Well, holy crap, that was a real barnburner!
The Walking Dead ended it’s strong Season 2 homestretch run with a brilliant finale that not only set the farm storyline ablaze but also redefined the dynamic of the group of survivors as they head towards an ominous new setting in Season 3.
First, “Behind the Dying Fire” picks up with Rick and Carl returning to the house after their double-barreled take down of Shane in last week’s episode. But they soon realize they’re not alone as thousands of zombies now approach not far behind. (They are tipped off by the rumble from the zombies’ footsteps!) They quickly retreat to the barn and hatch a scheme to lure the zombies into a fire trap. At the same time, the rest of the gang (at the house) have taken to their vehicles to play zombie shoot-‘em-up before eventually realizing their only option is fleeing the farm for good. The entire opening sequence is a splendid torrent of horrifying panic, desperate action, and nail-biting suspense, easily ranking as one of the best moments in the show’s brief history.
The survivors finally regroup back on the freeway (short Andrea, who’s hustling solo on foot) and eventually attempt to flee the area before an empty tank forces them to take a pit stop. There, Rick finally divulges what Dr. Jenner whispered to him in the Season 1 finale and essentially what we started seeing in the last few episodes with zombies such like Randall and Shane rising without having been physically infected. “We’re all infected,” Rick tells the group, who as you might imagine, aren’t happy with the secret he’s kept. And after being spurned by Lori when he tells her of what really happened to Shane, Rick returns to assert some authority with the group. “This is not a democracy,” he proclaims.
Clearly Rick is hardened by the experience of constantly being questioned by the group and having all of the second-guessing lead to a fatal showdown with his best friend. It’s a more aggressive place for the character to be and likely needed for where the storyline is heading. Rick in essence is subsuming some of Shane’s more agreeable traits, which is important for the dynamic of a group that’s quite short of effective warriors right now.
Many crowed about the farm storyline all year but the finale perfectly summarized one of the intents of dwelling there for so long: No place is safe. But you had to see the group through the period of acceptance and comfort before slowly peeling back to their core paranoia and panic (e.g. Shane’s psychotic spell) to really feel that sense of desperation that the world is worse off than they thought. The finale was the exclamation point on the season, where the once pastoral farm setting was now overrun by zombies and flames tearing down the barn. There really is no safe place.
Also, the writers (along with The Walking Dead’s comic book creator Robert Kirkman) have done a much better job giving The Walking Dead the dimension it sometimes lacks in the comic books. Far be it for me to criticize the source material too harshly, but the fact of the matter is that characters are often too underdeveloped in the comic books for their stories to have the same impact. Shane’s sudden turn on Rick in the comics is virtually laughable and out of the blue, and is nowhere near as sad and out of control as it was in the TV series. The comics spent very little time on the farm and characterize Herschel as a far less empathetic character as he is here (and who appears to be taking the place of Dale as the sage conscience of the group).
Where do they go from here? Well, the last shot of a prison in the distance points to the very same sequence in the comic that followed their time on the farm and if done as similar, will take the show in a vastly different direction as it’s gone the last dozen episodes. Also, Andrea is saved in the woods by a mysterious hooded character (Michonne) who will be a main character in that story arc. With a pared down group of survivors and a Ricktatorship on the horizon, we’ll also see a different dynamic in whatever scenario the group moves within.
All in all, it was an incredibly satisfying finale to an underrated season. The Walking Dead excels at finding the frightening moments in the spaces in between the quieter moments and knows when to amp up the action and suspense. The last few episodes displayed great character moments and thought-provoking moral drama… but when it counted, The Walking Dead literally brought out all the guns and set the place on fire.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆