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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead, "Welcome to the Tombs"

Season 3, Episode 16
Grade: B
Summary:  Well, Season 3 of The Walking Dead has come to an end.  This has been a very inconsistent season with the first half being quite great and the second half floundering more often than not.  The stage had been set over the past three weeks for a huge showdown between The Governor/Woodbury group and the Prison group.  Unfortunately, almost nothing came of this as the episode instead decided to focus more on the development of Andrea, The Governor and Carl.  While there were quite a few bright spots and even though this episode would have done well on its own, it overall made for a relatively weak season finale.

POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD: READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

In the Season 3 finale, things begin to come to a head with the Governor taking matters into his own hands.  As the Governor marches on the Prison, Rick and Carl fight over the decisions the other is making.  At Woodbury, Andrea is pitted against Milton in a conflict only the Governor could devise.


So, what should the purpose of a season finale be?  This could be different things for different shows, but perhaps there are some general "rules" per se that every season finale should follow.  Two basic things that a season finale almost always has to have are: 1. The tying up of several loose ends that had been dangling, possibly, all season, and 2. Setting up future conflict for the coming season.  While The Walking Dead's Season 3 finale does a mediocre job of fulfilling the first objective of a season finale, it does almost nothing to fulfill the latter.

One of the best parts of this episode was easily the opening scene.  While many fans have hated the path the Governor has taken, you cannot deny that David Morrissey plays him to perfection.  The man had been teetering on the bring of insanity for several episodes, but he seems to take the plunge right from the get go this week.  Part of what makes a villain a believable one is that they have to know that what they are doing is the absolute best route of getting what they want.  What does the Governor do at the very beginning of this episode?  He tells Milton that, were his daughter still alive, she would be frightened of the man he had become...but she would also still be alive if he had been behaving this way from the get go.  Right in this moment, we as an audience can see that this man has not only gone crazy, but has become the worst type of crazy...he does not realize his insanity.  More on this below.

Another strong aspect of this episode was, surprisingly, the development of Carl.  Ever since Season 2, Carl had become a bit of a running joke among Walking Dead fans.  You could not go anywhere around the Internet last summer without running into at least one "Why isn't Carl in the house" joke.  Some of the jokes about the character come from the fact that Carl can be a bit of a jerk.  This is to be expected.  Not only is Carl's comic book counterpart similar, but he is also a child.  Kids can be jerks sometimes, especially when they have witnessed so much of their world fall apart and have had to grow up so fast.  What is interesting to see in this episode, however, is to see how far Carl has really come in three seasons.  Sure, he does a few things that are pretty annoying from time to time, but he has ultimately become a very mature character with his own, well thought out views of this apocalypse.  It was at first a bit jarring to have Carl suddenly be the spotlight of the season finale when he had played such a minor role thus far, but it ultimately served to make Carl one of the more interesting characters.  Chandler Riggs will probably never get an award for this show, but we have been able to see him mature as an actor right along with his character.

While this episode had a few other "good" moments, these were often fleeting.  For instance, the Governor and crew come into the Prison with guns literally blazing.  Thanks to some editing tricks, this seemed like this would ultimately be for naught as we had been led to believe that the Prison group had already abandoned their safe haven.  The surprise attack by the Prison group was a nice touch.  Overall this was an action scene that had a great build, but absolutely no climax.  Woodbury's citizens realized that the Prison group was just as crazy as they had been told and abandoned the fight faster than King Arthur against the French in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Despite this act of cowardice coming back to further the Governor's character development, this ultimately made for a very lackluster fight.  Such a conflict had been built up for the entire latter half of the third season, only to end with a less than five minute fight where no one was killed.  Once again, The Walking Dead wastes time.

By far the weakest part of this episode, surprise, was Andrea.  This is a character who started out somewhat likable, developed nicely in Season 2, but ultimately became an example of stupidity throughout Season 3.  Two weeks ago we got a tease that the Governor may be using some of the torture devices he had planned for Michonne on Andrea instead.  While the Governor's plan to have Milton kill Andrea (either as a human or a zombie) was pretty neat, this ultimately became yet another time-wasting story thread.  Throughout this entire episode we were treated to tense scene after tense scene of Andrea attempting to grab a pair of pliers and free herself before being attacked by Milton's corpse.  Perhaps such a set of sequences would have been much more thrilling if the writers had not made Andrea an utterly unlikable character.  Andrea's death will most likely be praised by fans instead of mourned.

For the remained of this review, allow me to examine a running theme I have noticed in this season: Shakespeare.  While my degree in English may have something to do with this, I have noticed a lot of Shakespearean elements used throughout Season 3 of The Walking Dead.  Shakespeare is an often called upon muse, and who can blame such writers?  The Bard knew how to write a tragedy, so it only makes sense that one would want to take their cues from him.  During this season, there have been many things which felt like homages to the work of Shakespeare, even if they were not intended as such.  Rick's visions of Lori are very reminiscent of both Hamlet and Macbeth.  Both men were driven mad by the haunting image of a ghost, and we see even in the finale that Rick is still dealing with his visions.  Even the weak development of Andrea could be seen as Shakespearean, especially when one considers the rather unlikable character of Ophelia.  But perhaps the biggest parallel between The Walking Dead and Shakespeare this season would be the development of the Governor.

The Governor may not have been the protagonist of this season, but he had a story arc that fit the best of Shakespeare's tragic heroes.  As the Governor revelled in his madness, there are brief glimpses of Lear, Hamlet, Richard III, and Macbeth.  Macbeth's tragic flaw was that of a lust for power, a flaw the Governor shares.  During this episode, we see the Governor's grip on his power begin to fade, and this scares him.  It scares him so much that he lashes out at his own followers, killing them in the middle of a road somewhere between Woodbury and the Prison.  In many ways the Governor was embodying Act V of Shakespeare's Macbeth.  Unfortunately, there is one key difference between the Bard and The Walking Dead: Shakespeare was good.

This season has been fraught with good to mediocre to, sometimes, bad writing.  Although perhaps the writers are not completely to blame.  If you have read my previous Walking Dead reviews, you may have noticed a trend of bringing up the number of episodes each season.  Sixteen is entirely too many episodes for a show like The Walking Dead.  The show flounders over too much room to develop, and could improve significantly with only 10-12 episodes to develop and finish its plot each season.  Fans may not like 10 episode per season, and AMC may not like the smaller amount of money brought in, but it would be the best thing overall for this narrative.  Frankly, The Walking Dead is struggling and it needs someone to save it.  But when you have a show that loses show runners faster than it does walkers, you're in trouble.  

Overall, this could have actually been a decent episode on its own.  Had this been anything other than the season finale, I would have given it an A.  As it was the season finale, unfortunately, I cannot justify anything higher than a B.  The main reason for this is that the episode did not do very much to tie up its loose ends or set up future conflict for next season.  Not killing the Governor will most likely come back to bite the writers, especially with the announcement that David Morrissey will be a series regular in Season 4.  Bringing the citizens of Woodbury to the Prison will do nothing more than give the writers some extra characters to kill off (it is something the comic did/does incessantly).  Last week, I was left with a feeling of uncertainty as to whether coming back for another season of The Walking Dead would be worth it.  The jury is still out on that one.
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