This week's episode of The Walking Dead gave us the bloody showdown we've all been waiting for, but the outcome still came as a painful shock. Too Far Gone was a breath-taking mid-season finale, the violent culmination of a season and half's worth of bubbling tension between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the Governor (David Morrissey). Like the previous episodes, some moments were far too pronounced (the chess piece on the ground), but in providing us with a heart-breaking farewell to Hershel (Scott Wilson), and a cathartic ending for the Governor, it succeeded on many levels.
Poor Hershel served as the Ned Stark of the episode (for those who have seen Game of Thrones), the level-headed voice of reason whose attempts to broker a peace between the two parties prove futile. You could say his number was up ever since he heroically nurtured the sick in the prison, but watching his martyrdom at the hands of Michonne's (Danai Gurira) katana still felt like a knife to the gut. The moral compass of the show, him and Carol are the only two characters who have really grown over the past few episodes, and for this reason his departure was all the more painful.
Rick desperately pleaded before that they could all live together, that they weren't too far gone, but from watching the last two episodes we knew such words would fall on the Governor's deaf ears. At the start he's back to speech-making again, using his fine oratory skills to rally his group for an attack on the prison. Just like Woodbury they all loyally follow, except for the frowning Lilly (Audrey Marie Anderson), a brunette version of Andrea who starts to realise exactly who he is and says, "You don't have to do this".
The previous two hours of The Walking Dead perfectly set up the confrontation between the two camps, and gave us a complex look at how tragic figures like the Governor are doomed to commit the same evils and make the same mistakes again and again. But by not showing the prison inmates until the attack, it took away a degree of emotional involvement and robbed some of the narrative tension that had existed before.
Threads like Daryl's (Norman Reedus) confrontation with Rick over Carol, Bob's (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) battle with alcoholism, and the anger Tyrese (Chad Coleman) still harbours over Karen's death, were not adequately resolved, and hopefully will be returned to in greater depth in the second half of the season. Instead in this episode we had plenty of gunfights, lots of zombies, and one devastating decapitation.
Excellently directed by Ernest Dickerson, the battle appeared deliberately full of scenes to please the fans, from the Governor yelling atop a tank, to Daryl taking down said tank, and then Michonne stabbing the Governor through the heart. A far more interesting character than the dull Rick, the build-up in the previous two episodes ensured he was granted a brilliant death scene, left to rot by Michonne before being executed by Lilly.
I still don't think we needed to have half a season's worth of material to reach this point. The tension between Rick and the Governor that existed in season three dissipated in to an unsatisfying finale that didn't effectively resolve their feud. It would have made much more sense, and certainly been more emotionally affecting, if this had instead been how the third season ended.
Better late than never I guess. When the show returns in the New Year we'll have the prison abandoned, the various groups split up, and questions still remaining over who was sabotaging the camp and what was happened to Judith? I'm pretty sure she's fine, as it would be very dark for the show to have the baby, a beacon of hope for Rick's group, be killed. With the Governor out of the picture, it also looks like this season will culminate with reconciliation, or confrontation, with the banished Carol.