The Walking Dead Season 2 finale, "Beside the Dying Fire." After a season that was littered with wasted time on conversations that never went anywhere and solved nothing, the surviving group, led by Rick Grimes faces a giant zombie horde. The horde, it seems, comes all the way from Atlanta, following a helicopter that we never get a follow-up on, but will certainly play an integral part in Season 3. We hope. The helicopter could be nothing, but it is a sign that there are survivors out there, and that they have access to fuel for such a machine, so that, in itself, seems promising, at least on a cursory level. The opening scene, all zombies, all traveling, all over, is well shot and pristine. Especially when the horde pushes through a fence marked "Trespass, it's your ass." The clear implication is that fences don't mean anything when there's a force that cannot be stopped. But then, that's what is always so terrifying about this concept of the undead. They don't stop. They have no interest in self-preservation. They have no self. And an enemy without any concept of self simply won't tire, simply won't be dissuaded, and simply won't stop.
When Rick and Carl throw themselves into the barn, and the horde tears the door down, no doubt rending the dead flesh on their hands in the process, they don't stop. That builds tension. And real tension is what this show needs, and needed, all along. Rick and Carl are having a father-son moment when they realize the horde is coming. Carl wants to know when Shane got bit, but Rick can't tell him. And the zombies provide a quality reason to delay that reveal. Instead, they run, burn the zombies by burning the barn, and everyone on the farm battles in true siege fashion. The downside, the stakes are emptied because none of the people we care about are ever in true risk. Only two characters die. And both were people in Hershel's group we had seen once or twice, but never had a real affinity for. To make these deaths count, as I stated in the last review, the writers need to show these people as somehow valuable and interesting. These two weren't, and while Jimmy and Patricia had names, they didn't have characters, so their deaths, while gruesome, mean little.
After the siege, the episode slows down. Glenn tells Maggie he loves her, and that it had been true for a long time. Time in this show is confusing. Sometimes it's a string of days per season, other times, we're meant to believe that there's been a greater passage. Everyone else ultimately rendezvous at the highway, where the season started with Sophia's running away. The show tries to put a lot of weight on that, but it only works a little. Really, like at the end of Season 1, we are right back where we started. There's out with the old and in with the new, but not too much else. Excepting two key incidents:
1. Andrea gets left behind, runs away, and is about to be killed when a mysterious veiled samurai beheads the zombie that's afflicting her. We don't find out who that is, though, the character's name appears to be Michonne. And the character appears to be an effective bad ass. Also, Andrea is confirmed as a bad ass here too. She fights hard and while she would have died without intervention, her marksmanship and strength are impressive. Plus, now she has a reason to mistrust the others because they left her. Who knows what psychological drama will occur as a result.
2. Rick's admissions to the group. When he tells Lori that he killed Shane, she freaks, characteristically uncharacteristic as her character always is. It doesn't make sense because she wanted Shane dead. And it makes sense because right after that, she didn't. Lori is a messy character. But, Rick tells the group three tidbits after that mean the most. First, that he killed Shane, that he had to, and that he was bad for the group. They are all fearful after that, but will come around. Second, they are all infected. He reveals that Dr. Jenner told him that before the CDC blew up in Season 1. It doesn't seem to be an issue as long as no one dies, but everyone becomes very agitated by it. Why does it matter? We don't know yet... though if Lori miscarries that baby... holy shit that would be some gory zombie fetus action. Oh, and then Rick says that it's not a democracy anymore. He's in charge. Fuck all the debate. They want to survive, he'll help them, if not, he's out.
"Beside the Dying Fire" is this season's best episode, and while still by no means perfect, it gives us a feeling of dread that many of the others did not. Especially with the large prison standing tall over the landscape just beyond their camp. It's a place they can hold up, but they'll have to clear it out first. And even then, nothing is that easy. But, hey, maybe it will call into effective question whether prisons are meant to keep the bad people in, or the good people out. Or vice versa. I'll get back with this next year, more than likely. Thanks The Walking Dead for another season of ups and downs. May you always improve.
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