Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Walking Dead 4.08: Too Far Gone

And… welcome to the midseason finale wrap-up of The Walking Dead, where I’m joined as always by my co-host, Joshua Winstead. This week we look at the war that last week’s episode led to, and the horrifying fallout. If you’re reading this on Facebook, please click on the link below to go to the full article.

Nikki: A mother loses her daughter on a riverbank. Two girls watch their father lose his head. A father finds his infant daughter’s baby seat empty and covered in blood. And the Big Bad Governor — the one-eyed king — is taken down by two women, one holding a sword, the other a gun. Yep, turns out that chess metaphor was apt; in chess, the king is rather weak, able to move only one square at a time while the rest of the pieces shield him. The queen, on the other hand? A total badass.

Last week Josh and I were quite disappointed in the turn of events. There was a lot of chatter on here about how looking at the Governor trying to redeem himself would have been far more interesting than giving us one taste of redemption and then taking it all away in the next episode. Most of the readers disagreed, and said while good people can turn bad, bad people can’t really be redeemed. Especially when they’re raging psychopaths like Philip. I’ll reiterate that maybe Philip couldn’t have ultimately been redeemed, but watching him just try was fascinating. Imagine if we’d seen him attempt to be the good guy for a full eight episodes, facing loss after loss and heartbreak after heartbreak. The moment when Rick looks at him through the fence and says we can all change, and Philip looks moved for half a second before saying, Liar, and slicing of Hershel’s head would have been a far more powerful moment. But instead we just checked in with him and then checked out. Perhaps David Morrissey was too wrapped up in his new upcoming AMC show (the real death knell of any character) to offer up a full-season recap of this character.

Or, perhaps the writers have recently marathoned the first three episodes of Star Wars and forgot that Vader ultimately picked up the Emperor and tossed him over the railing. The Dark Side can be redeemed!!!

Alas, not on this show, but all that is beside the point this week. Let’s just focus on the events at hand. At the beginning of the season, I joked that the show was becoming so grim I wondered why I was watching it for “enjoyment.” And then it got grimmer. And then the prison setting started getting boring. But then there was hope: they went away for a week to a suburb… but that ended with Carol being let go. Ooh, but then they had that wicked prison episode with Hershel! But… now he’s dead. Ooh, ooh, but… the episode of the Governor becoming Brian! Best episode of the season. Followed by a downer of an episode that was just a repeat of most of the episodes from season 3. And now I wonder aloud — without the irony — why I’m watching this for enjoyment. But by the end of the episode, when I could barely compute what had just happened, when the death toll was so high I felt I had to pull out an abacus just to keep track, I realized I really do care about these characters. I didn’t want to see any of them go; not even the Guv.

I knew the Hershel thing was coming. The moment Rick began his speech about how they all had good in them, about how he refused to be the sole leader, about how they could all work this out together, the camera zoomed in on Hershel smiling. That man never smiles. So I knew that was the end of him. He has quickly stepped up this season to be one of my favourite characters, if not my absolute favourite. “Internment” is one of my favourite TWD episodes yet, and he was the star of that episode. I felt sad and bereft. Of course he had to go: he was the moral compass of the show, and in this world, maybe that just holds you back.

But Judith? The moment Carl and Rick stumbled upon the bloody carseat, and we’d just seen her alive and well moments earlier, I lost it. I started crying. I hadn’t expected that. It caught me off guard the same way Sophia’s death had caught me off guard, but where that death had been led up to by a full season of exposition, this one happened with no notice. And in a zombie apocalypse, perhaps that’s a more realistic death (keep in mind I’m referring to realism within the context of a zombie apocalypse). It was heartbreaking. The kids had been lugging her car seat (jolting that poor baby actor all over the place, I might add!) to the bus when Lizzie stopped them and said no, we need to stand and fight. Was it her little speech that made them abandon the carseat in that spot, leaving Judith alone to be devoured by walkers? I hope not… But then again, the alternative is that those little girls were killed too.

Glenn and Maggie have been separated; Carl and Rick are reeling after the loss of Judith; Tara and Lily have abandoned the rest of their people and Lily has become a killer (interestingly, tough-talking Tara didn’t have it in her, which I thought was a really intriguing turn of events for her character; it’s the first time I’ve liked her); half the people have left on a bus and the other half are still lurking around the prison; the prison itself has been destroyed to a point where no one can use it; and the zombies are coming. I’ll admit, a lot of this fight just felt like the Woodbury war in the prison setting, and I do feel at this point they’re recycling parts of previous scripts, but this season has also boasted three of its best-ever episodes, three weeks in a row: “Indifference” (where Rick abandoned Carol); “Internment” (where Hershel was stuck in the infectious cell block saving lives); and “Live Bait” (where we saw where the Governor had been). And so I’m really intrigued about the change in scenery, about the people being separated again and trying to find their way in the world. What I loved about season 1 was that everyone was apart and had to come together, and they didn’t have one single place to be at. I remember by the end of season 2 I didn’t want to be on Maggie’s farm no more, and the prison was an interesting new setting, but that’s gotten old, too. I’m really excited about them heading out and learning to live from scratch again. But I worry that they’re going to have to inject a wee bit of hope into this world, or it’s going to become too depressing for me to carry on with it. 

Josh, what are your thoughts?

Joshua: I agree that this monumental shakeup was definitely something the show needed, and the timing couldn't be better. You know I wasn't as big a fan of The Governor's comeback tour as you, feeling that “Live Bait” showed promise but was ultimately too abbreviated to carry all the heft necessary to justify giving a maniac like Blake a pass, and likewise being highly disappointed with the uninspired bait-and-switch of “Dead Weight” and its waste of that compelling potential. Similarly, it seemed a huge misstep to risk canceling out the intensity of the season's early character work by leaving the prison for two full weeks right before a midseason finale that would undoubtedly see the deaths of cast members we hold dear, robbing us of the time to build to their exits with more than a handful of moments.

As it turns out, if there was anything this episode lacked, it was certainly not intensity.

There was a mantra I found myself repeating over and over during these last few Guv-centric episodes, and again during “Too Far Gone”: those poor, poor women. As we watched Lily question who this man really was that she'd chosen to trust with the lives of her family, as we saw her fear when he left her behind and her panic and anguish at Meghan's attack and subsequent death, as we witnessed Tara's horror as the prison battle spiraled out of control, all I could think was how tragic his search for redemption had proven to be for the two of them. Since they both survived the bloodshed, I do hope the show decides to check back in with them in the future so we can see how this experience colors their future.

Speaking of bloodshed, we come to the sad end of Hershel Greene. Back when the character was first introduced, the soft-spoken country vet seemed so ill-suited for life in a world like this, and I remember thinking for sure that he wouldn't last long. Against all odds, he wound up not only surviving but becoming one of the most vital members of the group – always watching, always close with the right word or act to help a struggling friend see things more clearly. Regardless of the circumstances, he was able to fight through the anger and heartache and doubt and stand firm in his faith that the end of the world didn't have to mean the end of everything. He was a good choice for an impactful death because of how very much he meant to each one of the group, not to mention the audience, but I will desperately miss the quiet brilliance of Scott Wilson's portrayal from week to week. Daryl said it best, sir: you were one tough sumbitch, right to the end.

Surprisingly, Hershel was the only major death aside from The Governor himself, unless you choose to count Lil' Asskicker amongst the fallen. Though I try to avoid reading any other commentary until after we've written these up each week, I'd imagine there is much debate around the internet regarding Judith's fate. You sound fairly sure yourself, Nik, but I'm not so certain. Rick and Carl's reactions were obviously meant to imply finality, and they were gut-wrenching moments, to be sure, but the mere sight of an empty, bloody carrier is far from definitive confirmation.

For me, there were several hints that things might not have been exactly as they seemed, the biggest of which is that, aside from the bus pulling away, and Rick & Carl's disappearance into the treeline, we didn't actually see any of the other sub-groups leave the grounds. Daryl and Beth seemed pretty close to the fence line, so it's likely they just slipped right out into the woods from where they were, but as for the other two splinters, we have no idea what became of them beyond a certain point. Maggie, Sasha and Bob Stookey were still very much nearby when we last saw them, and Bob's gunshot wound could easily explain the blood on the carrier. It would have been even more difficult for them to try to escape with a gunshot man, a flu-weakened woman, and a baby as well, but it isn't unthinkable.

But most significant in my mind was the way things ended with Tyreese and the girls. After Lizzie shoots Tara's girlfriend, saving Tyreese from where he was pinned down, he yells at them that they have to leave. Then the girls start running, and he yells after them again, saying they're going the wrong way. And that is the last we see of them. This immediately raises the question in my mind of why they would run back toward the building instead of to safety. The obvious answer? Because they're the ones who had been carrying Judith, of course, and that was where they left her. Because they were running back to get her.

I know this is all fairly pointless theorizing based on vague hints and indeterminate details. It's quite possible that only the empty carrier was shown because the minds behind the show, or perhaps the network executives, simply didn't feel comfortable being more explicit. This show, however, has never been one to shy away from rubbing our noses in the ugliness. Historically speaking, such scenarios are left deliberately vague for a reason.

What do you think, Nikki? Am I grasping at straws here, or might a glimmer of that hope you're looking for be possible in an unseen eleventh-hour rescue of the little infant that could?

Nikki: You, sir, have certainly given me hope. I didn’t get to watch the episode until yesterday afternoon, and then my husband watched it last night when I was madly trying to read the next installment of Game of Thrones. This morning he said to me, “So… do you think the baby’s really dead?” When they first happened upon the baby carrier, I thought nah, no way she’s dead. Unless you see the body, they’re not dead. But then Rick and Carl fall apart. And then I realized there would be poetic justice in it: the Governor loses his mind because of losing his daughter, and now Rick, who’s fought such a hard battle to get his mind back, loses his daughter. What will it do to the boys left behind? And it just felt like they were pointing to her death as a certainty.

Also, the last time I was convinced a child was absolutely alive because we didn’t see her die, she dragged herself out of the barn and into the daylight and I wept. A lot.

So at this point, I no longer keep my hopes up. I just let them fall, and maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Could Judith be alive? Absolutely, and GOD I hope she is. I’m hoping the blood in the carrier is just that of a walker splattered all over it, and that Judith had been extracted much earlier. Come on, Tyreese, save Judith!

What intrigues me a lot about the idea of them all being in exile is that now they all share the fate Rick had bestowed on Carol just a few weeks ago. The difference being, she had a car, a full tank of gas, food, and supplies. These people have nothing. I was a little let down by Daryl’s response to Carol’s exile; while I didn’t see him freaking out and killing Rick (he’s too understated a character for that) I did feel like the acting in the scene was a little forced, to be honest, and that Reedus just paced angrily rather than really having much of anything to say. Daryl is stuck though; on the one hand he cares deeply for Carol, but on the other, if Rick is telling the truth, then maybe she’s not the person he thought she was. Notice that Rick didn’t get a chance to tell Tyreese about Carol, and now they’re heading out into the wilderness. What are the chances that Tyreese, now separated from Rick, will encounter Carol and work alongside her, not knowing what she’s done? That might be an intriguing storyline.

I wanted to give one major shout-out to Bear McCreary in this episode. His soundtrack is stunning. From the “Boom… boom…” heart-pounding sound as the Guv stood on the tank shouting at Rick to come down to him, to the sweeping music that played as Rick walked slowly down the hill to meet with him — the music was so ominous, you just knew something awful was about to happen. It was gorgeous, and was matched only by the stunning soundtrack that accompanied the battle scene. It was extraordinary, almost like a character of the show itself.

But, you know, the real question is, who the hell dissected that rabbit all biology-class-like? Has Bob Stookey been spending a lot of time in the basement slowly going mad?

What are your hopes for next season, Josh?

Joshua: Way back at the end of season 2, after things went south at Greene's Farm and everyone got split up, I remember being most intrigued by the prospect of the group staying separated for a while, thus opening up all kinds of new possibilities for story divergence. That wasn't the way things turned out, but I think the odds are better this time. With how fractured the tribe has become in the wake of this catastrophic encounter, and how haphazard was their dissemination, I could easily see several storylines emerge from this point and carry us through not only a wide variety of trials and tribulations, but also the chance to offer new twists in unusual pairings, perhaps an unconventional romance or two, and the enduring promise of joyous reunions down the line.

In short, things haven't been more desperate for the survivors in a long, long time, but things may never have been so exciting and rich with potential for the audience. Rick is shot and half beaten to death with no one but Carl to take care of him. Glenn is still sick and stranded on a bus full of strangers. Sasha is recovering but far from capable, with shot Bob and a grieving Maggie. Daryl and Beth are perhaps the most capable team but both still reeling from their own respective tragedies. Tyreese suddenly finds himself fostering four young girls. None of them (save maybe Glenn's field trip class) have any supplies to speak of. And that's not even taking into account the vivisected rabbit and the many disquieting thoughts it conjures (my vote for the culprit is little dead-eye Lizzie Borden, not weak but “just messed up” – I suppose we'll see). I love your idea of Tyreese finding Carol, too; admittedly the same thought occurred to me, but whatever the specifics, it would seem like a foregone conclusion that she'll pop back into the story somewhere down the line. Her character was just too exceptional to abandon for good.

Which brings us to Michonne. Did anyone see what became of her after she ran Patchy through and then pulled pulp-beaten Rick up off the ground? Another surreptitious disappearance... Perhaps she was the one who absconded with sweet Judith! I love the image it conjures of her, face once again hidden by the old hooded cape, with the baby slung papoose-style over one shoulder and that long katana sheath slung over the other, laying waste to walker after walker like a fallen angel fighting her way back out of Hell.

What's not to look forward to?

Nikki: I, for one, would tune in solely for The Judith and Michonne Show. They could call it “Asskickers Times Two!” (And now you see why I don’t work in television.) But we saw that moment where Beth handed Judith to Michonne momentarily, and how it looked like it was driving a stake through Michonne’s heart. I believe she’s lost a child, and having to have sole custody over Judith might rip her heart out in new ways.

Overall, this first half of the season had some amazing storytelling, a few let-down moments, some plot recycling, but some absolutely gorgeous character pieces. I’m looking forward to the second half of season 4 in a big way, even if I’m still reeling from the horrific events of this particular episode.

We shall see you all again in February! 


Efthymia said...

Apparently, the WD showrunners read my posts on this blog, because I said that I'd rather lose Hershel than Glenn and that I want us to be over with the Governor, and then this episode happened.

When we were first introduced to Hershel, I didn't particularly like him. He was too religious for my taste, he didn't seem too fond of his daughter being in a relationship with an Asian man at first, and he had zombie Sophia in his barn (he didn't put her there himself and he didn't really know she was there, but it was his idea to keep zombies in the barn and not tell the people who were looking for a little girl, keeping their and my hopes up). But I warmed up to him during the past couple of seasons, and he was amazing in "Internment" and I was sad to see him go. Just not as sad as I would have been with some other characters.
What was most heartbreaking was that we saw that smile on his face, expressing his happiness with Rick's evolution and his hope, and we KNEW what was coming. And it did come.

I'm pretty sure Judith is alive -then again, I expected them to find Sophia (non-zombified) in Season 2, so what do I know?

I 've recently had the dea that the person feeding the walkers might be Carl. My theory is that he wanted to have his gun back and be a fighter once again so much that he decided to create a situation where his father would see that he had to let him have a gun and use it. And since Rick banished Carol for being a danger to the group, how would he handle his son being such a danger, if not a greater one?

Ugh, who waits until February?!

Colleen/redeem147 said...

I wouldn't be surprised to see little Judith again. Someone has been doing bad things (like the rats, the dissection) and they may have taken her for a purpose. Hopefully not that latter.

It was interesting watching The Governor. You could pretty much see him lose the last vestiges of his humanity (right before he killed Hershel - the good man Philip couldn't be.)

But I think the most important thing was getting them all out of that prison. It wasn't a safe place (not that there are any - as far as we know.) The illness proved that staying together in a confined space wasn't tenable. From a plot point of view, they need to go out into the world, because the world won't come to them (at least the living world.)

Anonymous said...

Great recap you two - can't wait for February.

Am I the only who expected Daryl to say to Olivia's partner who surrendered only to be crossbowed "That's for taking the kid off the raft". Total Sawyer moment.

I love how they didn't show Michonne fleeing the prison - she just vanished like the Mythical Warrior that she is.

I'm calling it now - Daryl/Beth hookup!

Though the battle seemed far from realistic (Rick wasn't shot by like 8 different people? Michonne just gator rolled out of danger? No bullets went thru the zombie & hit Daryl? Really?)it was intense and fun.

Did they have to kill the sister's hot hookup (no idea what their names are)? Makes me sad.

-Tim Alan

Anonymous said...

Also - on a side note I would've loved the Governor's group living in the next cell block and the Guv always bursting in on Rick and "borrowing" his food and having wacky ideas ala Kramer and Jerry.

Who wouldn't watch this?

-Tim Alan

Christopher Meades said...

I think the prison battle was a great part of the show, but I think it needed to be at the end of the last season. It really let me down, the last prison 'battle' where the Governor's troops fired a few shots & then ran away.
It seemed like the showrunners were making up for a missed opportunity from last season.

Nikki Stafford said...

Christopher: You know, I kind of felt that way, too, but last week, when they showed the preview. After being so disappointed with that episode, they showed the preview for this week (avec battle) and I thought, "Oh, so they didn't kill the Guv last year, realized that was a misstep in storytelling, so they're doing a take-backsies and going back to redo that?" And yeah, it did feel like that a little bit.

I'm intrigued to see if Lily and Tara run into our prison escapees and bond with them somehow.

Austin Gorton said...

As exciting as the last half of the episode was (and as happy as I am that the show is finally free from the yoke of the Governor, who could have been a great recurring villain but whose potential was wasted the moment that turned him into a cackling mustache-twirler), it was nevertheless very frustrating for the way it underscored my biggest issue with this series as a whole: there's no endgame to it.

Given the relative reprieve the characters experienced at the prison, I was hoping we'd moved into a phase of the show in which the overarching plot involved the characters trying to eek out a society in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. This episode instead confirmed the prison was just the latest (and longest) iteration of the show's apparently-neverending cycle: some combination of characters (including Rick, Michonne and Daryl with the rest of the membership varying) come together, find a safe haven, settle in for some moral debates before an external threat scatters the group, leaving them to once more find each other and a new haven, starting the whole process over again.

Apparently that's all the series is ever going to be, for as long as it remains profitable and on the air. And that's kind of disappointing. I don't expect the zombie virus to ever get cured or anything (that's way too top-level for this show), but it's disappointing to realize that the only narrative momentum this show will ever have is how long the group gets to stay at one safe haven before the plot gods arrive to shake things up and reset to step one.

There's enough cool moments that occur amongst those repeated bits of micro-plot to keep me watching (I mean, Daryl single-handedly killed a tank!), but it's getting increasingly hard to be really excited about this show.

A few other thoughts:

I'm in the group that didn't think for a second that Judith was dead, even though I believe that Rick and Carl will believe her to be dead for awhile. I just figure she's off with one of the scattered groups, maybe even Lilly.

Why did the Governor kill Hershel and not Michonne? Not only does he have a personal beef with Michonne (while generally seeming to like, or at least respect, Hershel), but Michonne is the more obvious threat, especially since Hershel is old and crippled (I mean, I know why: because Michonne is one of the show's bread-and-butter characters and they weren't going to kill her off. But why in the context of the show?).

the prison itself has been destroyed to a point where no one can use it

Was it though? As presented, it was overrun by zombies, and it looked like the main cell block (C?) had some wholes in it. That still leaves a whole lot of prison they could still use.

Granted, the group will need to reconvene, then work to once again clear the prison of all the zombies drawn to the place by the fight, and work to get the fences back up (or build moats like at Martinez's camp), but it's possible. It's not like the place was razed to the ground...