The Walking Dead season finale recap: Pretty Little Pliers

The Woodbury army comes to the Prison. People die, and die, and die
Ep. 16 | Aired Mar 31, 2013

THE KID SHERIFF OF GRIMES CITY In an episode filled with bloodshed, Carl was the only soldier who had to make a tough decision. Did he make the right call? Hershel didn't think so, but Hershel has inherited the Dale mantle of waffling mortality morality. Rick didn't think so, but Rick made an almost identical decision way back in episode 2, when he split Tomas' head open. Carl is cursed to live in a world where none of the authority figures can agree on any ethical rules of engagement. He's a great soldier and a terrible human being; but at least he has a moral code, as twisted as it is.

Gene Page/AMC

Glenn and Maggie were wearing the bulletproof armor, and from their protected vantage points, they shot all around various fleeing Woodburyites without ever hitting any of them. They all got in their cars and ran away. The only fatality, as near as I could figure, actually came along the outskirts of the fighting. Carl was watching from the forest, keeping Hershel, Beth, and Judith safe. A teenaged Woodburyite ran up to them, carrying a shotgun. Carl told him to drop it; the Woodbury kid held out his gun in the absolute creepiest and most threatening way possible, saying "Here ya go, man, take it! Take my gun! Definitely not gonna shoot it!" Carl made an executive decision and shot the kid in the face.

Here's a question for you: Did Carl do the right thing? And is it even possible to answer that question, considering how completely the show stacked the moral deck?

Look, killing is wrong. Violence is wrong. I hate guns, although I love playing games where I fire guns, which I guess makes me roughly as insane as everyone else. But we aren't talking real-world here. We're talking about the world of a zombie apocalypse -- a post-civilization frontier, and an incredibly hazy moral atmosphere. Or at least, it used to seem hazy, back at the start of this season, when the Grimes Gang had basically become an effective team of hunter-killers. (Heck, even a few weeks ago, the show's moral stakes still felt intriguingly gray: Remember the backpacker on the road in "Clear," screaming for help that would never come?)

But something happened to The Walking Dead. It's difficult to pin down exactly when it happened, but with every passing week of this half-season, the show has seemed much less comfortable with making any of its main characters seem anything less than unambiguously heroic. (The one genuinely amoral character, Merle, was given a redemption arc that transformed him into a martyred saint.) This is unfortunate for many reasons, not least because it makes the characters seem radically less interesting. This time last season, Rick had learned a hard lesson from Shane and decided to start making hard decisions for the good of the many; flashforward to last week, and Rick was preaching a gospel of gooey communitarianism.

I'm not sure why this happened. I have suspicions. The Walking Dead is an incredibly popular show, and I'm sure the producers quite reasonably think people want to root for "the good guys." (Anyone who has been to one of the show's rousing Comic-Con panels knows that there's a weirdly large demographic of pre-teens who watch the show.) So a character like Michonne, who was specifically introduced as a lone-wolf skeptic who questioned authority, winds up following Rick's orders because he's a nice guy, I guess. So a character like Tyreese, who initially seemed to be a guy who would understandably do whatever he had to to save "his" people, wound up taking moral stands against the Governor. Instead of talking, Tyreese could have just occasionally held up a sign that said "THIS IS WRONG!" a few times, and he would've had the same effect on the season. [Tyreese Character Arc Season Grade: Chad Coleman was so so awesome on The Wire. Tyreese was so so awesome in the Walking Dead comic books. So the complete inability of the show to do anything interesting with Tyreese the TV character counts as one of the show's worst hiccups. D]

And so the Governor...well, what do you make of the Governor, in the end?

NEXT: The Governor will not be seeking re-election

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