Review: The Walking Dead season 2 finale, ‘Beside the Dying Fire’
Last night season two of The Walking Dead came to a close with a season finale that was as gory as it was intense. Everything changed for our intrepid survivors in “Beside the Dying Fire,” and that change came with a high cost. Read on, gentle zombiephiles, for a run-down of the highs, the lows, and the in-betweens of the season two finale of The Walking Dead.
FAIR WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS FOR BOTH THE SEASON FINALE AND THE COMIC BOOKS.
The season finale was, in a word, stressful. No one was safe and we didn’t know what was going to happen (not even TWD comic book fans, for whom this season has been an exercise in guesswork as to which original plotlines the show will actually follow).
Our episode begins with the zombie mayhem we knew had to be coming from the ominous end of “Better Angels.” Almost before they know it, the farmhouse is surrounded and the survivors are forced to fight or to flee. At first they try to fight––and it was a real gruesome pleasure to get to watch the group in action––and then they end up admitting defeat and making a run for it.
Our hats are off to Greg Nicotero and the special effects team of The Walking Dead. In a show with an unbelievable amount of makeup and gore in every episode, there has never been a weak effect in The Walking Dead. They have maintained the same standard of special effects excellence throughout both seasons, and the season two finale was no exception, even with what must’ve been at least a hundred extras. The makeup was brilliant, the blood and gore especially bloody and gorey. It was a horror fan’s dream.
In the fight for their lives that started the episode, we lost two characters: Patricia and Jimmy. Really our only complaint is that the deaths of Patricia and Jimmy were entirely predictable. At this point they were the only characters without real depth and backstory, and they had served their purpose to the plot. Their deaths weren’t surprising, but also didn’t result in a huge emotional reaction from the audience. I think we can all agree that when Jimmy met his gruesome demise we had one of two reactions: 1) “Whew! At least it wasn’t Rick or Carl,” and 2) “What was his name again?”
In killing Shane, Rick seems to have taken on some of the man’s essence. The episode was emotional for all the characters, with the group separated and their lives on the line. But Rick, in shouldering the burden of murdering his best friend and leading the group to safety, has taken on a unique emotional outlook. And his outlook seems… remarkably similar to what Shane would’ve felt in Rick’s position. When Rick explains his reasoning in killing Shane first to Lori and then to the group beside the dying fire (hey that was the title of the episode!) he sounds eerily like Shane when the other man explained his actions regarding Otis or lying to Lori. Has Rick embraced Shane’s darkness by killing him? Or was being forced to stab his best friend a wake-up call reminding him to be a harder, stronger, less forgiving person in their frightening new world?
The season finale contained two references to the first season. The first was a helicopter flying over the dead and decaying streets of Atlanta. This same helicopter is what Rick followed through downtown Atlanta before running into a whole street full of walkers. And unfortunately, the helicopter starts a horde of walkers headed in the direction of Hershel’s farm.
The second reference to season one happened when Rick finally revealed what Dr. Jenner told him before the CDC blew up: They’re all infected. No matter how they die––whether it be walker bite or knife wound––they will all eventually end up as the walking dead.
Hershel wins for best line of the episode, with his heart-breaking (yet oddly humorous) pronouncement: “Christ promised a resurrection of the dead. I just thought he had something a little different in mind.” While Scott Wilson has never had a weak moment in his tenure as Hershel, his performance in the finale was especially moving. Watching him stand in front of his house armed with a shotgun and faced with hundreds of walkers was both terrifying and deeply sad. While the other characters have been homeless and on the run for as long as we’ve known them, watching Hershel lose his farm was heart-breaking.
And the award for bad-ass of the week goes to Andrea, who looks like she spends about twenty-four hours running through the woods just ahead of the horde, toting Rick’s old bag of guns. Say what you will of Andrea, but you can’t deny the woman has guts of solid steel… or at least a furious will to survive at all costs and not end up as lunch for a gaggle of strangely mobile corpses.
And since we’re handing out awards, Daryl gets the award for most knight-in-shining-armor moment for when he rode in on his mighty steed (read: motorcycle) to sweep damsel in distress Carol off her feet and whisk her away to safety, right out of the horde’s evil clutches. To anyone who doubted that a romantic storyline between Daryl and Carol was on the way, this moment sealed the deal (I mean, their names rhyme and everything).
Fans of the TWD comic books were rewarded by two references to the original plot of the books. The first came in the form of a certain shady, sword-wielding character that came to Andrea’s rescue. The introduction of this character was spoiled earlier in the season, but that hasn’t lessened anyone’s excitement for the appearance of a fan favorite and their zombie body guards.
The second reference to the original plot was in the final shot of the episode. As Rick makes his pronouncement that the other kids can play by his rules or go home, the camera pans up from the fire to reveal what appears to be a large and fortified prison. And comic book fans the world over swooned with geekish delight.
On the whole the season two finale was one of the finest episodes of the season. It had everything TWD fans have come to know and love from the show: Zombie mayhem, blood and gore, memorable lines, brilliant acting, and plenty of drama. When the shock and excitement of this intense episode wears off, the only questions left will be “What happens next?” and “Do we seriously have to wait until the fall to find out?!”