The Walking Dead brought the first half of its fourth season to a close last night (TV2, 9.30pm) with an action packed hour of television that closed off one major story for good and placed the fate of all our characters in limbo as we head into a two month break; the remaining eight episodes of Season 4 return in February.
(Warning: spoilers from last night's The Walking Dead abound!)
I thought the first half of the season ended well. A large scale face-off with The Governor was always on the cards, even stretching back to last season when he tried and failed to take the prison, and it made for an exciting hour of television. The show does a great job with zombie-centric attacks, so it was nice to see that they could pull off a non-zombie related battle with the same finesse and intensity.
I will miss Hershel, though. Scott Wilson has done some great work with the character this season - and the likely death of baby Judith* is one of the most upsetting in the shows run. The effect their passing will have on Rick should be the central plot of the back half of the season; the poor guy will be feeling like he can't look after anyone. And I'm looking forward to seeing how it pans out. Andrew Lincoln has gotten better and better as the show goes along - he was great in a couple of key scenes (the fenceline face-off with The Gov, the escape) and is definitely up to the task.
I like that the prison is gone, too. Rick and the Rickettes couldn't stay there for ever - if we learnt anything from Season 2, it's that stasis should be avoided at all costs. Forcibly moving them on is definitely the right step at this point of the show. You can only have the group face internal threats and fend off outside challenges for so long.
Furthermore, having our core group of survivors splintered into smaller units - Sacha, Maggie and Bob; Rick and Carl; Glenn and a busload of people who will probably die, and so on - is a narrative choice that should pay dividends as we head into Season 5 and 6 (and which opens up several plotlines from the comic books, so I'm told).
But while I think the where of its ending was good, I'm much less impressed with the how.
In fact, my disappointment with the season comes down to one key decision: I don't understand why head writer Scott M Gimple and his team decided to spend two entire episodes focused on The Governor, especially at this late stage of the first half of the season, instead of telling both The Governor and the prison stories simultaneously.
Despite what the writers might think, The Governor - as he appears and was written for the television show - is not an interesting character. David Morrissey is a talented guy, but he didn't have the charisma or the screen presence to turn him into an interesting character.
The Governor seemed so out of step with the rest of the show. He was a cartoon villain in a semi-realistic world. The two episodes we spent with him - episode six and seven - absolutely killed the momentum of the season.
I'm glad he's dead, to be honest. And I think that we have to accept that the first half of Season 4 was effectively a do-over for the writing staff, an admission that "hey, we got the ending of Season 3 wrong, we should have killed The Governor then - give us another chance". The first five episodes of the season were great, a human story of survival set in a post-apocalyptic world. The final three episodes were from a different show entirely.
The silver lining, though, is that the show effectively has a clean slate. And that's why I'm most excited for the back half of the season. Gimple seems to have a handle on the material. The Governor is gone for good. And I'm excited for what lies ahead. February can't come soon enough.
Did you watch the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead? What did you think?
(*) I'm in two minds over whether Judith is dead: according to my wife, she does die at this point of the comic books, during the prison assault. But I subscribe to the "no body, no death" rule on television (and film). Sure, Judith could be dead. The bloody car seat seems to indicate as much. But she could also pop up with Michonne, or one of the other little groups, when the season returns. Either way, the effect on Rick will be profound.