In anticipation of the season 5 finale of The Walking Dead, I began thinking of all the finales of the past 5 seasons – midseason finales and season finales. Season 5, in my opinion, has been one of the finest season since it’s premiere, yet it’s midseason finale left me very lukewarm. I was fearful the finale might do the same as it seems difficult to keep up the intensity they have had all season long. However, I was gravely mistaken as the finale was one of the best finales in the series. In celebration of Sunday’s final episode until October, I am going to evaluate each finale in order of the best to the worst, starting with the one that I feel was a complete waste of air time and unworthy of TWD standards…..
9. “Welcome to the Tombs” (season 3 finale) – I will never ever understand this episode. I get that then episode was refilmed (particularly the ending and Andrea and Milton’s demise) because the show runner Mazzara had been replaced by current show runner Gimple, and that Gimple wanted to give Andrea a better send off and let her “explain” herself more, but it didn’t work. Among TWD fanatics, we laugh at everything in that episode, from Andrea’s pedicure, to the hour of her using her feet to grab pliers, to her monologues as Milton lays dying, to the horrid anticlimactic “prison attack.” Killing Milton was a waste as he could have been used as part of the season 4 story arc (especially with the prison flu arc) and killing Andrea was more about getting rid of a character they had screwed up and couldn’t fix. I don’t know what the prison attack was all about, and why The Governor would kill everyone is beyond me. An anticlimactic way to end an uneven and poorly pacing season. I’ve always wanted “This Sorrowful Life” to be the season’s finale episode, leaving Woodbury in place as the major nemeses for season 4, but instead we got an illogical episode pieced together by two different showrunners.
8. “Coda” (season 5 midseason finale) – All “Coda” did for me was put to bed the Bethyls who were hoping for a relationship to develop between Daryl and the kidnapped Beth, but in reality, I felt the episode was boring, unsatisfying, and confusing. What was up with Dawn? Why was she trying to connect with Beth? And what’s with the demand for Noah after the exchange was set? And Beth’s attack on Dawn was juvenile and self-destructive. The “Daryl uses a Walker head in the tar” was cool, and Rick’s gunning down of Officer Bob was also cool, but other than those two scenes, the only purpose of the episode was to kill off Beth after spending 2 episodes focusing on her. The death itself was so fast I had to ask, “What happened?” and I’m still asking.
7. “Made to Suffer” (season 3 midseason finale) – Highlights include the Michonne and Governor fight, and the reunion of the Dixon brothers. The mission to rescue Glenn and Maggie was suspenseful, but overall the episode just missed the mark for me. In fact, it was so uneventful, other than the Michonne fight, I don’t remember much of it.
There is a jump in quality between #7 on the list and #6. Every episode from 6 to 1 are truly high quality episodes, while everything above 6 is sort lukewarm. So now, for the best….
6. “TS-19” (season 1 finale) – A computer sequence showing the brain regenerating, a countdown to destruction, and a decision to end it now or continue the fight makes this one a great finale. It was a short season and many comic purists were upset with the CDC addition to the TV show. However, I felt it was a necessary addition, showing us exactly how and why the dead reanimate and giving us a look at the life and death decisions people would have to face throughout the series. And Jenkins gave us a cliffhanger that took all of season 2 to resolve: “What did he whisper in Rick’s ear?”
5. “A” (season 4 finale) The reason this didn’t rank higher is that it seemed like two different episodes to me: the first half had the incredible Claimers sequence, which features a near rape of Carl, the near killing of Rick, the reunion of Daryl and Rick, and Rick’s throat bite. Then there was the Terminus half, which was good but not amazing. A high-speed run through a maze of bullets, Gareth’s awesome dubbing of Michonne, Rick, Carl, and Daryl (The samurai, the leader, the kid, and the archer), and a classic comic book inspired last line made it a great episode and awesome end to Gimple’s first full season as showrunner. However, the second half didn’t rise to the intensity of the first half and the introduction of Gareth seemed almost anticlimactic.
4. “Beside the Dying Fire” (season 2 finale) – Michonne appears. That should say it all, but the epic battle between the walker herd and the heroes as the barn falls is another reason why this episode ranks high. It was all action, not much in way of character moments, but it was the type of finale that was needed to cap off a season of character interactions. Beautiful cinematography, haunting images, and two powerful moments: Rick revealing they are all infected with the virus (ending the speculation “what did Jenner tell him?) and advent of the Rickatorship makes this a pinnacle episode. And then, the reveal of the prison in the distance to McCreary’s haunting soundtrack.
3. “Conquer” (season 5 finale) – Specifics will be analyzed in my next blog post, but this is the highest ranking of the season finales. Action, the return of a lovable character, and conflict both internal and external makes this a perfect finale.
2. “Too Far Gone” (season 4 midseason finale) – This was the battle we all waited for. The battle we should have gotten during last season’s finale. The Governor. A tank. A beheading. “Kill ’em all.” Finally, the prison battle was here. Season 4 spent half the season fixing the mistakes of season 3. Characters long ignored had to be developed. The Governor somehow had to get another army and even another tank (lucky him to find two tanks during the apocalypse!). He needed a reason to go after Rick and the prison again. The prison needed to be a home worth fighting for. All this had to happen before the battle happened. In essence, the show needed direction. Gimple provided all of that and more. Although some complain about the Governor episodes leading up to the finale, I thought they were necessary to get us to that place where the battle could happen. And the move to make Hershall the executed at the prison gates instead of Tyresse = brilliance. I screamed. I cried. Rick’s speech summarized the theme of the entire first half of the season, and David Morissey was amazing as the Governor. Megan’s death, however, had me screaming even louder as yet another innocent falls in a world of undead and people who don’t know how to deal with them.
1. “Pretty Much Dead Already” (season 2 midseason finale) – Sophia in the barn. The barn massacre. Shane’s fabulous “you gotta fight” speech. This was the episode that hooked me on the show forever. This episode had me shaking for weeks. The irony of Sophia being right next to them the entire half season, of Shane killing the only person who could have told them where Sophia was, and of Daryl’s assurance that they would find her (well, they did, just not in the condition they hoped) made this a top-notch episode. Bear McCreary’s amazing ending composition added to the suspense, and the pain staking look on Hershal’s face as his loved ones are killed yet again made me actually feel sympathy for the walkers. And Rick, finally, being the one to step up and put Sophia down proved that he was their leader, the only one who could do what needed to be done. This is the bar by which I measure all finales.