Gene Page/AMC
February 27, 2015 at 07:05 PM EST

The Walking Dead has always stuck the landing. The show has had low points and dull periods; it has had whole episodes which flail across a tenuous foundation of unsteady survival tactics, poor characterization, and ambient gore; it spent a considerable part of its third season insisting that the show’s least interesting character was actually its most important character; and it has less believable geography than a Monopoly gameboard. But it has always stuck the landing. The show wrapped up the go-nowhere Search for Sophia with the bleak-irony Discovery of Sophia. It ended a season on Hershel’s Boring Farm by burning Hershel’s Boring Farm to the ground and killing off the least essential members of Hershel’s Boring Family as collateral. Last week, it even rescued an incredibly aimless and nonsensical episode of television with the tearful showdown between Daryl Motherf—ing Dixon and Walker Merle Rooker Dixon.

I haven’t been the biggest fan of this half-season. But I was excited about the season finale. Because The Walking Dead has always stuck the landing.

This time, it didn’t. The third season finale had a couple bulletstorms and a few explosions; it killed off one main character, about which more later. But as a longtime fan of the show — a skeptical fan, but a fan nevertheless — I couldn’t help walking away from the season finale feeling a bit disappointed. This was not a Killing-level catastrophe, and it wasn’t it a Breaking Bad-level event. (It had elements of both, though — which is a compliment and a criticism.) The finale was a bloodless blood opera, filled with action and weirdly static. It ended the Glen Mazzara era with a bang and a whimper, and it gave very little indication of what lies ahead in season 4.

The episode began with a close-up on the Governor’s single eyeball, more brutal than any zombie retina could ever be. He was laying into Milton, once upon a time his right-hand man. He knew that Milton had burned up Woodbury’s zombie coalition, and he was not happy. Lacking any biters, the Governor lost eight men to Merle’s sneak attack last week. “You knew those men,” said the Governor. “They kept you safe. Kept you fed.” Milton stood his moral ground: “As long as I looked the other way.” The Governor grinned. “Well, it can’t be like that anymore. Time for you to graduate.”

The Governor was going to baptize Milton with blood. He threw Milton into the torture chamber that was currently holding Andrea. He told Milton to collect all his various torture instruments. “I’m not gonna need ’em anymore.” (Apparently he never needed them, making “the Governor’s torture instruments” one more utterly empty gesture.) Milton grabbed the tools, dropped them…and left a pair of pliers behind. The Governor didn’t see them, maybe because he always used to use his right eye to see Important Plot Points. He gave Milton a knife and told him to kill Andrea. Milton tried to stab the Governor… and wound up with a couple gaping holes in his chest. “I told you you were gonna do it,” said the Governor. “You kill or you die, or you die and you kill.” He locked Milton inside, dying. Andrea was staring her own death in the face.

But I want to focus on something the Governor said before that all went down. See, he tried to justify himself to Milton. Characters on The Walking Dead are always justifying themselves; it’s what sets the show apart from Game of Thrones, its brief timeslot competitor, which is filled with characters who want power and can’t imagine having to justify that desire. But even the Governor wants you to know where he’s coming from. “There’s a threat? You end it, and you don’t feel shamed about enjoyin’ it.”

Milton asked him what his dead daughter would think of him now. “She’d be afraid of me. But if I’d been like this from the start, she’d be alive today.”

NEXT: Tribe Grimes leaves the prison

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