Every small victory still comes at a horrific cost on The Walking Dead.
Since launching on Halloween night in 2010, AMC's zombie drama has given with one hand and taken away with the other in telling the fictional story of a ragtag group of survivors fending off cadaverous flesh-eaters in rural Georgia.
Viewer emotion either peaks or plummets as the group's every rare moment of happiness is immediately countered by a nasty moment of violence or the death of a favourite character (see files on Dale, Lori, Shane, Sophia, et al). Such is life in the apocalypse.
Last night's much-anticipated third-season finale of The Walking Dead ended the current campaign with both bang and whimper – and the usual scenes of splayed guts and brains. In the end, the fiercely loyal viewership were rewarded with a significant win for the good-guy survivalist group headed by Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), but they surely paid for the win with the shocking death of Andrea (Laurie Holden), seemingly the last remaining pacifist on the series.
There was in fact very little dialogue in the closer, but much exposition and looking toward future seasons.
In the most pivotal character studies, Rick finally returned from Crazytown, that being the troubled mental state where he's dwelled since the death of his wife Lori during childbirth several episodes back.
Meanwhile, The Governor (David Morrissey), the evil yang to Rick's honourable yin, showed his true colours in the finale. When his raid on Rick's prison fortress failed, and he was returning to the town of Woodbury with his militia-style army, The Governor simply cracked and slaughtered dozens of his own people. The transformation to Jim Jones-like messiah seemed complete.
Not so promising is the mental state of Rick's son Carl (Chandler Riggs). By necessity, Carl has turned into a steely eyed badass this season, but last night's closer showed that he doesn't know when to stop. When confronted by one of the Governor's militia members, a boy not much older than himself, Carl did not hesitate to shoot and kill the kid.
And then we have Andrea. Poor Andrea: The sole voice of reason this past season and the only person attempting to broker peace between Rick and The Governor.
For her troubles, Andrea was captured by The Governor, who is also her ex-lover, and chained to a chair in a locked room with a mortally wounded Milton (Dallas Roberts).
The entire length of the finale watched Andrea desperately struggle to free herself while Milton slowly bled to death; the moment he died, naturally Milton would attack and kill Andrea. In the end, both died, Andrea by her own hand with her best friend Michonne (Danai Gurira) beside her. She will be missed.
But mostly, last night's The Walking Dead finale was about setups for next season. The show starts filming season four outside Atlanta in exactly one month. And there will be at least one very notable change when the show returns next October.
In the finale's closing moments, it was a bright, beautiful day and birds were singing as Sheriff Rick was shown escorting former Woodbury residents—normal, non-zombie people—into his prison. For once, Rick seemed at peace and the future seemed bright. Even Daryl (Norman Reedus) was smiling.
Meanwhile, in the near distance, in the fields surrounding the prison, walkers were still milling aimlessly. In this future the dead never sleep, and they're always hungry.