“We’re not too far gone. We get to come back.” — Rick Grimes
The Walking Dead had it’s mid-season finale over this past Sunday and like previous mid-season and season-ending finales of the past three season this one went for the gut-punch. Season 4 of the show has seen a major improvement in how the writers were finally treating some of the major characters on the show.
The first five episodes were pretty much using a plague situation within the prison community to explore the growth of some of the lead roles in the show. We saw how Rick tried to escape the burdens of leadership by attempting to just be a farmer and a good role-model for his son Carl. It didn’t necessarily work out the way he wanted it to. In the end, Rick finally realized that leadership was what the group needed from him and what he was really best suited for.
We saw a major character shift in one of the show’s less realized characters in the past meek Carol Pelletier. This season we see how she has grown into becoming just as much a cold, calculating survivor as The Governor, but still retaining some of the humanity the latter seems to have lost when the zombie apocalypse happened to the world. It was a surprise to see Carol in such a new light. A person who would do anything to protect the group with special attention to the young children — especially two young girls — who have survived this far into the zombie apocalypse.
Then we had Hershel finally get to have his time in the limelight. Episode 5 has been a near-unanimous choice as the strongest episode of the first half of the season and nothing about the mid-season finale changes that. That’s how good “Interment” really was in the overall scheme of this new season’s first half. We saw Hershel finally become the show’s moral center but one that didn’t have the rigidity of ideals that Dale had. Hershel kept his humanity but also knew that this new world meant having to put one’s life on the line and not just pay lip-service to one’s ideals. I know that Dale would’ve done the same, but we never truly saw him put it all out there. He was great with the speeches, but the writers could never have him act on them. With Hershel they were able to reset the show’s moral compass and write the role properly.
The last two episode saw the return of The Governor. It was a peculiar two-parter which focused only on the return of Season 3′s main villain. Scott M. Gimple and his crew of writers tried to dial back the cartoonish way the character had become a villain by the end of Season 3. They tried to put the character back on the road to redemption. They even gave him a new surrogate family with a young girl who looked eerily like his previous daughter pre-zombie. Yet, while the attempt was an interesting one the character arrived full-circle to the very Governor we first met in the early episodes of Season 3. He wasn’t as mustache-twirling evil that he had become by the end of last season, but that redemption road that episode 6 and 7 was all about ended up being a red herring.
Now, we come to the mid-season finally which literally reset’s the finale of season 3. It was a finale that was underwhelming at best. The war between Rick and the Governor never truly materialized. This was finally rectified with the arrival of the Governor and his new band of camp followers but this time he has a tank. It’s a scene straight out of the comics and it was one that readers and fans of the books have been waiting for years to happen.
“Too Far Gone” marks a turning point for the series in that we finally leave another fixed location but do so with some major characters never to return. It was an episode that started off like a sizzle reel of every complaint detractors have about the show. Dialogue that went nowhere and just seemed to spin the episode’s wheels to fill time. Yet, as the episode progressed the entirety of the first half’s story-arcs began to take shape.
Rick was willing to share the prison with his worst enemy. He wasn’t too far gone that he would put himself as innocent of doing some heinous things to survive. He might not like the Governor, but for the sake of both groups not killing each other he would swallow his pride and accept everyone. The prison has room for everyone and the didn’t need to interact. It’s a major character growth for Rick who always saw his group as the good guys in any conflict. But like any leader he was getting tired of the battles that hurt only the survivors. The real threat were still the zombies who were slowly gathering outside. Hershel’s reaction to finally seeing Rick realize that one didn’t have to sacrifice their humanity to survive in this new world was one of the most poignant scenes in the series to date.
What followed it moment’s later would become one of the most heart-wrenching scenes of the series and one fans of the books were dreading to see.
Hershel was the MVP of this season’s first half and it was only appropriate that he went out in such a memorable, albeit very gruesome manner. It’s not often we see someone decapitated on any tv show. What had been an episode that threatened to meander just the way the finale of season 3 ended up doing instead became a final 20-minutes of intense action that saw both groups fail to hold onto the prison and the survivors scattered to all points of the compass. In the comics, this particular story-arc saw Lori and Judith die just when readers thought they were about to be safe from the battle. With Lori already dead a full season ago the only question which remained during this mid-season finale was whether the writers would actually pull off the unthinkable and do the same to tv version of Judith.
Children have never been seen a sacred cows on this show, yet infants seemed to remain safe. The episode ends with the question of whether Judith is dead or alive hanging in the air. It’s to the visceral power that this show brings to the table that peope will wait the near to three months of hiatus before the show returns of the second half of season 4. The show will remain one that’s obsessed over by the general population while derided by a minority who have valid complaints about it.
“Too Far Gone” could almost be the motto of this show. Any sort of major change on how the show’s stories has been told might be too late to implement. The fans like the show for it’s violence, gore and the soap opera stories. It’s not perfect television, but it is television which seems to have grabbed, caught and held the attention of not just the American tv viewing public but the global tv viewing public. Maybe, it’s just time to just make the that decision each viewer has to make. Either stay on the ride and hold on until the rollercoaster ends or jump off now and forever hold their peace.