Before I say anything, I think I should mention that last night’s episode of The Walking Dead (“Too Far Gone”) might be my favorite of the whole series. While I’m not sure it was a perfect episode entirely, it was the perfect episode for where the show is at right now. The characters on The Walking Dead always seem to be going through a cycle of building things back up, only to have them torn down again. But I’m not sure they’ve ever had to build back up from events quite as devastating as last night’s.
Following the previous week’s “Dead Weight,” in which the Governor’s power-hungry impulses began to surface once again, “Too Far Gone” found he and his camp trying to invade the prison (lucky they had that tank, huh?), a decision which he was able to persuade them on surprisingly easily. In order to do this, he takes Hershel and Michonne prisoner, then rolls up with his crew and tells Rick if they don’t surrender, he will kill the hostages and then take the prison by force. Rick tries to reason with the Governor, even telling him at one point that they are not “too far gone” to share the prison if he’s willing to lay down his guns. Unsurprisingly, the Governor is in fact too far gone to do this, and in a shocking yet predictable moment, the Governor cuts off Hershel’s head, and his people storm the prison.
One of the interesting things about this episode is that despite it being better than any other in recent memory, it also killed off my two favorite characters. I don’t really know why I liked Hershel that much; he’s pretty much followed the same pattern throughout the whole show, i.e. questioning his faith yet in the end choosing to carry on for his loved ones. His systematic ups and downs are not unlike that of the The Walking Dead‘s overall arc thus far. Maybe it was Scott Wilson’s nuanced performance that made me like Hershel so much. Or maybe it was the fact that his character was always at an even keel when everyone else seemed to go over the top. Or maybe it was just that he was a kindly, grandfatherish figure who would be difficult for anybody to dislike. Either way, while I figured that Hershel probably wouldn’t make it to the end no matter where the show went, his death was still a difficult moment. Partly because of the brutal way in which he died, but partly because of what it signified about the Governor as well.
I never really thought that the Governor would turn out to be some good guy and that he’d find a place to settle down with his new family and that everything would be okay for him. But I thought there was a chance his struggle with Rick over what kind of leader you have to be in this hellish world might last a little bit longer. But as I’ve already said, when the show devoted a few episodes entirely to his perspective, I feared the worst. Sure enough, Michonne puts his sword through him after the chaos at the prison beaks out, and her bloodlust, as well as that of many Walking Dead fans, was finally quenched. It was certainly a fitting way for the Governor to go, although they didn’t stop there.
Earlier in the episode, Lilly fails to save Meghan from a zombie who attacks her while playing in the mud. When she shows up at the prison with Meghan’s dead body, the Governor takes but a moment to look at the girl, who appeared to be his reason for doing all this, and puts a bullet in her heard to make sure she doesn’t turn. It’s a brutal, somewhat confusing moment. In the end, we are left to believe that the Governor’s love of power outweighed that of his love for his people; at that point, nothing, not even the death of his adopted daughter, was going to stop him from reclaiming his throne. So later, as he is bleeding out on the ground after being stabbed by Michonne, it is only fitting that Lilly appears over his head, and puts a bullet in his skull too. As a fan of the Governor, I was not only sad to see the character go, but sad that in the end he let his darker impulses eclipse his better ones, before finally the very woman he had fallen in love with had to put him down for good. Yet even in my disappointment, I can recognize how masterfully the show handled the whole thing. It was a perfect end to his character, complete with the ingenious touch of including a shot of the chess piece with an eye patch that Meghan made for him laying tramped on the ground.
But the episode’s death toll didn’t stop there (in a moment that surely almost gave hardcore fans a heart attack, even Daryl was cornered at one point, yet being Daryl, he managed to survive unscathed). After a knock-down, drag-out fight with the Governor, Rick runs back to the prison to make sure his spawn are safe. Sadly, creepy Carl (come on, he has to be the one killing those rats!) was alive and well, shooting walkers right and left. But all they could find of baby Judith was her bloodied car seat. Up to this point, I can’t think of another moment where the devastation of the show has been so utterly severe. The world of The Walking Dead has always been brutal, but this is first time I can think of where they truly approached Cormac McCarthy levels of despair. Granted, Andrew Lincoln (Rick) and Chandler Riggs’ (Carl) acting chops simply aren’t as good as their peers on other AMC shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. But still, they did their best in the lowest point their characters have gone through so far.
I think my favorite moment of the episode came when we see the mad woman Rick met in the first episode of the season marching back into the prison as a zombie. As the characters’ world burns, and the smoke rises, we are reminded that no matter how long you survive, no matter how much you go through, the odds still have you being beaten down, killed, and turned into just another member of the horde. I must say that despite making odd changes like grouping episodes together and frequently using music to tell us how the characters are feeling, I’m definitely enjoying Scott Gimple’s current tenure as showrunner, and am very excited to see where he will take things from here.
Of course, considering The Walking Dead‘s track record with gotcha moments, things might be completely different when the show comes back in February. Judith might not even really be dead, and we could see her heading to safety with one of the others in the very next episode. But if she truly is dead, this is may be a new dawn for the show. Not that any of the viewers could have been very attached to her at this point, but still, killing a baby is about as depressing as it gets. For a second it seemed likely she would perish when Lori died in child birth, but in the end they didn’t go all in there. Not so with “Too Far Gone.” I don’t know if The Walking Dead will actually kill off any of the major characters in the near future, but after last night’s episode, it seems that much more possible. And for the first time, I’m actually starting to find myself invested in who lives and dies.