December 2, 2013

THE SKED Fall Finale Review: “The Walking Dead”


For all its gigantic, game-changing success, THE WALKING DEAD seems fated always to be a dramatically uneven series.  Under new showrunner Scott M. Gimple (who, contrary to previous practice, will keep his job in the already-ordered Season 5), the first half of Season 4 got off to a strong start, with an emphasis on character and claustrophobic setting that were encouraging, but the last few episodes went off in a variety of wrong directions.

The one unquestionable accomplishment of tonight’s Season 4A finale, written by Co-Executive Producer Seth Hoffman and directed by Ernest Dickerson, is that it finally, once and for all, definitely ended the saga of the Governor (David Morrissey), and in crowdpleasing fashion, too, first pierced by Michonne’s (Danai Gurira) sword, and then with his head blown off by Lily (Audrey Marie Anderson), whose daughter had been an inadvertent victim of his unquenchable lust for power, even though in his mind he was trying to protect her with his ill-fated power grab against Rick (Andrew Lincoln) at the prison.  Gimple may have had no control over the decision to leave the Governor alive at the end of last season, but his biggest failure this year was in his handling of the character.  It was crazy that the show detoured for more than two full episodes to present his exhaustive post-Woodbury story arc, only to have him end up as exactly the same self-justifying, murderous megalomaniac he’d been before.  Morrissey is a very fine actor, and he carried the episodes capably, but the Governor either needed to truly reform or become a villain on a more massive scale–simply repeating last season’s story in miniature was a waste of everyone’s time.

The final battle between the Governor’s forces and Rick’s group at the prison was exciting enough, although not staged so that it was always clear where everyone was in relation to everyone else.  Characters would just appear in places seemingly far from where we’d left them, with only casual continuity.  (Also, Carol deserves some after-it’s-too-late credit for making those little kids such deadeye shots.)  In terms of where the finale left the series going forward, the only confirmed major death was Hershel (Scott Wilson), and although his gravitas will be missed, that character had escaped seemingly certain death so many times before that it felt like his time had come.  (It was also clear from the instant the Governor revealed his two hostages that one was almost certainly going to die, and that one wasn’t going to be Michonne.)  If Rick’s baby daughter Judith is also dead, as he and Carl (Chandler Riggs) clearly believe, that would be a major shift in terms of the show’s nihilistic worldview, but it seems more likely that in the absence of a corpse, Judith will turn up somewhere during the back half of the season.  (If nothing else, Walking Dead has already featured more than enough episodes centering around Rick’s grieving.)  Various survivors are now scattered about, and it remains to be seen if Gimple intends to spend a large part of Season 4B having them wander around separately, or if they’ll reconnect quickly.  Also unclear is whether a council will still be running things, or if Rick will once again be the man in charge, as the Governor forced him to be tonight.

It appears that Walking Dead will be abandoning the prison as its main setting, now that it’s overrun once again with Walkers thanks to the Governor’s short-sighted plan, and one hopes that won’t mean a return to the characters trudging from one temporary destination to another, as in the early part of the series.  The interpersonal and strategic tensions that arose out of everyone being forced to stay in one place, as well as the different kind of terror caused by the epidemic, were steps forward for the series.  It also gave several of the cast members, including Lincoln, Lauren Cohan (Maggie), and Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) chances to shine.

The appeal of flesh-eating zombies to American viewers being seemingly without limit, The Walking Dead is going to be around with us for a long time to come–even if it lost half its current rating, it would still be a major hit.  Showrunning stability should help, but so will improved storytelling.  The first portion of this fall half-season seemed like a step in the right direction, and now that the Governor has gone to his just reward, perhaps the show can regain its bearings.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."