JOPLIN, Mo. —
Let's start this column by stating the obvious: I'm going to dissect Sunday's season finale of "The Walking Dead" in detail, so if you haven't seen the final episode of season three, then, for the love of Daryl (or hate of Andrea), stop reading now. Spoilers follow.
The thing that puzzled me the most about "Welcome to the Tombs" was how everything worked out so well for Rick and the gang. So many confrontations were resolved Sunday:
- The epic showdown between the Ricktator and the Governor dissipated like the finale of "Twilight." There was no battle. Just a gambit, a moment of craziness while the Governor gunned down his insubordinate soldiers, then an escape.
- The conquering of Woodbury never happens -- after seeing the Governor's handiwork, Rick and the group go instead as concerned neighbors.
- The end of Andrea and Milton. Andrea succeeds at killing herself after suffering damage (those bite marks didn't look too bad, so why did she kill herself, again?) in the way that she failed at killing herself at the end of season one. Milton ended up being the surprise victim of the Governor's torture -- after chaining Andrea to that chair, I figured she was in for a rough ordeal. (Random thought: Is Andrea really that bad with her toes? Sure, she was chained to a chair, racing against time to free herself, but grabbing pliers with toes seems pretty easy.)
- The impact of Merle's decision. In one of the most heartbreaking scenes since Sophia shambled out of the barn in season two, Daryl finds that his brother, Merle, has become zombified, which (according to the show's rules of transformation) means he was killed. Apparently, he would make a good cop, because Daryl was able to figure out what happened, pass the news on to the rest of the group and process that it was the most selfless, honorable thing Merle had ever done.
- Tyrese, Sasha and the other exiles were welcomed back into the fold and helped move a bunch of Woodburyians into the jail.
- Rick and Michonne made up fairly quickly, after Rick had considered delivering Michonne to the Governor in exchange for his group's safety. Michonne forgave Rick, saying that he had to consider such an option.
About that last one, I liked how Rick finally gave Carl the credit for considering Michonne one of them. Near the end of "Clear," Carl made it clear that Michonne belonged, and Rick never should have doubted that.
But that's the last smart thing Carl did, apparently. The only storm brewing now is between Rick and his son.
During Sunday's episode, Carl popped a cap in one of the Governor's men. Granted, the guy should have dropped the shotgun instantly. But he didn't -- and even though he was not aiming and holding it away, Carl took action and took him out.
After Hershel tells Rick what happened, Carl defends his act, and points out that he did what Rick couldn't do -- kill the monsters before they kill you.
In the midst of all the optimism of the finale, that lingering storm cloud is unsettling. The Governor appears to be a non-issue, war is over, Rick isn't seeing his dead wife anymore and appears to be opening up and getting back to normal, the new folks in the jail seem awfully nice and Glen and Maggie didn't die.
Yet Carl's brooding disapproval of his dad ruins all of it.
My biggest issue with the finale was how it didn't have a satisfying ultimate fight and aftermath that showed the direction of the show. The first season ended with a big explosion at the CDC and the highway out of town. The second saw the paradise of Hershel's farm go up in flames and showed the jail in the distance.
But the more I thought about this ending, it occurred to me that a broken relationship between father and son is more disastrous than the first two seasons put together. The destruction of that kind of safety net fills me with the type of dread I've come to expect from this show.