AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD completes its third season with “Welcome to the Tombs.” The Governor (David Morrissey) takes most of his people out to slaughter the prison group. Upon arriving, they find a seemingly empty prison, and then Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the others emerge from hiding and drive them off. The Governor is furious at the retreat, and when his army refuses to go back, he kills his own people.
This is the darkest we have ever seen the Governor get. We know that he has no problem murdering and torturing individuals, and he full intends to massacre Rick’s people now. Yet, there is something extra chilling about the callous way he mows down an entire squadron under his command, walking around and delivering extra bullets into their heads, just to make sure they are dead. Then, he jumps into his truck nonchalantly. It’s an all new level for character that is already very dark.
The Governor doesn’t quite kill everyone, though. He leaves Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo) and Shupert (Travis Love) alive, and they get into the truck with him, although they are both clearly very shaken by what they witness him do. Assumedly, they get to live because the Governor still needs some assistance, and they seem to be the most loyal of his followers. At this point, their allegiance may stem more from fear than a commitment to the man, but hey, loyalty is loyalty, right?
Unfortunately, we don’t see this trio again for the rest of the hour. Many people expect “Welcome to the Tombs” to be a huge battle between the Governor and Rick’s respective camps, with high body counts on both sides. This is probably because that is how THE WALKING DEAD comics ended the story, and season two’s climax last spring was huge, from an action standpoint. Yet, the Governor drives off, not to be seen again, for now.
Is this a misstep for the show? On one hand, I completely respect that the series’ writers did the unexpected and went down a surprising path, one that is quite a bit more understated than most thought it would be. Martinez and Shupert don’t seem in any shape to continue, and Rick’s people would still be ready for them if they struck again right away. Three men against the prison group wouldn’t likely do so well, even with their superior firepower.
On the other hand, there are sure to be many unhappy fans after viewing the episode. The Governor seems so bent on revenge, it doesn’t quite make sense to see his character give up, even if only temporarily. He’s a smart man, though, so I guess he’s right to bide his time. But by doing so, it means that the hour fails to deliver the adrenaline-pumping finale viewers are looking for. I really hope it doesn’t create a backlash that the show didn’t deliver, a la The Killing.
The Governor’s initial attack on the prison, blowing up the guard towers, and plunging into the dark depths of the facility, is cool. This is what we are looking for. It just ends far too early for some tastes.
Honestly, as someone who absolutely loves this series, I’m still not sure if I’m satisfied or not with this installment yet. But considering how seriously good THE WALKING DEAD has been for so long, I’m willing to try to give them the benefit of the doubt that a neat plan is in place, even if that means waiting six months for the next part of it.
It has already been announced that Morrissey will return full-time next season, so the Governor’s arc isn’t over yet; there may still be a large-scale showdown. The Governor has been such a deliciously layered character, a truly remarkable villain, that it is gratifying to know he won’t just disappear into the night, or be killed off too quickly. This isn’t really the ending, so in that regard, it’s OK that it’s smaller.
When the Governor’s people retreat, Rick and the group to decide to go after them. They’re ready to be done with the conflict, and so they decide to attack the bad guys on the road or in Woodbury. It’s a little weird that only Rick, Michonne (Danai Gurari), and Daryl (Norman Reedus) go, as three people against the big gang that just fled doesn’t seem like enough. Yet, if any three could accomplish such a feat, it would be these.
Is it a mistake that Glenn (Steve Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) decide to stay behind? Are they sending their friends to certain death, since they won’t provide support? Or are they too happy as a couple, having recently gotten engaged, to risk losing one another? Their motivations aren’t discussed, and Rick accepts their decision without argument. Yet, at the same time, it’s a bit of a disappointment that these two don’t appear to be willing to play their part anymore, and one could argue that their refusal constitutes betrayal, even if it isn’t treated as such by Rick.
This is a great scene to parallel the Governor’s plot. As the Governor gets ready to leave Woodbury for the prison, Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) also decide to stay behind. At that point, readying the troops, the Governor can’t deny them in front of everyone. Instead, he says “thank you,” but it’s the angriest thanks I’ve ever heard, in stark contrast to Rick’s understanding tone. This illustrates the difference between the two leadership styles, and who the men are, perfectly.
It also allows Tyreese and Sasha to be the only ones at Woodbury, besides the very young or old, who can’t fight, when Rick, Michonne, and Daryl arrive. After a nice showdown at the gate, the remaining Woodbury residents decide to return to the prison and join Rick’s group.
Tyreese seems to have a good read of people, and while he is originally scared off by Rick, he is willing to forgive now, especially given the options. After all, Rick approaches with no aggression at all, weapon down. It helps that there is one survivor of the Governor’s killing spree, Karen (Melissa Ponzio, Teen Wolf), who can vouch for the Governor’s instability. Given the choice of staying in Woodbury, waiting for a crazy man to come back, or going to the relative safety of the prison, where there will be armed protection, Tyreese and the remaining Woodbury innocents make the right choice.
I do wonder if this doesn’t hurt the prison group, though. Many of their exterior defenses are destroyed, and although they have added a lot of people to protect and a lot of mouths to feed, they aren’t likely to find much help among the Woodbury denizens for defending or providing for the group, other than Tyreese, Sasha, and Karen. Everyone else isn’t fit enough to carry a gun, or the Governor would have forced them into servitude for his purposes. This may end up leaving the prison in a dire circumstance, and the Governor will likely be pleased by the burden Rick has agreed to, as it weakens Rick’s people.
At least Rick’s group doesn’t have any non-fighters left in it before the newbies come, which will help. Glenn and Maggie may not want to go to Woodbury, but they handle themselves well in conflict, Glenn no longer being the nervous nerd he is introduced as. Carl (Chandler Riggs) is practically an adult in the clan now, and even Beth (Emily Kinney) finally gets a Walker kill in this episode! They are as prepared as they can be.
While in Woodbury, Rick and the others find Andrea (Laurie Holden). At the beginning of “Welcome to the Tombs,” the Governor tortures Milton (Dallas Roberts), then leaves him dying in the room with Andrea when Milton refuses to kill her, Milton finally growing the backbone we’ve been waiting for. This effectively means he turns into a Walker and will attack her anyway, a very cruel move for the Governor to make, though certainly in keeping with his past behavior.
By the time Rick, et al arrive, Andrea has killed Walker Milton, but has been bitten, and will soon be turning herself. Michonne stays with her, and they Rick gives Andrea a gun so that she can end her life on her own terms. This is an incredibly moving scene, not only showing the affection between the characters, but even issuing a callback to a line of dialogue between Andrea and Rick early in the series’ run. It’s one of the better deaths in THE WALKING DEAD, since Andrea gets time to say goodbye.
It’s a little disappointing that Andrea dies so soon. She has been a wonderful character, one who survives much longer in the books, and it’s sad to see her go. However, “Welcome to the Tombs” effectively ends her current arc, where she does her best to save everyone and keeping blood from being shed. Some have found her recent plot to be annoying, but it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t end appropriately. Her heart is in the right place, and she goes out with dignity. Plus, she gets to explain some of her actions to Milton before he passes, which should ally some fan complaints.
Lastly, Carl shoots point blank a young member of the Woodbury offensive who tries to surrender. This, like Andrea’s recent story, is an action worth arguing over. Hershel (Scott Wilson) is disturbed to see Carl’s callousness, and reports it to Rick, who also disagrees with what Carl did. However, Carl points out that Rick has left other people alive, and it is has often come back to bite him in the butt. Carl, by killing the guy, is making sure he can’t hurt them later.
This is an interesting dilemma. Carl is justified in his opinion, and killing the boy is something Shane would have done, or even maybe Rick, a few episodes ago. Yet, the hard lesson Rick has been learning this season is to hang onto his humanity, and killing those they don’t have to is not in line with good judgment. Rick seems to have figured out that he still has to be a good person and try to help others, evidenced when he sees smiling Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) in the prison this week, smiling as if approving of what Rick is doing. Sometimes, hard choices must be made, but sometimes that means taking a risk to do right by others, even if it costs you something later.
This is a debate that has gone on for some time on the show, with different characters taking up the two positions. How far should one go to survive and protect one’s friends and family? At this point, it looks like Rick is going to have to try to back Carl down from the stance he’s taken, making Carl remember the values Carl’s mother taught him. But will Rick come to regret that if softening Carl puts his son in danger? This will be interesting to see play out next year.
Season three has been a fantastic year for THE WALKING DEAD. The storytelling has shifted even more towards exploring character development and moral issues, while still keeping enough action and surprises to stay engaging. Even without the huge, expected war, this finale is a great episode by any measure. And, after the shock of not getting exactly what we were looking forward so much to wears off, I think most fans will appreciate it more.
THE WALKING DEAD will return in October on AMC.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.