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Talking the Walk: Episode 213 “Beside the Dying Fire”

And then there were none.

Welcome back for the 6th and final week of Talking the Walk, season 2 part 2. We’ve had some good times together: Rick and Shane beatin’ the hell out each other. Lori being awful. Carl being awful. Dale being awful… and then instantly missing him when cow-eating walker got him (then briefly entertaining the idea of zombie-cow). Ah, it’s all a warm blur now…

But before we pop the champagne, there’s still still one more episode to recount: Last night’s “Beside the Dying Fire”, picking up just as Rick and Carl finally killed Shane and a swarm of walkers descended on the farm. So don’t hang up those shotguns, scythes, and crossbows just yet – there’s still some slayin’ to do. 

The first half hour of “Beside the Dying Fire” is just what I, and I’m assuming many, many fans, hoped it would be: a balls-to-the-wall, fist-pumping, gun poppin’ zombie action sequence. Carl’s inquiry as to why his dad had to kill Shane is cut short by a walker flash mob, one that is briefly quelled when Rick and Carl lure most of them into the barn and set it ablaze. It’s a nice little father-son teamwork moment, a “Bring Your Kid to Zombie Attack Day” success. Meanwhile, the other survivors notice the swarm just as Lori notices for the umpteenth time her unsupervised child is missing. It’s time to flee the farm…

…or is it? What about Rick? Carl? Shane? Then the guns come out – and in a big way.

The walker attack on Hershel’s farm is probably the finest zombie sequence the series has produced. Lit by just the moon and the burning barn, it’s a hectic, scary, melee. The Walking Dead too often presents one walker at a time, which is rarely threatening or frightening, but the farm attack is a reminder how scary they can be in big numbers. The chaos quickly cleaves the group: Maggie and Glenn drive away in a truck, Daryl is able to get Carol on his chopper, Lori is ripped away from her search for Carl and gets in a car with T-Dog, and Rick saves Hershel and gets the old man and Carl in another truck. One of Hershel’s daughters bites it, as does “Jimmy” the farm hand who barely spoke, and Andrea… Andrea gets left behind. The farm is left in flaming, zombie-infested ruins. I’m seldom struck by Walking Dead camera work and editing, but we’re talking motion picture quality work here. Well done.

Queasy rider.

The group’s situation was exciting. Rick makes it back to the highway, only to have Carl rebel (for missing Lori) and Hershel drop some amazing lines of dialogue. (“Jesus Christ promised the resurrection of the dead. Guess I just always figured he had something a little different in mind.”) Do they wait for survivors? Risk going back? Are we breaking up the band!? Just when you think the show might go all Fellowship on us, the rest of the survivors catch up with Rick in a neat little parade of battered, blood-splattered vehicles. Hugs and recaps are shared, and it’s decided the farm is lost – time to move on. When Andrea is brought up, Rick deems her fate to the wind. Given he was considering leaving his wife behind just minutes before, I believe him.

But Andrea is no push-over. She escapes the farm on her own and is pursued by walkers in the woods. She’s worn down by their numbers, a lack of ammo, and I’m guessing, calories, and falls to the forest floor. When Andrea’s attacking walker is suddenly decapitated, she looks up and sees one the most evocative images I’ve ever seen in the show: A cloaked, samurai sword-wielding woman (woman?) who is towing two armless (and obedient?) walkers. YES! A THOUSAND TIMES YES! I’m not sure what this character is, or if it was even in the comic series, but her sudden appearance is a reminder that we are dealing with the medium and, two-years in, an injection of some comic-inspired imagery is more than welcome. -girly scream-

Rick decides the company should camp out on the road, but can’t dodge (barely related) questions anymore: Randall didn’t have bites… how was he infected? Rick drops the bomb: via the crazy CDC doc (remember he whispered something to Rick?), everyone’s infected, the virus is latent. The gang’s shocked, but Rick brings up a valid point: who cares? They still gotta survive. He leaves the group feeling betrayed and privately confesses to Lori that he and Carl killed Shane. Even when Rick explains that Shane orchestrated Randall’s escape to kill Rick… she gets all pissed, violently shaking Rick off.

Hey, Lori – it’s official: we all hate you. It’s because of you that Shane went off the deep end again and Carl was wandering around in the middle of the night. So screw you, lady. You are the most hated woman on television, and during a year where Kardashian programs are legion, that’s no small feat. Let me be the first to voice the hope season 3 has some zombie incisors with your name on them.

Shane felt very present in “Beside the Dying Fire,” but in a surprising vessel: Rick. It was Rick who was ready to leave the others at the highway, who convinced the group to abandon Andrea, and when the group confronts him about lying to them about the virus, he finally snaps. “I killed my best friend for you damn people!” Rick’s explosion at the group was a long time coming. They’ve all relied on Rick for a long time, and while he hasn’t always been successful, he’s always tried to please everyone (the reason his success has been fleeting in the first place). Shane was never concerned with winning popularity contests and now neither is Rick: “This isn’t a democracy!” As the group stare at him in shock by firelight… the camera pans upward revealing a well-protected prison not far off. It’s a wonderful work of imagery and association by the show. As the hierarchy of the group shifts, at what point do group members become captive… and more pressingly – you’d imagine whoever is running a prison full of survivors probably has a pretty big jump on Rick’s new non-democratic policy. Just a guess.

Alright. Let’s rest here and practice our goosestepping.

As satisfying as the episode was, it also put us in an awkward position. Rick has been an unpopular leader all season, especially in contrast to Shane, who frequently seemed reasonable. But Rick is pushed into making the hard, firm, no-BS decisions we’ve always wanted him to make via stress, desperation, and trauma… and not any heroic inclination. It makes sense: seeing what people do when pushed to their limit is what this show is all about. But despite any frustrations, we’ve always adored Rick as the good guy. The harder edge, heavier foot is welcome, but it’s oddly sad to see him get to this point in this way. We know where Shane Street goes. As we head towards season 3, ten and two, Rick. Ten and two.

Now that The Walking Dead has resolved it’s major Rick vs. Shane story line, everyone is wondering who’s going to be in the “apocalyptic asshole” hot seat, and by “everyone” I mean “people who don’t use the Internet.” News broke weeks ago that AMC had already cast someone to play The Governor as their season 3 villain. I’m not that familiar with The Walking Dead comics, but word on the street is that they don’t get really good until the Governor shows up. I’m starting to wonder if they’ve already planted seeds for him: who’s leading that ruthless band of survivors Randall came from? Who piloted the helicopter that herded all the walkers the Hershel’s farm? Who’s running the prison? If the writers know what they’re doing, these things will be connected.

But you know what I want to know?

Where the fuck is Mearle? Daryl’s older brother was a huge deal back in season 1 and now that Daryl’s hard-boiled, squirrel-frying exterior has been pierced and he’s a valued, emotionally embedded part of the group, time is ripe for one-handed Mearle to show his face and exact revenge on the man who left him to rot: Rick. More Mearle means more Daryl. The series could use both things.

While we’re talking characters, now that the cast has thinned out, the series would do well to give a few characters more screen time: my vote is for Andrea. She might be my favorite character, someone who has transformed during the show, but has been emotionally resilient enough protect a recognizable, admirable core. And c’mon guys, we need more T-Dog. You’re playing the token black-guy thing way under parody or self awareness. Give this guy more to do.

AND THAT IS IT, PEOPLE! It’s a been a thrilling, frustrating ride. In season 2, part 2, The Walking Dead proved itself still far from perfect, but you have to appreciate the things that it did well. It’s characters are still magnetic, their relationships still in the forefront. The show is still capable of being scary, graphic, and surprising. And for all it’s incessant wheel-spinning, no one can deny the payoffs were always huge and worth waiting for. I’ve enjoyed S2P2 more than other seasons and I’m pumped for more. The deaths of Sophie, Dale, and Shane bring a brand new life to the show – let’s hope that second life is free of a stiff gait, graying complexion, and bleeding, festering holes in the plot. I think it’s possible.

Thanks for reading, guys. Until the Fall, when once again, we get our walk on.

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