Regardless of who’s been at the helm, The Walking Dead has always excelled at beginnings and endings. Frank Darabont gave us an unforgettable pilot and ended the first season with a literal bang as the CDC was blown to tiny pieces. The second season opened with our heroes on the run. They learned about the walkers’ tendency to herd and lost Sophia in the chaos that ensued.
Glen Mazzara took over in the second season and oversaw its finale, where the herd would find Herschel’s farm. After a torched barn, several people dead and Andrea on her own, the group was on the run once again. Mazzara’s final episode was tonight, as was Andrea’s. What we all assumed would be the final showdown between Rick and The Governor was full of surprises.
The episode, written by Mazzara, opens with The Governor torturing Milton. His justification for who he’s become is the claim that if he’d turned into this earlier, his daughter would still be alive—scared of him, but alive. It’s the sign of a well-written character that he’s got a reason, at least in his own mind, to act as he does.
He puts a knife in Milton’s hand and tells him that he’s not leaving the room until he kills Andrea. Of course, he means for Milton to do it alive or undead, and Milton—trying to stab The Governor—inadvertently chooses the latter. Milton, the weak, frightened, brainy lackey, becomes a hero in the end. He owes The Governor his survival (on his own, he’d last about as long as Beth would). But he also sees how the man he knew as Philip would change. Milton chooses to help Andrea escape and drops a pair of pliers behind her chair to help her get free. There’s redemption, and a gruesome death, in the end.
Back at the prison, it appears that Rick’s group has chosen flight over fight, and Carl’s not happy about it. But when the Woodbury army storms the prison, it turns into a trap. Carl’s anger stems from the fact that he’s not one of the soldiers in the ambush. When Carl and Hershel get a teenager to surrender, Carl shoots him as he’s handing over his gun. When his dad confronts him, he echoes the sentiments of The Governor that you have to kill or be killed.
And that’s become the central theme of The Walking Dead: How do you keep your humanity when civilization has crumbled? Several characters—Shane, The Governor, Allen and Ben, Thomas and Andrew—have chosen the survival of body over their souls, and Carl seems to be teetering on the brink now that Rick has come back from it.
The Governor, however, has leapt completely off that cliff, and when his soldiers question going back to the prison to fight, he slaughters the bulk of them. He feels betrayed by Milton and Andrea and completely snaps. Two of his lieutenants inexplicably stick by him once they realize he’s not planning on killing them. The only other survivor is Karen, who hides underneath the body of one of her neighbors.
With The Governor gone and Karen now rescued, Rick, Daryl and Michonne head to Woodbury where (after a short and futile gunfight) Tyrese and Sasha open the gates for them. They search for Andrea and find her alive in the torture chamber. But Milton bit her before she could re-kill him. It’s a heartbreaking end for the woman who tried to make piece between the two gangs of survivors. She asks Rick for a gun so she can end it all herself.
Who’d have guessed that of the original women in the Atlanta camp—including Lori, Andrea, Amy and Jaqui—the meek and mousy Carol Peletier would be the last woman standing, though she’s no longer meek nor mousy.
Rick, Tyrese and the others return to the prison, along with Woodbury’s children and elderly, further enraging the cold-hearted Carl. But Andrea is gone and The Governor is still out there. It’s now in new showrunner Scott Gimple’s hands to give us a Season 4 opener worthy of his predecessors. We just have to wait for October.