Well, Dead-heads, the wildly uneven sophomore season of The Walking Dead has finally come to an end, closing out a troubled 13-episode stretch that began with marked inconsistency and lazy writing, but ended with a series of final episodes that featured increasingly improved writing, structure and suspense.  So, did the season finale continue that trend of increasing excellence, or did the momentum that Season Two has been building fall apart under the pressure?  Find out below with our review for “Beside the Dying Fire.”

The Players:

  • Director:  Ernest Dickerson
  • Writers:  Robert Kirkman & Glen Mazzara
  • Cast:  Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies, and Laurie Holden

Episode Title: “Beside the Dying Fire”

[Spoilers ahead!]

The episode opens with a helicopter flying over Atlanta as walkers leave the city en masse for the surrounding woods, drawn by the sound of gunfire that marked the ending of the last episode, and Shane’s death.

Utter chaos ensues as Rick and Carl flee from the woods and seek refuge in Hershel’s barn and walkers begin to overrun the farm.  The remainder of the group becomes separated while attempting to formulate a survival plan.  Rick and Carl set the barn on fire, burning it down to kill the walkers inside;  they are rescued by Jimmy who, driving the RV to the barn, sacrifices himself so the father and son may escape.  Patricia is killed by walkers as the group flees the farm, though Andrea becomes separated and lost in the woods.  Just as she is to be killed by a walker, a hooded figure with a katana blade and two walker slaves rescues her.

Our group of survivors, minus Andrea and the deceased Jimmy and Patricia, regroup and begin to discuss the situation as Rick’s leadership is called into question.  Angry and embittered, Rick states that he murdered his best friend to protect them, and that he never asked to be placed in charge.  He also reveals what the CDC doctor told him at the end of Season One: that they are all infected with the zombie virus, meaning that when each of them dies they will become a zombie, bitten or not.  It’s revealed that the group is located near the possible shelter of a prison, and Rick states that anyone who doesn’t agree with him as a leader can leave.  When no one goes, he coldly declares “If you’re staying, this isn’t a democracy anymore.”

The Good:

  • Rick:  The character of Rick has always been best when he is at his most decisive—too much of the series has featured Rick as a hand-wringing neurotic in order to pad out several episodes with fluff and wheel-spinning.  However, ever since his “murder” of the Sophia zombie in “Pretty Much Dead Already” and his massacre of the Other Survivors in “Nebraska,” a brutal coldness has been emerging in Rick’s character—the same brutality that destroyed Shane.  It’s an interesting shading to his character (and let’s face it, it’s one of the few times in the series thus far that the writers have allowed any of the characters to be developed enough to be interesting), and makes Rick’s arc in Season Three all the more anticipated.
  • The Walking Dead:  Once again, whatever TWD’s flaws, if there’s one thing it can do incredibly well, it’s the chaos and horror of walking, murderous corpses trying to eat innocent people.  The farm siege was maybe the best set piece TWD has pulled off so far.
  • Thinning the heard: While not as shocking or important as killing such primary characters as Dale and Shane in the last two episodes, TWD thankfully killed off Jimmy and Patricia—two of the most underdeveloped and uninteresting characters on the show (and that’s saying something).  Along with the deaths of the aforementioned Dale and Shane, it shows a willingness of TWD to enforce the harsh consequences of the world in which the shows exists, as well as a show finally starting to cut the extraneous character fat, which allows for a better focus on such interesting figures as Rick (and hopefully the future development of the mysterious—and comic book fan-favorite—cloaked figure).

The Bad:

  • The Prison?: More of a “The So-So” rather than “The Bad,” the introduction of a nearby prison could be a fascinating metaphor in Season Three for Rick’s newfound dictatorial personality (in which case, awesome).  Or, it could serve to be another season-long quagmire that stagnates a good deal of plot development, as Hershel’s farm did for about three quarters of Season Two (in which case, not awesome at all).  Time will tell on that one.  Beyond that, the Season Two finale offered very little to gripe about—a major development for The Walking Dead.

Overall:

Well, it’s over.  While the first half of Season Two featured a few gems amidst a number of clunkers (check out our recap of the first half here), the back end of the season finally began to live up to the promise of Season One’s excellent premiere and premise.  With “Beside the Dying Fire,” we finally got off the farm, lost a few unnecessary characters, saw the introduction of a possible fan-favorite, and finally got the troubled hero that this show so badly needed.  It might have taken TWD an entire season to find its footing, but now that it has, Season Three can’t come soon enough.

Rating:  8.5/10

The Walking Dead airs Sundays on AMC.