Rick Grimes just can’t win. The second season of The Walking Dead opens with the Georgia sheriff on the roof of an Atlanta sky rise, looking down on the ruins of a zombie apocalypse and trying to get a message to a father and son who helped save his life. He’s doing his best to keep his group alive, but his best hasn’t been good enough; he lost another at the CDC to end Season One.
Grimes is who you want on your side in a zombie apocalypse—resourceful, courageous and concerned about the weakest links, but it’s the weakest links who end up most in harm’s way this episode, and he finds himself taking the blame.
The latest pilgrimage is 125 miles away to Fort Benning, but the group is waylaid by a pile of abandoned cars and a blown radiator. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones on the highway and a herd of walkers sends them hiding. When a pair of sprightly zombies chase 12-year-old Sophia into the woods, Grimes follows, saving Sophie’s life but losing the girl in the process.
We learn more about the walking dead this episode. In addition to traveling in packs, they don’t get winded and can almost run when motivated by a meal—they’re quick enough to catch a woodchuck. They’re also cunning enough to have learned to order delivery. With a timer setting off the sound of church bells, a trio of zombies lies waiting, praying to a bloody crucifix for fresh meat. The devoted undead sitting in pews is unsettling, but faith is a more complicated thing for the living.
Both Rick and Carol beg God for help, but the image of the cross—Jesus suffering for the sins of the world—takes on new meaning with that world now in ruins. Hope of salvation is dwindling, and it’s hard not to try to find reason for the unholy punishment that’s left. Grimes especially looks for reasons to hope.
Andrea, who has no hope—who tried to “opt out” at the CDC—is still furious at Dale for saving her life. And Shane—who was playing surrogate husband and father to Rick’s family—would rather leave the group than be constantly reminded of what he lost. Spirits are low, and Rick is looking for a miracle.
In the final scene, though, director Frank Darabont reminds us that this isn’t a show about hope. It’s the worst punch to the gut ending in a show that had nothing but in Season One. In the zombie apocalypse, he seems to be saying, there’s no room for salvation.