There have been eight episodes in season 4 of The Walking Dead, and by far this season seems to be more about deconstruction, breaking connections, and setting our dwindling number of core survivors out on their own. With little or nothing left to their disposal, the survivors are in the most precarious situation they ever have been in at this point. Also, they are a scattered flock, and we wonder if Deputy Rick Grimes can once again be the Moses to lead his people to, if not the promised land, at least somewhere that other people live and that will establish some long-term stability.
In this series the most dangerous threat has never been the zombies. Yes, their presence is felt, and they remain a danger, but our survivors are adept at dealing with them by now. Rick, Michonne, Daryl, and company dispatch zombies regularly, so much so that it becomes almost like the guy on an assembly line tightening bolts. This is their daily routine, something they are good at doing, but people like Tyrese and Hershel made it known that it was never easy or something they even wanted to do.
The greatest danger is other humans. At this point people who have survived have grown increasingly desperate, with dwindling resources and increasing zombie numbers, the living must prey on the other living in order to take what they have. Never is this more apparent than when the Governor (going by the name Brian that he saw written on a wall) and his new group come across a band of survivors in the woods. When they come back to see what they are doing later, the people have been massacred and their goods taken. It has become a world of every person for him or herself.
The writers took great pains in episodes 4:6 and 4:7 to show the Governor’s side of things. They built up his character in such a way as to garner some sympathy, to give him a new family and group, but then pulled it all away when he started back on his murderous ways. He vows to protect Lilly and her daughter Meghan, and we wonder if he is appreciating this second chance (since he lost his wife and daughter) or is he using it to gain power. It seems by 4:8 that it is a little bit of both.
The Governor has not given up his grudge against Rick and the survivors. He blames them for the loss of Woodbury (where he once ruled with iron fist), he still retains hatred for Michonne (who “killed” his living dead daughter), and he sees the prison as his ultimate prize. He convinces his new group to attack the prison (they have a tank at their disposal). He promises there will be no blood, that they will force the others out, and take the prize he has always wanted.
There is just one problem. He has kidnapped Michonne and Hershel and promises them no blood will be shed. Michonne is like a trapped tiger; she wants to kill him (she hasn’t forgotten what he did to Andrea). Hershel, the ever wise and true (to use a battered term) moral compass in the series, tells him they can live together. The Governor says it’s impossible, and we can tell which way this will go.
In the prison there has been some stability, but they had the infection that nearly wiped everyone out, and then there is unrest in the ranks. When Rick discovers Carol killed two infected people and burned their bodies, he banishes her from the prison. He worries about what Tyrese will do when he learns that Carol killed his love, Karen.
So many people have been lost at this point. That when the Governor pulls the tank and his minions up to the front gate, my first thought was that Rick might finally acquiesce. There is just too much lost to lose more. With Hershel and Michonne bound and ready to be executed, I felt that Rick would give, but instead he rises to the challenge of true leadership.
Rick explains why they can work together and live together. His argument is compelling and valid. Surely as a group they will be stronger than if they fight each other. No matter how strong Rick’s words are, the Governor has already made up his mind. As he stands with Michonne’s katana sword hovering over the kneeling Hershel, Hershel smiles as he hears Rick’s speech. He has always been Rick’s mentor, and now the teacher is assured that his words have been absorbed. Rick will lead and continue with Hershel’s philosophy as he goes.
Then the proverbial crap hit’s the fan. The Governor almost decapitates Hershel, the guns start blazing, Michonne attempts to escape, and it is really a viscious battle. Despite having the tank, slowly the Governor’s side is eliminated. Meanwhile, Lilly and Megan who did not accompany the group to the prison, have had their own horror to deal with. Meghan is bitten on the shoulder while playing near the pond, and Lilly carries her lifeless body to the battlefield.
The Governor, who had kept his biological daughter Penny “alive” after death, has obviously learned from his mistakes. He shoots Meghan without batting an eye (remember he only has one), and Lilly looks on in horror. There is no turning back and, as the title of the episode clearly captures the essence of things, “Too Far Gone” describes every character and the resolution of the battle.
As the Governor and Rick finally have their one-on-one fight, Rick seems to be winning but then the Governor gets the best of him. Just when it seems he will tear the throat out of Rick (as he did with the walker in the pit in 4:6), Michonne runs him through with the katana he used to decapitate Hershel.
Rick’s crew wins the battle, but loses the war as someone has driven away with half the camp in the school bus. Rick and Carl find baby Judith’s car seat empty and bloody, and Tyrese is saved by the kids Carol adopted as her own. At this point people are scattering, the center has collapsed, and the prison is overrun by walkers.
Lilly stands over the dying Governor on the battlefield. She raises a gun and finishes off the man who had been her lover and sworn protector of her child. There is some catharsis in this, almost as if Andrea (the Governor’s other abused lover) was there in spirit pulling the trigger with her.
At the end Carl helps the stumbling Rick get away from the fallen prison. As the walkers overwhelm the place they called home, Rick tells Carl, “Don’t look back.” Not that Carl was in danger of turning into a pillar of salt, but there was the idea that civilization had fallen, the world fell apart, and what is next may be worse than what is left behind.
I don’t know about you, but this season has increasingly taken an emotional toll. To lose Carol and Hershel has been hard, but it is even more difficult to imagine baby Judith being devoured. There is also the clear and obvious danger that every survivor now faces, walking into the darkness of a night with nothing but their own hands and experience to keep them alive.
Showrunner Scott M. Gimple promised this early this season when he appeared on the first episode of Talking Dead. He warned that things would get much worse (after Patrick turned into a zombie in the prison shower). Mr. Gimple, you are a man of your word.
Now we have to wait, but only until February. I’m not really sold on these split seasons. AMC saw the benefit of this with Breaking Bad, and it does build up the anticipation of what will happen. It also gives us a long time to think about all the possibilities, but there are these things to think about:
*Who drove the bus away against Maggie’s orders to wait for everyone?
*What happens to the few people from the Governor’s crew now, especially Lilly?
*Did baby Judith die or was she saved by someone?
*Do the survivors have a plan to meet somewhere? I hope it’s not the Big Lot store.
*Who was feeding rats to the walkers and eviscerating rabbits inside the prison?
*Is Carol still alive and is she coming back for “her girls” and what will that do to Tyrese?
*What force killed all those people in the woods and took their things? Will this force reveal itself and be a factor in the rest of the season?
*Can Rick be the leader Hershel always knew he could be?
*Finally, will we ever get to know what’s happening beyond this forest in the rest of the world? Or is this all that’s left?
We will find out all this and more in February, folks. Until then, Klaatu Barada Nikto!
Photo credits: AMC