**SPOILER ALERT** **LONG BLOG POST ALERT*
Friday evening saw the mid season finale of The Walking Dead season 3. Season 1 was powerful, short and sharp. Season 2 was long, with all of the action saved up purely for the final episode. Season 3 needed to be good, it needed to be the perfect mixture of character development and action. Just like season 1.
So far, so good.
Now, during my season 2 finale review, I got myself a bit overwhelmed by everything. Season 3 is proving to be far greater than 2, so I’m going to be very careful not to fall into the same trap. Instead of covering the whole of the first half of season 3, I will focus on the key elements.
First, a little background.
Rick and his group, including a heavily pregnant Lori, find and take the prison.
At the same time, Andrea and Michonne stumble across the Governor and a much missed Merle Dixon who take them to Woodbury, a town with a wall built around it and run by the Governor.
Back in the prison, Lori gives birth and we lose some characters that have been with us since the very beginning.
Michonne doesn’t trust the Governor (because she’s smart) and she leaves the town. Merle is sent after her to finish her. She fights back, as Michonne does, and goes into the ‘red zone’. Merle decides she’s dead already and returns, telling the Governor that he’s killed her.
On his way back to the town (one has to assume), he comes across Glen and Maggie who are doing a supply run for baby formula. He attacks and takes them back to Woodbury. Michonne witnesses all of this and takes the formula to the prison.
Meanwhile, Andrea demonstrates her wonderful taste in men by sleeping with the Governor.
Michonne tells Rick about Maggie and Glen and a small party leaves for Woodbury to get their people back. The mid-season finale finishes with Glen and Maggie being rescued and Michonne and the Governor having a show down, with the Governor coming worse off.
The most memorable death in The Walking Dead so far is one without any zombie in sight. Ok, so zombies attack which means that Lori, Carl and Maggie get separated from the group and have to hide. Naturally this is when Lori goes into labour.
I’ve already written about Lori’s death because it did truly move me. After two and half seasons of being sick and tired of Lori, finally her character did something that made me feel for her.
Lori’s death scene was the best bit of Lori. She handed over the matriarch torch to Maggie, she said her final farewell to her son and she gave her life so that her child would live. Her beautiful, tearful death had a knock on effect on a number of characters. Carl became a man, being the only one available to put his mother down, Maggie was forced to step up by being the one to remove the baby from Lori’s body and, of course, Rick...
Strangely while Lori was dying, I didn’t even think of Rick. All of my thoughts were on Carl and what losing his mother and having to put a bullet through her head would do to him. At the end of the episode when Rick finds out, I was shocked that he didn’t even go near his son. All I wanted was for him to put an arm around his boy.
It makes sense that Rick would lose it so violently. He had just lost his wife and didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. More than that, theirs was not a healthy relationship. That baby probably isn’t even his, his wife cheated on him with his best friend, told him to kill his best friend and then shunned him when he did the deed out of self defence. She admitted to being a bad wife but they had still not resolved their issues by the time Lori died and that would have played heavily on Rick’s conscience.
The episode where Rick loses his mind is, similar to the episode of Lori’s death, done beautifully. Andrew Lincoln plays Rick flawlessly, dishevelled and with painfully, heart breaking mad eyes.
His loss was extreme. Not even looking at his poor son, he picks up an axe and storms through the prison splitting the skulls of Walkers until he finds the remains of his wife and the zombie that has feasted on her. Then the phone rings.
In the comic books, Rick sees visions of his wife after her passing. It is unclear whether this will happen in the television series but this phone call may have been the beginning of it. Allowing the viewer a false sense of hope, we watch as Rick begins to unravel and lose his mind.
Strangely, by the next episode he seems to have ravelled it back up again. Enough to speak to his son, hold his new daughter, retake leadership, deal with Michonne and go to Glen and Maggie’s rescue. Maybe he just needs to keep busy...
There were three things that die hard Walking Dead fans were looking forward to this season; the prison, Michonne and the Governor. David Morrissey, taking the part of the Governor, did not disappoint.
The Governor is suave, sophisticated, often quiet with the kind of gentleness that an angry tiger bestows right before going for the kill.
His evil is hinted at throughout, building to a crescendo by the mid-season finale. Although the real hint of what this man is capable of came in the penultimate episode.
When Glen and Maggie are held prisoners in Woodbury, Merle concentrates on his old chum Glen. The Governor says that he will speak to Maggie. Making Maggie stand before him, he takes off his gun holster and forces her to remove her top and bra. He walks around the exposed Maggie, pushing her down onto the table. I don’t think I could have hated him more than in that moment.
Of course, the best villains have a softer side. They are human, after all. The Governor’s weakness is his daughter, Penny. In a gut wrenching moment in the finale, Michonne, while waiting for the Governor to return to his rooms, finds Penny trustled up in her cage. Thinking the worse, Michonne frees the child only to discover that the girl is in fact a Walker. The Governor stops her just before she puts Penny down. To his horror, Penny is killed before the Governor’s eyes and he lunges at Michonne. All of the pent up rage and grief of a father who has been unable to let go of his child and has just seen her ripped from him is aimed straight at Michonne.
He is a triumph of a character and he's only going to get better.
Both the Governor and Michonne survive their encounter. Merle might not be so lucky. Remember, he told the Governor that Michonne was dead? And yet there she was, slicing a sword through the Governor’s zombie daughter’s head. Not only that, but Daryl was left behind during Maggie and Glen’s escape.
Merle has been an interesting character throughout season 3. We didn’t get to learn a lot about him in season 1, only that he’s a racist, narrow minded red neck with a military background and has spent time in the joint.
At first I didn’t understand why Merle, who fought for leadership in season 1, would take orders from someone like the Governor. I put it down to fear, knowing that the Governor was possibly the best villain in The Walking Dead. Or maybe it was about respect – the Governor trusted and respected Merle to do his dirty work.
As time went on, the viewer was allowed to see chinks in Merle’s submissiveness. All Merle wants, it seems, is his brother back. The arrival of Andrea gives him new hope which the Governor immediately dashes. Merle then lies to the Governor about killing Michonne – maybe because he didn’t get his own way.
The writers, and Michael Rooker who plays Merle, cleverly gave the character layers which is more than I was expecting. I still don’t know if Merle is a good or bad guy. Maybe he’s the grey.
As the season went on, Merle seems to become more and more quietly frustrated, taking the brunt of this out on Glen, but never showing any weakness to the Governor. It seems that Merle has more control and intelligence then at first made out. And why not? Him and Daryl are of the same blood.
The ending of the mid season finale was very clever. I almost applauded the writers. Who is the television fan favourite of The Walking Dead? Daryl Dixon. Who was the most talked about character for season 3? Well, apart from the Governor and Michonne? Merle Dixon.
What is the best way of making sure everyone tunes into the season return next year? Putting the Dixon brothers in trouble.
We ended on an angry Governor, with his town around him, blaming the violence and deaths of some of their people on Merle Dixon. And oh look, they caught one of the intruders. None other than Merle’s baby brother. What is to be done with them?
So Merle and Daryl come face to face for the first time in the entire Walking Dead programme. No words are exchanged, only looks, as the towns people surround them chanting ‘Kill them! Kill them!’
So there you have it. A fantastic first half to an explosive season. The writers seem to be coping with the huge cast by fully developing a selection of main characters and leaving the others to quietly get on with it. Other than the obvious highlights (the Governor, Merle and Daryl Dixon, Lori’s death), one of the more surprising best bits for me was Glen and Maggie.
The Governor didn’t touch Maggie, not in an abusive sense. Although what he did was still disgusting and unforgiveable. She still didn’t give in. She told him to just get on with it. She was strong, a true matriarch.
And what about Glen in the room next door? Merle beat him until he was swollen and bloody and when he still wouldn’t talk, Merle left him alone with a Walker. That was when Glen came into his own. His hands fastened to the arms of a chair, he fought and defeated the zombie, giving a scream of defiance as he did so.
Unfortunately, Maggie spilled the beans of the prison when she was thrown in with Glen and a gun was put to her young lover’s head. Oh, Maggie.
I urge everyone to watch The Walking Dead, whether you’re already a fan or not. This season is definitely worth it. We’re now left with the Governor knowing a group of survivors exists within the prison and that Michonne, his daughter’s murderer, is probably with them.
And what about Merle and Daryl Dixon? We’ve finally seen them together (I’ve been waiting a long time to see their true brotherly relationship unfold). Could their reunion be over far too quickly?
The Walking Dead is back on FX (soon to be FOX) in February 2013, at the same time as America (yay!).