Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Excuse us for a second while we curb the guilt brought on by our unquenched bloodlust.
OK, now that we’ve gotten past the shame of not seeing any major characters die in last night’s satisfying, future-setting second season finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead, it’s time to acknowledge, once again, what a superb job new showrunner Glen Mazzara, comic book creator/show executive producer Robert Kirkman, executive producer Gale Anne Hurd, and the rest of their team have done since The Walking Dead returned for its midseason blowout this past February. Elevating the action, suspense, horror, and non-languishing character development, the hit series’ creative squad has uplifted a show that was already one of the coolest on TV to being one of the all-around strongest, and most unpredictable, hours on the small screen.
Last night’s season-ender, “Beside The Dying Fire,” delivered on several accounts: It bestowed walker-loving fans with an epic zombies-versus-survivors battle on Hershel Greene’s (Scott Wilson) once tranquil farm, it introduced a couple of fan-favorite components from Kirkman’s comics into the show to whet appetites for October’s Season Three comeback, and, most importantly, “Beside The Dying Fire” (co-written by Kirkman and Mazzara) ushered Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) into an official badass, no-more-Mr.-nice-guy phase of leadership.
That’s what happens when the people you’ve repeatedly saved can’t show a little gratitude after the biggest shitstorm of their post-apocalyptic lives so far. Frankly, Rick should’ve pimp-slapped them all. But more on that later. It’s time to recap all of the insanity.
“God talked about the ‘resurrection of the dead’; I just thought he had something different in mind.”
So how did the hundred some-odd zombies finally make it to Hershel’s farm? Blame it on a passing helicopter, which flies above the desolate, horrific city streets of Atlanta, prompting a band of walkers to follows in its direction. And that leads them all to the wooden gates surrounding Hershel’s property, which they easily break through and grant themselves access to the farm land. Also blame Carl’s (Chandler Riggs) gunshot, the one that put zombified Shane (Jon Bernthal) down at the end of last week’s episode, “Better Angels.”
Walking back to the house, Carl asks Rick to explain why he killed Shane, but their heart-to-heart is halted once daddy spots the army of flesh-eaters making their way to the crib. At the same time, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Andrea (Laurie Holden) also see the herd of ghouls, calling upon Hershel to bring his bag full of guns out on the porch. Each grabbing one, the group disperses and prepares to vacate the premises. No such luck, however, since the zombies show up to their doorstep more quickly than expected.
Rick, realizing that he and Carl won’t make it through the zombies blocking the path to the house, redirects the father/son route into the barn and barricades the front entrance. As the walkers bang on the door, Rick dumps a shitload of gasoline on the ground, hands Carl a lighter, and instructs him to light and drop it at his command, which comes after Rick opens the door and leads the zombies into the center of the barn. With Carl and Rick looking up from the second floor, the lighter hits the ground and ignites the living dead; not before long, the whole barn is up in flames. Rick and Carl avoid becoming toast by leaping onto the late Dale’s (Jeffrey DeMunn) RV, which is being driven the typically useless Jimmy (James McCune). But just as we’re about to give Jimmy some props for finally contributing, he’s torn apart by a few zombies that break into the RV as Rick and Carl hit the dirt and run away.
Elsewhere on the property, Hershel stands speechless and guns down a dozen or so walkers with a sawed-off shotgun; Maggie (Lauren Cohan) drives around in one of the cars while Glenn (Steven Yuen) blows away as many ghouls as possible, before they head off the land once a bunch of zombies pile onto the whip’s front and make the task of picking up anyone else physically impossible; Daryl (Norman Reedus) peels around on his Harley Davidson and dispatches of more “roamers”; and Lori, Beth (Emily Kinney), Patricia (Jane McNeil) and T-Dog (IronE Singleton) grab supplies and run for one of the last remaining vehicles. Along the way, unfortunately, zombies snatch up Patricia, who holds onto Beth’s arm as the reanimated corpses feast upon her neck, arms, legs, and other orifices. Just like the equally irrelevant Jimmy, Patricia’s a goner. And, unsurprisingly, the only reaction if triggers from us is, “Oh, cool—some gory zombie action!” No sadness here.
As for Carol (Melissa McBride), she’s fleeing by her lonesome until a couple of creatures trap her near one of the barn’s walls. Luckily for her, Andrea is there to save the day, gunning down the two walkers and turning around quick enough to put a bullet into the head of another zombie that’s mere feet away from biting into her. Lori, Beth, and T-Dog see this from the reverse angle, however, and take the zombie’s falling onto Andrea as a sign that it’s gotten her, so they drive off. As do Rick, Hershel, and Carl, leaving Andrea all by herself, without a rescue ride—even Carol manages to get one, thanks to her inevitable lover-boy Daryl and his hog (you know they’re going to smack backs next season).
And just like that, The Walking Dead’s mini-remake of Night Of The Living Dead is a wrap, with only two casualties (Jimmy and Patricia) and everyone but Andrea exiting the premises safely.
“I just wanted it over; I just wanted him dead.”
Fittingly, Season Two’s final episode revisits where the year began: that congested, death-ridden highway. The gang, minus Andrea, reunites on the road; the subject of whether they should go back and look for Andrea comes up, but Rick hastily shoots the notion down, and it doesn’t take all that long for them to drive off and leave the nightmare of Hershel’s farm massacre behind.
As should be expected, however, the pickup truck that everyone except Daryl (with his bike) rides in runs out of gas, causing the whole troop to pow-wow in the middle of the road. Rick lets it be known that he believes they’ll find a safe place nearby, a “shelter,” and that they should camp out in the surrounding woods until morning, when they can locate some gasoline in the safety of daylight—an idea that no one else loves, and they let their disagreement show. And that’s only heightened once Rick drops a bomb on them: Back at the CDC, at the end of last season, the mad doctor told Rick that they’re “all infected”; meaning, whatever the hell is turning dead folks into zombies, they all carry it and harbor the infection until they die and trigger its effects. Naturally, everyone gets pissed at him for withholding such pertinent information.
Going to the side of the road for some alone-time, Rick stews for a moment until Lori joins him and tries to console her hubby, with, “I’m sure you had your reasons.” All of her compassion gets erased, though, when Rick tells her that he killed Shane, and explains how it was a self-defense move, and that Shane pushed him to do it. Despite Rick’s reasoning, Lori looks at him in horror, backing away from him as if he’s dripping with asbestos.
And, yes, they’ve all basically stopped talking about Andrea, who’s fending for dear life in the woods with hardly any bullets. It’s a good thing that she’s a total gangster chick—using a knife, a rock, and her own fists and feet, Andrea lays waste to many walkers. But, eventually, one of the undead gets the best of her and takes the blonde fighter to the ground; it’s looking bleak for her, but then, out of nowhere, something slices the zombie’s head right off its decomposed shoulders—and, we’ll be damned, it’s Michonne! The beloved samurai-sword-wielding character from Kirkman’s comics that Walking Dead fans have been clamoring to see on the TV show for the past year. How’s this for an intro: Set against the grey, dusky sky, Michonne, whose face is shrouded in darkness beneath a hooded sweatshirt, holds her blade like a G while walking two armless zombies with a pair of leashes. Though, to be honest, we would’ve liked to see Andrea die (there goes that bloodlust again), her rescue gave us a completely fulfilling lead into a character who’ll no doubt own The Walking Dead’s third season.
Alongside the evil, maniacal Governor, that is. Confirmation about that other comic book fave’s forthcoming appearance closes out “Beside The Dying Fire,” when the camera slowly pans up and away from the campground set up by Rick and the others and reveals what looks like the Governor’s prison-fortress. Hell. Yes.
But will the Governor have a similarly cold-hearted alpha male to contend with? That seems to be the case, now that Rick, having heard enough bitching and moaning from his comrades about his questionable decisions and shaky leadership skills, blacks out on Lori and the rest of their fellow still-breathing associates. First, he taunts them with the proposition of leaving their little campfire nook and trying to last without him (“Send me a postcard!”). And then he reminds them that, “I killed my best friend for your people, for Christ’s sake.”
Unsurprisingly, no one retorts back with anymore complaints. Turning their silence into obedience, Rick issues his closing statement: “This isn’t a democracy anymore.”
The Walking Dead, meanwhile, isn’t an overly talky, slow-moving, susceptible-to-haters show seemingly unable to reach its full potential anymore. And just wait until Michonne and the Governor hit their strides. Shit’s about to get real. And raw.
See you in October, Dead heads.
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)