I expected more from the final episode of Glen Mazzara’s run on The Walking Dead. In the last two years, the scribe has garnered a bit of a reputation for paying off long-standing plot threads with pomp, circumstance, and lots of exploding zombie heads, but “Welcome to the Tombs” opts instead to delay the climactic confrontation between Rick and the Governor yet again in favour of some convoluted deck shuffling. I’m reminded of early Frank Darabont episodes like “Tell It to the Frogs”, which had me exclaiming, “Is that it?!” by the time the credits rolled.
It’s not that “Welcome to the Tombs” lacks in pomp, circumstance, or exploding zombie heads. The cold open alone could crush a small mammal with its tension-building gravity, and the Woodbury soldiers blow up their fair share of walker noggins during their brief siege of the prison. I should note, though, that the latter set piece left me a bit cold, partly because Rick’s stratagem shows little ingenuity when you think about it and partly because director Ernest Dickerson cuts around most of the violence, or rather its consequences, so as not to diminish Carl’s crime in shooting one of the attackers. I don’t like it when storytellers stack the deck before debating a genuine issue.
It’s not that the timing seems off for Carl to remind us of his homicidal tendencies, what with the subplot spending most of the season under the carpet. After all, the boy’s shot two living, breathing human beings this year, including his own mother. Besides, young Mr Grimes makes a valid point about his father’s inconsistent bursts of compassion getting people killed. Don’t get me wrong: I, by no means, favour his side of the argument. However, when we proclaim it better to let a hundred murderers free than convict one innocent man, we often forget the price that comes with setting a hundred psychopaths loose on the streets. I mean, just ask Andrea.
It’s not that I’m sad to see Andrea go. Truth be told, I feel worse for Milton, who spends his dying moments repeatedly reminding the nincompoop to free herself instead of staring idly into the horizon to contemplate the nature of her existence. What’s more, Mazzara and his writing team have spent the better part of a year butchering her character to the point that I don’t think anyone gives a toss anymore. Raise your hands, all who would’ve liked another season devoted to Blondie McDumbdumb getting on her high horses, not realising they’re stampeding all over handicapped orphans. No one? Notice I’m still typing.
It’s not that I begrudge the stampeding horses getting away again. Philip, Caesar, and that guy who suspiciously looks like an Other from Lost make for compelling baddies, and I can understand AMC wanting to keep them around a while longer. Mind you, their suddenly driving off into continuity limbo comes off a bit like Cobra Commander weaseling away after another failed terrorist scheme, so I can’t help thinking Mazzara had more climactic plans for the Governor. Could this be the source of his creative differences with the network?
It’s not that I would have wanted the season to conclude with either Woodbury or the prison blowing up. Part of the latter does, and our heroes merging their tribe with the Governor’s sheep changes the status quo just enough to feel like a page is being turned. I find it intriguing that Mazzara chose to end his run on such a hopeful note. Had this been the final episode of The Walking Dead, we could have imagined human civilisation slowly sprouting back because of compassionate men like Rick. I might even have called it a beautiful sentiment.
Rather, my apathy stems from all these payoffs failing to match their buildup. After terrorizing our heroes for seven weeks straight, the Woodbury army scatters at the mere sound of petards. After shooting his mom and watching his dad’s mind deteriorate, Carl ends up exactly where he started sixteen episodes ago. After an endless string of close calls, Andrea croaks anyway without accomplishing anything. After a full year spent setting up the Governor as Rick’s ultimate nemesis, the show runners cop out and let his threat resolve itself. It’s an odd thing to say, but “Welcome to the Tombs” turns out as unsatisfying as it is competent. That pretty much sums up the season, doesn’t it?