The Walking Dead's third season has been about as flighty as its characters; the jumps between towns, between the people of Woodbury and those that have fought for survival at the jail, has mostly worked because it didn't fall into stagnation like season two did at the farm. But there comes a time when the show must move on from its safe zone; "Welcome to the Tombs" was an episode where I expected the show to do just that, although what I got was slightly different.
Though season three has been a huge step up from last season, The Walking Dead has still failed to generate much emotion for two of its main characters in this arc: Rick and Andrea. Rick's development has been a bit better than Andrea's, because he's the protagonist and we've been able to spend a little more time with him. As a leader, we know where his priorities lie, and when he juggles making a decision, it's mostly because he's not sure if it's right for the group. Andrea, on the other hand, has done what's she wanted to do from the start, and though she makes a case for the reasons she helped out Woodbury and the Governor in these episodes, I steal think it was a moment of selfishness more than anything.
But these two episodes are probably some of the best moments of season three, at least in the sense that things happened, tension mounted, and people were lost in the skirmishes. Merle has a change of heart in "This Sorrowful Place," at first setting out to deliver Michonne to the Governor and then making a choice to let her go. Merle has pretty much been a character driven by his own greed, many times an underling to others, and the choice to break from what others want him to do is a perfect example of how The Walking Dead can get drama right. But it's also an abrupt decision, one that comes just minutes following Merle's scavenge for drugs in prison mattresses.
Still, The Walking Dead has often forced its character progression, so there's not much to complain about with Merle. The repercussions are felt - not only does he succeed in taking out a bunch of the Governor's men, he also revitalizes Daryl in the fight. It forces the Governor's hand, too; the tipping point has been coming for a while, and the Governor has gone pretty nutso over the course of this season, but Merle's obvious treachery, along with Andrea's and Milton's, has pushed him over the edge.
It leads us to the tense finale, "Welcome to the Tombs," which pits the Governor and Rick against each other in battle. The Governor wages war on the jail, although he's trounced by the survivors when they set up a trap to make it look like they've run away. Then, when Rick and the others go to get revenge, to end the war, they find Woodbury ready to give up the fight after the Governor murders his own people in cold blood.
Not only that, but in a fitting display, Andrea is overtaken by Milton the zombie after she's chained in a room with him with only a pair of pliers to protect her. The episode is shot juxtaposing the events of the battle with Andrea's predicament, and it might (no: would) have been more effective had I actually cared for Andrea at all. That character has been a detriment to the show since the beginning; she's annoying, care-free, and frustratingly devoid of the ability to make good decisions. That she put herself in such a situation isn't sad - we've known something like this was coming for her - and so I couldn't be anything but happy when I found out she would not be coming with us for season four.
That's not a flaw of the episode, though. It's a flaw of the series. Had "Welcome to the Tombs" featured the death of Daryl or Glenn, it would have been so much more effective. But there was still excitement here, because Andrea won't be around to annoy me any longer.
Yet "Welcome to the Tombs" is surprisingly reticent to give us any sort of conclusion. The Governor makes it out alive, miraculously, although it seems that whatever will befall him will most likely happen very quickly into season four, because I don't think there's much left to do with the character besides the inevitable downfall. There's no sense of closure here, though. What we're left with is an episode that leaves us with the same kind of cliffhanger that any episode on the season has done. It doesn't feel like a shock, it doesn't feel like we're moving forward; it simply is, and that's probably not the best feeling for a finale.