Verdict: Four walkers out of five. It had all been steadily building up to this, and The Walking Dead Season 3 finale didn’t disappoint with a gut-wrenching, violent and yet hopeful conclusion. But the quality of the storytelling has been on a gradual slide since Season 1, and it’s unclear where the show goes from here, especially with showrunner Glen Mazzara gone. There is little doubt about its enduring popularity and rich cast of characters, though.

The Walking Dead

“Dammit Rick, will you please talking to your dead wife and just kill the damn walkers?” ©AMC

Let’s begin with some numbers. The Hollywood Reporter said that the final episode of season 3 attracted some 12.4m viewers. This was about 3m more viewers than the season 2 finale garnered. Correspondingly, as viewership has risen, so has the body count, as illustrated in this remarkable infographic by The National Post.  And it was no different in the season finale, which drew things to a bloody conclusion. Andrew Lincoln, who plays Rick Grimes, had promised a body count of 27. Sure enough, there was plenty of blood spilt – and not just from the walkers.

It all begins with the Governor (David Morrissey) going into full-on psycho mode with an extended monologue straight into the camera. “You kill or you die. Or you die and you kill,” he solemnly announces, as he beats the living shit out of Milton (Dallas Roberts), or as I prefer to call him, Smithers. Then he stabs him in the gut in front of Andrea (Laurie Holden) a.k.a. Ms ‘I’m totes fine with making the worst decisions ever’. It’s a harsh, harrowing scene, especially when the Governor leaves Milton to bleed to death, closing the door behind him. While Andrea is still tied to her dentist’s chair.

The Walking Dead, David Morrissey

“And this is my Halloween costume: Nick Fury.” Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Then the battle begins as the Governor and his ragtag army storm the prison in a hail of bombs and bullets. Given that this is the zombie apocalypse, you’d think they might be a bit more concerned about conserving ammo for, oh I don’t know, the damn zombies, but that doesn’t happen. Grenade launchers go off amidst spectacular explosions, while one of the Governor’s men fires what looks like an M60 machine gun (note: @judacris tells me it’s more likely an M2 Browning), a weapon which can discharge 100 rounds in one minute. But despite their superior firepower, they get driven off by Rick’s basic guerilla tactics.

Meanwhile, back in the torture room, Andrea is racing against time to free herself before Milton expires and turns. He’s conveniently left a pair of pliers beneath her chair, but she can’t quite reach them. Some very, very tense moments ensue as Milton drifts in and out of consciousness. “When you get free, you’re going to find something very sharp, and you’re going to stab me in the head,” he says. It ‘s that desperate feeling of a life and death struggle with the walkers that has sometimes been missing amid the extended Rick-Governor rivalry.

The Walking Dead, Laurie Holden

Andrea couldn’t quite believe she met her end at the hands of Smithers.

Over on the Governor’s side, he goes berserk on his retreating army and kills them all, save for Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo) and the black dude (for the life of me, I don’t know what his name is). They then drive off together in a truck and disappear, which leaves me fully confident that we will finally see the long-haired, Michonne-raping, Rick’s-hand-cutting version of the Governor in Season 4.

Rick, Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Darryl (Norman Reedus) then head for Woodbury to finish the job, where they finally find Andrea – but it’s too late. Zombie Milton has already taken a big chunk out of Andrea’s shoulder. And in her final moments, a character who has sometimes seemed wholly undeserving of sympathy, finally wins our respect. “I just didn’t want anyone to die,” she intones quietly, explaining herself with one brilliantly written line.

Andrea’s departure is tenderly and brilliantly handled, especially in the heartbreaking moment when she asks Rick for a gun so she can put herself out of her misery. “I know how the safety works,” she says, with just a hint of a smile, an allusion to the moment in Season 1 when Rick had to advise her on how a gun works. Everything seems to come a halt as Rick and Darryl step out of the room, and silently await the gunshot that will tell them it’s over.

Carl, The Walking Dead

“Heeeeeeeeeeere’s Carl!” ©AMC

Meanwhile, it looks like Carl (Chandler Riggs) is slowly going off the deep end. He kills one of the Governor’s men, a young boy who was trying to surrender. When dad Rick tries to talk to him about it, he gets right in his face: “I couldn’t take the chance. You didn’t kill Andrew, and he came back and killed Mom. You were in a room with the Governor, and you let him go, and then he killed Merle. I did what I had to do.” And as if in a final act of leaving his childhood behind, he throws down the sheriff’s star that Rick gave him, a moment which will surely have far-reaching consequences.

So: to sum up, Andrea and Milton are dead, the Governor’s gone missing, the Ricktatorship is over, Maggie and Glen are getting hitched, and a whole load of new people are joining the prison. There will surely be  new characters in Season 4 too, with speculation already mounting that comic character Abraham Ford will be joining the cast.

The Walking Dead is still a fine show, and I’m still a big fan, but it’s hard to deny that subsequent seasons have never quite lived up to the genius of Season 1, which was helmed by Frank Darabont. The blood and the gore is always fun, but one can only hope that there will be less guns and more storytelling next term

What did you think of The Walking Dead Season 3 finale? And what are you expecting for Season 4?

For more geek content, go to my new website Geek Crusade, which launches July 11. For the moment, you can sign up on the website for your chance to win exclusive premiums. Follow us on Twitter too @GeekCrusade, as we tweet and blog and Facebook our way across some of the USA’s geekiest sites!