The Walking Dead Watch: Beside the Dying Fire

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Gene Page / AMC

Look at episodic dramas over the decades and you’ll see that the season finale serves several purposes. Most, admittedly, are dictated by scheduling, for there are only so many shows in a season, and the story must take a pause somewhere. Because different networks have seasons of different length (the first three seasons of ABC’s Lost had 23-25 episodes each, Game of Thrones on HBO had 10 during its first year and The Walking Dead had a full run of 13), producers can play with the story a little bit. But for the finale, they have to reach some kind of story climax, dazzle the audience and, most important, as Hank Williams allegedly once said to his son Hank Jr., “Always leave them wanting more.”

Last night’s The Walking Dead season finale did that wonderfully, wrapping up several loose threads before pointing the compass directly at the heart of Season 3. In a closing shot similar to that of this season’s penultimate episode, the producers literally glanced over the horizon at a giant prison, which I’m willing to bet elicited one of two reactions. If you’ve read the graphic novels, you probably said, “It’s about damn time!,” whereas if you’re a TWD novice, your take was probably some variation on “What the f— was that?” This is the balance the producers wanted to strike, and they did it brilliantly.

But first, our band of survivors killed a lot of zombies. They had to, because as the episode’s opening shot suggests, the helicopter that Rick saw in Season 1 has been leading a horde of walkers in their general direction for months. The barriers that we thought might contain the zombies only served to swell their ranks, as they piled up by the dozens at every bottleneck, only to break through. The zombie parade that descended on the farm probably numbered in the thousands.

The nearly half-hour Battle of Greene Farm was so well executed, it removed a bit (but just a tiny bit) of my anger over the almost zombie-free weeks of the endless Sophia Hunt. There were a few things that stretched credulity — with the exception of Hershel (and later Andrea in the woods), no one seemed to run out of ammo or have to reload, and just about every single shot blasted a walker in the head — but having Glenn hang out of a car blasting zombies with a shotgun was exactly the kind of action I was clamoring for.

My only criticism of this barn burner of a scene (pun very much intended) is that no one of consequence died. Forgive me for sounding harsh, but we didn’t care about Patricia and Jimmy; they were minor figures, and we won’t miss them. During AMC’s follow-up show The Talking Dead, show runner Glen Mazzara said they had originally planned on killing off Hershel but decided to keep him alive. Mazzara added that it would have been a gratuitous kill and that the shot of Hershel looking back while the barn fell was worth the change.

There were several plotlines that needed resolution before we could move on, and last night pretty much tackled all of them. Rick finally revealed what Jenner told him in the Season 1 finale: that everyone is infected, and when anyone dies, regardless of the cause, they’ll turn into a zombie. (We saw that, of course, with Randall and Shane.) And speaking of Shane, Rick had to come clear about dispatching his best friend. It was here that we saw the new Rick. As Mazzara said, Rick is “no longer taking requests.” He’s established himself as the leader once and for all. He led them off the farm and managed to collect all the survivors, and through some not-so-subtle diplomacy and quick tactical thinking, he has shepherded this motley crew through everything the apocalyptic world has thrown at them. In the final scene, when Rick lays down the rules of his new colony, Hershel (clad in a snazzy blazer, go figure) looks at him and nearly cracks a smile. Much of the show has been about leadership and how someone who is not the oldest (that’d be Hershel), not the most chest-thumpingly badass (that used to be Shane) and not the smartest (maybe Glenn, though Maggie has a great head on her shoulders) rises to take command. Rick now stands alone atop that iron throne, but as the final shot revealed, once Season 3 starts, he might not remain there for long.

Zombie kill report: Dozens upon dozens. This was the Antietam of zombie battles, in which the characters used every manner possible of dispatching walkers: (amazingly accurate) gunshots, the crossbow, knives, pistol butts, cars and even one giant incident of arson. We also had two of the most brutal zombie attacks we’ve seen in awhile: Jimmy getting swarmed by walkers while trapped in the RV (a pretty terrifying way to go out), and Patricia getting snatched from Beth’s arms.

Then there was that decapitation. Immediately following the episode, Twitter and the blogosphere were ablaze with the name Michonne. As I have not read the graphic novels (nor will I as long as I am your The Walking Dead reviewer), I had to look this up. And without spoiling anything, Michonne is the mysterious hooded character who saves Andrea by slicing up a walker while towing two armless zombies in chains. She looked like a cross between a Jedi Knight and Boba Fett, and you can bet we’re going to see more of her next season.

Speaking of next season … I doubt there were many who teared up when they saw the farm in the rear-view mirror. Much of that has to do with the marathon Sophia Hunt, but for fans of the novels, it has more to do with the prison and the Governor. I won’t reveal what I know (which isn’t much), but the final shot of a prison over the horizon is where we’re headed, and when we get there, we’re apparently going to see things that will make this season look like Candyland. After the finale, Robert Kirkman, author of The Walking Dead novels and an executive producer on the show, was asked if we’ll see Merle, Morgan or Duane next season. He said there is a 100%  chance we’ll see 33% of that trio. My money’s on Merle — the showdown with T-Dog will be epic, and there has to be a reason they’ve kept T-Dog alive this long.

Fun fact to close out the season: On The Talking Dead, the producers said Dale’s RV is the same make and model as the one featured in Spaceballs. Only that RV had a happier ending.

What did you think of last night’s episode? Will Season 3 live up to the hype? Let us know in the comments, and please, NO SPOILERS! Any post that talks about the plot of the graphic novels will be decapitated.