Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 4, Episode 8 of AMC's "The Walking Dead," titled "Too Far Gone"
Sunday's midseason 4 finale gave us the tide-turning battle we were expecting at the end of season 3, but this time each side had even more to lose.
The first half of this season has been about the prison group keeping the status quo while The Governor plots his revenge, and both of those dreams are shattered by the end of it. We begin with The Governor rallying his new troops at the RV camp, explaining that biters will eventually overtake their DIY fences, and if not, "other people" will come after them for their supplies.
"We stay here, we die," he warns, infecting everyone with paranoia before suggesting that they go after the prison. We see scenes from his previous trip to the Prison and find out that he has kidnapped both Michonne and Hershel. Even though he refers to them as, "the people who destroyed the camp," meaning Woodbury, it's hard to believe that Tara is the only person who seems to disagree with his taking hostages.
Still, The Governor is able to get just about everyone on board to take over the prison after he claims Rick and company were the ones who mutilated him (true), killed his daughter (not technically) and burned down Woodbury (nope, that was him). He says he can use Hershel and Michonne to get them to evacuate "without firing a shot," but that they need to surprise them.
The only person against attacking the prison is Lilly. She doesn't want to fight for a new home when she's just starting to find normalcy with her daughter in the camp. This leads to an awkward moment when The Governor tries his usual manipulative shtick on her, even saying, "I love you," and she responds with an "I don't know who you are."
After that, it's pretty clear that Lilly is over "Brian."
The Governor visits Michonne and Hershel in his RV and tells them to eat up because, "It's going to be a long day." Surprisingly, he levels with them. He tells Michonne that he now understands that his daughter was already dead when she put her down, and says he only wants the prison because "I have people I need to keep alive." Hershel tries to reason with him, saying that they can all live together, but The Governor knows that he and RIck or Michonne will never be able to coexist after what they went through (not to mention Maggie and Glenn). Hershel even appeals to The Governor's love for his daughter by asking how he could harm his girls at the prison knowing what it's like to lose one. Of course, Mr. Ice-In-His-Veins responds with a cool, "They're not mine."
Oh, and he totally flips when Hershel calls him "The Governor," even though they haven't yet been introduced to "Brian."
As The Governor's troops prepare for battle, Lilly (who is still not on board with all of this) is relocated with Meghan to a quiet spot near the lake on the other side of the prison. For some reason, recent "zombie tag" player Meghan is allowed to play all by herself, far away from their RV, in some disgusting mud (seriously, how are they not worried about germs by now?). The Governor reassures Lilly and has a tender moment with the little girl before he heads off to war.
Meanwhile, back at the prison, we get a brief update on the condition of the flu victims. Maggie comforts Glenn, who's still looking very weak, while Sasha thanks Bob for bringing her the medicine, as much as he really doesn't want to be thanked.
Next, Daryl finds out about Rick sending Carol away for her crimes against Karen and David. RIck tells Daryl she's going to be okay, that she's a survivor, but Daryl is pissed and doesn't think Rick actually believes that. Together, the guys go to inform Tyreese, unsure of how he'll react, but it's actually Tyreese who has a surprise for them. He just found a creepy, splayed-out rat that looks like a Biology 101 experiment. He recalls the rats that were found near the perimeter fences a few episodes back (which I suspected were the work of little Lizzie) and is convinced that there's a psychopath living among them. He also thinks whoever killed Karen and David also did this.
Interesting theory, and it does raise more questions about Lizzie, but right before Rick is about to explain that Carol confessed to killing Karen and David, the prison ceiling rumbles. The Governor has arrived with the tank, his entire posse, and plenty of ammunition. But hey, he just wants to talk!
Rick and his crew rush outside and start addressing The Governor. Rick tries to get out of the conversation by saying he doesn't make decisions anymore, that the council runs the prison, but is quickly shut up when The Governor reveals that he has Hershel and Michonne.
Rick nods at Daryl, hugs Carl and gets closer the The Governor to negotiate. Daryl tells Sasha and Tyreese about an evacuation bus that they can start getting people on. The Governor says they have until sundown to get out of the prison. Even though Rick says they have sick children inside that won't survive a move, The Governor keeps up his "nice guy" routine in front of his followers and makes it sound like he's doing Rick and company a favor: "I have a tank and I'm letting you walk away from here. What else is there to talk about?"
Back across the lake, the first tragic scene of many takes place. Lilly, again very far away from Meghan, is standing on top of the RV, watching a walker make its way into the water. Even though she knows that this walker can't get to her, she keeps her hand on her gun and her eyes focused on it. For this (stupid) reason, she doesn't see that Meghan is basically exhuming a dead body in the mud to make her "peanut butter sandwiches." Before she realizes what's going on, Meghan receives one of the most iconic zombie attacks of all time: the hand-reaching-out-of-the-grave grab.
And that's it for Meghan, poor baby. We are immediately thrust back into the action at the prison, where Rick is still conversing with The Governor while Daryl distributes guns to his people behind the fences.
The Governor and Rick talk, hypothetically, about fighting instead of fleeing, but Rick knows that The Governor would overpower them with the tank, it would attract too many walkers and, not to mention, ruin the prison they are trying to reside in. Rick counter-offers with the suggestion that both groups share the prison, occupying different cell blocks, but The Governor says no. "Not after Woodbury. Not after Andrea."
Meanwhile, Carl has a clear shot (albeit a long one) at The Governor's head, but Daryl tells him not to take it, to trust Rick and let them talk. On the other side of the prison, Lizzie and the rest of the kids (also carrying baby Judith) are heading toward the evacuation bus, as they should, when Lizzie stops them in their tracks. She suggest that they get guns and help secure the prison. Sure, what could go wrong with that?
With less than an hour until sundown, the negotiations come to a climax. The Governor holds Michonne's katana to Hershel's neck. Rick asks The Governor and his followers, pointing at Tara, is this is really what they want. Mitch, ever poignant, responds from the top of the tank: "We want what you have. Time for you to leave, a**hole!"
At this point, Rick starts talking about the prison like a community college. He says that the people they took in after The Governor went crazy became leaders at the prison. "You walk through those gates, you're one of us," he says, reiterating that they can let go of the past.
He then invokes the wisdom of the Irish woman he met in the woods (and Lizzie, to a lesser extent) saying they've all done terrible things to stay alive but, "We can still come back. We're not too far gone."
Hershel, his demise imminent, smiles as Rick says, "I know we all can change." That's when you know it's coming... The Governor mutters, "Liar," before half-decapitating Hershel with the Katana. Goodbye, old friend.
The chaos of the moment is captured in slow motion with silent screams coming from Hershel's heartbroken daughters. Then, actual screams. Everyone starts shooting. Rick shoots The Governor in the arm. Rick catches a bullet in the leg. Michonne runs for cover and attempts to release her arms from the ropes. It's all happening so fast.
The Governor sickly takes the time to finish decapitating Hershel in the grass, like he must have done dozens of times back when he had his head-in-a-jar collection. Tara, now officially freaking out, refuses to pick up her weapon and fight. Her girlfriend Alisha tells her to run if she has to, find somewhere safe, and that she'll find her "when this is all over." Famous last words.
In the middle of the mayhem, Lilly walks up to The Governor with a lifeless Meghan in her arms. She hasn't turned yet. In perhaps the most surprising moment of the episode, The Governor takes the girl in his arms and shoots her point blank in the head without saying a word. Lilly, naturally, is horrified.
The fight is no longer about taking over the prison because The Governor basically orders Mitch to destroy it by driving the tank into the fences. Not surprisingly, "We have to talk," quickly turns into "Kill them all." But Governor! You said you could do this without firing a bullet! Guess the people who were able to take down your entire town before have a little fight left in them. Oh, and one other thing: where on Earth are they getting the fuel to drive that tank everywhere?
Anyway, back to the battle. Maggie and Beth are clearly devastated but manage to carry on. Maggie orders Beth to help people get on the bus, repeating their father's mantra of "We all have jobs to do." Maggie is able to find Glenn as the tank fires into the prison (again, ruining it!) and get him on the bus with the other sick people.
Out in the field, Rick and The Governor are now just beating the crap out of each other. Rick is taking a pretty bad beating but hangs in there just long enough for Michonne to sneak up behind The Governor and WHAM! She stabs him with the Katana of Karma™.
Finally, Michonne has her revenge. But she doesn't finish the job. Instead, she leaves him there to presumably bleed out or be eaten by walkers. It isn't until later that we see Lilly approach The Governor with a gun, point it at his head, and pull the trigger. Did she hit the brain? Or did she miss (like she did with her amputee neighbor) and we'll soon be treated to The Zombie Governor? Probably not, but I can dream. For now, The Governor has met his end at the hands of three people: Rick, Michonne and Lilly.
But that's not the end of this bloody episode's death count. Tara's girlfriend Alisha meets her untimely demise in shocking twist. Little Lizzie and her sister appear out of nowhere, guns drawn, and shoot her in the head before she can do the same to Tyreese.
The girls run off with Tyreese, and it becomes a little hard to keep track of everyone at this point. Tara has already made her escape. Sasha, Bob (who is wounded) and Maggie are together when they see the evacuation bus pull away with Glenn on it. Daryl, meanwhile, is performing some next-level offense and defense in front of the prison, using a walker as a decoy and throwing a grenade into the tank, forcing Mitch to jump out and confront Daryl's crossbow.
Mitch is eliminated. Beth, who has been looking for the rest of the children, joins Daryl. Finally, Rick emerges from the field and calls out for Carl, who emerges most triumphant from behing two walkers as he shoots them. Then Rick, sobbing with a mouthful of blood, asks the episode's most heartbreaking question: "Where's Judith?"
Judith's baby seat is not only empty, but bloody. What happened? The little girls had it before they decided to go rogue, and then what? Did they just leave her sitting on the ground? Did a walker get her? Was Beth able to find her? Why wasn't she put on the bus? It's so frustrating and sad.
A bit of symbolism caps off the episode when we see the King chess piece on which Meghan drew an eye patch being stepped on by a walker. Leading the horde toward what's left of the cell block the prison crew occupied is the aforementioned Irish woman Rick left to turn in the woods a few episodes back.
Carl and Rick start limping away from the fiery prison and into the woods. "Don't look back. Just keep walking," Rick tells his son. And the credits roll.
SO, where doe that leave us until the next episode airs on Feb. 9, 2014? Hershel is dead. The Governor is dead. Judith is possibly dead. Tyreese, Beth, Daryl, Maggie, Sasha, Bob, Michonne, Lizzie and her sister are all scattered around the prison. Glenn is on the bus with mostly unnamed characters. Tara ran off to "a safe place." And Carol is at large.
This is the first time in a while that there isn't a central camp or homestead for the survivors, and I'm interested to see if and how they all find each other again. Hershel's death is sure to deeply affect Rick (hopefully not in the ghost-phone-call-sort-of-way again) and the lack of hard evidence that Judith was killed will keep me wondering until next year.
"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays, 9:00 p.m. ET on AMC.