Before we mourn, let’s take a moment to say goodbye to the MVP of season four. Thank you, Governor, for being such a deliciously ruthless psychopath. Thank you for forcing Rick’s posse out of the prison, where life was beginning to get a little too cozy, save for the outbreak of a deadly flu and the occasional preemptive homicide by fire. Thank you for using a tank in your assault, thus insuring that no one will return. And thank you for laughing at this season’s theme of "everyone can change," because if you started singing "Kumbaya" and tried to live in peace with your enemies, that would have been too ridiculous to believe — even for a show about zombies.
This episode reminded me of the end of season two, but on steroids. Back then, Shane died (twice), the farm burned, and everyone scattered in the chaos. This time, two major characters and a child died (with one infant M.I.A.), the prison exploded and burned, and folks took off in every direction. Once the Guv decided it was time to take over the prison (again!), there was no room for compromise. All of Hershel and Rick’s talk of bringing their two camps together and forgetting the past was futile for one simple reason — everyone at the prison knew who the Guv really was. One-Eyed Bri was all about moving forward, but couldn’t leave any traces of his past behind. This is a guy who burned the last photo of his family, changed his name, and threw his last loyal henchman into a zombie pit. Cohabitation was never an option.
Just before the standoff, Rick finally informs Daryl that he sent Carol packing. The result? Daryl’s furious for approximately 27 seconds. (Thought we’d see Rick in a choke hold, at least.) Before they break the news to Tyreese, he shows them his gross discovery — a rat, nailed to a wooden board, dissected like a sixth-grade science project. Ty thinks whoever did this also killed his lady and lined the fences with zombie bait. None of that matters when the Guv’s tank takes out a guard tower and everything goes to shit.
By that point, bloodshed is inevitable. But round one of the Guv versus Rick throw down was more like a political debate, as the two leaders delivered their best motivational speeches to win hearts and minds. The Guv gave his back at camp, as he convinced everyone but Lilly that fighting was the only option. Rick’s rebuttal at the standoff doesn’t sway Mitch, but Tara — aka Ponytail — begins to wonder if Bri is taking this a little too far. This is where Rick misses an obvious opening. Why not ask the Guv’s loyal followers if they’re aware of his track record? Y’know, stuff like his zombie-head aquarium, human experimentation, his walker daughter he kept in a closet, and the mass murder of nearly everyone who trusted him as their leader.
The clue that Hershel is in trouble is his smile, after Rick insists, “We’re not too far gone. We get to come back. I know. We all. Can change.” And with that, we witness the saddest and most shocking beheading since season one of Game of Thrones. Hershel — you homework-givin’, herbal-remedy-cookin’, homespun-wisdom-sharin’ old coot — we’ll miss ya. (Though let’s face it: The old man’s been living on borrowed time since Rick hacked his infected leg in half.)
So the old, unhinged Guv is back. But what sends him completely over the edge is Lilly’s arrival with Megan. Why he thought stashing them near a stream would keep them safe is a mystery. As is Lilly’s decision to let her child play near the woods roughly 100 feet from where she was sitting. (The second greatest epidemic in this dystopian world — bad parenting.) Megan ends up the victim of a mud zombie, but the Guv isn’t interested in the details of her death. He’s lost everything for the second time. The only thing he can give her is a bullet to the head.
What follows is roughly twenty minutes of head-spinning, lead-spewing combat. A review of the carnage, in case you didn’t have time to watch it at least twice:
• Rick tackles the Guv; they start wailing on each other.
• Glenn is useless, Maggie drags him to the bus; Beth goes to find Judith.
• The Guv gets the upper hand in the fist fight.
• Daryl uses a zombie for a shield and throws a grenade.
• Tara bails on Alicia.
• Bob gets shot, but it’s treatable.
• The bus leaves with passengers unknown.
• Maggie, Bob, and Sasha run away.
• Lizzie saves Tyreese and proves she’s a great shot by stone-cold popping Alicia in the face. The kids run in the wrong direction. Tyreese follows them.
• The Guv almost chokes the life out of Rick.
• Michonne runs the Guv through with her sword like the badass she is and leaves him to die slowly.
• Daryl stuffs another grenade in the tank and shoots Mitch the Douchebag in the chest with an arrow like the badass he is. He reunites with Beth. They head to parts unknown.
• Rick finds Carl taking out zombies; has a good cry.
• Rick and Carl find a bloody baby seat and presume Judith is zombie food. Carl wastes ammo in a fit of rage; he has a good cry.
• Lilly finishes off the Guv with a bullet to the head.
• A zombie steps on Megan’s eye-patched chess piece as they plod toward what remains of the prison.
We’re left with a shot of Rick and Carl, limping off into the woods as the prison burns behind them. “Don’t look back, Carl,” says Rick, who took a shot to the side. “Just keep walking.” As any good mid-season finale should do, this one leaves us with plenty of questions to ponder over the next two months:
• Who is responsible for the rats at the gates and that thing Tyreese found? Is it possible that Carol took the fall for someone else — perhaps Lizzie?
• Is Judith really dead? Seems unlikely.
• Who’s on the bus? And will everyone else make it out alive?
• Have we seen the last of Lilly and Tara? Probably not, for better or worse.
• Where will Michonne focus her rage now that she’s had her revenge?
• What was in Bob Barksdale’s box when Sasha found him alone? (Meaning, what type of booze was he about to guzzle?)
• Where do they go from here? I’d avoid any flash-flood areas, for starters.
• What sort of head case will Rick be now that his decision to defend the prison led to Hershel’s beheading, mass casualties, the possible death of his infant daughter, and the loss of their home?
• When is Carol coming back? Because, like, she’s definitely gonna.
• Will the Pistol Packin’ Pre-Teens have the good sense to ditch these losers and head off on their own?