There were some reviewers falling over with joy and excitement over the Midseason Finale of The Walking Dead (the show returns in February): finally, the show was great again! The Mary Sue even dubbed the episode "The Red Wedding of Walking Dead". This is true in a sense - there certainly was a shock value to it, and we lost at least one character that was in a spot of sympathy - but the comparison (and the episode) still fall short. That doesn't mean it's bad. It's the show at its best. But the flaws that plagued the previous season and much of this one persist.
But let's get down to business with the good stuff. The episode opens with a really effective speech by the Governor, showing David Morrisey at his best and making his charisma believable. We have to accept that the Governor basically swings over a peaceful camp to attack a likewise peaceful camp with full force, and that speech suspends disbelief for its duration at least. The plan: negotiate the life's of hostage Hershel and hostage Michonne ("I will kill you") for the prison. And if that doesn't work, kill them all. Because, you know, Governor. The latter also delivers one of the best lines of the series up to date: when Hershel asks how he can be so engaged about his family and blatantly deliver the children in the prison to death, he answers: "They're not mine." And boy, does that ring true.
|The Walking Dead|
When they arrive at the prison, we get an equally strong scene in which he negotiates with Rick (how he ignores his "I'm not in charge anymore" with a "Nah, you're in charge" is just hilarious). Rick tries to convince him of the "let's all live together"-crap Hershel tried, and it's the very success he has with the Governor's followers that prompts The Man into action. Hershel's throat is cut, and the carnage that is so familiar to the comic reader begins.
|Suits Michonne better.|
And then we get the best scene of the whole season, but it's so short that it almost goes unnoticed. It's so important, however, that I will dedicate a whole paragraph to it because it adds some consequence and meaning to the show for a change. Carol's death squad of children has one job: bring all children out, including and especially Judith. And they blow it, because the Creepy Girl (tm) decides to apply Carol's teachings about "being strong" and to start shooting people, too. To have their hands free (literally), they leave Judiths car seat behind in the yard. When Rick stumbles over it later, it's empty and bloodied.
|Well, it was all for a good cause, he'd agree.|
I devote a second paragraph. I seriously hope that this will get picked up in the second half of the season, and also that Judith is really dead (the creators made some very ambiguent comments on this, unfortunately), not because I think Judith a nuisance (far from it) but because this really should spark a real discussion about what they want to be and how they want to live, perhaps leading to the DC plot. And when I say discussion, I don't mean the characters sitting down and talking but us discussing it through their actions and decisions.
|Or take a vote.|
Last of the good stuff: the action is really well choreographed, especially the fight between Rick and the Governor. While some badassery looks a bit too much (looking at you, Daryl), most of the others knock it out of the park. Main characters still enjoy plot armor, especially Tyreese who survives far too many bullets fired in his general direction, but the speed and ferocity of the skirmish is well done, and the dynamic of "the fight has started, now we have to go through with it" works well enough for the Woodbury 2.0 gang.
|The newest in bulletproof fences.|
Which brings us to the problems. For one, when the Governor sacrifices his pawns and foregoes Rick's proposal for a remis, he serves only to checkmate himself instead of performing the rochade he was hoping for. See what I did here? Chess metaphors! OVER YOUR FUCKING HEAD! Really, if The Walking Dead was more blunt with what it tries to say, the actors would recite the moral directly into the camera like some Saturday Morning Cartoon. Hershel's death couldn't come as a surprise, neither, because the camera told us he would die through the whole of Rick's speech, bringing the Jesus metaphor to a whole new level with all the close ups and the serene look on his face.
|I'm so dead every moment.|
Also, the stupidity for plot reasons hasn't left the show, neither. The Governor leaves exactly two people behind: those dearest to him, at a place he for some reason calls safe. The place is surrounded by wood from three sides, man. The river that flows on the fourth might flush zombies away, but since when are they coming only from one specific direction? That's news. And when you want to rescue your child, you might want to start running. I get that they wanted a credible reason for the Governor to revert back to ye olde mass murderer, but this is just way too blunt.
|I'm gonna murder you, character development guy!|
Which again brings up the question why we had two episodes of governoring if in the end he's exactly the same guy as before? I get that the episode was about the whole "living vs. surviving"-thing, but as so often, it is spelled out explicitly, way too explicitly. At least three times the Governor tells someone that they need to survive and that this is all that counts, and Rick goes in a teary three-minute-monologue about how it is not enough. While well acted on both accounts, it still falls flat. Show, don't tell! It's past time the show learned that simple rule.
|A merry band of outlaws.|
With that ambivalent finale, we get to wait until February, where the second half of the season will serve to shorten the wait for Game of Thrones. I don't have high hopes, but in the comics at least the plot got considerably better after the prison, so maybe we will see a little improvement here as well. It would be nice if the show started to take its characters more seriously.