed now, so keeping the prison supplied will necessarily be a much bigger and more aggressive operation moving forward.

And then there's Phillip Blake. I can't imagine a scenario in which the Governor doesn't return at some point to seek his revenge. It seems less likely that he'll attempt to amass another strike team than instead engage them more like a terrorist in the months to come, setting up traps and working on methods of turning the prison against its occupants. I assume Rick chose to maintain the prison as homestead over the now-deserted streets of Woodbury because it's theoretically easier to defend. However, its size and condition also make it impossible to guard completely. Some of us still haven't forgotten about that enormous hole in the wall through which Tyreese and his group first entered the picture, and I'm relatively sure it isn't the only breach of its kind in the complex. They really have their work cut out for them if they want to keep the place secure.

All things considered, the gang will be forced to spend more time out in the open than ever before, and will need to be more on their guard than ever before while they do it. They now have not only an omnipresent foe in the walkers, but also a full-blown psychotic archenemy in the Governor. The stakes have never been higher, and the only concrete choice Team Rick have at this point is to dig in, get organized, and get to work.

And someone really ought to start thinking about a garden. Just saying.

What do you see when you think of season 4, Nik?

Nikki: The original conception of the prison for Rick and company was to have that inner yard act as a garden, and after the Governor blew down their gate they were unable to venture out into the grass to do that. Interestingly, when he showed up again this week and blew all the zombies away, I thought, “Wow, they were able to take care of them in a matter of seconds,” and I wished Rick and company had rushed down after them and re-gated it somehow. They’ll need to reclaim the outer area. And yes, as you say, they need to deal with that rather GAPING hole in the back of the prison by shutting off those parts of the interior. I thought the same thing you did about the food.

First, Rick and Daryl need to hit the road and go pick up the Governor’s vehicles that are abandoned by the road. The sheer firepower in the machine guns on those things could help clear their yard rather efficiently.

But in the long term, like you, I have no idea what’s next. Tyreese and Rick are both strong leaders. Michonne is fully on Rick’s side, and he is now loyal to her after what happened. Not only did she not take him to task for considering turning her over, but she thanked him for taking her in in the first place.

Just before she died, Andrea asked Rick and company about everyone else to make sure everyone was doing okay, and she commented that no one can make it alone now. Daryl corrects her, and says, “They never could.” Every time one person has separated from the group either physically, morally, or philosophically — Andrea, Dale, Sophia, Otis, Shane, Merle — they’ve ended up dead. They need to be together, they need each other, and the bigger the community that Rick can put together, the better off they’ll be. The Governor tried to create a community with Woodbury, but it was his own egotism that got in the way of that success. Here’s hoping our survivors find more success than he did.

I want to thank you for being here for us each week, Joshua, and offering your wonderful perspective on the show. And thank you to everyone for leaving such great comments and reading along!

Josh, any final thoughts?

Joshua: Looking back over the whole of the series, it's clear to me that this last season has offered up the most exciting, expansive and consistent run of episodes yet. There were times last year when watching the show felt more like something I needed to do than something I necessarily wanted to do, but all that changed this season. Here at the finish, I've never felt so engaged by the ensemble or so hopeful for its future. Those who pay attention to such things know that The Walking Dead is getting yet another new showrunner for season 4; that's the third foreman in only three and a half seasons, for those keeping track. However, considering the guy to whom they've handed the reins is also the author of pretty much every one of my favorite episodes from the past two years (to wit: the tale of what Shane did to Otis in “Save the Last One” from season two, as well as the fate of poor Sophia in “Pretty Much Dead Already” and round one of Rick vs. Shane in “18 Miles Out,” and then, from this year, Morgan's return in “Clear” and the sorta-martyrdom of Merle Dixon in last week's “This Sorrowful Life”), I am confident they've made a good choice. The setup for season four is ripe with promise, and if Mr. Gimple can keep the ball on the fairway here, then I think we all have some great television coming this fall.

On a personal note, I've had a terrific time with you guys these past few months, and as ever, I really appreciate both the company and the conversation (as well as the good humor to tolerate all those awful puns every week, to say nothing of my ongoing adjective/adverb dependency issues), and I hope you'll all come back in October. I'll be here, for sure. Because if Nikki doesn't invite me back, I WILL HAUNT HER TO THE GRAVE.

And possibly beyond; after all, I do live alarmingly close to the CDC.

Have a great summer, everybody.


Colleen/redeem147 said...

If Carl is the future of humanity, I'm not sure they should even bother. Wish he'd get out of the house. Get him fitted for a little eyepatch now.

I'm glad the Governor got away. They need some conflict if they're going to stay in the prison, or else next season will be "Gardening tips with Rick - how to keep Walkers out of your cabbages."

Milton had a whole tray of implements. And he drops pliers?

I like what Yvette Nicole Brown said on Talking Dead - aren't they afraid the seniors will die in their sleep and become Walkers? ;)

It looks like they been very close to Atlanta for the whole series. It would be funny if Georgia were actually the only place affected by the virus. :)

I'd like to end with a quote from Angel. "If nothing that we do matters, then all that matters is what we do."

Efthymia said...

Well, that was...unexpected.
As I don't live in the US (or Canada), I don't watch the show live on TV but through more...controversial means the next day. So, when I watched the episode, it wasn't followed by credits and then by the Talking Dead but it was just done, and I was sure it must have been a two-parter and I had somehow missed that info, and for a while I actually looked for part II.

There was a war online (quelle surprise!) of "This episode was lame! -No, it was the best episode ever, you're stupid! -No, YOU're stupid, because the majority thought it was awful and it's the majority that keeps a show alive, moron! -No, YOU're the moron, once the majority thought the earth was flat, true fans found this episode awesome!" (I didn't make up these arguments); I don't stand on either side, but the episode did leave me...unfulfilled?
The thing is, producers, writers & actors alike kept talking about death and heartbreak regarding the end of Season 3, and I was SO tense throughout the episode, and every time Glenn was on screen I was freaking out ("No, don't take your helmet off, NOOOO!!! Oh, nothing happened.), and in the end all that tension didn't get to be released. Where was all the death and heartbreak? Because if we're talking about the Woodberrites, no one cares, and if we're talking about Andrea and Milton I'm pretty sure 99% of the viewers saw that coming, and even those for whom these deaths would be sad had prepared themselves. Don't get me wrong, I'm ecstatic that my favourite characters survived, and I understand why such a route might have been chosen, but I still feel as if this great season just fizzled out.

Regarding Andrea, way to make her frustrating even at the end -"Hm, this guy is about to turn into a zombie while we're in this enclosed space and I'm handcuffed to a chair, I should explain to him why I did everything and try to excuse myself instead of concentrate ALL MY EFFORTS on getting these pliers and freeing myself". Ugh! Honestly, even though I liked Andrea only during the just-six-episodes first season and was annoyed by her during the longer seasons 2&3, I didn't want her to die. I'd have liked her to get a chance to redeem herself and be one badass lady -therefore making a potential future demise heartbreaking indeed- and I'm disappointed that they killed her off this way.

Carl really is creepy and scary at this point, but the biggest problem is that nobody ever tries to talk to this kid and understand him. If he ends up the Governor 2.0, a large part of the blame will be theirs.

Sorry for the humongous post!

Anonymous said...

Great recap as always you two. Some observations:

I thought throughout the season they really tried to say that Rick and the Governor really aren't all that different. But the last few episodes really seemed to want to hammer the point home that Rick = good and Governor = bad.

I think Carl did the right thing - if the kid had dropped the gun like Carl said to he'd be alive.

Were Maggie and Glenn purposely not trying to hit any of the Governor's people just scare them away? Either that or they are terrible shots - I didn't see any of them get hit.

Yay - a boatload of new Redshirts!

Seriously - not ONE of the Governors 15 or 20 people he was mowing down thought "I'd better shoot back!"

Easily the best season of TWD so far.

Can't wait for Mad Men!

-Tim Alan

Rebecca T. said...

I do agree about Carl, but the comment I made was - I don't like the fact that I think Carl did the right thing. But that guy was not surrendering. You don't hand a gun over like that. After everything that has happened with the people of Woodbury, there was no other option.

The scene of the Governor shooting his people made me actually ill, but the thing that bothered me the most was the way the two "sidekicks" just stood there watching it, and then just got in the vehicle with him. It was so much worse. The Governor is a sociopath - but they (especially the one who was also at the Rick/Governor meeting) is presented with a modicum of humanity and I don't know how they could just stand there and ACCEPT it so easily.

And was I the only one who was screaming at Glenn and Maggie to GET DOWN? I couldn't believe they were so casual and sure that they had chased them off so quickly. It hasn't been that long since the one inmate got shot in the head from a sniper in the woods - why would they assume everyone came with the trucks? A number of things just felt off about that attack/response to me, but a big part of that could have just been my expectations for a giant battle scene.

But I love this show and am so glad I caught up mid season and that there are people here to talk about it with since no one I know watches it!

Nikki Stafford said...

Rebecca T: I totally agree. I hate being the one saying, 'Yeah, the 12-year-old who shot the guy point blank between the eyes? Totally OK.' Because it's not OK... but it's not the wrong response. Andrea couldn't do it, and so many people died because of her inaction. Carl did it, and saved the lives of himself, Hershel, Beth, and who knows who else.