After an intense and action-packed beginning to the third season of AMC's The Walking Dead, the latter half of the season has slowed the pace and bided its time building up to the confrontation between The Governor's citizen army from Woodbury and our heroes in the prison. Episodes such as "Clear" and last week's "This Sorrowful Life" are some of the best in series history, but the negotiations between Rick and the Governor — and the idea that Rick, even in his damaged state of mind, would even consider trusting this evil one-eyed bastard — seemed to reduce the tension that had been built in the first half of the season. As a fan of the series and the characters, I have enjoyed the slow burn, a subtle approach to storytelling that carried over into the Season 3 finale.
Following the death of Merle last week and Lori and T-Dog earlier this season, this week's "Welcome to the Tombs" featured the tragic demise of another original Season 1 cast member when Andrea took her own life after being locked in a room with Milton. (He is clearly terrible company, but that's not why she did it.) As punishment for Milton torching the pit of biters, the Governor decides to deploy the old two-birds/one-stone tactic and orders Milton to kill Andrea, but he refuses and weaky tries to attack his former friend instead. Since Milton's fighting style is similar to that of an eight-year-old girl, the Gov easily blocks him and buries the knife in his gut. Could it be any more obvious that Milty would have been lucky to last five minutes on his own outside the gates of Woodbury? Like a ticking human time bomb, Milton is left to bleed out and die so he can turn into a biter and rip Andrea apart, with the Governor reasoning that in this world, "You kill or you die, or you die and you kill."
Fortunately, Milton dropped a pair of pliers near the Torturepedic™ chair that Andrea has been strapped to and she struggles to reach them with her foot, occasionally stopping to gaze at Milton and engage in lengthy conversations with him in the most frustrating scenes of the season. Talking to him to keep him alive as long as possible makes sense if she were actively trying to reach the pliers at the same time, but she repeatedly stops what she's doing to interact with him to the point that Milton literally tells her to hurry up. Using some fancy footwork, Andrea finally frees herself and ends up killing Walker Milton, but in a heartbreaking reveal, Rick and Michonne arrive to rescue her and discover she has been bitten.
Still alive, Andrea explains her motivations for trying to broker a peaceful resolution to the dispute and elects to shoot herself off-screen after an emotional scene with Michonne that shows the depth of their relationship and the strong bond formed between the two characters between seasons. Relying mainly on body language and guarded responses, Danai Gurira continues to turn in a pitch-perfect performance as Michonne and proves how much she cares for Andrea when she immediately drops her sword — the trademark weapon she has been so reluctant to release in virtually every other scenario this season — and races to her first post-apocalyptic BFF's side upon finding her.
Andrea's tearful final scenes with Michonne and Rick were powerful, including her comment to Rick that she knew how the safety on the gun worked, a callback to an exchange between the two in the first season. Although she was disliked by a vocal section of mostly male fans, Andrea was a flawed character who always had good intentions, despite her impulsive behavior and poor decision-making skills. She never fully adapted to this new world and made some bad choices under traumatic circumstances, reeling from losing her sister and being forced to continue living in this nightmarish hellscape when Dale "saved" her from offing herself in the Season 1 finale. Due to her history as a civil rights attorney, Andrea respected human life in all forms and didn't want anyone to die, which proved to be a liability and ironically led to the deaths of many more at the hands of the Governor.
With his civilian army all riled up for war, the Governor staged an assault on the prison that went awry once they reached the bowels of the facility, called the "tombs" by the prisonites. Up until that point, the prison appeared to be abandoned, but a series of smoke bombs, an onslaught of walkers, and some gunfire from Glenn and Maggie were enough to drive away the inexperienced Woodbury militia and they fled the prison. Like Rick and the group at the farm last season, the citizens of Woodbury had grown accustomed to their cozy small-town existence and wanted no part of the fight. Completely breaking from reality, the Governor lost it and gunned down his cowardly troops, leaving only Martinez and his black henchman (referred to as "The Bowman" on AMC's Talking Dead post-show) alive before the three of them piled into the pickup truck for the most awkward road trip ever. At least Martinez got to ride in the back.
Unknown to the Governor, another survivor of the massacre was still alive: a woman named Karen who lives to tell the truth when Rick, Daryl, and Michonne find her on their way to Woodbury to finish the job. Hearing her story, they head to Woodbury for a very different reason and are greeted by Tyreese and Sasha, who had refused to go to war and instead volunteered to guard the children and old people. Once Karen informs Tyreese of the Governor's atrocity, the remaining citizens of Woodbury are transported back to the prison and end up united with Rick and the gang, fulfilling the hope held by Andrea. By accepting the most vulnerable members of society, Rick is trying to set an example for his increasingly cold and distant son, Carl, and rebuild society in a positive light, founded on the ideals of taking in and caring for the disadvantaged even though it theoretically weakens the group as a whole.
Although Carl has been a frightening character since last season when he sat in the rafters of Hershel's barn and stared down their captive Randall, he crossed a major line in this episode when he shot a Woodbury teenager in cold blood as the boy was handing over his gun. Later, Carl brags about eliminating "one of the Governor's soldiers" and claims that the kid drew his gun on them, but Hershel tells Rick the harrowing truth about his son, leading to a unique father/son chat. Carl's reasoning for shooting the boy is rooted in logic, as he recalls how he failed to put down the walker that killed Dale last season and notes that Lori and Merle both died because Rick chose not to kill the Governor or Andrew the prisoner when he had the chance. To top it off, Carl throws down Rick's sheriff's badge and curtly dismisses his father, telling him, "Now go, so he doesn't kill any more of us." Wow, the balls on this kid.
Carl has had to grow up quickly under extraordinary conditions, but he is still a kid and he has grown up with a completely different moral compass, influenced more by Shane than Rick at this point. In Carl's mind, he sees that Shane got him and his mom out of a dangerous situation and kept them alive, something that Rick was unable to accomplish with Lori because of his refusal to do what needed to be done. By bringing back a busload of kids and older people, Rick is attempting to give his son some semblance of a "normal" life in order to curb the direction he's headed. It's no coincidence that Carl's reasons for killing the boy echoed the Governor's "kill or die" philosophy — once that line has been crossed, killing becomes second nature when it can be justified, and Rick wants to prevent that from happening with his son. The tension between Rick and Carl could be a major focus next season, with Carl's disapproval of the new arrivals and Rick trying to reel his son back in, but what if the boy is too far gone?
Closing with a rare happy ending, as Rick looks up and no longer sees visions of his deceased wife, The Walking Dead's Season 3 finale was decidedly more low-key and hopeful than the two previous season finales. While it didn't pack the visceral impact of previous episodes, "Welcome to the Tombs" was a refreshing change of pace from the usual frenetic cliffhangers that were the hallmark of Season 3. It wrapped up a handful of story arcs and set up myriad dramatic possibilities for next season with an even crazier Governor still roaming the land, a bigger role for Tyreese, and the integration of Woodbury's vulnerable population into the prison. This thematic element — sharing valuable resources and space with people who can't contribute as much — could prove timely with the clashes over entitlement reform in the United States and the debate about whether or not society has a moral obligation to provide assistance to the less fortunate.
On a personal note, I would like to thank anyone who has read (and hopefully enjoyed) these reviews. It's been a great season and I'm already looking forward to October. Thank you.
FINAL GRADE: B