And it’s time for the final season 2 installment of The Walking Dead recap with my co-host, Joshua Winstead. This week’s episode is called “Beside the Dying Fire,” which I believe comes from an old Irish lullaby:
Sleep, O babe, for the red-bee hums
The silent twilight's fall:
Aibheall from the Grey Rock comes
To wrap the world in thrall.
A leanbhan O, my child, my joy,
My love and heart's-desire,
The crickets sing you lullaby
Beside the dying fire.
Only this twilight wasn’t so silent. Holy crazy awesome intros, Batman…
But first, this.
Nikki: OK, last week we had a lot of speculation between the two of us (and much more in the comments) about who was going to die. Everyone had their money on T-Dog… and he forgot to put on his red shirt this morning and LIVED. What is up with that? It seemed strange that he was away all season and reappeared suddenly near the end, so all of us said, “Of course he did. So he could be eaten by zombies.” But apparently it was just so he could be in the getaway scenes. Because, once again, he’s served absolutely no purpose beyond that.
Carl lived (despite this awesomely hilarious campaign to make it otherwise). Lori lived. Andrea (so far) lived. But as many of us thought, Patricia and Jimmy are now gone. Hershel and Maggie and Beth are the only survivors from the farm – they’ve now lost five people in their immediate family, which is devastating, but they’ll keep moving on.
Though Jimmy may have superseded Lori in my Dumbass book: He’s in an RV and instead of just mowing down the walkers, he practically throws out a welcome mat and invites them in. Sigh.
The big zombie fight scene was pretty awesome all around. (My husband on the couch muttered to himself, “Awesome! They finally get to shoot some zombies” and looked rather excited, as if he was thinking, “you know, a zombie apocalypse would totally be worth it if I could do THIS.”) Even Lori “a-woman’s-place-is-in-the-kitchen-and-not-protecting-anyone” Prissypants was wielding a gun and being a little useful. Hershel was the best part of the gun fight, though – I really did think his character was going to meet his end when it appeared as if he was going to go down with the rest of his farm, but thank goodness for Rick. The scene of him looking behind as his beloved farm fell apart, complete with Bear McCreary’s gorgeous score in that moment, was totally worth it. The barn, which originally looked like a face on fire with the two upper windows, one in the middle, and the huge gaping mouth of an entrance, had brought so much pain to all of them, and we watch it slowly fall. That scene was truly stunning.
And poor Hershel is left questioning everything he’s ever known. “Christ promised the resurrection of the dead. I just thought he had something a little different in mind.”
What did you think of the first half of the episode, Josh?
Joshua: The long, wordless opening sequence where we see the formation of the huge herd of walkers was not only nice exposition but also very effective in setting the mood for this episode, so much of which was spent entirely overrun with the living dead. I love the payoff moment when the gunshot rings out somewhere out of sight and the whole herd slowly turns in tandem toward it – sooooo creepy! Uniformly excellent makeup on the walkers, as usual; I continue to be amazed at the myriad cool variations on Dead & Decomposing that this makeup department gives us each week, and it's one of the things I'll miss most during hiatus.
The siege of the farmhouse was tense and fairly effective, if not a little confusing, I thought. That confusion appeared to be deliberate in the staging, though, an attempt to illustrate how scattered everyone became and how easily they were separated from one another. The fact that the group opted not to try and make a stand in the house surprised me a little at first, but of course it makes the best sense to simply retreat against such crushing numbers. Unlike testing how well 100-year-old clapboard holds them off. (This is the kind of thought process that makes me think I probably wouldn't survive long in a situation like this.)
Hershel looked like a goner to me too, standing out there in front of the farmhouse firing shot after shot against what seemed more than once like an endless parade of moaners. Shamblers. Stumblers. (Does anyone else think they ought to fall down more often?) It looked like T-Dog was in serious trouble several times as well, maneuvering around hamfistedly in The Slowest Truck In Georgia, but what do you know, they both survived. In fact, I have to say that none of the deaths we did suffer this episode felt like all that much a loss, to be perfectly frank. After the last couple of episodes this season, I couldn't seem to muster up much horror for poor Patricia. I mean, don't get me wrong – I'm glad so many of the old gang are still around (I don't mean you, Lori), but seriously, I think I'll miss the Winnebago most of all.
Loved Daryl to the rescue, and just Daryl being much closer to his old self in general these past few episodes. His standing up for Rick when Carol started waxing treasonous was one of my favorite moments in the episode. For the most part, however, I thought things pretty much ground to a halt after the siege was over. Andrea being left behind did a mediocre job of creating additional tension for the back half of the episode, at best. The potential for drama was definitely there with everyone split up and no rendezvous plan in place, but I thought a lot of that stress was squandered when almost everyone immediately began to contemplate blowing off the group entirely and just striking out on their own. Huh?
But I can no longer avoid bringing up the biggest “huh” of the episode, that of course being Lori's sudden turnaround on the subject of Shane and his murder. Help me remember, please, exactly how many episodes ago she was leaning over his shoulder, whispering not-so-sweet somethings and all but placing a poisoned flagon of wine labeled 'SHANE' in his hand. Why do the writers seem so fixated on making sure we hate this woman?
Nikki: Agreed on the lack of meaningful deaths. Maybe they thought after losing Dale and Shane, we needed a bit of a break. Hershel’s death would have been powerful, but I think keeping alive was even more powerful. As for the group splitting, I started wondering if they really were going to split the group (and it could still go that way) for S3, with Carol/Daryl, Maggie/Glenn, Rick/Carl/Hershel (who I could see ditching Rick early on so it would be Rick and Carl in a Cormac McCarthyesque narrative), and Lori/Beth/T-Dog (ie the group we don’t care about). it would be like a reversal of The Stand, in a way, with the group finding each other and then splitting off, rather than being split and eventually finding each other. It still might be an interesting way to go on this.
But as for Lori being batshit insane? Oh. Yes. So much yes. As I tweeted when I saw the episode, I’m now pretty convinced that Lori’s carrying a zombie baby, because it’s apparently eaten her brain from the inside.
What. The hell.
That scene, where Rick confesses to Lori what happened with Shane, was all done in one very long take. I realized that a few seconds into it, and then began watching to gauge just how long they were going to slowly, slowly zoom in on Rick’s tortured face as Lori, behind him, goes from, “Hey, it’s OK, kiddo, come to mama” loving arms to, “what do you mean you…” to “oh my god you…” to “and CARL TOO?!” The shot finally ends as she bends right over, just before she swats at him when he leans over to her.
I freaked. I sat up on the couch, paused it, and sat there, thinking, Wait… am I MISSING SOMETHING?! Isn’t this the same woman who, three or four episodes ago, wrapped herself around Rick and said, “You have to do something about him. He’s a danger to me, a danger to Carl and the baby (which is 100% yours, by the way), a danger to you, a danger to the air … and don’t forget we totally did it when we thought you were dead” as she manipulated Rick into acting. Unfortunately, he didn’t act. So Lori ramped things up and went to Shane. “I just want you to know I’m so sorry about how things turned out because, you know, I don’t know 100% that this is actually Rick’s baby, and if he hadn’t suddenly returned from the dead we, you know, might still be together and all, because… don’t forget you and I totally did it when we thought Rick was dead.” Unlike Rick, Shane doesn’t think too much, and he acted. He walked Rick out into those woods, both of them with wild things in their heads by Lori Macbeth back there, and Shane might have acted, but he also hesitated. And when Rick sees an actual threat to his family standing before him, he doesn’t hesitate, and put Shane down like a dog.
And now he comes back to Lori, all, “Hey, baby, I did what you said and dealt with the situation, and now we can be together with no danger to us or the baby, which is 100% mine as you say, and Carl, and…” and Lori’s all, “[Gasp! Horrors! Hyperventilate!] What do you MEAN you killed him? I have a connection to Shane! Don’t you remember, we TOTALLY DID IT WHEN WE THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD. How could you kill him, he meant something to me you dangerous wild beast! And you let Carl shoot him, too? Good god, man.” And storms off.
Me: … ??? !!!
I’m starting to think we have this team of brilliant writers sitting there working together, bringing us this philosophical treatise on what the human psyche is pushed to under extreme and dire circumstances, and they write long monologues on the human condition and severe emotions… then get they grab the Jagermeister and have shot contests and then say, “Ok, let’s write the Lori parts now!” Why is it so hard for them to write this character properly?
Joshua: If we discount the (very real) possibility that it's all just a matter of inconsistent writing and focus our interpretation strictly on the basis of what we've been shown on the show, all I can figure is that Lori thought Shane would come out on top. She thought she was sending Rick to his death, and she misjudged in a huge way. But if that were the case, then why did she not try to hide her reaction from Rick? Why wouldn't she want to continue snowing him until some point in the near future when she could begin to manipulate him back into the jaws of death again? I cannot pretend to understand.
On the subject of things I don't understand, let's talk for a moment about the virus and Jenner's confession that everyone is infected. Yes, it is true that Rick withheld this detail from the group, presumably to preserve folks' hope somehow. This doesn't make a lot of sense, at least to me, because I can't figure out how the information changes anything. I don't know what difference the possession of that knowledge makes to anyone, and I don't understand how withholding it makes one dishonorable. The group has never been in a situation where the not-knowing put anyone in danger or otherwise affected the circumstances whatsoever. So the whole kerfuffle is merely based on matter of principle? Are you kidding me here?
Now Rick's been thrown under the bus by everyone at the end of the most emotionally spleen-punching day of his life, and he responds poorly, bristling up like a porcupine and barking his authority at the rest of the group. Well, of course he does. Rick makes a genuine effort to consider everyone's interests when he makes decisions, tries to consider consequences both immediate and long-term, and does anything in his power to do right by the group and his own moral code. And it just isn't worth much any more.
I thought it was extremely telling that when Rick thought he was left no choice but to execute a prisoner, the first thing he did was fashion a noose. It came across to me like he was reaching for some childhood notion of cowboys vs. bandits to use as a coping mechanism, as if the only way to justify the execution in his own mind as anything other than murder was to try to identify himself as the white hat in the scenario. He just can't seem to reconcile his own place in this radically redefined environment – as a husband, as a father, as an agent of peace. Rick doesn't want to be in charge, necessarily, but he also can't stand the idea of trusting someone else's decisions about their safety and well-being, and he's sick of being second-guessed, with all his best intentions either warped or blown up in his face. His speech at the end of the episode seemed to indicate that we've finally seen him come to terms with that struggle, at least in part. And just as he feared, doing so leaves everyone thinking he's more like Shane than ever. Which at this point may well be true.
How were you feeling about the state of the group in the final moments?
Nikki: You know, maybe Lori’s a better actress than I thought because she had me convinced she was completely in love with Rick over Shane. It never even occurred to me that she could have been walking Rick to his death and not Shane, especially since many of the conversations she’s had with Shane are just between the two of them, where she’s not acting for anyone else’s benefit, and she always looks rather shaken. Maybe I was mistaking attraction for fear. A really interesting point.
I do think Lori’s reason for bending in half and brushing Rick off had something to do with Shane, but more to do with Carl and the fact that he shot a zombie in the head. Knowing your child has just done something like that suddenly makes him a man, and no longer the little boy you’ve held in your arms for so long. But then again, Lori looks horrified long before Rick gets to the whole Carl thing.
OK, the virus thang. Here’s my take on Rick withholding the information and the group’s reaction to it: I’ve never realized just how much like Jack Shephard this guy truly is. Like Jack in the early seasons, Rick has had leadership thrust upon him because he’s dressed like a sheriff; Jack had it because he was the doctor. Both careers embody protection and life-saving. Jack didn’t want to be the leader; Rick took it reluctantly. Both Jack and Rick are questioned by those who follow them. Both have a nemesis: Rick’s was Shane, and Jack’s was Locke on some days, Sawyer on others.
But when everyone was falling apart and looking like they were splitting and refusing to listen to Jack, he stood up and gave the famous, “If we don’t live together, we’re going to die alone” speech. Jack’s own little world had been changed, but the world at large didn’t. At this point they were hoping for rescue, and still abiding by society’s rules.
Rick is Jack if he’d thought the rest of the world was gone, too, and the island was now plagued with zombies. Rick doesn’t argue with Locke for several seasons; he listens to him a while and then is pushed to plug one in the back of his head. And rather than give the Live Together, Die Alone speech, he says, “You know what? Why don’t you all just go off and die alone. I’m going to live… over here.”
And maybe it’s because I spent six years with Jack, understanding his pain and feeling his frustrations that everyone expected the world of him and then questioned him when he tried to give it, that I understood Rick’s frustration, too.
But he also has that other side of Jack, the one I used to love poking fun at. Just as Jack wore that little key around his neck as if to say to Kate, “Ha! I have your only way into that briefcase and you can just go away now” holier-than-thou attitude that became grating at times, now Rick has been carrying around a secret that he felt was his to decide when to reveal. While on the one hand I agree with you that it’s not something that they can change, if I were them, I would have wanted to know. Doesn’t this change Lori’s pregnancy? If I’d known I was tainted, infected with the zombie virus, there’s no way I’d go through with a pregnancy. What the hell DOES she have inside there? God only knows at this point.
And what about the knowledge that death will make you a walker? Now we know where the zombies have come from. We don’t know the origin of the virus, but we know that it began when people died and, like Shane, were already infected and began turning. It means that every single one of them will turn into a walker when they die (Dale didn’t because he was shot in the head). What a horrible bit of information they have in them now. Knowing that after you die, you will rise again to eat the living flesh of other human beings? It’s enough for a lot of people to end it now with a quick bullet to their heads to prevent resurrection. And maybe Rick thought he was doing a favour for all of them by not revealing it, but I see it as being akin to Dale telling Andrea if she blows up herself at the CDC, then he’ll blow himself up with her, knowing she wouldn’t go through with it. Rick’s taken away their ability to make a decision for themselves based on facts, because he’s decided not to reveal one of the facts.
Do I think this makes Rick the bad guy? No. I’m assuming he simply didn’t believe it, and it was only Shane rising that made him realize it was true. But it’s been in the back of his mind ever since the CDC, made evident by the fact that he sits over Shane’s corpse waiting, as if trying to determine whether or not it was true. I noticed that last week and wondered if Rick knew Shane might turn, and this explains it.
It also gives us the tiniest glimmer of hope that little Sophia wasn’t actually caught by walkers. Now I’m going to go to a fantasy place where she actually tripped off a cliff and died instantly, and then turned and resurrected. I’d like to know that happened instead of the thought that she’d been attacked by walkers.
And speaking of attacked by walkers, we can’t finish up without talking about Badass Andrea and her single-handed take-down of a forest of walkers. Last week we talked about how important it would be to keep her on because she’s the strongest female character left, and this week’s episode really proved that to be true. I found myself cheering out loud for her. She was unbelievable.
And, of course, her arc ended with some Grim Reaper guy in a black cloak attached via chain to two armless zombies. What. The hell.
So here’s your mission, Josh! You have to tell us why this should excite/not excite us without spoiling anything. (I’m assuming the readers of the comics know who that guy is.) And… go!
Joshua: Wow, tall order. Here goes nothin'.
The two big reveals of the episode – being the sword-wielding stranger and the structure in the distance in that final shot – were both instantly recognizable to anyone who has read the comics. Which means, of course, that I can say almost nothing more about them without running the risk of ruining somebody's good time come Halloween. Being a spoiler-er is about the last thing I want to do, but on the other hand, they were such righteous teasers for season three that it's torture not to say more. I would love to find some effective way of moving the uninitiated from their wow-that-was-kinda-awesome reaction to the sword-wielding stranger, to somewhere more in the vicinity of my jump-to-my-feet-and-pump-my-fists-at-the-night-sky-with-a-rousing-HELL-YES! reaction that almost woke my kids up last night when I saw it. The following statement is about as close as I can get.
So far, the events of the show that relate back to the original story all come from the first dozen issues, streeeeeeetched over what many believe was way too much time for so little content. By contrast, the next 'movement' of the story, if you will – the one relating to any recent casting announcements and both of these late-breaking cameos – stretches from #13 all the way through #48. And, in addition to simply being A LOT more story, it is also undoubtedly the main reason why the series became so popular in the first place.
Or, to put it plainly: things are about to get complicated. And really, really messed up.
And I think most of us would agree that the show could use it. There have been aspects of this second season that I have absolutely adored, but overall I think it has struggled more than it has succeeded. Having a consistent voice as showrunner from day one, as opposed to suffering through something like this year's contentious Darabont dust-up, should make a big difference in the way season three's arc is designed. Hopefully this will prove to even the keel and lend these characters more consistency, more gravity and more to do than spawn tail-chasing circular arguments, throw rocks and brood.
Because the conflicts that are coming next have much less to do with right vs. wrong and much more to do with sanity vs. madness. Our survivors are going to need whatever composure and rationality they can muster, and then some, to make it to the finale of season three.
Nikki, before I pass this back to you for your closing thoughts on Season Two, I want to take a moment to thank both you and your readers for humoring me through these recaps over the past few months. It has been both an honor and a pleasure to share these responsibilities with you, and I can only hope it's been half as much fun for you guys at home. All the bad puns and run-on sentences in the world can't show my gratitude.
Take care, folks. Keep your blades sharp and your eyes sharper.
Nikki: I had a feeling that when we saw the Dark One and his gruesome puppies out for a walk that the comic fans at home would be shrieking with joy, and at the very end, the structure – with the Very Forceful Music playing over it – was shot in such a way that I could tell it was meant to be one of those “FINALLY” moments for those in the know. My husband and I couldn’t exactly see what it was – a compound of some kind? There was a wall around it and a building in the middle and other smaller buildings around it, like a prison. But maybe that’s the irony – they’ll want to get IN rather than out and it could be their salvation.
Or it was just a castle with a moat and they’re about to go to Far, Far Away and join Shrek and his compadres.
As we leave season 2, Glenn has suggested the walkers are migrating (could they be going south for the winter?). Rick has declared this no longer a democracy, but a dictatorship, folks (was anyone else hoping he would say, “There’s a NEW sheriff in town, boys, y’all best get used to it,” while slinging a shotgun over his shoulder?) Andrea is in the woods with Dark McScary and his two faithful creepazoids. Glenn has declared his love for Maggie. Dale and Shane are gone. Hershel is away from his farm for the first time in his life and most of his family is dead. T-Dog’s got a couple of lines of dialogue (good on ya, T-Dog!) Daryl is awesome. Carol is looking to split from Rick and his bad choices when she’s never offered up any real direction of her own. And Lori’s split personality will keep the, “I’m sorry, WHAT?!” factor alive and well for the viewers in season 3.
It’s been a joy having you on board throughout season 2, Josh, and I hope you’re up for returning in season 3! We could all use an expert who takes care not to spoil us for anything. Your entries have been funny and insightful, and you keep me on my toes for sure.
Thanks to all of you for reading along. Could I just ask a quick favour that anyone out there who has read the comics, don't reveal anything about the guy in black or the compound scene in the back? We'll keep this spoiler-free for the neophytes like me. Thanks so much in advance.
Cue the violin-laden outro music!