The Walking Dead Post-Mortem: Beside the Dying Fire
All together now: HOLY SHIT!!! Greetings Zombie lovers and fans of: death, destruction, burning barns, walkers chowing down on unimportant characters, vehicular zombie slaughter, a prison in the not too far off distance, and of course Michonne! That is how you do the finale for a TV show about zombies’ ladies and gents. I’m very happy with what the writers, actors, and crew accomplished with this finale. They brought the pain, they went big, and they delivered a satisfying conclusion(albeit with some minor flaws), on both a visceral and emotional level, to the second season of The Walking Dead. Let’s get to exhuming Beside the Dying Fire, and try to figure out what worked, and what didn’t work, on said visceral and emotional levels.
*Here’s the last behind the scenes asides for the season!!
**Next season will be the first one that is completely free of Darabont’s involvement and input. It will be interesting to see what kind of show reemerges next October. I have to admit though: it is profoundly sad and deeply ironic that Frank Darabont won’t be involved in a season of The Walking Dead that is set in a prison. While it’s not exactly a critical darling like Mad Men and Breaking Bad (the shows that established AMC’s brand) it is a ratings behemoth, and with Seasons 1&2 both set to have a long stay on Netflix instant I imagine those ratings are only going to increase for season 3. It’s an encouraging sign that AMC boosted the number of episodes in season 3 from 13 to 16, and hopefully it will increase the budget as well. Season 2 looked great visually and the show has outstanding production values, but there is no denying that all the time spent on Herschel’s farm smacks of bean counting.
***The news of David Morrissey being cast as the nefarious Governor, the appearance of Michonne in the finale, and the closing shot of the prison. Its looks like season three is going to tackle the Woodbury/prison arc head on. I think some people are going to argue the Michonne is a bit larger than life for this show, and that the writers are catering to the fans of the comics instead of creating an original story that will appeal to everyone. Everyone knows what happened when Sony forced Sam Rami to put Venom into Spider Man 3, but I don’t think that is the case here. Spider man 3 didn’t need Venom; The Walking Dead needs the Woodbury storyline; it needs Michonne, the prison and it needs the Governer. These are all things that will improve the show, and create a suspenseful, dark, and emotionally involving third season. Here’s hoping anyway…
The opening sequence worked like a short story on film. It told a concise narrative within a limited amount of time, which was perfectly enjoyable on its own, independent from anything else in the episode. For attentive viewers of the show, the opening was a real treat: the helicopter that Rick glimpsed briefly in Atlanta during the series premier reappears, leading the zombies who are munching on Rick’s former travel companion out of the city, and onto the highways. From the highways they make their way into farmlands outlying Atlanta, and then the horde starts to make its way through the deep dark woods…until they all stop on a dime and move towards the direction of a gunshot. A shot fired by everyone’s favorite prepubescent zombie slayer, Carl Grimes. Who of course was only saving his dad from zombie Shane….you gotta love Carl. Right?
The opening was very effective, and emphasized the point Rick made to Carl during their chat in the barn in last week’s episode: there is no beating death in this world, there is only putting it off for another day and surviving as long as possible. The walkers, the living embodiment of death, will always catch up with them eventually. When the zombies do make it to the farm the manure hits the oscillator, and hits it hard. Rick and Carl become a badass father/son zombie killing dynamic duo! However, their “let’s burn down the barn!” plan seemed a little…you know what, I’m done with nitpicking stuff like that. First off, nobody really knows how they are going to behave in a life or death situation until they are in one, and secondly, if they had not ignited the barn then the viewers would have missed out on some truly spectacular visuals. Seriously, how amazing was that slow motion shot of the barn collapsing, consumed by flames as the walkers consumed the rest of the farm.
All the other characters react to the incoming zombie horde differently. Lori realizes Carl is gone and sorta/kinda looks for him, says she won’t leave without him, but then goes ahead and leaves the farm without him. At this point, she is making Betty Draper seem like mother of the frigging year. Herschel decides he is going to stand his ground and go down fighting to defend his farm. Whatshisname and Whatshername get eaten by zombies; both suffering truly brutal evisceration’s worthy of Romero, their skin is torn off by hungry walkers, while blood and viscera splatter everywhere. This is the moment when the episode really starts channel the classic zombie movies. Once again, it’s all thanks to the absolutely spectacular makeup work from Greg Nicotero. It was nice to see zombies mauling and munching on people for a change. In my opinion, this show is way too top heavy with humans killing zombies. It kind of makes you wonder how the zombies took over the world in the first place, seeing as how they are so easily dispatched (whoops, there I go nitpicking things again; I will endeavor to do better as we proceed). All and all, this whole first half of the episode looked and felt like a big crazy zombie movie and that is exactly what I wanted. The execution was so flawless and entertaining that I could easily look past some of the more obvious flaws in logic and enjoy myself.
In between all the other mayhem, Andrea, Glenn, Maggie, and the one and only, T-DOG hop into their vehicles and start to gun down zombies’ right and left with amazing accuracy. The master plan of driving around and shooting zombies to attract them away from the house makes zero sense, and I was fine with that, because this scene was crackling with the kind of fun, freewheeling energy, that you see in zombie comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. The Walking Dead needs to cut loose and have fun every once and awhile, it needs to bring in more stylistic and unreal elements into the show, and it doesn’t always have to be a morose and somber exercise in survival horror. Speaking of a welcome break from the show’s more “grounded” aspects….
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A mysterious hooded woman walks onto a show in desperate need of a badass, fully realized, three dimensional female character with two arm-less, jaw-less zombies attached to her person, and cut’s a zombies head off…with a sword no less, and in the process, she saves Andrea’s life, intrigues fans of the show who’ve never read the comic, and utterly delights (beyond all reason) fans of the comic book. Bravo, Walking Dead; an amazing entrance for an amazing character. I’m interested in how the show approaches Michonne next season. I’m sure some aspects of the character are going to be toned down to make her work within the established tone of the show, but I sincerely hope they don’t tone her down too much.
The emotional, sissy stuff.
There were several emotional payoffs in this episode. Most were predictable, frustrating, and disappointing; Daryl and Carol seemingly growing closer; Lori’s piss-poor reaction to Rick’s confession about killing Shane for the good of their marriage; Glenn finally telling Maggie that he loves her. What is Glenn thinking? Zombies just destroyed Maggie’s farm, the farm she grew up on, and for all she knew at the moment her dad and sister might be dead. And this is the moment Glenn tells her he loves her? And she is totally receptive? (By the way, I reserve the right to continue to nitpick when it comes to character stuff). Rick’s “I’m the one in charge now” moment however, was fantastic. Andrew Lincoln has transformed Rick into the most dynamic and interesting character on the show in these past couple of episodes. And really, that’s how it should be; Rick is the main character, Rick is the boss, and if you don’t like it….you can get out! Or stop watching the show. But why would you want to do that? We’ve got The Governor, Michonne, the prison, Woodbury, all coming up next season. Also, you have a show that is steadily improving each passing week, and even though it’s not quite a great show yet, there were some really great moments in nearly every episode in the back half of season 2 that filled me with confidence about the show’s future. The Walking Dead has some propulsive narrative momentum going into season 3, let’s hope the writers can capitalize on that and blow everyone (including the haters) away next season.
Well, that’s wraps my post-mortem examination of season 2. I hope everyone has enjoyed reading these recaps. I will be doing the Game of Thrones recaps starting in April. Be sure to head back here to Screen Invasion to check those out! All right zombie lovers…here is your final zombie movie recommendation for the year…which also happens to be the first zombie movie ever made: White Zombie (1932)