Spoiler Warning: If you have not watched all of season two of AMCs The Walking Dead, stop reading this immediately. I will spoil the shit out of this show and the comic to a certain degree… consider yourself warned.
This past Sunday was the finale of the second season of AMCs The Walking Dead after a slow paced first half helmed by Frank Darabont, the second half was entered into with a wee bit of trepidation. With new showrunner, Glen Mazzara, there was a growing concern about what direction the show would take. I dont imagine anyone expected the show to dramatically improve over the course of six episodes, but that is exactly what happened. Beginning with a stellar episode (Nebraska) that gave us a taste of the tension the show was sorely lacking and finishing off with a finale (Beside the Dying Fire) that gave us an example of what can be done when that tension snaps and all hell breaks loose. From Barnmageddon to Farmageddon to the new Ricktatorship The Walking Dead has found its footing and is poised to enter into the world of television greatness.
Let me begin by saying that I am aware that Im somewhat of an apologist for a few select things that I love LOST, Star Wars, and The Walking Dead chief among them… hell, I even defend Twilight… to a point. I will still defend the finale of LOST I did my best to embrace the Star Wars prequels (to a point) and I have made all sorts of excuses for some of the directions The Walking Dead took midway through its first season and the first half of the second. Im happy to say that I dont believe any excuses are necessary in this second half.
When the first half of season two ended in November, we were left with the fallout of Shanes (Jon Bernthal) actions with the barn and the revelation of zombie Sophia (Madison Lintz). The second half picks up mere seconds after Rick (Andrew Lincoln) had to pick up Shanes crazy-slack and shoot another little girl in the forehead (Rick-2, little girls-0).
The immediate reactions are played out differently by each of the characters. Carol (Melissa Suzanne McBride), Sophias mother is obviously distraught and begins wandering the woods and tearing up the lovely patches of Cherokee Rose that Daryl (Norman Reedus) so lovingly used to try to cheer Carol up with some misdirected hope (oops); Daryl is simply pissed at the futility of everything; Shane is convinced Hershel (Scott Wilson) knew that Sophia was in the barn and let them pointlessly continue searching (actually, Otis (Pruitt Taylor Vince) put her in there if Shane hadnt killed Otis to save his own weird ear-lobed self, we would have known she was deadish earlier); and Hershel has come to the realization that he has been wrong about the undead the entire time and decides to leap off the wagon and drown his sorrows in whiskey down at the local bar.
Meanwhile, Hershels youngest daughter, Beth (Emily Kinney) goes into a state of shock after having her undead mother try to kiss her goodnight, as in goodnight forever, and Rick and Glenn (Steven Yeun) head out to the bar to track down Hershel.
By this point it felt very much like The Walking Dead of the first half good, but not amazing. At the bar however, things take a wonderful turn. First, we get an amazing speech from Hershel regarding how wrong he has been followed by two men knocking on the door and sauntering in for a drink or two. This may be the first moment in the show that highlights the real danger in a post-apocalyptic world the undead may be bad, but the living can be much worse. The two strangers, Dave (Michael Raymond-James) and Scrawny Tony (Aaron Munoz), seem real nice at first until they start asking more probing questions about where they live and Scrawny Tony (called that because of his largesse) begins pissing against the wall and asking about any women they may have. Suddenly, this casual conversation turns into something else completely a few minutes of absolute dread as you come to realize that blood is going to be spilled.
That first episode ends with Rick shooting both men in the head and the fear of others outside. Wow what a different feel a true sense of danger, and something original that is not a direct lift from the comic book, yet felt more like the original source material than anything that had come before. A great sign and finally some action that took place in a location other than the farm (for the record, I enjoyed the farm setting and wasnt as annoyed as other fans).
Naturally, Dave and Tony werent alone and in Triggerfinger, the second episode of season 2.5, Rick, Hershel, and Glenn find themselves in a good ol fashioned gun battle. Within moments we learn a great deal about our heroes Rick is a badass, Hershel has more of a badass past than we realized, and in a crisis Glenn pussed out big time. Poor Glenn he didnt know how to deal with Maggie (Lauren Cohan) telling him she loved him, and now he freezes in a pinch and he has the temerity to blame his freeze on Maggie. By the finale, Glenn has regained his gumption (better word than testicles but thats really what I meant) and finally reciprocates the love.
As the apparent bad guys flee the firefight, they leave behind one of their own. After encouraging a young man, Randall (Michael Zegen), to jump from a roof, causing him to impale himself on a wrought iron finial, its left to Rick & Co. to save the wee assholes life. At this point, things get a bit muddy over the course of the next two episodes. The group spends a great deal of time debating what to do with Randall, and in the process they all travel a few very dark paths.
In 18 Miles Out, the third episode, the decision has been made to drop Randall off somewhere relatively safe with some supplies and water. Shane wants to simply kill him outright, Rick wants to be humane. That sentence more or less sums up this season. It is in this episode that Glen Mazzaras touch begins to come into focus. Incredible cinematography, great action, and even greater questions regarding how one can retain their humanity in a zombie apocalypse this (the latter part of the preceding sentence) is what the comic has always been for me, and now the show is following suit.
As Rick and Shane arrive at the place they intend to dump Randall off, they come across something odd two walkers that have no signs of being bitten. Hmm? Curious, no? I dont imagine that will have any significance. (Hint it does) 18 Miles Out however has less to do with Randall than it has to do with Rick and Shane, and the tension that has been growing between these two best friends. Rick knows that Shane shagged his wife and Rick knows that the baby Lori is carrying may not be his. He straight up confronts Shane and lays out the law behave, or there will be problems. Unfortunately, Shane is a prick or at the very least, bat shit crazy and a fantastic bout of fisticuffs ensues, climaxing with Shane throwing the biggest damn wrench Ive ever seen towards Rick and into a window, unleashing a wave of the undead and finding Shane trapped in a bus as Rick and Randall debate leaving Shane behind. Based on their previous conversation about what Shane had done to Otis in the interests of doing what needs to be done, Rick has a clear choice leave Shane to die, or rescue his friend. In an incredibly paced scene Rick leaves.
OK he doesn’t quite leave… he comes back after looking at the pair of now dead-dead unbitten cops (Rick and Shane were both police) and rescues Señor Wack-Job. Together with Shane and Randall, Rick returns to the farm to decide what to do with Randall once and for all.
By the way like my review of Season 2, Part 1, I really didnt anticipate turning this into a recap it just happens. I like looking over something like this show in its entirety and the only way for me to do that is to go over it step by step moving on
By the fourth episode, Judge, Jury and Executioner, we find Daryl torturing Randall for information about his group and their intentions and Rick ready to straight up pop the kid in the head, much to Dales (Jeffrey DeMunn) chagrin. This is a weird episode for me. Im not crazy about how trigger-happy everyone is. There doesnt seem to be much intelligence or reasonable and consistent behavior going on and that is my one big gripe about this stretch of the show specifically Lori (Sarah Wayve Callies) and Carol and Rick and Andrea (Laurie Holden).
Dale spends most of this episode going from person to person, appealing to their senses of decency with regards to Randall, to no avail. Meanwhile; Beth tried to kill herself, but only in that cry for help sort of way, Andrea and Lori get into a women in the kitchen, men do the work argument that felt remarkably tone deaf, Lori turns into Lady Macbeth and begins whispering into Ricks ear about how dangerous Shane has become and how he believes her unborn child is his, Daryl wavers between being oddly spiteful and bitter and being Ricks strong arm, T-Dog (IronE Singleton) got a few lines, and Carl well, Carl is becoming a tad feral and after stealing Daryls gun, wanders off into the woods and taunts a walker by throwing rocks at it until is escapes its muddy shackles and goes after the Grimes Brand Tasty Snack.
Unfortunately, it is that very mud trapped walker that Carl frees that ends up digging into Dales belly in the fourth episode. Yes, our first major character death since Sophia and honestly, it was impactful and upsetting as the death of a great character should be. A completely unexpected death, and extraordinarily gory in the Romero vein of intestinal carnage in the comic, *COMIC SPOILER ALERT* Dale has a longer arc and a relationship with Andrea and eventually even becomes the first person to survive a zombie bite (they realize that it is the bite that kills, so when he gets bitten on his leg, they lop it off. Sadly, in the comic he dies a while later after getting bit again and losing his other leg to cannibals. I know wacky stuff). *END OF COMIC SPOILER* The final scene of that episode has Daryl doing what Rick finally cannot do put Dale out of his misery. A truly horrific scene which in a horror show, is what should be expected and beginning with this, the horror is ramped up, and The Walking Dead begins its ascension to greatness (perhaps a bit much of a statement please refer to my apologist reference earlier).
In one of the better scenes of the entire series, the fifth episode, Better Angels, opens with the funeral of Dale and Ricks commitment to doing things in a more humane way in the future and living up to the standards that Dale set for everyone by being the lone voice of decency in a sea of frightened and terrified people intercut with Shane, Andrea, Daryl, and T-Dog taking out a random group of zeds with various farm implement special mention goes to the pitchfork through the head by Andrea and T-Dog with a hammer, a nice Tyreese moment (dang I wish Tyreese were around if only there were other people from the comics wait thats coming plus, breaking news this morning, Tyreese will be in season 3 squee).
This is getting a bit long so I will speed through the final two episodes. They were by far the best two episodes yet
Shane decides to finally take out Randall. He comes up with a cover story and leads Rick one way with him, and Daryl and Glenn another way. Daryl and Glenn discover an undead Randall with no bite and a broken neck (wha?? Again??) and begin to piece together the implausibility of Shanes story. Rick however, begins to understand that Shane is taking him out for an execution his.
In the final moments of Better Angels, Rick finally has to kill his best friend by shiving him in the chest in a wrenching and beautifully shot scene followed by zombie Shane rising (wait a minute whats going on here??) and being taken down with an excellent headshot by little Carl. Awwww the family that kills together, stays together. Television at its finest. Frankly, Ive seen zombie movies that werent half as great as this single episode only to be followed by a better episode.
Beside the Dying Fire may very well be a greater episode than The Walking Deads pilot, Days Gone By. Time will be the judge of that but for now, oh my goodness what an amazing hour. If the early portions of the second season felt like a slow moving soap opera with too little action, this finale should easily make up for whatever you felt was lacking. The best descriptor I can imagine for the entire final hour would simply be, cinematic. The quantity of zombies and the sense of impending doom and fear were palpable.
After Shanes dual deaths at the end of Better Angels, we see a wave of undead shambling towards Rick and Carl as Beside the Dying Fire opens, we are treated to a flashback of Atlanta when Rick first arrived and the helicopter being seen flying overhead from the perspective of the walkers we follow the herd as it begins in Atlanta and slowly shuffles along the countryside until it reaches Hershels farm and begins eyeballing the Grimes Brand Tasty Family Meal.
I believe its OK to mention now that two of those zombies in the herd are Jason from The Walking Deadcast (he is the zombie on the left reaching for Rick in the picture above), as well as frequent contributor and fan Gracie Lou. I am decomposing with envy at their good fortune to be a part of such an incredible show and the greatest episode thus far.
Well needless to say, the herd causes all hell to break loose. Rick and Carl set the barn on fire in order to try to distract the herd from the house, Jimmy (James Allen McCune), Beths boyfriend, gets chomped on in the RV, Patricia (Jane McNeil) gets ripped from Beths grip as they try to escape, and Andrea appears to everyone in a fleeing truck to have been taken down as well but no, Andrea is alive and running for her life in what may be the greatest marathon of all time (Rule #1: Cardio).
Everyone is split up at this point Rick and Carl have met up with Hershel, who has a magic shotgun capable of holding, in my favorite estimate (props to Jason), 500 shells, T-Dog seems happy to have Lori and Beth in his car and suggests ditching everyone and heading for the coast (playa damn), Daryl and Carol are riding his hog through a horrifying smoky obstacle course of walkers and wreckage, and Andrea she keeps running and shooting with Ricks police duffel bag full of guns eventually pistol whipping a zeds skull into mincemeat and finding herself knocked down with a zombie on top of her. Is this the end of Andrea? Svash! The sound of a sword cleaving through rotting head and standing over Andrea is, for a fan of the comic, the greatest sight imaginable a hooded figure with a katana and two zombies chained up behind her, sans arms and jaws. Michonne (Danai Gurira although not the actress under the hood at the time of filming, she was announced after the finale for the role in season 3) has arrived and just in the nick of time.
At this moment I had what can only be described as a nerdgasm. I raised my hands in the air and let out a scream of joy. Fortunately, Mrs. Blahg is also a fan of the comic, so I didnt feel too ridiculous. For those of you who know Michonne, you understand my excitement. For those of you who dont, all you need to know is that she is an incredible character who will bring a great deal to the dynamics of the group. And if the announcement of Tyreese being in season 3 is true look out.
As the group reforms and moves away from the farm, minus Andrea and the mysterious stranger, Rick finally admits what Jenner whispered in his ear way back at the end of season 1 they are all infected. When they die, they will reanimate, regardless of whether they were bitten or not. Carol freaks out and does her best Lady Macbeth in Daryls ear even stooping so low as to call him Ricks henchman and the real Lady Macbeth, Lori, freaks out on Rick when he explains what happened with Shane. My only real gripe about the episode and the season as a whole Loris behavior is whackadoo. Very inconsistent and off-putting. Although, according to Glen Mazzara, she is angry with herself so maybe its not that inconsistent. Well see.
But the final speech that Rick gives is where the comic and TV Ricks merge. For the first time since possibly the second episode of the series, the show hit the same tone as the book. He explains that this is no longer a democracy he had to kill his best friend and he is no longer going to deal with everyone, or anyone, second guessing his decisions. They dont have to stay if they dont like it but from now on, (in a phrase coined by Mazzara) this is a Ricktatorship.
The final pull away from the gang gives us the ultimate coup de grace just over the hill from where they are hunkered down is the prison. Perhaps I should have said A prison but again, as a fan of the comic, I feel its more appropriate to say THE prison.
Overall the second season delivered in more ways than one. First, it showed that the source material is strong enough to withstand a change in leadership. There was concern going into this second half whether or not Mazzara could adequately fill Darabonts shoes. Now that all is said and done, thank you Mr. Mazzara for surpassing my expectations and showing us that under your leadership, we are in great hands. Plus, he is an incredible presence on Twitter (follow him @glenmazzara).
Second, it seems to have finally hit its stride and found a tone that will work. Introducing characters such as Michonne and the prison (yes, I consider that a character youll see) and course correcting what had shifted (specifically Ricks intestinal fortitude aka, balls) seems to have made all the difference in the world. Plus, the announcement that David Morrissey has been cast as The Governor means that we have a number of things to look forward to.
Finally zombies. If there was anything lacking early on, it was zombies. Im big on character development, but far too often we found ourselves watching people yell at each other with almost no sense of terror or fear. This is a show about continuing survival in a world where people rise from the dead and try to eat you if you cant stop yelling at each other, you all deserve to die.
Now all thats left is to wait for October for Season 3. In the meantime read the comics buy some action figures (there are currently two series, one four character series for the comic, one four character series for the show I wont admit how many I have) get the DVD/Blu-ray for season 1 and watch the pilot episode in black and white, its incredible and only available on the 3 disc Blu-ray listen to Jason and Karen on The Walking Deadcast, iTunes top podcast on The Walking Dead and as a fun bonus, I will be appearing on the podcast during their Game of Thrones episode next month so stay tuned for more info on that.
Honestly when it comes to The Walking Dead, I could go on forever and if youve made it this far, you too are a super fan. Thanks for reading and be careful out there.
The Governor called with a pardon,
Cornelius J. Blahg