“In this life now you kill or you die…or you die and you kill.” — Philip “The Governor” Blake
[some spoilers within]
We’ve finally made it to the finale of season 3 of The Walking Dead.
There’s something about tonight’s episode that was both good and bad. It had the hallmarks of this season’s showrunner, Glen Mazzara, who wanted the series to get back down to basics after a season 2 where there had been too much philosophizing and existential angst. Mazzara delivered on bringing more action to the show. The first couple episodes of this season and the mid-season finale episode showed just how action-packed the show could be and fans responded enthusiastically about this change in the show’s narrative.
Yet, with a 16-episode season there was bound to be some break in the action and it’s here that Mazzara still fell in the same trap that got Darabont removed as the showrunner and what I think got Mazzara removed from the position as well. While Mazzara’s leadership of the show’s writers weren’t as bad when it came to the more slower and introspective part of the season he still couldn’t get rid of the meandering and wheel-spinning in some of the less-action episodes. It didn’t help that while most of the characters in the show had made some great strides in characterization the one main lead who remained an enigma and a problem: Andrea.
“Welcome to the Tombs” was suppose to be the main battle that would determine who would come up as winner between Team Prison and Team Woodbury. The assault on the prison by the Governor’s larger force was fast and loud. It was sort of a “shock and awe” tactic that was meant to disorient and put the fear of God in Rick and his people. We see from the episode’s cold opening that the group looked to have voted to leave the prison before the attack and the empty cellblocks seemed to reinforce this point. It sure didn’t make for a battle that was meant to give Mazzara a climactic sendoff as showrunner this season. yet, when things were about to get real disappointing with the empty prison and the Governor and his people entering an even more silent and empty Tombs we finally saw that things were not as they appear to be.
It was a nice change that the prison group decided to stay and fight as a group even when given the chance to vote on their fate. The fact that they knew there were going to be outnumbered and outgunned also forced their hand to be more creative and sneaky in how they would counter the attack on their hard-earned home. It’s a fine and noisy welcome the Governor and his people get while in the Tombs and showed just how amateurish his army really is (with small exceptions to his small cadre of minions) when stacked up against the more veteran and hardened smaller prison group. It’s not a wonder that this supposed battle between the two groups felt more anticlimactic than explosive.
The episode itself was more character-driven than action when one got down to its basic. We learn more of the Governor, Carl and Tyreese than see explosions, gore and action during the episode’s running time. For some this was made for a so-so finale while others probably saw it as a good finale that finished off the troubled character arc for one of the show’s most hated and difficult characters to work with: Andrea.
It was her episode in the end as we finally see the reasoning for some of the ridiculously maddening decisions she’s made this season. While it’s still not easy to forgive the character (or even the actor in the role) we do get a definite answer to the question of why is Andrea so stupid (in the extreme) or naive (when one is more forgiving) in a world that eats up such sentimentality. We saw how Rick had had to adjust his personality and decision making to not allow sentiments to rule his every act and decision and we saw how successful the group became, but also distanced him from everyone else. Andrea was almost an attempt to balance out the craziness that was both Rick and the Governor, but Mazzara and his writers were never able to pull off that job. In the end, she remained a lost chance to creating a very complex character that one could sympathize instead of hating even when her actions were well-meaning and logical.
“Welcome to the Tombs” saw the ending of a third season that went a long way into fixing the show’s problems under Darabont’s guidance, but the added episodes from 13 to 16 also meant that Mazzara’s vision for the show began to run out of steam by the finale thus the more subdued (despite an explosive opening) and pensive finale. While the show’s slogging towards the finale can’t be fully laid at Mazzara’s feet as showrunner one cannot just say that his legacy was righting the troubled ship that was The Walking Dead, but also failing to finally find the right balance between zombie mayhem and action with the drama that comes with people trying to survive in a world irrevocably changed for the worst.
The Mazzara Era of The Walking Dead has come to an end. The show has become even more popular under his guidance, but it has also remained a show which remained quite uneven in how it told it’s story and wrote it’s characters. Mazzara’s leadership went a long way into fixing most of it, but time ran out for him and his vision and tonight’s finale showed that attempts to do stand-alone and more character-driven episodes during the season as a way to fill-up a 16-episode schedule should’ve been set aside for doing a finale that went just one episode. Mazzara had the right idea, but in the end he ran out of things to do to pull it off. Now it’s up to incoming showrunner Scott Gimple to continue the improvements done under Mazzara and see about fixing the rest of the problems the show has with him in charge. Maybe fourth time is the charm.
Yet, despite all this I have a feeling The Walking Dead will remain the most popular thing on TV and will continue to do so whether Gimple succeeds or not. Such is the power of the zombie genre over the imagination of people everywhere.
- Tonight’s episode, “Welcome to the Tombs”, was directed by series veteran Ernest Dickerson and written by season showrunner Glen Mazzara.
- Well, it looks like we didn’t have to wait too long to find out if the Governor will confront Milton about being the traitor. The same goes as to whether Daryl was going to make it back to the prison after the vents of last week’s episode.
- The Woodbury attack on the prison was quite an operation that pretty much forgoes any sort of siege that played out in the comics. Instead the writers decided to go for a more aggressive tactic.
- Nice to see Ma Deuce in action and where the hell did Martinez get his hands on a Milkor 40mm MGL. Weapon laws in Georgia must be much more lax in Georgia than everyone else. It’s either that or he came across a group of dead Marines.
- We finally get to the meaning of the season finale title as the Woodbury group moves deep inside the prison and into the less than secured area that Rick and his people have begun calling the Tombs.
- Some nice trickery from Team Prison to scare and rout Team Woodbury once they were inside the Tombs.
- Once again, it looks like Team Prison needs a lesson in how to kill living people as opposed to zombies. I don’t think they killed anyone from Team Woodbury, except for Carl, once they were running for their lives in the prison yard.
- Governor has gone bye-bye and even his two most loyal mions in Martinez and Bowman could see it with his work on the Woodbury Army.
- Carl has definitely turned into a badass. Quite the boss move (or dick move depending on your stance on Lil Grimes) on the Woodbury teen trying to trick Carl into grabbing the shotgun.
- Tense moments between Milton and Andrea back at Woodbury and the pay off was something that should please Andrea-haters.
- Carl looks to be channeling his inner-Shane or Governor with the little speech about doing what needs to be done to his own father. It should make for an interesting season 4 now that Carl looks to be heading towards amoral territory.
- Love how there’s now a growing rift forming between Carl and Rick. It’s something that was explored in the comic book, but never to a degree that really went anywhere. Here’s to hoping incoming showrunner Scott Gimple does a better job in exploring the father-son relationship in season 4.
- With Andrea’s passing The Walking Dead now has just one member left from the Darabont acting troupe and that’s Melissa McBride.
- Zombie Kill Count of tonight’s episode: Too much to count.
Past Season 3 Episode Review
- Episode 1: “Seed”
- Episode 2: “Sick”
- Episode 3: “Walk With Me”
- Episode 4: “Killer Within”
- Episode 5: “Say the Word”
- Episode 6: “Hounded”
- Episode 7: “When the Dead Come Knocking”
- Episode 8: “Made to Suffer”
- Episode 9: “The Suicide King”
- Episode 10: “Home”
- Episode 11: “I Ain’t a Judas”
- Episode 12: “Clear”
- Episode 13: “Arrow on the Doorpost”
- Episode 14: “Prey”
- Episode 15: “This Sorrowful Life”