Rick (Andrew Lincoln) lives to fight another day in the season finale of… (AMC )
“The Walking Dead’s” third season died as it lived: with a handful of thrilling sequences, the intimations of war that never quite boiled over, a lot of Andrea weirdness, some unsatisfying moments from the Governor, and some powerful scoring from Bear McCreary. “Welcome To The Tombs” was third season show runner Glen Mazzara’s swan song on the show, and it seemed at times as if he was intent on putting a button on every single relationship and character arc he’d built in his time on the show. This worked beautifully in some instances, felt forced in others, and occasionally seemed to be both at the same time. It was a weird episode of television, but not an ineffective one.
Let’s actually work backward from the end, because that was the most effective part of the episode. It’s fairly easy to snark about how for the bulk of the hour, Andrea was trying to get out of a chair, but the one time this season I’ve bought the Governor’s menace hook, line, and sinker was when he was threatening Andrea, and by stabbing Milton to ensure he’ll bleed out, then leaving Andrea alone with his dying form so that she may watch as he turns and comes to tear her to pieces, Woodbury’s leader had another nicely terrifying moment with everybody’s least favorite character. As soon as the Governor launched this plan, the only question was whether Andrea would get out of the chair in time to avoid getting bit. She didn’t, and when Rick and company come to liberate Woodbury, she takes Rick’s gun and puts a bullet in her own brain before she becomes a Walker.
Here, McCreary’s score starts sawing away, reminding me that if nothing else, this show needs an Emmy nomination for its music, but also layering in the rich sense of tragic, unnecessary death this series traffics in so very well. Andrea says that she wanted only to find a way that no one would die, and we’re reminded yet again that optimism is cousin to ignorance in the “Walking Dead” world. Mercy will only get you killed, and it’s generally best to harden yourself. But to harden yourself is also to choke out the reasons you’re still alive and haven’t become a Walker. Andrea might have been hopelessly naïve, but at least she was trying to do something more than simply get by day-to-day. And now she’s dead, because this world tends to do that to people who hope for more. The image of Rick, Tyreese and Daryl waiting for the gunshot that would mark the end of her life was a haunting one, and even if the show kept insisting on the connection between Michonne and Andrea than simply depicting it, I was glad the two could be together again at the end.
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This leads into a surprisingly lovely sequence where the survivors of Woodbury move into the prison, a decision seemingly made because AMC spent all that money on prison sets but also one I can sort of see being defensible, simply in terms of the prison being a more readily defendable position than Woodbury, with its multiple opportunities for enemies to slip through. Now, Woodbury still has many of the comforts of long-dead civilization, so I hope that Rick and the crew keep it up and running somehow, but I can also buy the instinct to move to a place that ultimately proved defensible against the Governor’s assault (which essentially boiled down to him taking a team into the halls of the prison and getting scared out, at which point, some of Rick’s crew fired on them). I also found the whole thing worth it again for McCreary’s score and for the lyrical way that the show worked in the death of Lori yet again, the woman Rick will never stop looking for and never again find.
The stuff leading up to that ending, though, was often problematic and sometimes outright bad. In particular, I just wasn’t feeling the moment where the Governor started gunning down his own men. I get that we’re supposed to be following the man’s descent from someone who seemed somewhat reasonable – but for his immense collection of zombie heads in fish tanks and his Walker daughter (and how long ago does that seem?) – into someone who shows his true colors when the chips are down. But I just didn’t buy that he would abandon whatever tactical smarts he possessed this quickly. It’s a very strange turn for the character, and while I liked that he escaped into the countryside to fight another day (though I hope he stays away for a season or two), it still felt awfully convenient and abrupt to me to have the guy gunning down his own people, simply because they dared stand up to him once. And, of course, one of them just happens to survive, the better to allow Rick and his crew to go up to Woodbury without dying.