Looking back over The Walking Dead's grim, gory third season, I'm surprised that last night's finale, "Welcome to the Tombs," was relatively easy on our heroes. Though everything pointed to a bloodbath--including The Walking Dead's overzealous Twitter feed—the finale killed off just one of our longtime main characters: Andrea, a character whose death seemed fairly inevitable, and who we've all been complaining about for a while now. I'll leave it to you guys to eulogize Andrea, but I will say that Laurie Holden is a fine actress—and that her final scenes, which included a clever callback to her introduction in Season 1, were a perfect way to send her character off.
If only the rest of the episode had worked as well. I hate to criticize The Walking Dead as its all-time best season comes to an end, but this was an enormously underwhelming finale. On one hand, I'm glad that the denouement to the prison/Woodbury conflict wasn't too predictable—we've all been assuming for weeks now that Andrea, Rick, or Michonne would stab out the Governor's other eye before the third season came to a close, and that certainly didn't happen. On the other hand, who knew that unpredictability could be this boring? I'm exhausted by the idea that we'll be spending even more time with Governor, a character long past his sell-by date, when season four picks up next fall. As much as we've all been predicting it, the Governor shouldn't have been killed just because this was the series finale; he should have been killed because there's nowhere else for him to go. The Walking Dead isn't above hastily rewriting its characters without explanation—see Carol, Michonne, et al.--but it can't un-crazy the Governor, and any doubts about whether his character had dead-ended were resolved when he blew away the rest of his fellow Woodbury-ians.
I'm particularly frustrated by the Governor because it's so easy to imagine how much more compelling his character could have been. If he'd been a little less crazy--no heads in aquariums would have been a nice start--The Walking Dead could have positioned him as an intriguing, plausible alternative to Rick, instead of a mustache-twirling villain. I'm intrigued by the episode's other major development, which saw Carl needlessly shoot a surrendering enemy because of the potential threat that he posed--but if the show is positioning Carl as a proto-Governor, it should have made the Governor a little less cartoonish in the first place.
I once made the case that The Walking Dead would be better off without series creator Frank Darabont as showrunner, and once again, I think new blood might not be the worst thing for this show. Glen Mazzara deserves ample credit for guiding this show through its best era (the latter half of Season Two and the first half of Season Three), but this final run of episodes has been an absolute mess—and "Clear," the only real standout, was written by The Walking Dead's new showrunner, Scott M. Gimple.
But as I think about where The Walking Dead can go from here, I having a hard time imagining—and, honestly, a hard time caring. The Governor is now some kind of Merle-esque boogeyman, ready to drop back in whenever the series needs an overwrought, overacted villain again. Rick and company are turning the prison into some kind post-apocalyptic Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. If I had it my way, I'd use this (presumably temporary) happy ending to leave our heroes altogether, and pick up the fourth season with an entirely different group of survivors in an entirely different part of the country--but going on the fairly safe assumption that a full-on Walking Dead reboot is out of the question, I'll settle for hoping that Scott M. Gimple has a plan to turn this uneven zombie TV show into the incredible zombie TV show that it's always threatened to be.
Here, as before, Scott carries the burden of fair-mindedness for the Walking Dead Roundtable. I know that the three of us here—Scott, Jeff, and me—brought a common spirit of generosity to the show from he outset and through much of Season 3. But I think Scott has done the best job of maintaining it. Well, Jeff's given him a run for his money. Maybe they tied. I just know that, despite intentions, I've come in by the end of the season dead last.
The Walking Dead just drives me nuts now. I still love its premise; I still love the way the creators established its story; I still love its look and feel; and I still respect a lot of the storytelling it's done from the beginning of Season 1. But I've lost all real confidence in the creative team behind it. Or maybe not all confidence. There's been a flash or two of inspiration lately; and as Scott has pointed out a few times now since the very strong episode "Clear," the fact that it's writer, Gimple, is going to be showrunner next season is an encouraging sign.
But let's take the season finale as an occasion be clear about how far off the show is now from being good TV: The entire plot of this episode was stupidity-based.
All the main action, all of it, happened because someone or another was being catastrophically—even in a literal sense, fatally—stupid. Why does the Governor, after everything the show has done to set him up as a master villain, lead his people into an ambush at the prison? Not just an an ambush, either: the ambush; he put them in the single most vulnerable place he could put them. Totally stupid.
Why meanwhile aren't Rick and his people ready with a more devastating ambush? The stupid attackers escape only because the people ambushing them are too stupid to stop them.
And Andrea ... RIP, Andrea. The one and only reason she is now dead is that after the Governor locked an expiring, soon-to-be-zombified Milton in the room with her, instead of making a priority of hustling with those pliers and freeing herself, she sat there and chatted with him until it was almost too late—Milton even had to tell her, basically, to stop talking and get herself the hell out of there—and then ... it was in fact too late.
Jeff, I put it to you non-rhetorically: How %$#@ing stupid was that?
Scott, you've hit on the exact right course-change that would keep The Walking Dead fresh next season: Drop this entire undeveloped cast of characters and move us to a different part of the country, or of the world, and show us how other, possibly more interesting, humans are faring during the zombie apocalypse. Widen the angle. Cities are more interesting than towns, and towns are more interesting than abandoned prisons, especially abandoned prisons populated by the characterologically incoherent.
I wouldn't be so eager to see how the rest of us are doing at the end of the world (we at the Watergate offices of The Atlantic would be doing fine, I imagine, because, really, the Watergate is too inconveniently located for walkers to walk to, plus there's a vending machine downstairs) if I weren't starved for character development, but there you go—I'm losing interest in the lives of most everyone in the cast. Glenn was utterly delightful in the first season; puckish, adventurous, sardonic, wily. Now he's dour and whingy. And Hershel has been T-Dogged; he just kind of stands around (I will grant you that it's hard for him to move) but he's lost whatever quality it was that made him so magnetic early on, when he was the semi-delusional though upright master of his own little Mandalay.
I must agree that saving the Governor for another season is an act of desperation, a series-elongation device, and nothing more. It would have been much more satisfying to see Michonne dispense with him for good. He's no more interesting than a walker.
As for Andrea—well, she was ultimately the victim of bad writing. The vamp-vamp-vamping this season was most pronounced when Andrea was on-screen. We never were made to understand why she stayed at Woodbury; we never understood why she slept with the Governor, and why she thought about killing the governor, and why—well, you get the point. If she had been played as the ditz she actually was, then I could understand, but her motivation was so poorly described that nothing about her made sense. I thought the set-up for her death was clever, though. But a sadist like the Governor, I think, would have wanted to watch.
Me, I'm not so interested in watching anymore. I'm thinking about checking out of this series. A post-catastrophe world dominated by zombies would be, if nothing else, an interesting place to observe. Somehow, The Walking Dead has made such a place boring.