Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Walking Dead "Beside The Dying Fire"

Non Spoiler Review:
Beside the Dying Fire jumps immediately into the fire, so to speak, as Rick and Carl have barely enough time to process Shane's resurrection before a massive herd of walkers encroaches on the farm. With the survivors divided and fighting for their lives, death and destruction get doled out in healthy doses. And that's only in the first twenty minutes. What follows after that are some interesting shifts in the power dynamic, new directions and a little revelation from Rick that he's been keeping secret since last season.

The Walking Dead ends the season on a great high. If the first act wasn't tense enough, the fallout and drama between the characters as a result made for a nail biter of an episode. Finally, there are so many awesome reveals in the last few minutes I was giddy by the end of it. Season three is another long wait, but the sometimes questionable pacing choices of this one can be put behind it now that we've seen this string of top-notch episodes, and my fears for Walking Dead's future alleviated. 

Spoilers Now!
Back in Atlanta...a helicopter alerts a group of walkers and sets them following its sound out of the city. After a long journey into the country they reach the fences of the Hershel farm, and it's an extremely large group that break through in shear weight of numbers. In the night, the sound of Carl's gunshot gets their attention, and they follow Carl and Rick as they walk back to the house.

Daryl and Glen return to the house first, advising everyone about what they've found with Randal, as well as Shane's tracks that indicated they were together. Daryl goes out (at Lori's request) to find Rick and Shane.

Meanwhile, Carl wants to know what happened, wondering if they were attacked by a walker. Rick stops to respond, but they quickly hear the walkers approaching and take refuge in the barn, given they can't get to the house. The horde begins to pile against the barn doors, so Rick scatters gas on the floor and sends Carl to the loft to drop the lighter in order to provide a distraction. He throws open the doors and the walkers flood in as he escapes to the loft and the barn erupts into flames.

Daryl, Andrea and Glen see the walkers approaching the house. Lori suddenly realizes Carl is gone and refuses to leave without him. On the porch, everyone passes out the guns and decide to kill as many as they can and use the cars to lead the rest off the farm. Daryl gets his motorbike as the barn catches fire. Using the vehicles, they attempt to corral the walkers but they are proving too many to herd.

Lori is freaking out (as usual). They're guessing Rick set the barn on fire to draw the walkers so Hershel's son takes the RV to pick up Carl and Rick from the loft. They jump on top, but the walkers pile inside the RV and kill Jimmy. Rick and Carl flee.

Hershel makes a stand to hold them off at the house, while the women try to figure out where Carl is. Carol tries to make Lori listen to reason and not to go off into the woods. The girls prepare to leave, but Hershel won't pull back. Patricia is grabbed as they make a run for it, and Lori has to drag Beth away to leave her as she's torn apart. Carol is cornered but Andrea saves her. A walker falls on Andrea and they think she's dead, so T-Dog has to drive away with Lori and Beth and leave her and Carol both.

Glen tells Maggie to drive and get off the farm as walkers begin swarming the vehicles. Rick gets Hershel's back and wants to know where everyone is. He tells them they have to go and forces him to come. Andrea tries to flag them down but they don't see her. She runs off with the bag of guns. Daryl watches the barn burn from the distance, then hears screaming and takes off to the house. He finds Carol nearly over run and saves her. Hershel watches the barn collapse as he, Rick and Carl drive away. 

As dawn comes, Maggie and Glen circle back to the highway. She's in shock at abandoning everyone but he tells her they can't go back. She stops the car so he can drive while she has a breakdown, and he attempts to assure her the others must have made it too, and tells her he loves her.

Back on the highway where they left supplies for Sophia, Rick, Carl and Hershel arrive. He had hoped the others would rendezvous there. Carl starts freaking out that they need to find Lori. Hershel tells Rick he needs to get Carl to safety and he'll wait there for the others and they can meet up later. Rick stresses that they have to stick together. 

Lori wants to get to the highway but T-Dog decides they're heading east to the coast. The others are on their own and they can't go back. She wants out and tells him to go back or let them out (and nearly jumps out). He concedes and turns around.

Hershel tells Rick his primary concern should be keeping Carl alive. Rick finally agrees and tells his son they have to leave. That's when they hear Daryl's motorbike, then Maggie and Glen, and finally T-Dog's truck. Happy reunions abound. 

Always ready to ruin a nice moment, Lori asks about Shane and Rick says he didn't make it. Carol tells them she lost Andrea and T-Dog confirms they saw her go down, as well as Patricia and Jimmy. Daryl wants to go back for Andrea (yay, Daryl!). Rick reasons she's either dead or somewhere else and there's nothing they can do right now. T-Dog still wants to head east. 

After driving awhile, the group stops on the road given they're running low on gas and need to make a fuel run in the morning. They opt to make camp. Rick wants to find a place they can fortify and build a life—they just have to find it. Maggie doubts they can ever be sure it's safe, given they fooled themselves that they were at the farm. Daryl then brings up the fact about Randal not being bit, and Lori wants to know what that's all about. Daryl explains Shane killed Randal.

Rick then drops the bomb that they're all infected. At the CDC Jenner told him that whatever the plague is, they all carry it. Glen and Carol are furious he never told them. He thought it best people didn't know and walks off to make camp.

Lori tells him she knows he had his reasons for keeping the secret. Then Rick admits to killing Shane and coldly explains what happened. He knew what Shane was doing, but Rick just wanted it over and wanted him dead. He turned, and that's how he knew Jenner was right. Lori is mortified and storms away.

Andrea is fleeing through woods teeming with roamers. After a day of running she's exhausted and gets taken down by a walker. It looks like the end for Andrea when suddenly its head is cut off by a sword. Andrea stares up at a hooded woman with two armless walkers chained behind her.

At night, Carol tells Daryl she doesn't feel safe with Rick lying and they deserve better. He asks what she wants. A man of honor, she replies. Maggie wants to leave too, suggesting they can't sit around waiting for another attack. Hershel advises them not to be foolish and to trust in Rick. But noises in the woods make everyone skittish to get back on the road.

So Rick tries to calm them down and angrily (and frustratingly) tells them he killed his best friend for them so they should damn well listen to him. They're a little horrified too (including Carl). He explains the whole Randal thing was staged and Shane took him out into the woods to kill him. He tells them his hands are clean. Maybe they're better off without him, he says and suggests they go ahead and see how far they get on their own. 

There are no takers. Carl's crying at this point and pretty much everyone is horrified (though Daryl looks impressed). But if they stay, Rick tells them, it isn't a democracy anymore. Everyone remains silent, and the camera pans up to to show that just over the hill is a prison.

The Verdict:
Having such an insane opening to the finale really worked. After complaints of a relatively zombie-light season, the herd that passes over the farm brought the outside world back to the survivors.

Rick's arc came to a chilling conclusion with this episode, and his scene with Lori at the end was so cold. Her reaction, of course, is typical Lori—and damn, she better understand that she was the cause of that whole mess (and I imagine she's wondering if she's carrying a zombie baby, too). Finally Jenner's secret is revealed, though I would have liked some explanation about the other dead bodies we've seen this season with no explanation of how they didn't reanimate. I can relate to Rick's decision not to tell everyone given he had no way of proving it until this week.

Hershel's development was just as interesting. I'm really enjoying his character now. He's grown so far beyond his initial religious perspective, and seems willing to adapt to the reality at hand and concede to Rick's decisions. Given Dale's unexpected death, I can see how Hershel can rise to fulfil a lot of Dale's role from the graphic novel if he sticks around (and I hope he does). After my initial balking at the way some characters lived and others died in contrast to the graphic novels, I'm actually excited about the prospect of seeing some characters live on, like Carol and Hershel.

T-Dog had a momentary burst of character development, but I found that to be the weakest element. Had we had more dialogue and a sense of just who he was, his threat to just keep driving might have carried a bit more tension. But would we really have cared if he had dropped Beth and Lori off on the road and drove away?

Of course, Michonne's introduction at last was a heart-stopper, and I'm excited that she'll be hanging with Andrea first. I'm pleased that Andrea has achieved her bad-ass status at last and I'm looking forward to these two starting off season three together.

We're left with Rick firmly in the driver's seat for the direction of the survivors (for good or ill), and that awesome final shot of the prison, with an equal mix of uncertainty and hope. Who is in the helicopter (personally I think it's the Woodbury helicopter)? How far did Rick drive from the farm—will they ever try to go back to get supplies? Have we seen the last of Randal's group?

Season three promises to be a very dark ride if Kirkman takes the show on its current path. But with extra episodes, as well, it's sure to be the best season yet.

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