I have seen my share of distressing episodes of this show, but never have I been so distressed that I found myself unable to breath properly at times, and then basically bawling like a baby by the time we finally got to the end credits. This episode was sheer insanity, packed with emotionally charged and adrenaline driven action.
The beginning of the episode gave us a slightly too easy pep talk (filled with white lies) from the governor, urging his new band of followers to storm the prison but to only take force if Rick doesn’t agree to the governor’s terms. Those terms, by the way, very much center upon Michonne and Hershel who have been taken hostage, and if the prison isn’t cleared out for this new group to move into by sundown, then they would be killed, along with everyone else in the prison. I say it was slightly too easy in the sense that these gullible fools were more or less all in favor of the plan almost immediately, but luckily Lilly comes in shortly after to argue that it isn’t necessary to kill these people. But the governor says they wouldn’t be killing people– they’d be killing killers.
This isn’t the last of the zingy, zippy one-liners from the governor in this episode. When Hershel asks him how, when he knows what it feels like to have a daughter, he could possibly think of killing someone else’s, after a long pause, he replies “because they’re not mine.” Well, the next thing I know, Rick is giving his epic speech about how they could coexist together and really change as people, and the episode teases us as the governor slowly removes Michonne’s sword blade from Hershel’s neck, only to utter the word “liar” and slice Hershel’s neck in a slow, sudden and brutal moment that made my heart ache. Little did I know (just kidding– I totally knew) that it would just get worse, as he even continues the job of decapitating him in a separate scene, the governor’s face cold and unrelenting.
This moment is the catalyst for the all-out war that breaks out, with Maggie and Beth crying and shooting to avenge their father, followed by everyone else shooting each other in complete mayhem. There is so much going on, but the action was well paced, so we never get too overwhelmed (except for maybe by our emotions, but my point is that we can pretty much follow the chaos as long as we can handle doing so, anyway).
Two of my favorite moments in this sequence were Daryl’s hilariously clever tactics– using a walker as a shield by sticking a gun through his head and keeping him hanging there from it, or rolling a grenade through the tank’s barrel– and creepy Lizzie’s redemptive comeback. When the kids run toward safety as per the plan (to flee via bus), she suggests they be strong (like their crazy caretaker Carol had taught them, so clearly this won’t have any negative consequences at all, right?) and also get guns to help. They manage to save Tyrese this way, but we find later that Judith is missing from her now-bloody baby carrier that they had been toting her in on their way to the bus.
Another great moment to note before I get to the ultimate climax of the episode would be poor Meghan being bit by a walker who had been slumbering in the dirt beneath her. Lilly brings her to the governor who ruthlessly and unblinkingly shoots her in the head, as if to prevent the same fate that Penny was met with and to in some sense change himself and his path. But he ends up in an intense brawl with Rick, almost strangling him to death before Michonne’s sword comes through his chest. I was really pleased that it was her who got this almost-final, vengeful opportunity against the governor who she has been hunting for so long, but I really appreciated that his new love Lilly was actually the one to finish the job with a clean bullet through the head.
The depressing and dramatic music that accompanies a crying Rick and Carl after not finding Judith, and all the shots too of the now burning and walker-filled prison, made my heart physically hurt some more. Rick tells Carl to not look back, but we as viewers will find it just as hard to heed these words, especially as we mourn the death of so many characters but also of life as we know it for our characters– where has the bus gone exactly, and will those who didn’t make it to the bus be able to meet everyone on foot?
I give this episode 4 and a half symbolically stepped-upon governor chess pieces. It was nearly perfect, but I can’t possibly give it a perfect score, if only because of the many unforgivable (but not really; call me a masochist if you will but I do love the misery of episodes like this) forms of exhaustion that it put me through. And I do somewhat, on some silly petty level, feel like I have to take out my frustration regarding having to wait until February somewhere as well, so it may as well be here.
And lastly, my only real “complaint” here, I felt like as per usual for this series, is that Daryl’s reaction/coping with the news about Carol was stunted and shortened by the impending doom outside, which is fine for this episode alone but as an avid Daryl fan, I do wonder if this will come to bother him more later, maybe when things somewhat settle again. But all these minor and even jokey gripes aside, it truly was an extraordinary hour of television, as emotionally drained and upset as I am at many of the epic events that occurred within it.