WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MANY SPOILERS. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED THE SEASON TWO FINALE, “BESIDE THE DYING FIRE.” OF AMC’S “THE WALKING DEAD.”
Say what you will about the writers of “The Walking Dead” – but they know how to end a season.
Fans who have complained about this season containing too much discussion and too few zombies should leave the season finale, “Beside the Dying Fire,” with their lust for blood – zombie blood that is – satisfied. The complaint of all talk and no action has been justified by much of the season taking place on a farm. But it’s clear that season three will have an abrupt location change.
The finale opened where the previous week’s episode had left off. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) had just killed Shane (John Bernthal), who reappeared as a zombie, despite not having been bitten by one. Carl shot zombie-Shane in the head, and the noise of the gun sent a hoard of walkers headed toward the farm. Nearly half of the episode is a fast-paced shoot-out, while the group struggles to defend the farm from being overrun and to save themselves.
By the end of the episode, viewers were likely breathing a sigh of relief. Finally, the original show they fell in love with is back. The first season of “The Walking Dead” had the right combination of dialogue, tension and action. But the second season threw the scales off balance. Far too many episodes were devoted to a search for a minor character that they stood no chance of finding alive, and the Lori-Rick-Shane love triangle dragged on before it fizzled, rather than erupting into the heated argument it deserved.
This episode marks a significant shift in Rick’s character. For two seasons, Rick has tried to lead the group of survivors without having to make tough decisions alone or falling out of favor with the group. His ineffectiveness has been frustrating for the audience to watch. But near the end of the finale, Rick declares, “This is not a democracy anymore.” He demonstrates that he’s capable of being the type of leader that he should have been from the start.
If viewers didn’t already hate Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), this episode didn’t do much to change their minds. Her inconsistent and often erratic behavior continued, as she learned of the news of Shane’s death. It’s either fearless and brilliant writing or a misguided attempt at cleverness that will eventually fall flat.
While season two marks the death of a few major characters, season three will be the start for at least two new ones. Readers of the comics will recognize the character of Michonne, who is introduced at the end of the episode, although they only catch a glimpse of her.
With this final episode, the writers of the show have once again regained the attention of their audience. But they’ll have to continue with the fast-paced nature of this episode if they want to keep them in the third season.