Rick and the Governor face off for control of the Prison (again).
The Governor
Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The midseason finale of The Walking Dead marked the end for two major characters at opposite ends of the morality spectrum. Hershel, the heart of the series after Dale died, and the Governor, the dark, malignant force that has plagued our heroes since last season, both reached the end of their storylines. Who will you miss more — Hershel or the Governor? (Let's just say, I'm not going to be able to see Santa this holiday season in the same way. Only Scott Wilson as Hershel and Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle can pull off that short, sophisticated white-haired beard so well.)

The Governor goes into full politician mode as he convinces his group to march on the Prison. With Michonne and Hershel as captives, he plans on using them as bargaining chips — or pawns — to convince Rick and the gang to abandon the Prison. That way, they "don't need to kill anyone," assures the Governor before he adds, "but we need to be prepared to." He characterizes most of the Prison community as "thieves" and "murderers," which is ironic as that is exactly what the Governor is — a thief and murderer. He later calls Rick a "liar," which, again, is a representation of himself rather than the others.

Lilly is doubtful of the Governor's plan to move the camp into the Prison, reiterating her thoughts last episode that the camp need not find a better place. In a perfect example of "too little too late," she is also starting to have doubts about the Governor. She (finally) realizes that despite trusting this man with everything she holds dear practically the moment after she met him, he may not be who she thinks he is. When he tells her that he loves her, she responds, "I don't know who you are." By not keeping his "plan" secret from her, the Governor thinks he's making progress — at least from his most recent relationship. What he doesn't realize is that he's also revealing his psycho killer side, which is almost always a turn off for most women.

The Governor interrogates Michonne and Hershel, replacing his usual interrogation tactics like feeding people to Walkers or sexual assault with just talking face-to-face. He restates his plan to avoid bloodshed if possible, but Hershel hopes to convince him that the two groups can co-exist at the Prison. Yet we — along with the Governor and Michonne — know that it could never work, if not for the characters' issues with each other than for the sake of storytelling. We really need to get out of the Prison and, boy, do we.

Hershel attempts to appeal to the father in the Governor — displaying great strength in doing so since he knows what the Governor has already done to his daughter. (Don't call him that! But definitely do call him that if only to spite him.) He pleads, "If you understand what it's like to have a daughter, then how can you threaten to kill someone else's?" The Governor simply replies, "Because they aren't mine."

And so he encapsulates his post-apocalyptic philosophy, which is shared by many characters on The Walking Dead. Protect what's mine and to hell with anything or anyone else. Rick also had this mentality, but it still remains to be seen which view leads to a better life. The three questions and even Martinez's two statements seem more morally sound than the Governor's obsession with survival. But can anyone ultimately survive the Zombiepocalypse?

(Side note: During this scene, you can see the Governor put the white king chess piece Meghan customized into his pocket. That's how the piece makes its way to the field outside the Prison as the Governor meets his maker.)

NEXT: Daryl finds out about Carol. Someone is learning rat anatomy. The Governor makes his return outside the Prison gates.

Glenn and Maggie share a brief moment of peace as Glenn recuperates from the flu virus. They dream of a vacation to commemorate their one-year anniversary. Of course, this one happy moment is overshadowed by the rest of the episode's events. Nonetheless, it is hopeful to see that love however fragile can survive the undead and human horrors of the Zombiepocalypse.

NOW THE MOMENT WE'VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR: Daryl reacts to the news of Rick banishing Carol for her fatal actions against Karen and David! He's…angry and upset but relatively okay. He's mostly upset that Rick didn't wait until the Meds Crew returned. Who knows what would've happened if he had? Perhaps Daryl would have left with Carol and the girls in tow. (That sounds like an epic alt-universe spinoff.)

Daryl storms off, so that he and Rick can finally tell Tyreese about Carol. Before they can do so, Tyreese shows them an ominous wood plank with a rat nailed down and splayed open upon it like some post-apocalyptic high school biology project. Alas it seems fated for Tyreese to never know the true culprit behind his lover's death. The men are interrupted for the Governor with his new army and Mitch's tank has returned to the Prison.

Before we get to the Governor and his hoopla again, what's up with Bob and his mysterious box? That's his booze, right? Why didn't they explicitly show the bottle? Am I missing something? Bob continues to be shadier than he needs to be. Hopefully in the second half of the season, we'll learn more about what lies beneath his perpetually pained expression.

At the gate, Rick forfeits himself in exchange for Hershel but the Governor refuses to negotiate. Rick and his people have until sundown to leave the Prison, or Hershel and Michonne will be executed.

With an evil, satisfied look on his face, the Governor boasts, "I have a tank, and I'm lettin' you walk away from here. What else is there to talk about?" I could write an entire essay about masculinity and the Governor's affinity for that tank, but I'll save that for a rainy day during the hiatus.

Back at the Governor camp, Lilly watches a Walker make its way across the river, only to be dragged away further down stream. She is stationed atop a trailer as Meghan continues to play in the mud yards away in the river bed. Because the Governor's well wishes for someone are always cursed, Meghan is bit by a Walker hidden in the mud. The image of a Walker rising out of the ground like an old-school zombie rising out from its grave is fun, but the set up is ridiculous. Really, Lilly? You're getting to let your daughter play unattended just after she was attacked by a Walker? Really you're not going to call for her as soon as you see that other Walker approaching? You're not going to shoot the Walker until after it fatally bites Meghan? Really?!

NEXT: Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we all must face the choice between what is right and what is easy. 

With a cock of his hip and hint of a smile on his lips the Governor seems to think he's the Johnny Cash of Zombiepocalypse dictators, so slick and cool knowing that he has the upper hand on Rick.

For as much as it pains him, Rick offers to share the Prison with the Governor and his people. It's the harder choice, but it's the right choice. (Hershel is definitely Rick's Dumbledore.)

When Hershel suggests the same option, the Governor is bemused, thinking Rick would never agree to such a measure. He replies, "You're a good man, Hershel. Better man than Rick." For as much as the Governor has changed — or not — he didn't anticipate Hershel's influence on Rick to become a better man. Rick has changed. He may not be Farmer Rick as he hoped to become, but he has a keener sense of the moral right, thanks largely to Hershel's guidance.

For Rick, survival is important but not just the survival of one's own family. The survival of the living is vital for the survival of oneself. As such, Rick and the Governor may both agree that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few — or the one." But one man's utilitarianism is another man's kill-everyone-who-stands-in-our-way-ism.

Rick stands his ground, declaring that they can share the Prison or fight, resulting in the Prison's destruction. Despite their differences and their violent past, Rick maintains his hope and belief that they're "not too far gone." (Episode title!) "I know we all could change," he affirms, echoing Hershel's wisdom from earlier in the season.

A moment passes — you could cut the tension with a katana. Because the Governor is the self-centered prick that he is, he knows that he can't change. Narcissistic logic thus dictates that Rick can't change either. Therefore, the Governor literally cuts the tension with a katana — gouging Hershel's neck and igniting a full-scale battle between the factions.

We knew it was coming, but it doesn't make it any less sad. Having made a lasting impact on the Prison community and saving Glenn, Sasha, and others from succumbing to the flu virus, Hershel dies at the hands of the Governor. Adding insult to injury, the Governor hacks away at the rest of Hershel's neck, decapitating him.

Just then, Lilly appears, carrying Meghan's body in her arms. The Governor takes hold of the child and shoots her in the head before she can turn. No more Mr. Walker Aquarium Governor, this time, he has gone full-tilt bloodthirsty, focusing his attention once more towards the Prison, and ordering his people to "kill 'em all." Mitch breaks through the gates with the tank and the Governor's group advances their assault on the Prison.

Rick and the Governor engage in hand-to-hand combat as the gunfight goes on around them. it's a brutal fight , one that on his own, Rick would surely have lost. The value of friendship and compassion pulls through as Michonne swiftly stabs the Governor in the chest. She receives the retribution she yearned for herself and Andrea, closing the Governor chapter in her life.

NEXT: If you destroy it, Walkers will come.

In the immediate aftermath of the assault, the gang is fractured into separate groups:

+The evacuation bus, containing Glenn and the other ailing people/ people we don't know nor care about (yet), drives off to points unknown.

+After being saved by Lizzie and the kids, Tyreese ironically takes up Carol's mantle as the protector of the remaining Prison community children.

+Maggie, Sasha, and an injured Bob watch the bus leave without them but soon after escape the compound on foot.

+Unable to find Judith and the other kids, Beth runs off with Daryl.

+Rick and Carl limp away into the woods, devastated to find Judith's car seat bloodied and empty. At first I assumed she was taken away by hungry Walkers, but, without a body or the remains of a body, her fate is uncertain.

+Tara walks away from the violence, shell-shocked. Lilly is last seen definitively ending the Governor. (Could either of the Gorbelli sisters have taken Judith?)

+Michonne evaporates into the wind like the mythic warrior that she is. (Was Michonne able to save Judith? It would be a nice tie-in to her emotional moment with Judith during the season premiere.)

While my most immediate concerns are to find out what happened to the core group (Will Maggie and Glenn reunite? How will Rick and Carl survive? How will Tyreese manage to support the kids as well as himself?), I wonder if Lilly and Tara will still be in play. Lilly is a woman who lost everything because of the Governor — her home, her daughter, and possibly her sister. Although she is a new character who has frankly made some awful — and weird — decisions, she deserves to be the one who delivered the final blow to the Governor. In his pursuit of redemption or "getting his mojo back," he destroyed everything she held dear. What would a Lilly with nothing live for look like? Will she persevere, wither away, or become a new Governor, hell-bent on survival by any means necessary?

We still don't know who the Walker Feeder is — or is it the Rat Dissector? This doesn't even matter anymore given all that has happened, but at least it gives me something to obsess over besides how hopeless everyone's predicament seems. To me, it's almost certainly Carl who is responsible. Rick might have thought his son was up late reading comics but as commenters have previously noted, maybe not. Now that he has lost his baby sister, he may go full tilt crazy.

Don't forget, this is just one day after the flu virus reached critical mass at the Prison. The afflicted are still recuperating. Some may fall ill again. Some may not have received medicine at all. Rick is shot. Bob is shot. Everything is broken and now we have to wait until Feb. 9 to find out if this Zombiepocalypse fellowship will ever come together again.

Walker of the week: Creepy Clara returns in Walker form as part of the Walker horde that overtakes the Prison.

Questions to consider: 

All the questions! How will each splinter group fare? Will they ever reunite again?

How will new characters such as Sgt. Abraham Ford fit into the fold?

It's inevitable that someone from the group will run into Carol, right? Right?! (I miss her.)

What do you plan on doing until Feb. 9, that is, besides mourning Hershel and pretending not to mourn for the Governor?

Episode Recaps

The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

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