Top Ten Shows of 2013

It is a great time to be an audience member right now, as network television starts to fight back against the domineering cable powerhouses like AMC, FX, HBO, Showtime, and, now, Netflix. And because we live in 2013, I decided to make a list about it. So here you go, Internet. Here’s a look at my top ten picks for the past year in television:

10. The Mindy Project

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In her quest to take over Hollywood, writer/producer/actress Mindy Kaling and crew step up their game big time in the sophomore season of The Mindy Project. With the addition of Adam Palley (Happy Endings), the cast finally seems complete and grounds some of Mindy’s pop culture rants. While most people have written off this show as a mind-numbing sitcom, Kaling brings a hint of her Dartmouth intelligence to the mix, crafting the lovable Nurse Morgan (Ike Barinholtz) and the bromance to end all bromances between Dr. Castellano (Chris Messina) and Dr. Reed (Ed Weeks). Mindy’s biggest problem is that she only appeals to the Generation Y – my mom doesn’t get half the jokes.

9. American Horror Story: Coven

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There is a house in New Orleans…and shit hits the fan. Ryan Murphy’s latest installment of the horror series follows the struggle between the witches and voodoos in the great Mardi Gras city, all while juggling massive themes of racism and acceptance. Sarah Paulson, who shined in Asylum, takes a back seat in this chapter, letting veteran Jessica Lange battle it out against industry staples Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett. With an eclectic group of supporting characters like mind-reader Nan, human voodoo doll Queenie, Fleetwood Mac-inspired Misty, and vagina-killer Zoey, the women of AHS take a stand, once and for all.

8. Top of the Lake

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Speaking of women taking a stand, let’s take a moment to talk about Elisabeth Moss, who killed 2013. Like, the reason 2013 is coming to a close is because she killed it. Moss stars in this surreal Sundance drama as a Detective Robin Griffin, who looks into the disappearance of a twelve-year-old pregnant girl, and uncovers the dark underworld dealings of rural New Zealand. Better yet, Holly Hunter delivers the performance of her career in the best side-story of the year as GJ, the psychedelic con artist who leads troubled women into the plains of Paradise. With a supporting cast comprised of Peter Mullan, Thomas Wright, and David Wenham (Lord of the Rings). In a sort, Elisabeth Moss’ Robin Griffin was everything that Claire Danes’ Carrie Matheson wasn’t this year… I still love you, Claire.

7. Modern Family

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We’re keeping it in the family this year with yet another amazing season of ABC’s Modern Family. While their Emmy days are starting to fade (even though they won Best Comedy for the fourth year in a row), the show remains strong as ever. As always, Phil and Claire Dunphy (Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen) bring the show to a whole new height, with the sadly realistic mix-ups that occur daily in households across America. Even Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) has stepped up her A-game. If you disagree with me, go rewatch “ClosetCon” and then we’ll talk.

6. Please Like Me

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“The Best Show That You’ve Never Heard Of” award for 2013 goes to the Australian comedy Please Like Me. While most Americans knowledge of Australian television extends as far as Chris Lilley’s HBO partnerships like Summer Heights High and the recent (flop) Ja’mie: Private School Girl, this is one show you should add to your list. It stars Josh Thomas as a twenty-something who realizes he is gay when his girlfriend dumps him over a seventeen-dollar sundae. It’s the intricacies like the seventeen-dollar sundae that make this show so great! Josh goes to stay with his depression-stricken mother, as his father lands himself with a young Thai woman. With the help of his best friend Tom and his new ex-girlfriend Clare, Josh attempts to navigate the world as a gay man – and he’s very bad at it. You can find Please Like Me on the new Pivot channel – check your local listings and whatnot. This is one show that’s too smart to miss.

5. Game of Thrones

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Red Wedding. While this episode of Game of Thrones was truly a masterpiece, I now forget what happened in the rest of the season. I’m sure it was good, but then again I do recall a lot of Jon Snow/Ygritte whining, awkward Brienne/Kingslayer conversations, and general Joffrey bitchiness. Eh, it still deserves a spot on my top ten, I suppose.

4. House of Cards

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House of Cards made history by winning Netflix’s first ever Primetime Emmy Award, which went to David Fincher for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series. That aside, Kevin Spacy and Robin Wright are cruelly captivating as Congressman Francis Underwood and wife Claire. This dynamic duo brings a new spin on the anti-hero, since the majority of the spouses of today’s most complex anti-heroes are not in on their secret vices (think Don Draper, Walter White, Nurse Jackie, Nicholas Brody, etc.). This show exposes the underworld-like dealings that occur in our nation’s Capital. With the addition of budding reporter Zoe Barnes, played by Kate Mara (not Anna Kendrick), we see how the media influences political dealings and ultimately lead to national cover-ups. With the convenient “Play Next” button, it’s hard to resist watching the first season in one sitting.

3. Veep

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My favorite comedy of the year goes to another story of political intrigue, Veep. Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as the manic Vice President of the United States in the second season of this HBO comedy about the day-to-day dealings with her political team. This year, Tony Hale was the breakout-star (even though his work in Arrested Development has already been universally appreciated), earning him an Emmy in September. Dreyfus also took home an Emmy this year, as her character strived to appear sane in the public eye through a slew of scandals from the ill-timed pig roast to “the song” to the tit grab. Assisted by Anna Chlumsky, Reid Scott, and Matt Walsh, the show’s fast pace has become its saving grace because there’s never a dull moment. Looking ahead at 2014 – Selina’s running for president, and I can’t wait.

2. Breaking Bad

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We bid a tearful farewell to many shows this year (30 Rock, The Office, Dexter), but none of were able to live up to American audiences’ expectations quite like Breaking Bad. In its final stretch, the AMC drama heated up as Walter White ping-ponged with his own destiny, coming full arc to admit to his wife that everything he has ever done has been for himself and not for his family, as he reiterated time and time again throughout the series. His sidekick Jesse, receives redemption of sorts – but at what cost? Two girlfriends, countless bystanders, and his own sobriety. All the while, Anna Gunn brilliantly embodies the hollow shell of Skylar White, the overtired wife of America’s most wanted criminal. Farewell Walter White; we’ll see you in Godzilla.

1. Orange is the New Black

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At number one comes the most groundbreaking television series in some time: Orange is the New Black. Debuting on Netflix early this summer, social media exploded with glowing reviews and raves about the dramedy, which tells the real life story of Piper Chapman, an inmate at an all-female correctional facility. This show encompasses the ultimate “stranger in a strange land” mantra audiences have come to love over the years, but at the same time makes this prison and its eclectic group of inmates somewhat familiar. We see the human side of these women, as we delve into flashbacks of their lives pre-orange jumpsuit. Taylor Schilling just received a Golden Globe nod for Best Actress, and there’s no doubt America will be rooting for her all the way to SHU with her bloody, tooth-marked knuckles.

Some honorable mentions that didn’t have great seasons, but great episodes:

The Office – “Finale”

Homeland – “The Star”

The Middle – “The Jump”

Downton Abbey: Series 4 – “Episode 4”

Girls – “One Man’s Trash”

Mad Men – “In Care Of”

HOMELAND: “The Star”

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The time has come to say goodbye to the greatest magician in the game. In Homeland’s third season finale, Sargent Nicolas Brody finally met his demise – arcing full circle to serving his country one last time. But Carrie didn’t cry as much as I expected/hoped she would.

The episode, entitled “The Star,” picks up as Brody is stashing the dead body of Iranian dictator Akbari, an action that should place Javadi – Carrie and Saul’s ultimate pawn – in power. Brody reaches out to Carrie, who frantically escorts him to a safe house, where they await the arrival of an extraction team.

Back in the CIA headquarters, people are skeptical of Saul’s master plan and begin to toy with the idea of having Javadi capture Brody to gain his nation’s confidence. Bad news for Saul – the president approved this new plan and he’s sent packing with eleven hours left as commissioner.

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In a scene worthy of a Golden Globe nomination *ahem ahem* Carrie and Brody discuss their allegiances to their country, to themselves, and to each other, leading to the bombshell baby announcement. Right when we think these lovers will fly off in the Middle Eastern sunset, Javadi’s men come and take Brody prisoner, leaving Carrie alone with her feelings.

Soon, word is released that Brody stood before an Iranian military tribunal and was sentenced to death by hanging in the public square. With that in mind, us (the audience) thinks of a million and one different ways our hero can make it out unscathed. But that’s when it hits us – is Brody our hero? Has he ever been our hero? Or has he just been dragged along to test Carrie – tangling her allegiances to herself and to her nation. Once we understand these facts, it’s too late. Brody is being hoisted up on a noose by a crane, his body twitching as his lungs search for the air that just won’t go in. In his final moments, he sees Carrie climbing the fence, wailing his name, “Brody! Brody!.” She said she would be there, and she was.

In a sort of epilogue to the events of the first three seasons, we find a retired Saul vacationing in Greece with his now loving wife (I still don’t really get their relationship, but whatever). Carrie, now eight months pregnant, has been appointed to oversee operations in Istanbul. But she doesn’t want the baby. After a talk with her family, her father decides that he will take the child – who Carrie sees as both a burden and a painful reminder of the life she could never have with Brody.

At a commemorative ceremony honoring the brave men and women who lost their lives protecting the country they love, Carrie looks on with disgust, knowing that Brody has done more for this country than anyone would ever dare give him credit for. In a tearful final moment, she walks up to the wall of stars and discretely draws an additional star, honoring the man who opened Iran’s clenched fist and was betrayed by the CIA operatives who swore to protect him.

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While I understand Homeland is a money-making operation for Showtime, I really would have liked to see Carrie be executed alongside Brody. To be honest, I don’t think she has much left to live for. She has compromised so much about herself to be with Brody, that the epilogue didn’t really do her character justice. Another thing that has been irritating me about this season is the complete lack of jazz music, which was a staple theme throughout the first and second seasons. As trivial as it sounds, Carrie’s music taste truly defined her character from the start and played into her solitary lifestyle.

Also, where was the Brody clan in last night’s episode? Didn’t we need to see Dana’s reaction to her father’s death to make her season long drama worth sharing?! I think I am the only one on the face of the planet who appreciated Morgan Saylor’s portrayal of the disturbed teen who faced public scrutiny by her father’s actions. I’m glad to see reports that both her and Morena Baccarin will be returning for the fourth season, even if their roles are downsized. Part of what made Homeland so intriguing was the added aspect of the Brody’s home. Hurt hits on all fronts, people.

Here’s to Damian Lewis, who crafted such a compelling character that we despised, yet cared for; vehemently hated, now mourn for. Rest in peace, Sargent Nicolas Brody. A U.S. prisoner of war has turned. And now, he has fallen.

My Open Letter to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association

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Dear Hollywood Foreign Press Association,

Did you watch this season of Homeland? Like, actually, did you watch it? Even past the first seven episodes? It got better, you know. How about Game of Thrones? Does the phase “Rains of Castamere” not sing “Golden Globe nomination” to you? Oh, here’s another one: Did you watch Mad Men this season? It was a lot darker than usual, so maybe you turned it off because you got a little scared. The Hershey Pitch? Anyone? 

On the other hand, did you per chance watch Downton Abbey? Maybe you were just watching Joanne Froggatt’s heartbreaking performance in episodes 4-8. Because other than that, the season was shit (no offense, Downton, I still love you). And Masters of Sex? I know you like to give experimental shows a chance, but not this year. Not when the three most talked about dramas are left out in the cold. Just throw a nod at Lizzy Caplan and call it a day. Just kidding, you didn’t do that either. How about Anna Gunn? Wasn’t she great on this season of Breaking Bad? It’s like she was SO GOOD she won an Emmy for it, or something. I see you gave some love to Taylor Schilling for Orange is the New Black, but, as the also-snubbed cast of Arrested Development would say, “Her?” Really? You had an entire ensemble of amazing breakout artists (Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, etc.) and you only shed light on Schilling? Shame on you. Shame. On. You.

You’re lucky Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are hosting, because their comedic gold will make me forget about all the wrongdoings you have done this holiday season.

Best,

Rob Zappulla

 

Top Ten Entertainment Moments of 2013

The year was 2013 and madness ensued. Here’s yet another meaningless top ten countdown, where someone will bitch about how I didn’t include HBO’s “Enlightened” being cancelled.

 10. The Rise of the Mini-Series

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To start off the countdown, I’d like to take a moment to recognize a phenomenon that has captivated audiences in 2013: the mini-series. Unlike any year before, these productions have combined the high production value of films with the periodic elements of a television show. Most notably is FX’s American Horror Story: Coven, the third installment to Ryan Murphy’s anthology series, which follows the struggle between the witches and voodoos in New Orleans. Another popular mini-series this year was BBC’s Top of the Lake, starring Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss as a detective who uncovers the disappearance of a twelve-year-old pregnant girl. The story unfolds with strong cultural ties to the New Zealand landscape. BBC’s other masterpiece this year was Parade’s End, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a conservative aristocrat who falls in love with a progressive suffragette. So do yourself a favor and watch a mini-series! It’ll be worth your time.

 

9. North West

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At number nine is the baby of the year – and we’re not talking about the future heir to the English throne – we’re talking about North West. On June 15th, reality star Kim Kardashian gave birth to a baby boy, who, along with boyfriend and rapper Kanye West, named North West. As a nation, we gasped, thinking of this kid’s first day of Kindergarten as a confused schoolteacher takes attendance and calls out a compass direction, rather than a name. This was also a big year for Kimye as a couple. From Kanye’s music video for “Bound 2” was parodied by James Franco and Seth Rogan, to his public fight with Jimmy Kimmel, to his record smashing CD release of Yeezus, tabloids have been stocked with juicy stories about Hollywood’s newest power couple.

 

8. Lorde releases “Pure Heroine” 

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At number eight comes a young girl from down under – New Zealand to be exact. In the midst of the Royal Baby craze, she reminded us that, “We’ll never be royal.” This girl’s name is Lorde and her album, “Pure Heroine” hit shelves September 27 to critical raves and a whopping four Grammy nominations.

 

7. Jennifer Lawrence wins Oscar, trips

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Moving on to number seven, we take a trip back to February’s Academy Awards, where America’s budding sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence took a trip of own. On her way up to the stage to accept her award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture for her role in Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence stumbled up the steps – but still managed to make it look like a Chanel ad. The Girl on Fire has had a full year, starring in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the upcoming David O’Russell flick American Hustle, where another Oscar could be in store for Lawrence.

 

6. Deaths of James Gandolfini and Cory Monteith

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For number six, we take a somber moment to remember two great men gone too soon. In June, news broke that Sopranos front man James Gandolfini had died of a heart attack. Gandolfini had just wrapped up filming of a recently released film Enough Said alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus, which has gained a lot of critical attention. Then in July, we learned the passing of Glee star Cory Monteith. The show postponed the start of their fifth season in order to properly pay tribute to Monteith’s legacy in an episode entitled “The Quarterback.” At the 2013 Emmy Awards held in September, Edie Falco and Jane Lynch paid tribute for their respective co-stars in a tearful in memoriam.

 

5. Sandra Bullock Brings The Heat and is Suspended in Gravity

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Number four on our countdown goes to Sandra Bullock, whose films this year brought audiences to tears of laughter and desolation. First, in her summer blockbuster, The Heat, Bullock stars as a ridged, by the books FBI agent from Manhattan, who is tasked to work with a Boston cop, played by Melissa McCarthy, to take down the nation’s most notorious drug dealer. Then in October, Bullock captivated audiences as Dr. Ryan Stone in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. Bullock’s character goes through a range of emotions in the ultimate “stranger in a strange land” film. The only thing in the way of Bullock’s second Oscar is Cate Blanchette in Blue Jasmine, but my vote’s for the lonely astronaut.

 

4. “Rains of Castamere”

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Have you heard someone say “Spoiler Alert!” at all during the past year? If so, chances are pretty good that that someone was about to talk about Game of Throne’s “Rains of Castamere” – which comes in at number three on our countdown. In one of the bloodiest hours in the history of television, the HBO fantasy drama unexpectedly killed off a slew of protagonists, as jaws dropped around the globe. Like clockwork, fans took to the Internet to vent their concerns, leading to dozens of viral “reaction” videos to the episode’s infamous moment, now known as “The Red Wedding.” Basically, if you haven’t started watching television’s most expensive drama, you should probably make that your New Year’s Resolution.

 

3. Miley Twerks at the VMAs

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She’s still just being Miley. At number two on our countdown comes Disney star turned provocative twerk-er. In August, Miley Cyrus performed a rendition of “We Can’t Stop” and “Blurred Lines” with Robin Thicke, and proceeded to do the “Twerk Seen Round the World.” Was it a publicity stunt? Probably. Did it work? Definitely. Before the year was up, Miley had hosted SNL, performed a head-scratching rendition of “Wrecking Balls” at the AMA’s, and released a relatively successful album, Bangerz, all while sporting her now iconic short hair-do. Say what you will, but she’s just being Miley.

 

2. Breaking Bad Finale

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At number five, America said goodbye to its favorite meth cook – Walter Hartwell White. AMC wrapped up the fifth and final season of Breaking Bad on September 29th, as audiences packed auditoriums and movie theaters around the nation to view the shocking conclusion to one of the greatest television dramas of all time. To honor the show’s legacy, the Emmy’s awarded Anna Gunn with Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama, and the Outstanding Drama award went to the cast and crew of Breaking Bad.

 

1. Netflix Produces Original Content

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For my number one moment in entertainment for the 2013 year, I log onto my Netflix account to view their new, original content. Racking up an impressive fourteen Emmy nominations and one win, the online streaming site has become a television network in its own capacity. From reviving fan-favorite Arrested Development, to the political drama House of Cards, Netflix is doing everything right. Over the summer, Netflix added yet another outstanding show, Orange is the New Black, which has demolished all notions and prejudices America has had about female correctional facilities. At $8.99 a month, Netflix is more than just entertainment – it’s an experience.

Do you agree with my top ten? Let me know in the comment section. Be civilized, people.

I Finally Start NURSE JACKIE

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After years of seeing nominations for Nurse Jackie at various award ceremonies – and Merritt Wever’s now infamously hilarious acceptance speech for winning the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy – I finally sat down to watch the comedy…or drama…or dramedy. And I love it.

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Edie Falco (The Sopranos) shines as a cynical ER nurse, whose addiction to pain killers toggles with her own morality – all while leading a double life with a loving husband and two daughters. Jackie’s good cop/bad cop style of nursing allows the writers to add a host of compelling trauma patients to come through the doors of the bustling New York City hospital.

In the pilot, Jackie is tasked with mentoring a skittish nursing student, Zoey (Wever), who learns right off the bat to barf away from the severed human ear. The hospital has the most prestigious staff in the city, with the adorkable, Dr. Cooper (Peter Facinelli) – Coop for short – and the egocentric diva, Dr. O’Hara (Eve Best).

Something I love about the editing. Most shows fade to black during transitions, but in Nurse Jackie we fade to white. There’s something very lucid about this – mixing Jackie’s immoral addiction to pain killers with the very real sense of mortality in the hospital. In a very powerful moment in the first season, Zoey loses her first patient, and the quick-to-judge Jackie stands down for a moment to acknowledge the many dark horrors that come with working in the medical profession.

If you haven’t starting watching Nurse Jackie yet, don’t fret! It’s not too late! Well, I guess it’ll never be too late, unless, well…we all die eventually.

THE WALKING DEAD Mid-Season Finale

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Are you still feeling the adrenaline kick from last night’s midseason finale of The Walking Dead? I know I am! (Dramatic pause). Sure, this season’s antagonist was just the zombies, then the flu, then we think the zombies might have had the flu, but really it was the rats/pigs that had the flu…regardless of what seemed like the longest season of The Walking Dead since the Sophie played hide-and-go-seek in the barn, the climactic showdown between Rick and the Governor was worth the wait. And little kids got guns; that was cool!

After the writers pushed the envelope with two whole episodes dedicated to the Governor and his newly converted minions, the one-eyed tyrant led a march on the prison, taking Hershel and Michonne hostage to tease Rick into a bloodless overthrow. However, Rick pleaded to the Governor that both groups could live in complete harmony in the separate cellblocks. Meanwhile, seasons 1-3 Rick turned his cheek the other way, mumbling, “I’m not with this guy.” The Governor wasn’t convinced, so naturally he took to Michonne’s sword and offed Hershel’s grinning head.

Then, war.

I want to take a moment to talk to the characters individually to critique their performance in the epic showdown.

Hershel: I’m glad you went with a big smile on your face. We were all crying just like Beth & Maggie, machine guns included.

Beth & Maggie: I was moved by your powerless shrieks when your father was beheaded. That being said, you didn’t have to waste all your ammo with your emotions. Slow it down next time.

Michonne: I’m not sure how you rolled your way to safety without any of the Governor’s men (or the Governor himself) noticing. Good for you for using that trailer hitch to free your hands from that super strong rope.

Rick: You really lost a fistfight to the Governor? We just saw two whole episodes where this guy was literally emaciated and was contemplating suicide. I feel like your farming should have prepared you – both physically and mentally – to beat the crap out of him. SMH (Shaking My Head – even though I just learned this wasn’t an acronym for “So Much Hate”).

Tyreese: I’m not sure how you stumbled upon those brutally mutilated rats – slash the battle was an easy way for us to forget about the plot of a potential psychopath living amongst the survivors – but you are really bad at shooting. You had to be saved by four little kids with pistols; never forget.

Lizzie and Her Band of Badass Munchkins: Carol taught you a thing or two, I see. Best moment of the season – by far – slaying Alisha, whose lesbian plot line didn’t really amount to anything, but probably appeased the LGBT community.

Miranda: Since when are you against using guns? I’m very confused. Your character arc makes no sense to me. And your lover was killed by an eight-year-old. Maybe it’s time to rethink your life?

Lilly: I don’t get you. You’re just a less cool, less attractive version of Andrea, minus the gun skills and the personality, plus the daughter (then minus the daughter when she dies, so you even out with her there!).

Daryl: You’re way too cool for all these people. I hope you ditch the group and go find Carol in Season Five and live happily ever after.

Sasha: You were barely able to walk at the start of this episode, then all of the sudden you’re shooting down the Governor’s army and walkers left and right? You were totally faking the flu.

Glenn: You very much still had the flu. You need to heighten your immune system somehow. Maybe some tea? Tea should help.

Carl: YOU HAD ONE JOB! WHERE IS LIL ASSKICKER NOW? HUH? JUDITH’S CAR SEAT WAS PRETTY BLOODY, SO IT DOESN’T LOOK GOOD, CARL. IT. DOESN’T. LOOK. GOOD. Ugh.

After the smoke cleared, the good guys really only lost Hershel, maybe Judith, and their home. They did a pretty good job, considering how our heroes were outgunned by the Governor’s mini-army. And they also had a tank, which forced me to suspend my disbelief a little – were the keys just sitting in the tank? Did someone hotwire the tank? Was there that much ammo still left in the tank? So many questions, so little time.

Now we all must brave the cold without our favorite cold-blooded friends (get it!), as The Walking Dead returns in February to cap off their fourth season. Fingers crossed that there’s an episode dedicated to Carol driving down the coast all the way to Disney World. A guy can dream, damn it!