At one point, very early on before they got their second season's budget hiked by HBO, the producers of Game of Thrones discussed having the Battle of the Blackwater take place offscreen, seen briefly through Sansa's viewpoint out a window far away. But budget issues were sorted, money was allocated, and we got the outstanding episode "Blackwater," replete with wildfire explosion, ships on fire, clashing armies, a battering ram and fighting on the battlements. And good thing, too – can you imagine how frustrating it would be to have an epic battle foreshadowed, discussed, planned, built up to and generally hyped all season long only to see but a few seconds of actual battling?
Well imagine no more, my friend. Just watch The Walking Dead season 3.
Anticlimactic spoilers beyond this point.
Make no mistake, it finally happened: After episode upon episode, hour upon hour of letting us know that the epic showdown was coming, the Governor and his army finally storm Team Rick's prison. But Rick and the rest are hiding, so the Governor and his "soldiers" wander confusedly around the seemingly empty prison for several minutes, before Glenn and Maggie pop up in the overhead walkway and aim a few bursts of machine gun fire their way (killing none, although Carl pops one a little later).
For some reason, the Governor is shocked and outraged that Team Rick put up this small, obligatory resistance to a slaughter he explicitly warned them was coming. I mean, what did he think was going to happen? His enemies were all going to be lying prostrate and side-by-side under a sign saying "Please kill us quickly"?
So, after what literally amounts to about thirty seconds of what we'll generously call "battling" (none of it face-to-face, none of it personal, intense or emotionally heightened, none of it involving zombies), the Governor and his people retreat, and the Governor is so pissed that he personally guns down all his own followers except for his two closest henchmen and one lady he missed, then drives off, fulfilling the desires of both viewers out there who really wanted this fucking Governor arc to drag on into season 4.
(Oh, and back in Woodbury, Andrea dies, but I'm primarily dedicating this post to things I care about.)
And so ends the great Prison vs. Woodbury saga of 2012-'13, delivering unto our televisions what might be the most thunderously, thuddingly anticlimactic resolution to so much build-up in recent pop culture memory. Fifteen hours of television nudging us toward this supposedly momentous showdown, and we get thirty seconds of crossfire and the Governor having a murderous panic attack in a finale where the titular walking dead play, at best, a small supporting role.
It's like we just spent eighty minutes at a restaurant waiting for our meal only to have delivered to us one bite of food. We finally made it to that oasis in the desert, only to find it was a mirage all along. We went on a date with The Walking Dead, and at the end of our date it gave us a fucking handshake.
This show's second season was largely a disaster, but at the very least that season seemed to belatedly recognize what a rut it was in, and they fucking burned that godforsaken farm to the ground in the season finale. It was what had to happen. It was the only thing that could happen. And it made for what was actually a pretty fine episode.
But the prison has become almost as much of a narrative, well, prison as the farm felt at this point. And rather than giving our heroes cause to get the hell out of there – the Governor blowing it up, the walls coming down, zombies swarming every inch of it, whichever or whatever you prefer – this hour and season ends with Team Rick just taking on more survivors and hunkering down into the prison more entrenched than ever. It's like this show is allergic to story progression, in love with stagnation.
I'm just so disappointed in the 2013 run of The Walking Dead. I stood up for the series when I put it in my top twenty shows of 2012, perhaps even offering something of a mea culpa for how vocally I'd disliked it in 2011. And at the time, it seemed deserved! After season 2, which felt like six, maybe seven episodes of story spread thin into a thirteen-episode nightmare, the first eight episodes of season 3 actually felt like eight episodes of story. For real! It really seemed they'd turned over a new, undead leaf.
But season 3.5 has pretty much crapped all over that, feeling like – ignoring the rather good and standalone episode "Clear," where Rick, Carl and Michonne encountered Rick's old friend Morgan – three episodes of story distended into seven. I mean, remember "Arrow on the Doorpost," the laughable episode from a month back where Rick and the Governor sat at a table, stared at each other and spent an hour reiterating that the show's status quo was, in fact, its status quo? Wasting TV real estate that egregiously should be illegal.
I'd like to look optimistically toward the future and say, hey, season 4 is gonna kick this shit up a notch, but with Team Rick firmly ensconced in the prison and that fucking Governor's story arc stretching out into the horizon and beyond, I'm not confident that's gonna happen. The Walking Dead ain't the only show that's refused to let go a spent villain – see also Klaus from The Vampire Diaries and Crowley from Supernatural – but at least in those cases the villain in question doesn't seem so perpendicular to the entire point of the show. It's called The Walking Dead, not The Governor's Gon' Getcha!
But this show is now the biggest scripted ratings hit on all of television, network or cable, so hey, fuck me, right? America has spoken, and with their Nielsen boxes they have spoken clearly: They want their TV grim and bleak and slow and anticlimactic and joyless, thank you very much. Bring on three more seasons of prison "fun," The Walking Dead! I know for a fact you want to.