This season of The Walking Dead has seen its share of existential crises, moral quandaries, rationalization, betrayal, an attempted suicide and even a little romance. But the biggest complaint is that there haven’t been enough, you know, Walking Dead. It just wouldn’t be a season finale, though, without a couple busloads of extras in makeup and a few dozen killshots.
The horde was teased at the end of “Better Angels,” summoned by Shane’s misfired bullet and Carl’s impressive first zombie kill. “Beside the Dying Fire” wasted no time getting straight to the action, assuming a season’s worth of character development was more than enough. The zombies are coming and no amount of drive-bys are going to put a dent in their ranks.
The action was paced by a few well-placed scenes to let us breathe. The first was like a nature documentary on the great migration of Homo Ex-Sapiens, triggered by that mysterious black helicopter Rick saw in Season 1. Then it was back to the farm, where Carl’s zombie-kill count quickly surpassed T-Dog’s after the boy torched a whole barn full. Jimmy saved the day but forgot to lock the door of the trailer. He had so little screen time, though, that viewers will be forgiven if they were more emotional about the loss of Dale’s trailer.
The biggest surprises weren’t the deaths of Patricia and Jimmy, but the survival of Hershel who seemed like a captain resigned to go down with his ship. Carol and Andrea were likewise dangled as potential Season 2 casualties, but all the remaining Atlanta survivors made it off the farm alive—just in time for a lingering shot of the barn collapsing into ashes.
One of the episode’s few lines was Glenn’s ill-timed confession of love for Maggie, who did an admirable job playing “terrified by zombies,” “worried about her missing family members” and simultaneously “happy to find her love is requited.” You try making that facial expression.
If that was a challenge from the writers, though, Sarah Wayne Callies has to feel like they’re just messing with her at this point. Her character, Lori, basically tells Rick that Shane needs to be put down, and then treats him like a monster when he’s forced to follow through with it.
Rick might not have done the best job explaining that Shane had already pulled his gun and said his goodbyes, but he seemed quite tired of having to explain himself. If Shane had been pushing Rick to become a hard-ass, he finally accomplished the feat in death.
The best storyline of the night, though, belonged to Andrea. After a season of whining, there had to have been at least a few fans pulling for the walkers in her early scenes, but she quickly become Linda Hamilton-badass, braining zombies with her foot. Then we learned that real badasses keep armless walkers on chains and fight with a katana. Michonne (played by Danai Guirira) saves Andrea by slicing the head off her attacker with her Japanese sword.
The show’s biggest criticisms have come from two fronts: first, that there wasn’t enough action on the farm. And second, that the big post-apocalyptic themes its been tackling instead have been hurt by weak writing. The finale signals a response to the former. While we have Hershel tossing out a theological one-liner—when Jesus promised resurrection of the dead, he had something else in mind—we have four survivors (Rick, Daryl, Andrea and Michonne) who’ve become zombie-killing machines.
It’s appropriate that we’ve left Season 2’s farm—the figurative scene of new hope and literal scene of new life—for Season 3’s prison. And while I welcome the action that will come with it, part of me is glad that Dale never had to see it all come to this.