Episode Title: "Beside the Dying Fire"
Writers: Robert Kirkman & Glen Mazzara
Director: Ernest Dickerson
Previously on "The Walking Dead":
Some time ago, several walkers were eating a corpse in the city when they heard a helicopter flying overhead. As if of one mind, all of the walkers began following the noise of the copter, for miles and miles. Over days and weeks, they picked up hundreds of other walkers and gathered into a mindless horde in a field at night. Suddenly, the horde hears the gunshot that put down Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal) and they shamble towards the sound… and the farm currently housing the survivors. In the aftermath of the shooting, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) can't quite bring himself to tell his son, Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) how Shane really died.
But the point becomes moot when they notice dozens of walkers heading their way. Back at the barn, Daryl Dixon ( Norman Reedus) returns with Glenn (Steven Yeun) and they reveal that Randall (Michael Zegen) died from a broken neck and he still came back to life as a walker. Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies) also realizes that Carl is missing just as the survivors notice the horde descending upon the farm. Meanwhile, Rick and Carl barricade themselves inside the barn. Back at the house, Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson) prepares to defend his home to his dying breath while the others pile into vehicles to draw the walkers away.
Inside the barn, Rick and Carl spread gasoline and lure the walkers inside, but the ensuing fire doesn't take out as many walkers as they hoped for and it leaves them trapped as the barn goes up in flames. Meanwhile, Daryl picks off walkers from his bike, while Maggie Greene (Lauren Cohan) drives for Glenn and T-Dog (IronE Singleton) handles the wheel for Andrea (Laurie Holden), but they can't seem to make a dent in the walkers. Jimmy (James Allen McCune) gets in the RV and he manages to get close enough to help Rick and Carl get off of the barn roof. But the walkers overrun the RV and kill Jimmy.
On the porch, Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) convinces Lori, Patricia (Jane McNeill) and Hershel's other daughter, Beth Greene (Emily Kinney) to flee. But it goes bad almost immediately and Patricia is killed by walkers. When Carol is cornered, Andrea jumps out of the car to help her, but a walker falls on top of Andrea after she kills it. T-Dog gets Lori and Beth into his truck and they drive away from the farm. Next, Glenn and Maggie realize that the farm is lost and they drive off as well. On the other side of the house, Daryl rescues Carol and they escape too.
Back at the house, Hershel has a lonely last stand until Rick reappears and saves his life. He convinces Hershel to leave with him and Carl, but they inadvertently leave Andrea behind, unaware that she is still alive… for now. Hours later, Maggie is distraught by the loss of her home and possibly her family. However, Glenn calms her down and he finally professes his love for her. On the highway where Sophia was lost, Hershel urges Rick to take his son and go, but Rick initially refuses and he insists upon waiting for his wife and friends.
T-Dog tries to bug out and never look back, but Lori demands to be let out of the car, forcing him to change his mind. Just when Rick seems ready to give up hope of seeing his group again, Daryl and Carol arrive, followed by the rest… except Andrea. After a joyful reunion, the survivors confirm who lived and died at the farm, but no one actually saw if Andrea had been killed. Glenn is alarmed that Rick doesn't even want to search for Andrea, but Rick contends that if Andrea lived than she wouldn't stay at the farm.
Around that same time, Andrea is running through the forest with walkers chasing after her. She's doing fairly well, but she's also running low on ammo and energy. Some time later, the reunited survivors are forced to pull over when Rick's car runs out of gas. There is some dissension in the ranks when Rick suggests that they make camp for the night and eventually rebuild their lives at another location. Daryl brings up the fact that Shane killed Randall, who somehow resurrected as a walker. Solemnly, Rick admits that everyone is already infected by the walker virus; which Jenner whispered into his ear back at the CDC. Naturally, the survivors are livid at Rick for keeping that secret from them.
Privately, Rick tells Lori that he killed Shane because his best friend intended to murder him. Rick also mentions that he knew that Jenner was right when Shane rose again as a walker, before being put down by Carl. Horrified, Lori pulls away from Rick. In the woods, Andrea is down to a small knife; which she uses well against the walkers on her trail. But one of the walkers finally gets on top of her and he prepares to bite before he is decapitated by a mysterious woman wearing a black hood; who drags two armless and jawless walkers behind her.
At the makeshift camp, Carol tells Daryl that Rick might be a threat to the group and Maggie suggests to Glenn that they cut and run off together. But Rick seethes at the thought of splitting up the survivors and he angrily blurts out that he killed his best friend for them. Rick explains what Shane intended for him, but he still doesn't come off well and his own son weeps over what he hears. Rick invites anyone who doesn't want to stay with him to leave; and no one accepts the offer. Emboldened, Rick says that if they stay then they have to follow him completely now. This isn't a democracy anymore.
And as the camera pulls away, we see a heavily fortified prison that is seemingly deserted.
"The Walking Dead" season 2 was a tale of two halves. The first half of the season seemed to drag on forever with the search for Sophia before coming to a memorable end at the barn. To be charitable, it was getting pretty boring up to that point.
But the second half of the season largely made up for that with good rising tension and stories that finally paid off. In short, this was "The Walking Dead" that we loved from the first season, finally back doing what it did so well before. I don't believe that the change in tone between the two halves of the season was due to Frank Darabont's departure midway through production. It's likely that the major beats of the season were worked out well before his forced dismissal. Although I'll bet that Dale didn't die in the original plan…
Now it's clear why Shane's death wasn't saved for the season finale: there simply wasn't room for it. "Beside the Dying Fire" was also largely about Rick's transformation in the face of unbelievable adversity. In short, Rick is becoming Shane, or at least a lot more like him. There's a lot of debate online about whether Rick's closing rant to the survivors is a sign that he's ready to step up and completely take charge of the group or if Rick is losing his sanity in full view of everyone. It's probably both. If Rick had been inclined to not mention that he killed Shane, a lot of that could have been avoided. And Rick did himself no favors when he recounted Shane's actions to the group in a way that made him sound crazy and paranoid.
Overall, the cast of "The Walking Dead" is pretty solid, but it is becoming more and more apparent that this series has a problem depicting its leading women. Both Lori and Andrea are strong characters and they should be likable, but there's something about the way that they've been written that is very off-putting… and it's been blowing back on both characters. Lori really got the short end of it in this episode, as her reaction to Shane's fate flies in the face of her warning to Rick a few weeks ago in which she practically urged Rick to kill Shane for the good of their family.
Lori didn't even seem to be aware of her own role in this tragedy, which was compounded last week when she made Shane believe that he could still be with her if Rick was out of the way. Lori's complete lack of self-awareness makes her seem dangerously foolish, if not unwittingly manipulative. On the other hand, Andrea has had some issues as well. The way that Andrea rejected her conventional gender role and became more of a warrior over the season was the best thing about her. But the way that she related to nearly everyone at the farm made her difficult to watch.
However, I never liked Andrea more than when she was on her own in this episode and valiantly fighting for her life. And that mysterious hooded woman? Fans of the comic know her as Michonne, one of the defacto female leads who is a legitimate ass-kicker by any standard. I think that the TV fans are really going to like her, but I'm worried that the traits that we love about the comic book incarnation of Michonne may alienate the TV viewers in the way that Andrea and Lori did this season.
I also have to add that it was completely disingenuous for Carol to tell Daryl that Rick doesn't have honor. Excuse me?! Wasn't this the guy who insisted that they search for Sophia long after most of the group had basically given up? And when Sophia ran into the woods with two walkers chasing her, it was Rick who ran after her and tried to save her life. Right… that's a man without honor.
Carol also called Daryl a "henchman" for Rick; which was also untrue. One of the more appealing aspects of season two was the way that Daryl started to care about the group and he actually came to respect Rick. That was really apparent last week, when Rick acknowledged that Daryl had put down Dale when he couldn't. There was also a very small moment in this episode where Rick and Daryl greeted each other at the highway after the farmageddon. It seemed like they had mutual admiration in that scene that might make Daryl a strong replacement for Shane as Rick's number two. Provided of course that someone's one-handed brother doesn't show up in the future…
After the deaths of Dale and Shane, it was pretty hard to get worked up about Patricia and Jimmy getting killed off. The cast of characters living on Hershel's farm was a lot smaller on the TV series than in the comic book storyline and none of Hershel's living sons made it into the show. It's pretty amazing that the entire season was built around the farm with a reduced cast and somehow Patricia and Jimmy still barely had any lines or important parts to play. And that's fine as a dramatic choice if there was never any intent to develop them, but don't expect the audience to care when they're gone. Right now, T-Dog and Beth are looking pretty expendable too.
Glenn's moment with Maggie in the car was sweet and well earned in the episode. It also helped gloss over several weeks of lame tension between them. Maggie and Glenn seemed to have their best moments in the first half of the season. For some reason, the second half just wasn't as good to them.
It should also be said that the action of this episode was amazing and it gave the finale an epic scope that rivaled feature film zombie stories. The story did seem to linger too long on the farm this year, but this was a payoff worth waiting for. And the closing moments even strongly hinted at the survivors' next destination; which should bring in several new characters to play with next season.
And if the story keeps close to the source material, it's going to be great.