The last time the Governor rolled up to the prison and set guns ablazin' it was so bad I couldn't even write about it (episode 3.10 "Home" for those keeping track). I'm going to put most of the blame for the huge upswing in quality here on the shoulders of director Ernest R. Dickerson, the man responsible for helming some of the best episodes of The Walking Dead since the very beginning.
I've written a bit about existentialism and zombie apocalypse and the whole less-is-more approach that showrunner Scott M. Gimple has brought to the show this season, and after a couple of quieter, introspective episodes that allowed us to watch the Governor (David Morrissey) try to become a better person before falling victim to his own fears and weaknesses, "Too Far Gone" sends us into the mid-season break with violence, anger, and heartbreaking loss.
It's been a week since the episode aired, but for those of you who are behind I'll go ahead and post a spoiler alert.
IT'S A FREAKING SPOILER ALERT.
STOP READING IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED "TOO FAR GONE" RIGHT NOW.
I'M WARNING YOU.
Okay, my conscience is clear.
There were many deaths in this episode, and there have been many deaths on this show, but the murder of Hershel (Scott Wilson) may be the most painful death yet. And not just because it wasn't clean, but honestly, watching the Governor hacking away in order to separate Hershel's head from his body made me want to scream. Hershel had assumed the role of moral center for the group — a role vacated by Dale back at the end of Season Two — and over the past few weeks Scott Wilson has been giving it everything he has. From the moment that Hershel gave his speech about choosing what to die for in "Isolation" through his long dark night of the soul in "Internment" right up until the moment this episode when Rick (Andrew Lincoln) argues that people can change and redeem themselves.
The smile on his face just before the Governor hisses "Liar" and hacks into him with Michonne's sword was perfection.
If that was the most painful moment in the episode, it was backed up by a wide range of WTF moments and extremely disconcerting acts of violence. I'm not going to go through them all, but I do want to point out a few.
The end of the Governor was about as satisfying as I could have hoped. As the episode opened and he gave his inspirational speech about why they needed to take the prison, we got a good glimpse of just how manipulative he could be. The way he mixed in lies with truths and half-truths made it evident that this was the end. He was no longer even trying to be a good man. He was the Governor and he was going to take the prison if he had to kill (or get other people to kill for him) every single person inside.
The fight between him and Rick was one of the most brutal I've seen on television. By the end of it, you could really believe that he was throttling Rick as Lincoln's performance was simply horrifyingly realistic. In that moment we also saw that Rick just doesn't have the killer instinct needed to survive in this world. If Michonne (Danai Gurira) hadn't run the Governor through, it would have been over for him.
It was also a nice touch to allow Lilly (Audrey Marie Anderson) to have the kill shot after she watched him coldly put a bullet in Meghan's (Meyrick Murphy) head. He was doing what had to be done after she was bitten, but there was no emotion in it. He was just putting her down like an animal and Lilly finally saw the real man inside.
We also got Daryl's (Norman Reedus) reaction to the news about Carol, the discovery of a butchered rat, the girls grabbing guns and living up to Carol's expectations for them, a surprise blink-and-you'll-miss-it return of a character from earlier this season, and with the destruction of the prison all of our heroes are scattered to the four winds.
Oh! I almost forgot that bloody car seat and the disappearance of little Ass Kicker!
I can't imagine that they've really killed Rick's baby, given all the other carnage of this episode, but it happened in the comics, so it's not out of bounds. Regardless of whether or not we find her alive in February (when the second half of the season kicks off), it did provide an opportunity for Andrew Lincoln and Chandler Riggs to just dive headfirst into a nightmarish anguish that was painful to watch, but for all the right reasons. Riggs is truly coming into his own on this show and it is so satisfying to have watched his growth from a weekly walking cringe factor to one of the most complex and interesting characters on the show.
If I had any complaint it would have to be that I miss Carol (Melissa McBride) and would have loved to see her brought back into the fold this week. Instead, we'll have to wait and see what Gimple and Company have in store for her in the back eight.
It's going to be a long wait until February 9, but if these first eight episodes are any indication, this season is going to go for broke as we pick up with everybody on their own and desperate to survive outside of the prison fences.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US &
amp; UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.