Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters.
To kick us off this week, I’d like to practice my Rick Grimes Communication Skills. I think it’ll really get us in the mood to recap “Too Far Gone,” the midseason finale. Here I go.
Stares dumbly for 30 minutes
Tilts face to the side, confused, like a dog who just saw his first glow stick
Shitty speech full of platitudes punctuated by bouts of heavy breathing
Eyes wide in an expression of total shock as a crazy person does something crazy
Thank you for enduring that, Josh. I had to pay $50 for the instructional DVD, so I appreciate your patience.
On a serious note, do you think people inside the prison inwardly cringed when the Governor asked Rick to speak with him? Do you think the people from the new camp were like, “Wait, why did they send the mute simpleton out to negotiate? Is this some kind of trick? He can’t legitimately be their leader, right?”
My point is that for those of us who try to defend Rick (and/or the man who portrays him, Andrew Lincoln), we just had our Waterloo. This may seem like a weird topic to lead with, when so much else happened in a legitimately fun and insane episode, but my God, the man even gets beat up dumbly! If Rick was Obama, and he tried to set up a health care website, it would be a used band-aid sitting on top of a rock with the words “zommby r bad” scrawled in the dirt nearby.
Look, I still have a soft spot for Rick, and I’ll probably try to defend him again in the future. He’s had his moments. But this was weak sauce all around.
NOW THEN. The Governor is dead! His whole army is dead! Judith is maybe dead (low blow, Walking Dead writers, though I suspect it’s a fake-out). HERSHEL IS DEAD, JOSH. I know we expected that one after his Florence Nightingale act in the prison, but it still hurts to see the old man go. And as a last memory, I want you to go back to the scene when the Governor smashed Michonne and drew his gun on Hershel, and notice how fast ol’ quickdraw got his gun out. Too late to do anything, but he had the reflexes of a panther. I’ll miss him.
I should probably think of something intelligent to say about “Too Far Gone,” since there was a bit of moral philosophy underlying the nonstop action. The main theme, of course, is right in the episode title, and two key lines hammered it home. First, when Lilly finally starts to question his actions, the Gov delivers his blunt thoughts about fate vs. free will: “It was always going to be this way.” And then, when Rick gives the speech about how everyone can change (which I’m pretty sure he stole from Rocky IV, by the way), the Governor whispers the word “liar” and uses Michonne’s sword to kill Hershel. So, there’s the rub. He’s past the point of redemption and change, and even though he had a chance to become a new man, he reverted back to his evil self at the first opportunity. Not a super complex message, but then, we never really needed that. We just needed to see the Governor die.
And die he did. On one hand, I’m glad Michonne got to deliver the decisive blow. On the other, I can’t be the only person disappointed that we didn’t get some fatalistic dying words, can I? I would have paid—and I would still pay—$345 to see the Governor glare at Michonne, smile, and say, “We’re not so very different, you and I!” But it was a silent death, and it was Lilly, having just watched her daughter die, who snuffed out his life for good. I have to admit, I’m pretty surprised the Governor odyssey is over; it makes sense, but at the same time, he’s such a great character that you almost expected the writers to keep him alive for some future twist.
I’ll kick it back to you now, but as a final thought, I think that when we look back on the Governor’s tactical legacy, we’ll see him as one of the worst evil geniuses in evil genius history. His modus operandi is basically to come up with a so-so plan, and then abandon it the minute he gets angry at something in favor of a really stupid, really rash move that gets everyone killed. If you fight on the side of the Governor, you are totally screwed. (As of last count, I think only the sisters survived from his army.) You might get led into a really unfavorable battle, but that’s only if you’re lucky; there’s a 40 percent chance he’s going to kill you himself. And yet, despite his constant failures, I also think we’ll see him as one of the most charismatic evil geniuses ever. How does he keep convincing people to join him, much less follow him into action?
He’s essentially an Ahab character, and Rick and the prison are his white whale. And now I kick it back to you, the Ahab of Paste. (Our white whale is trying to get a series of goofy photo booth snapshots with Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum.)
SO MUCH JUST HAPPENED! The Walking Dead goes biggest when it comes to finales, and this mid-season ending certainly lived up to the action of prior finales, even if its message was pretty straight forward. But I’m glad you led with Rick’s speech. I thought he was smart to try to unsettle the Governor’s troops, but he really should have just said, “Look, last time we fought your leader—The Governor—he murdered his own people. He locked his girlfriend in a room with a zombie when she learned what a monster he was. How well do you really know this guy?”
This wasn’t an episode that did a ton of deep digging, but I do love how the writers gave us a group of mostly normal folks just trying to survive. They were unfortunate that the charismatic leader they decided to follow turned out to be a psychopath who—even if he’d won—is destroying the prison so it won’t be of use to anyone. And when he decapitates a kindly unarmed old man and shows his stripes, that doesn’t stop them from blindly following him into battle. History is littered with people following the orders of madmen, and that doesn’t really change in the apocalypse.
Okay, that’s as philosophical as I think I’m going to get. Now let’s get to the crazy-ass action. There was that terrifying hand rising out of the ground when Meghan was reading the “WARNING FLASH FLOOD AREA” sign. You knew that having a little girl digging in the dirt wasn’t going to end well. There’s a post-apocalyptic lesson here, too. If you have a gun, don’t run towards your child to try to pull the zombie off. You shoot from distance.
There was Lizzie and Mika, child soldiers, saving Tyreese. The children are all now on their own, hopefully with Judith and Tyreese. Lizzie never ceases to be terrifying. The other two kids ran away, but the Samuels sisters didn’t flinch. I think they really were meant to be with Carol.
Then there was Carl the eternal badass—still a child soldier himself, but a seasoned one. Things might have gone smoother if he’d just taken out the Governor at the beginning of all this like he wanted to. Again I’ll lobby for Carl I, King of Georgia. Daryl was also Chuck Norris-tough, shooting a zombie through the brain, using him as a human shield, tossing a grenade at his attackers and then tossing another down the barrel of the tank.
I think we both expected to be losing both the Governor and Hershel in this episode. Herschel died with a smile on his face, knowing that he’d mentored Rick well—hey, he was his spiritual guide, not his public speaking coach—and knowing that Rick has been redeemed, while the Governor has spit in the face of redemption. “Brian” knew that he couldn’t keep the myth of his happy family together while Rick (and the truth of his past) was still alive. So before he lost his grip on another clueless herd of sheep, he had to start a war. Once he saw that his new “daughter” was dead, he only wanted to bring about destruction. We finally got to see the Governor and Rick duke it out, after both had taken a bullet. And we got to see Michonne get her revenge, after the Governor brought up Andrea.
In the end, it was Lilly who put a bullet in his head, echoing the Governor’s reaction to Meghan’s zombie bites. She looked as if she finally saw clearly who he was.
So goodbye, Hershel. Goodbye, Governor. And most significantly for the second half of the season, goodbye prison.
You nailed it. Like a politician in a tight race, Rick definitely needed to conduct a last-minute smear campaign on the Governor. You have to imagine even the staunchest fighters in the group had their doubts about him, particularly with the two previous group leaders being murdered within days of each other, and dropping some info about how the Governor went genocide wild on his last group, or kept heads in aquariums, would have tipped the balance.
You mentioned Lizzie, which leads me to another strange little plot point—who the hell is making psychopathic dead rat art? Now that we know it wasn’t the Governor feeding rats to the zombies, and whoever did is still alive, we have an internal enemy that I imagine will become a major plot point of the season’s second half. At this point, anyone with a brain suspects Lizzie first, but now it kinda/sorta feels like she might have her act together. If it’s not her, then who?
Speaking of Lizzie’s heroics, it appears Carol’s extremist methods served a purpose—the writers exonerated her to some degree by showing how her lessons influenced Lizzie and the other kids and saved Tyreese’s life. Maybe you don’t have to murder your pals the minute they start coughing, but there are situations where it doesn’t hurt to be remorseless. And there’s a nice bit of irony there, too; Tyreese will surely go into a murderous rage when he finds out Carol killed his lover, but she ended up becoming his guardian angel. Without her, he’d have been shredded by crazy Marine girl.
So, have you done a total 180 on Carl like I have? He’s become a lot less annoying as he’s grown up. I actually had to think back to the time when we all hated him, and now it seems like he’s a totally different person. He’s also, incidentally, a lot tougher than his old man in some critical ways. But without Rick’s sense of right and wrong, we saw what Carl might have become last season when he killed a fleeing Woodbury soldier in cold blood. He’s more balanced now, and it actually got to me a bit when he started crying for Judith after emptying his rifle into the dead zombie. Carl got to me, Josh. What have I become?
As for Meghan, sacrificial Governor’s daughter number two, I think the lesson goes beyond whether to shoot or run. I think the lesson is, hey, you’re living in a zombie apocalypse. How about you don’t let your kid play by herself? Ever? Until she’s 30? How about you write a terrible sitcom called “Eight Rules for Never Letting My Pre-Teen Daughter Leave My Sight” and then act it out every day for the rest of your life?
Question for you, Josh: You are the Governor. You don’t care about human life. Your job is to take over the prison without damaging the structure. How do you do it? This is your chance to re-write history!
I can’t stop thinking about Lizzie pulling that trigger. You say Carol’s survivalist training served its purpose, and yes, it saved Tyreese’s life, but at what cost? The normal reaction from kids in a situation like that is what Luke and Molly did—run! Not to put a bullet into the brain of a stunned woman. Here’s a wild-ass theory: Carol didn’t really murder those two sick patients—Lizzie did, and Carol was just covering for her, dragging the bodies outside and burning them.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “There’s a flaw in your logic, Josh. And that’s that you continue to make predictions when exactly 0% of them come to pass.” But all it takes is one correct one for a little Internet fame, Shane. I get this one right, and suddenly I’m the Nate Silver of the whole zombie TV genre.
All I know is that Lizzie is suspect #1 when it comes to rodent art. And of all the survivors, I fear most for Tyreese, who probably thinks he’s protecting the kids at this point. But who’s protecting Tyreese from them, Shane?
And while I, like you, would have loved some parting words from the Gov, I was most disappointed that he took a bullet in the head at the end. No Return of the Zombiegovernator—His memory may be gone, but that doesn’t mean it’s not personal. Wow, that’s a clunky tagline. Still, zombie with an eyepatch? How did the writers not let that happen?
Okay, on to your question. If I’m the Governor tasked with taking over the prison, the tank isn’t as powerful a weapon as surprise is. A full-frontal attack only destroys the prison—and you see how well that worked. They’re well-supplied, and we’re not, so a siege doesn’t make much sense. I dispatch Hershel and Michonne in the woods and then cut through the fence and start picking off the rest of the troops one by one. I’d ideally want a crossbow, but Michonne’s sword would also be handy. I’d sneak the snipers in place for when I was finally discovered. That prison would have been mine by lunchtime, and I wouldn’t have left Meghan playing by herself in the mud, so I’d be smoking a cigar in the warden’s office as the sun set—or, since I’m a psychopath in this scenario, raiding a pet store for aquariums.
Now one for you. We have several groups of survivors, scattered to the winds. I count:
• The bus: There are still prison extras! I don’t know who most of these people are other than Jeanette and Glenn. Why would Glenn have let them leave Maggie and Beth? I guess he was just too weak. I miss badass Glenn.
• Maggie, Bob and Sasha
• Daryl and Beth
• Rick and Carl
• Lizzie, Mika, Luke, Molly and Tyreese (and Judith?)
• Lilly and Tara (assuming they found each other and are still alive)
So which group would you feel safest with? Rank them least to most.
They are indeed scattered to the winds, and while I think some of those groups should theoretically unite pretty quickly, I’ll pretend for the sake of argument that they’re all on their own. Here’s my order, worst to best:
8. The Bus – A bunch of sick people, some kids, and the coward who drove off without everyone? No thanks. We’re all going to die, and I’m going to have to feel real guilty about not protecting the kids to boot. (And you’re right, where the HELL did those prison extras come from?! I feel like they just faked a bunch of new characters for the battle. Hilarious.)
7. Lizzie, Mika, Luke, Molly, Tyrese, maybe Judith – Again, I’m happy the kids stepped up, but I want no part of this group, especially if Lizzie is going to peel all my skin off and stitch it into the shape of a rat in some bizarre ritual.
6. Rick and Carl – This has “emotional meltdown” written all over it for Rick. He’ll be talking to ghosts for at least a year. Carl is going to have to shoot him.
5. Lilly and Tara – One is mourning her daughter and will probably be catatonic, the other freezes up in battle. Sounds like a great team!
4. Carol – “Carol, it was a sneeze! I swear I’m not sick! IT WAS A SNEEZE!”
3. Daryl and Beth – Daryl’s a badass, but Beth is an unknown quantity. Sure, she shot the gun off in the battle, but it was kind of an hysterical, uneven performance. Also, now that her dad’s dead, I’m frankly worried that her depressive tendencies are on the way back. Also part three, if she does keep her cool and it turns out we’re the last three people on earth, let’s be real, she’s going to choose Daryl over me and I’m going to have spend my whole life being a third wheel. I’ll be like my namesake Shane, jealous all the time and brooding, and Daryl will have to kill me in the moonlight.
2. Maggie, Bob and Sasha – Solid group. The women are tough and mentally stable, and Bob is useful for his medical knowledge as long as he can stay sober.
1. Michonne – Are you kidding? Just the two of us, light on our feet, no responsibilities? Just a permit to be as badass as possible? This would be awesome. On a personal level, I’d slowly win her over and watch that classic icy exterior melt until she trusted me with her life.
And then I’d kill her. BECAUSE DON’T YOU SEE, JOSH? I AM THE NEW GOVERNOR! HIS LEGACY LIVES ON IN ME!! HAHAAHLSDFKHALHAHAHAHAHA
Agree with the order? Anything you’d change? Until February, when the dead resume walking, I remain,
I’ll take a bus full of cowardly invalids over Children of the Corn any day. I just hope none of the survivors decide to go for a swim in Lake Pete-on-a-Chain. I am looking forward to the frantic pace of life without prison walls, though. The Governor may be gone, but we know there’s another roving group of bandits out there, and those who’ve read the comics have an inkling who that might be.
Lots of questions to be answered in February. And none of them remotely deep or philosophical, so it should be fun.
In the interim, please don’t die, Daryl Dixon.
Follow Shane Ryan at @ShaneRyanHere and Josh Jackson at @JoshJackson on Twitter.