SPOILER WARNING: This article is all about, ALL ABOUT, the final episode in season three of The Walking Dead.

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Subverting the way we watch TV

Executive Producer and show runner of The Walking Dead, Glen Mazzara, bends everything we understand about television.

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On Tuesday night FX broadcast the final episode in the third season of The Walking Dead, a show that has set ratings records this season in the US and whose third season has delivered an extraordinary audience uptake.

This episode marked the last from show-runner Glen Mazzara, who has piloted the series to these glorious heights. How would he leave the show and who would leave with him?

So what happened?

Leadership, Governor style ... <i>The Walking Dead</i>

Leadership, Governor style ... The Walking Dead

A season that started with a silent sequence begins its final episode with the camera slowly pulling out from an extreme close-up of the eye, nay pupil, of the Governor. It's all in the eye this season it seems.

We get out of the Governor's head just in time, as it's crazy town in there and he's in a rage. Specifically, he is beating six different shades of scientist out of Milton. This is for torching the walkers he had intended to let loose on Rick and his team at the second phase of the peace summit. You know the one where he was going to set walkers loose, then shoot everybody before taking Michonne back to his place for a game of hide the surgical instrument.

In the Governor's mind - did I mention I'm glad we're not in there anymore? - Milton is responsible for the loss of the eight gun-toting mouth-breathers who died when Merle sprung his ambush with the first instalment of the annual walker parade. Clearly. So he's teaching Milton a lesson, Guantanamo-style.

He don't need no stinkin' badge ... <i>The Walking Dead</i>

He don't need no stinkin' badge ... The Walking Dead

Having recently discovered his spine, Milton isn't giving it up easily, but the Governor has the pure, single-minded logic of the asylum dweller / career politician. So when Milton asks if the Governor has killed Andrea, he drags him into the room where she is bound to a chair, ready for torture, in order to demonstrate that he really isn't a monster.

In a sad side note, Andrea's torture is cancelled today kids, as the Governor's To Do list has gotten so long he has to skip straight on to unprovoked genocide. So he tells Milton to pick up his tools of torture, located conveniently just out of reach behind Andrea. A spilled tray of plot-devices later, during which Milton conveniently leaves one on the floor, Milton is handed a knife and told to do away with Andrea before he can rejoin team Gubenator.

"You kill or you die," he explains to Milton. Ok, so he's a monster, but at least he's got a nifty catch phrase.

Worst visit to the dentist ever ... Andrea trapped in the chair in <i>The Walking Dead</i>

Worst visit to the dentist ever ... Andrea trapped in the chair in The Walking Dead

Milton takes a swipe at the Governor instead, but the eye patch wearing megalomaniac has the lightening reflexes of a villain that no self-respecting writer is giving up, so he dodges, ducks and digs the blade into Milton's abdomen.

"That's life now. You kill or you die - or you die and you kill." So whispers the Governor before locking Andrea and the slowly dying Milton in the room, in order for the latter to get his shuffle on and take care of the former.

Seriously, that's a good catch phrase.

It isn't over till it's over: Daryl, Rick and Glenn have a lot on their plate.

It isn't over till it's over: Daryl, Rick and Glenn have a lot on their plate.

Over at the prison Carl is angry. It isn't clear if this is because Rick almost betrayed Michonne, if it is the first signs of post-apocalyptic puberty, or if it is because Rick called Shotgun on the road trip they are packing the cars for.

Lori, the ghost of actors past, is back walking the ramparts like a good gothic trope. Beneath her, the survivors react to Merle's recent much-more-permanent exit from the series. "He gave us a chance" Rick tells Daryl. "I'm ok because you didn't ACTUALLY hand me over, you just thought about it and grabbed a computer cable to tie me with" says Michonne who used to be much better at holding a grudge.

In Woodbury the raiding party intent on reaping revenge upon the prison for the Governor's version of what Merle did, is saddling up. Tyreese opts out, as he's just realised that he and Sasha forgot to buy tickets for the crazy train. He offers to protect the children and elderly being left behind instead, which isn't much of a task as the biggest threat to them will leave when The Governor does. The Governor approves much to the surprise of everyone. Suddenly the raiding party is made up entirely of cast members who, if this was Star Trek, would be ensigns in red shirts. It doesn't bode well for them at all.

I don't know where you get your killing influences. Go to your cell! ... Rick and Carl on <i>The Walking Dead</i>

I don't know where you get your killing influences. Go to your cell! ... Rick and Carl on The Walking Dead

Moments later the convoy arrives at the prison and unleashes an impressive arsenal of things that go bang on a number of inanimate, vacant prison buildings as well as a number of slightly-animate vacant-eyed zombies.

Having announced their arrival in such subtle fashion, the Woodburyites then sneak into the main building. Perhaps no one knows they are there?

Just in case you hadn't noticed things getting biblical round these parts, The Governor discovers a Bible left pointedly open to a happy, end of days prophecy, specifically John 5.29 which has been highlighted:

"and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."

Which at the very least gives those heading to Sunday School this week a new case study to discuss and should heat the internet to a simmer for a few weeks.

"Let's split up!" suggests the Governor, because some strategies improve with age, so the raiding party head into the bowels of the zombie-filled prison confused, shambolic and entirely unrecognisable from the gun-wielding lunatics who so recently crashed this party.

Back in the Woodbury torture chamber that is apparently impossible to stumble across but really easy to find if you just look for it, Andrea and Milton are exchanging the final words of the trapped and transforming while Andrea desperately fails to get on with freeing herself. Andrea is even trying to talk her way out of this situation. Given Milton has only given her a pair of pliers, she better get on with MacGyvering her way out of her handcuffs if she doesn't want a visit from the undead dentist.

Milton notices the same thing that I'm yelling at the television, and suggests to Andrea that "you need to hurry" before passing out one last time. Not the greatest last words ever uttered, but at least they're selfless and dramatic.

More famous phrases include "It's a trap!" and that is what is yelled by the Woodburyites as smoke grenades and klaxons rain down on them in the prison innards. So they run. And get shot ... near ... by Glenn and Maggie in Riot Police uniforms. Told to run, they run. Told to leave, they leave. In entirely inglorious and nigh-on implausible fear they run from the building, onto their trucks and drive away.

The Governor gathers his lieutenants and chases after them.

In the woods surrounding the prison, Carl wants in on the fight, but Hershel counsels patience. So THAT's what Carl was angry about. That's ok, here comes a teenage Woodburyite with a rifle. Carl points his gun at him (as does everyone else). The teenager gives up but doesn't drop his gun. Carl tells him to drop it. He says ok, but doesn't actually drop it. He moves towards Carl but looks very scared and is probably trying to hand him his gun. Just as I'm thinking this could get messy ... Carl gets a kill.

Hey Rick, good news, your son's a killer!

I mean, that was cold. He just shoots him point-blank as he's trying to surrender. That's the sort of shooting that script writers give nazis to carry out in World War II films to show that they're bad guys.

The Governor meanwhile is driving like a lunatic, he's blocking the road ahead of his rapidly retreating convoy and going all Carl on their arse. Demanding they go back then responding to their concerns by strafing them with automatic gunfire. The Governor seems to have confused rallying his troops with ruthlessly massacring his townsfolk. How awkward.

By the time he's done, only his two lieutenants remain. Oddly unwilling to kill the psychopath as they know he's contractually bullet proof, they shrug and get on board as he drives off into the uncharted world of season four nemesis.

They have unwittingly left one survivor. She's playing possum, lying under one of her recent colleagues who will soon be an inductee into team zombie.

Back in the Woodbury house of horrors, Milton's gone all cold and clammy and there is just fantastic tension over how long it will take for his corpse to reanimate. This beautifully mirrors Andrea and Milton's watch over the dying old man earlier in the season and its amazing just how much more tension there is in the nothing that is happening here than there was in the bumbling action of the prison mere moments ago.

Speaking of the prison, it's time for that father-son talk every dad tries to delay. You know the one, The Birds and The Reasons Not To Shoot People Who Are Trying To Surrender.

Carl, who is the subject of a number of online petitions that want him killed off, suddenly turns into the surprising voice of the audience. "I did what I had to do" he explains to Rick, dropping some home truths on his father's plate about all the people who have died because Rick didn't pull the trigger when he had to, before also dropping Rick's badge in a none-too-subtle act of rejection.

Geeze, I don't know, teens these days and their crazy ideas.

Team Prison are planning a counter-raid on Woodbury, but between the old, the young and the Glenn and Maggie who are staying to defend the fort, only three set out, but it's a pretty hardcore trio: The Good, the Bad and the Michonne. (Debate amongst yourselves as to which of Rick and Daryl is Good and Bad).

Proving that even zombie survivalists rubber neck at a car crash, the trio stop when they come across the Governor's handiwork, discovering that half the army that recently attacked them are being eaten by the newly-zombied other half. Plus of course there's the survivor, who I'm going to call "I surrender", who they yank from the cabin of the truck she was hiding in and mercifully we cut away before we see yet another survivor plead for her life.

Andrea's game of cuffs and pliers is going badly. She's not very good at picking things up with her feet and passing them to her hands. She's even worse at getting on with it, pausing every few seconds to have a long dramatic gaze at Milton who she is trying to stare into staying dead. Shockingly this doesn't work. He reanimates, she starts undoing cuffs. He stands. She gets a hand free. He shuffles. She gets another hand free. He gives the trademark zombie moan. She gives the trademark damsel-in-distress scream.

And we cut to a view of the door to the chamber from outside, where the swinging light we can see under the door tells us little, and the combined screaming-groaning falls ominously silent.

Rick, Daryl, Michonne and "I surrender" get to the Woodbury gates to find Tyreese and Sasha defending the walls. Thankfully its been established that Tyreese has all the marksmanship skills of a Stormtrooper so the quick shoot out amounts to nothing. Then "I surrender" puts her hands up (how apt!) and calls out to the wall, explaining The Governor's recent population control technique.

Sure enough four become six and everyone's happy.

Oh wait, did you say there's a torture chamber around here?

Do you think it could be that building we keep hearing the screaming coming from? Let's check.

Hey look, they found Andrea's cubby house.

Rick, Daryl and Michonne prepare for the worst, then open the door. Inside Milton is dead, with a pair of pliers protruding from his forehead like a nifty eyebrow ring. Andrea sits gasping by the door.

She's fine, a bit short of breath. In fact we are going to make it through an entire finale without the death of a major character (if you don't think of Milton that way). That is until Michonne pulls back her collar to reveal that Milton gave her a parting love bit.

Well, there goes the clean sheet. I'm waiting for Rick to offer to amputate her neck to see if she survives, but no, they know a character-ending wound when they see one. Andrea insists she wants to end it herself, but first she wants to explain to the others that she was trying to resolve things without anyone having to die. Andrea's hopeless plight, trying to bring the warring parties together unharmed is articulated and in doing so its futility becomes obvious.

"I tried" Andrea utters, which are better last words than Milton's to be fair. She takes the gun and Michonne crouches next to her, cradling her in what is likely to be a very messy fashion.

Then we're outside the door again with Tyreese, Rick and Daryl as the episode ends with a bang and a whimper.

Except it isn't over. They roll back into the prison with a school bus full of old and young survivors. Carl is unimpressed as Rick explains that they are joining the group. Carl storms off in a huff, Rick looks to the ramparts; Lori is gone. Rick is healed but the anger lives on in Carl. It's so nice when families share.

We fade out on the cross that marks Lori's grave.

What did we think?

Where Season Two of The Walking Dead was far too Little House on the Zombie Prairie for some fans, Season Three has embraced the zombie-western genre. No longer is this a bunch of survivors fighting zombies or trying to escape. It's Undead Unforgiven, this is the wild frontier and there are no rules. Replace walkers with Indians (at least the stereotypical Indians that used to populate the wild west) and Rick is the lawman trying save his town from the threats of outlaws and the head of the family that owns the big property just out of town, or perhaps the conniving mayor of the next town over. Heck, Rick even gets a jail to sit in front of on his rocking chair this season. All we need is a bar to sell whiskey while the group play poker, listen to a piano and wait for someone to come through the swinging doors.

The beauty of this season was they gave us a villain, a live villain, who could have his own character arc and ambitions. This was always the struggle while the zombies were the main threat, they are not only nearly inanimate physically, they are entirely unmoving as characters. Even if they aren't shuffling around saying "Braaaaaaains" they are clearly single-minded in their thinking. The Governor is a great character, who posed an evil-genius threat. He also gave a standard by which to measure all other evil, and this as much as anything facilitated Merle's journey back to ... well his own approximation of goodness.

The revelation that everyone is infected also changed the landscape by levelling it. The group's fate as individuals was sealed, only their destiny as a group remained. The purpose of those who died stopped being to avoid being bitten, it became the noble act of ensuring they couldn't turn. Lori's death was horrific for so many reasons, but the need for Carl to kill his own mother is something that hasn't yet been fully explored.

"We kill, or we die, or we die and then we kill." That truth has changed the basic truth of this particular wild west.

Rick's journey into madness and back again has been a little surreal at times - telephones anyone? - but the arc has really tied this season together. The difference in leadership and sanity between he and the Governor was a really interesting study, even if the comparisons were sometimes a little heavy-handed. I liked tonight's mirror though, when Glenn and Maggie told Rick they were staying to protect the prison, just as Tyreese had done at Woodbury. The response was the same - Rick and the Governor both approved - the difference was in the approach. Glenn had no qualms telling Rick this was happening. Tyreese knew he was taking his life in his hands.

Which brings us to the finale. It was a disappointing confrontation in many ways, only because it lacked confrontation. The Woodburyites appeared to give up VERY easily, yet it emphasised that The Governor's soldiers were real civilians. His henchmen had been taken out by Merle. Rick's team are hardened after three seasons of fighting without a village surrounded by walls.

The Governor's genocidal betrayal of his people was, well, necessary from a narrative perspective. It was also terrifyingly believable from what we knew of his character. That was the final chapter in The Governor's journey from beatific leader with a room full of heads and a zombie-girl in a pillowcase to out-and-out bad guy. It mirrored Rick's decision to take in children and the elderly, the two groups who can contribute the least to the group's fight. Yes it's a bit heavy-handed, but we're talking about a world with zombies here, subtlety was discarded with the internet and deodorant.

Finally, the finale was low on the major character body count, with Milton and Andrea the only losses. Somehow that feels justified in a season that killed off Lori, T-Dog, Merle and ultimately every prisoner who started the season. We also got Morgan back for a great episode.

Andrea's relentless pursuit of a peaceful solution ultimately had to have a fatal outcome. The point is that in this wild west, there is no easy remedy. She, like Carl said of Rick, could have saved many lives by just taking one, but she couldn't. The heroes never can. Well, not often.