Congratulations, "Walking Dead," you've made your point. Can we all move on now?
The mid-season finale, "Too Far Gone," arrived, and it walloped our cast of characters like a tank shelling on a hot Georgia afternoon. Which, come to think of it, is actually what happened. Needing revenge against Rick more than he needed a safe place to rest his head, the Governor captured Hershel and Michonne and used them to draw Rick out for a simple discussion about the future of his group. Either Rick and his crew leave the prison, or the Governor would blow them all up and take the prison by force with the help of his new followers and a big tank. What resulted was a bit of a bloodbath.
Unfortunately, it seems the show's ongoing motto that "no one is safe" is in danger of leading down a path of diminishing returns. Once upon a time, the series got a lot of mileage out of occasionally killing off a major character, whether it was Shane in season two or Lori and Andrea in season three. But by the midway point in the show's fourth season, things have had to get really grim to get a rise out of the battle-hardened audience. In Sunday night's episode, the show killed off a saintly old man (Hershel), a sweet little girl (Meghan) and, apparently, even a little baby (Judith) in order to get people talking. But is there really anywhere left to go from here? After the shock of seeing Judith's bloody baby carrier, how ever will the show's writers top themselves in outright emotional manipulation? Perhaps Rick and company can witness an entire litter of cute kittens getting killed when the show returns next year.
Rick tried to talk sense into the Governor's people, making the compelling argument that they could all live together in the prison without resorting to violence. Blasting into the prison would really compromise the integrity of the walls that were pretty good at keeping the Walkers on the outside. And although Rick finally returned to being the kind of leader you want on your side, it didn't do much good. The Governor's people were strangely as blind to reason as the eye-patched one himself. The fact that none of them beyond Tara ever questioned the logic of what they were doing even once was a stretch in believability, but the sheer kinetic energy of the ensuing battle went a long way to papering over any lingering questions.
More troubling, however, is the fate the show had for two of the youngest members of the cast. Little Meghan was introduced just two weeks ago to give the Governor a new person to care for in the absence of his own dead daughter. Unfortunately, Meghan was sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time, and she got chomped by a zombie. Surely that was enough for her, but oh no, the girl's mother (and the Governor's new girlfriend) managed to carry the dying girl all the way to the walls of the prison to have the Governor shoot her point-blank in the head without a word of discussion. Brutal, yes. True to the post-apocalyptic world the show is depicting, yes. But necessary? Not really, no.
The Governor's mind was made up to attack the prison, so he needed no real reason to carry through on his threat. And just a few minutes later, he was dead -- his story was concluded. So why did we need to get rid of Meghan? To manipulate our emotions? To shock us? To show us, once again, that "The Walking Dead" was willing to "go there"? Yes to all three.
The series hit this dead-little-girl note once before, back in season two, by stretching the search for the missing Sophia out for several episodes, leaving her fate uncertain until we learned that she had been turned into a Walker. At the time, it was heartbreaking and shocking. But you only get one dead little girl in a series, and "The Walking Dead" used that card up early.
Now, we're apparently left to wonder about the fate of little Judith, Rick's second child whom he doesn't spend a whole lot of time with. After being off-screen for much of the season, she showed up again briefly, carried by some of the young girls who live in the prison and then left alone during the big firefight with the Governor. All that we've been left with is a bloody baby carrier. True, we didn't see a body, and there's some debate online as to whether she's actually dead, but even if she isn't, is it really fair to use a defenseless baby as a tool to manipulate our emotions? As a TV show, "The Walking Dead" is in danger of becoming like the famous National Lampoon cover, with the hand holding a gun to the head of a dog, threatening to shoot the dog if you didn't buy the magazine. Except on "The Walking Dead," they'd shoot the dog in the mid-season finale to get the fans worked up.
Yes, "The Walking Dead" is a tough, brutal world. Bad things will happen. But here's hoping the series will find a way to get us involved next year without having to resort to such cruel tactics. "The Sopranos" was never about who got whacked and "The Walking Dead" should not be reduced to who gets chomped.