Walking Dead season three finale recap: Mourning the death of a character who improved the show by leaving it
According to co-star Lauren Cohan, every major character’s death on AMC’s The Walking Dead is commemorated with a “death dinner” by the cast, mourning and celebrating the end of a job well done.
Which means they must have had one heck of a ceremony to wrap up filming for season three, considering Sunday’s blockbuster finale featuring the death of both Dallas Roberts’ Milton and Laurie Holden’s Andrea at the end of an action-packed episode.
“You hope to never get the call, but that’s part of the honor of being on this show,” Cohan, who plays survivor Maggie Greene, told me a few weeks ago, musing on the death of another major character, Michael Rooker’s degenerate soldier Merle Dixon. “It just shows you there are no rules.”
Actually, Andrea’s death, for me, exemplified one rule for The Walking Dead: characters the writers seem to struggle with handling, usually get the big fade.
I’ve always felt the show never quite knew what to do with Andrea, who would have been a love interest for the show’s hero in a more predictable post-apocalyptic drama (indeed, her character eventually gets close to hero Rick Grimes in the graphic novels which birthed the Walking Dead world).
Instead, this past season Andrea has ping ponged between loyalty to the show’s charismatic villain, The Governor, and the folks who follow Rick, passing up chance after chance to bring down the bad guy in a fruitless attempt to resolve hostilities without anyone losing a life.
Much as some fans groused about Sunday's episode -- the New York Post called it a "total miss" -- the episode drew 12.4 million viewers overall and 8.1 million adults age 18 to 49; it's largest audience ever and a bigger 18 to 49 number than hit network TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory, The Voice, American Idol and Modern Family. Even the live analysis show Talking Dead drew 5.2 million viewers, more than HBO's third season debut of Game of Thrones (HBO, as a premium cable service, has am uch smaller audience of potential viewers than AMC, a basic cable channel)
Sunday’s episode spent a lot of time explaining Andrea’s actions, allowing her character to say many times, “I just didn’t want anyone to die” – a statement which sounds a bit naïve, given how dangerous life can be in a zombie apocalypse.
(Just ask Rick’s son Carl, who killed a young follower of The Governor even as he was trying to surrender, later reminding his dad how many times they were threatened by people who they probably should have killed when they had the chance. As usual, Carl is showing he understands life in the zombified world better than most adults around him.)
And why, as one friend pointed out on Facebook, did Andrea spend so much time talking to a dying man she was locked in a room with, who was quicky going to turn into a flesh-eating "walker" (they never use the word zombies on the show)?
If Andrea would have spent more time trying to get out of her handcuffs and less reminiscing with Milton, maybe she would have survived to annoy us fans another day. Just sayin'.
Her death also highlighted another dynamic we’ve seen recently; the show’s habit of making characters more interesting and compelling, just before killing them off.
Watching Andrea become a more active character in the last few episodes should have been a warning. When Rooker’s Merle Dixon got more backstory and explanation for his jerkwad behavior, it wasn’t long before he was making a suicide run at The Governor.
Best of all, the one character who didn’t die was the one whose demise was always expected to cap this season; David Morrissey’s charismatic psychopath The Governor survived gunning down many of his own people, taking two of his best fighters to remain an ongoing threat for our heroes. I remain a bit perplexed that some fans are disappointed in the finale because it didn't do what everyone expected -- end The Governor's stint on the show (indeed, Morrissey has been confirmed as a series regular for the show's fourth season).
Given that new executive producer Scott Gimple wrote two of this season’s most affecting episodes – the return of fan favorite Morgan Jones in “Clear” and Merle’s death in “This Sorrowful Life” – that’s a good sign for the future of this franchise, which seems to go through top producers as often as the show cycles through major characters.
Burdened with a flood of new people who once followed The Governor and liberated by a season which tested how much of their humanity remains, our hardy band of survivors seems well-positioned for another season of adventures.
As always, the question remains: How much of your humanity can you relinquish to survive in a zombie apocalypse and how much can you hold onto so that survival actually means something?