Before we get started, I want to go ahead and say that I enjoy The Walking Dead as much as the next person. I’ve been a zombie fanatic for a very long time, so when I found that the comics were to be translated to the screen, I was more than a little excited. So when I talk about this show, note that I do this understanding that I’m not attacking the show as someone who dislikes zombies or the weekly antics that Rick and the gang get into. (That last sentence seems a little lighthearted when looking back at it.)
As with all types of entertainment, once a creator has delivered a work into the world for our enjoyment, his intentions and hopes are forgotten. Sometimes entirely different messages are pulled from a work that the artist did not intend. That’s how things work. I’m sure not very many people wrote their books thinking of the overall themes they wanted to portray or deep messages they hoped readers would get. Many writers (Melville not included) just want to tell a story.
I hate to admit this, but I’m a writer. And because I write, I look at things a little differently than most people. Not that my point of view is superior or correct all the time. It is a point of view, so it’s sort of my own thing. Anyway, I find that I like to take stories apart and try to figure out why something didn’t or did work well in a work. The Walking Dead would be one of those works. Luckily, my office mate has the fantastic ability to point out story holes and discrepancies. In our discussions, we’ve decided that the episode “Too Far Gone” was a successful episode, but at the same time, it felt like the writers were trying to do more but failed to do so.
It all deals with characterization. The idea of having reoccurring characters in a show is that we, the audience, are able to connect and grow with these characters through their mistakes and triumphs. I honestly believe that we’re supposed to do this with The Walking Dead, but somewhere, something has been lost. I feel nothing for most of the characters on screen, which is why, to your absolute horror, I’m going to spend the rest of your time talking about particular characters and how building them correctly would have created a more powerful season finale. Let me remind you that every second you spend reading my garbage is another minute that death has inched its unforgiving hands toward you.
The Governor (David Morrissey) is a prime example of what could be done with character. In the previous season we were witness to the horrible deeds he had carried out in the belief he had to protect his people. Near the end of this he loses everything and kills innocents out of some psychopathic rage. Okay, fine. I’ll go with it. I’m not saying I like how he turned into a stereotypical villain, but whatever, let’s move on. Remember what I said: death, hands, and you.
In this season we’re introduced to The Governor as a grizzled figure walking nowhere without direction. There isn’t any hint of this blood lust or driven vengeance that was introduced in the previous season. He is then forced to take care of a family which includes a little girl. In the end part of the episode, I was intrigued. I wanted to see The Governor turn his ways around.
As we follow his story we see that he adopts the little girl as his own and he and the mother have hit it off. Even the mother’s sister likes him. They’re traveling, trying to survive, and the more I watch him interact with these people, the more I honestly start to believe that we’re going to see some major character change. Excited, I remember wanting to fist bump my wife who was too busy covering her face while he bashed a zombie’s head in. Sometimes I forget that she isn’t as numb as I am.
So The Governor is put back in with a group of people and starts acting a little differently. At one point during the time with his new group, he and his new family try to leave. This is the first point where I think the writing broke somehow. He senses that the camp is volatile and that they need to run. So they run. He stops in front of a group of zombies trapped in the mud. He stands in front of his car and stares down at them for a while then looks back to the mother.
The next time we see them they’re back in the camp.
Wait a minute. A group of zombies stuck in the mud stopped him from running away? Couldn’t he just go around the group or find another way? I imagine that there isn’t just one road leading out of that camp. With as much strategic plotting this man has committed in the past, he could have found a way out.
What if that wasn’t the case? What if staring down at those zombies in the mud triggered something in his psyche and told him that he couldn’t run. I did the work there in that scene and assumed that’s what happened. I figured he saw the fate of his new family in those zombies and decided he needed to make sure they were safe.
Okay, I’m still on board. He talks to his old underling, who is the new leader, about helping with some of the burden of leading. There’s a moment when he says that’s he’s really changed. It’s a positive thing. And then The Governor beats the man to death with a club and disables the other two potential leaders.
No one questions him as he assumes his new role as leader. He then captures Michonne and Hershel single handedly and brings them back to his camp. He then reveals that there is an absolutely safe place to live and he’s going to use these two people that he’s captured as bargaining tools. Again, no one thinks this is a bad idea. If they do, they really don’t show it.
Let’s skip ahead to the showdown. This is what we’ve been waiting for now for one and half seasons. The Governor stands on a tank with his gang loaded up on guns. On the ground are Michonne and Hershel tied and on their knees. Rick is on the other side while everyone else stands back preparing for the inevitable blood bath.
And then something happens, something that the writers have been building up to until this point. Something that will show us, the audience, that there has been some sort of development. That somehow, the characters have grown.
Rick gives a long speech on how everyone can live in the prison. That whatever they did in the past can be forgiven and everyone can live in the safety of the prison. He claims that everyone gets to come back. That no one is too far gone.
The Governor pauses for a moment. This is the point when we’re supposed to see the internal conflict within him. More than ever we should understand that he’s given the option of peace and harmony of violence and death. And what does he do? He kills Hershel.
Wait a minute. Who did he obsess over in the last season? Who was it that took out his eye and ended the existence of his undead daughter? Sword wielding Hershel is not the answer. Here we can see the writer’s influence on the story and character progression. The Governor’s actions show that the writers fear the death of Michonne would upset the audience too much. Because of this we’re forced to see The Governor as completely evil.
He dies from a justice bullet from the mother of his adopted family. Justice!
To follow the growth of The Governor’s character, it would go something like this: a man that would do anything to protect his people, to a vengeful leader willing to sacrifice innocent lives to achieve his own goal. He then loses everything, becomes a nameless vagabond but finds his humanity and morality within his adoptive family. And then in the end he is a murderous leader willing to sacrifice everything for vengeance. It doesn’t make any sense, and I feel that the writers didn’t mean for this to happen. I honestly believe that we were supposed to understand this inner struggle, but it wasn’t prominent enough.
I’m also going to briefly touch on Rick’s character. Remember what I said about death and his cold ever reaching hands? During Rick’s speech we’re also supposed to see that he realized that it’s never too late to come back. During its entirety, The Walking Dead has followed the moral hero Rick trying to find some sort of place in the new world. That’s mostly what I see and understand of Rick Grimes in every episode; he has a moral dilemma and Hershel tells him how to fix it.
During his speech we’re to understand that Rick no longer needs Hershel for guidance. This is the moment when he knows that no matter what, he can come back from any dark place that he has ventured. It’s a beautiful moment. Except that I didn’t believe it. It felt too forced and I believe that I put a lot of work into getting that from his speech. I just feel that the writers, for one reason or another, didn’t get to flesh out Rick or The Governor enough to make the last scenes powerful enough.
Maybe we will see some character growth with Rick and Carl now that they’re separated from the group. All I can do is hope and continue to watch. Let’s be honest, I’m not an established writer, and clearly those folks that work on The Walking Dead know what’s going on or I wouldn’t still be watching or talking about it.
So before you light up your torches and sharpen your pitchforks, remember that I’ve established multiple escape plans for such an event.