'Walking Dead' Season 3 finale episode 16 recap: 'Welcome to the Tombs' is a bloody finish

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The most telling line in "The Walking Dead" Season 3 finale came from the Governor: "In this life now, you kill or you die. Or you die and you kill."

More than the mantra of a homicidal lunatic, the choice of whether or not to buy into that way of thinking is the essential dilemma that every single character on "The Walking Dead" faces. And we saw variations on it repeated over and over throughout the hour.

Obviously, it's how the Governor operates. When Milton refuses to kill Andrea, and the people of Woodbury refuse to hunt down Rick's group after getting chased out of the prison, the Governor has no use for them. They won't kill? They deserve to die.

When he snapped and massacred his own soldiers -- sparing only the two who have proven themselves most loyal time and time again -- it was simply a larger scale version of stabbing Milton and leaving him to bleed out, turn and devour Andrea. As it happens, the Governor's decisions served him well. He's running free somewhere, while Andrea is now six feet under. Is that a sick joke or does it mean his moral code is right?

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Tyreese and Sasha refused their opportunity to kill, and they're still alive. If they had gone with the Governor to take out the prison crew, they could have been two more victims of the Governor's rampage. Then again, if the Governor had succeeded at the prison and returned to Woodbury, he could've decided to toss the defiant siblings straight into Andrea's cell. Were they right not to kill?

Carl appears to be developing his own version of the Governor's creed. Hardened by the deaths of Sophia, Dale, Shane, Lori, T-Dog, Merle and others, he doesn't trust anyone he doesn't know and won't hesitate to take out any perceived threat. We saw it before, when Rick was stunned by how quickly Carl shot Morgan (who was wearing protective body armor) in "Clear." And saw it again tonight when Carl murdered Jody, one of the Governor's young soldiers (with a horrified Hershel as eye witness), because he didn't put down his gun fast enough.

Carl still feels guilt over what happened to Dale (because he never told anyone he saw the walker that ultimately killed Dale) and blames his father for the deaths of Lori and Merle. Rick didn't kill Andrew and the Governor, therefore Lori and Merle died. Is Carl right to kill?

As Andrea explicitly stated in her conversations with the dying Milton and later on when she herself was dying, she wanted to find a way to broker peace with the Governor and prevent any loss of lives at the prison or Woodbury. She could've killed the Governor multiple times -- most obviously after Carol gave her advice to sleep with him and then slit his throat -- but she couldn't do it. She didn't kill, and then she died. (And many residents of Woodbury died too.) Was Andrea wrong not to kill?

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These are the questions of morality and humanity that define "The Walking Dead," and it's no surprise that "Welcome to the Tombs" took them seriously enough to return to over and over again. As written by departing showrunner Glen Mazzara and directed by returning pro Ernest Dickerson (who also directed Season 2's finale and Season 3's premiere), there was more than enough blood-splattered action to satisfy thrill seekers, but also enough substance for those looking for more than a live action video game. That's the spirit "The Walking Dead" needs to retain as the characters head into the uncertainty of Season 4.

Other highlights:

- So the show chickened out on knocking off the Governor. It's a mixed blessing. We'll get more of David Morrissey next season, but the writers will have to work pretty hard to make him more than a cartoon villain plotting his grand revenge.

- All in all, the finale deaths were fairly conservative. Sure, the Woodbury massacre helped inflate the number to 27 (as Andrew Lincoln promised) but among characters we really knew the only losses were Andrea, Milton and awful Allen. That's a pretty predictable and -- given the amount of unwarranted scorn directed at Andrea recently from fans -- pretty safe trio to dispose of.

- Andrea's speech to Milton after he asked her why she didn't return to the prison after she knew the Governor was bad news felt an awful lot like something tacked on after the writers saw the criticisms the character was getting online. Although production wrapped in 2012, recent re-shoots could've taken care of that. Still, I found Andrea's death to be an irritating inevitability and a disappointing way to send off one of the last remaining original cast members. At least Andrea was able to reconcile with Michonne.

- There wasn't much time for Daryl to reflect on Merle's death, other than a simple exchange with Carol: "Merle never did anything like this in his whole life," he told her. "He gave us a chance," she responded.

- Since Karen ( Melissa Ponzio) was the only soldier to survive the Governor's massacre and helped Rick, Daryl and Michonne get everyone else out of Woodbury, it'll be interesting to see if she pops back up next season. The show hasn't done anything special with her yet, and it's hard to imagine any of these Woodbury survivors becoming much more than walker-bait in the future.

- Rick saw Lori's ghost one more time, but he finally seems ready to move on. (Besides, he has bigger problems to deal with now. Thanks, Carl.) With that I think we can safely assume we won't be seeing Sarah Wayne Callies' name pop up in the opening credits again.
Photo/Video credit: AMC