‘Too Far Gone’, the eighth episode of Season Four of The Walking Dead, was many things. It was a reckoning, of course, a gathering of forces matched up against each other with a sense of inevitability. It was a war. It was a massacre, a ruination of home and hearth, and an episode that left us breathless and more than a little stunned by the end. It was also the long-awaited resolution to a story that frankly had gone on for far too long.
The title is almost painfully ironic — this was the ending that we should have had back in Season Three (and it’s also far more in line with how the Governor’s story concludes in the comic books). This glaring, dangling plot thread grew tiresome long before, and I suppose we can be grateful that it did end, and it ended well. It also served as an interesting lesson in the divergent methods of storytelling between the two groups, and why we’ve become so invested in the tales of Rick and his ragged band.
Phillip’s opening monologue was — if we can be truthful — symbolic of everything that had made his plotline so cumbersome. Full of half-baked ideas and melodrama, it was an exercise in egomania, one that for all intents and purposes should have been laughed out of any realistic discussion. There’s a perverse logic to people like him coming to power, and in the context of Woodbury, his ascendancy made sense. Yet here, it was too far and too fast, and for each of them to simply agree to kidnapping two people and an armed invasion on a fortress? The very definition of stupidity. But the entire “second camp” that Phillip took control of was always the victim of quick-and-dirty storytelling and character development, and none of the players were ever really more than grunts and caricatures. The exceptions — Lilly and her sister — were the only ones to ever feel like actual people, and even then, Tara was a non-factor whose acquiescence and later reversal never carried any real repercussions.
Yet back at the prison, we see everything that makes the show great. Glenn and Maggie, whose charm and sweetness is still never overdone, and whose performances portray such genuine warmth that — in this universe, anyway — it’s actually kind of terrifying. The palpable fear that viewers have of this couple being torn asunder is a testament to both the writers and the actors. Meanwhile, Rick and Daryl’s confrontation over Carol crackled with a visceral intensity, as did the wild-eyed anger of Tyreese as he thought he discovered something. Even Bob, a relative newcomer, had a wonderful moment as he, the guilt-ridden mess that he is, is forced to reluctantly accept Sasha’s gratitude — though it almost felt like it physically pains him to absorb even a drop of happiness.
All of these are reasons why the group is so important to us, and why the Governor/Phillip is not. It’s why, when Rick — whose character has had its ups and downs, and had some moments of absolutely terrible scripting and development — when he delivered his impassioned plea to the Governor (and make no mistake — in that scene, he was Phillip/Brian no more) we felt moved by it. It’s why when the Governor’s men and women were dropped like so much meat, we cared little, and when Hershel was slaughtered, it affected us deeply. And when Megan, Lilly’s daughter, is caught by the walker under the mud, it was a surprise, but ultimately carried little emotional weight. But each loss at the prison was one that hit like a brick. And when the Governor is cut down by Michonne — who then purposefully walks away from his desperate, dying gasps — it felt righteous.
But we knew it wasn’t over then, and it’s that fear that was the fuel that fed this episode’s fire. When Michonne saved Rick, we knew the fight wasn’t over, and we knew that they weren’t yet safe. But when Rick finds Carl, it felt like the hand wrapped around our hearts had loosened a little. When the bus drives away, it tightens once again. And when Rick and Carl find the remains of Judith, that hand became a fist. That shot, of the blood-saturated car seat, and Carl’s absolute, total devastation coupled with the stunned despair on Rick’s face, will remain one of the show’s most powerful moments, as will the subsequent blind fury of Carl as his rifle clicked emptily in impotent rage.
The frustrating part of this season is that these past few episodes inevitably feel like wasted time. All of these things should have been incorporated into the dragging drudgery that made up the second half of Season Three, and it would have given us the opportunity to spend this time on something new. It’s all too apparent that Scott Gimple and company are trying to quickly tie up the loose ends that they were unfortunately saddled with, and I suppose they’ve done a decent enough job — it’s just a shame that it became necessary at all. Yet in the end, ‘Too Far Gone’ was still a mostly-excellent episode, full of hate and anger and tragedy and sadness, of love and all the terribleness that comes with it. It showcased the howling dark void that really resided within the Governor just as much as it did the earnest heart that resides in Rick, and it showed — in more than one way — how the ones we need to protect the most are so easily torn away from us. And now, we’re back to where things probably should be. No longer is the group treading water. Instead, their home is destroyed, their family splintered to pieces, and while their foes may be gone, they remain far from safe.
See you next year.