Quick Take: The Walking Dead, "Beside The Dying Fire"
"Christ promised the ressurection of the dead. I just thought he had something a little different in mind." - Herschel
Review: The Walking Dead, "Beside The Dying Fire"
(S0213) Last week's moonlit showdown between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Shane (Jon Bernthal) was beautifully done. Carl's (Chandler Riggs) use of Chekhov's gun... eh, not so much. But the scene that preceded zombie-Shane's killing was so good, I'm willing to forgive the other silliness.
The thing that I like best about the end of "Better Angels" is that it served as a perfect set up for the finale, "Beside The Dying Fire." Rick and Carl, having just dispatched a first living Shane, than an undead Shane, make their way back to the farm. Unbeknownst to them, they are being followed by a horde of hungry Walkers. It's clear that the finale will feature a full-on zombie assault on the farm house. As I'v said many times before, The Walking Dead is at its best when it shuts its mouth and kicks some ass. And "Beside The Dying Fire" promised some major ass kicking.
The fact that I was excited about the season finale is a true testament to the work done by new showrunner Glen Mazzara and his team. While I still have major problems with the show -- and with the characters, in particular -- the new regime has done an admirable job of making The Walking Dead incrementally less frustrating with each episode. While "Beside The Dying Fire" was far from perfect, it did a number of things well -- most importantly, it didn't make me want to throw something at my TV.
Early in the Walker assault on the farm, Rick and Carl lure a horde of zombie's into Herschel's (Scott Wilson) barn and set the structure ablaze, incinerating the zombies trapped inside. The burning barn is emblematic of everything The Walking Dead does right, and everything the show gets wrong. The Walking Dead is great at imagery; The set pieces look good, the special effects are stellar, the make-up jobs on the zombies are top notch. What the show can't seem succeed at is making that imagery meaningful. As a viewer, I don't care about any of these characters in the least. T-Dog (IronE Singletone) could die, Andrea (Laurie Holden) could die, hell, even Rick could die and it wouldn't move me emotionally. The burning barn was supposed to be an emotional, cathartic moment. But since I don't care about these people, much less the buildings they have made their homes, the burning barn was nothing more than cool looking image.
As the zombie horde advances, it becomes clear that the survivors must abandon their safe haven, which Herschel agrees to only after Rick practically begs. Eventually most of the gang reconvenes at the traffic jam where this whole season started. The circular nature of this season and its settings is indicative of a larger issue at play. The Walking Dead, up to this point at least, has no real plot or driving force other that "stay alive." It's hard to drive the story forward, if the story is simply "survive." Since the show has given us little real indication that there is some larger arc in play, its no surprise the finale takes us back to the place where we were in the season premiere.
Andrea (Laurie Holden), is the lone main character not to make back to the traffic jam. Instead she is chased into the woods, where she successfully fends off a couple dozen walkers...for a while at least. Andrea gets pinned to the ground by a drooling, blood-thirsty Walker, but at the last moment she is spared by a mysterious new character.
This newcomer is a hooded, sword wielding enigma with two armless Walkers chained to her sides. After poking around the internet a bit, I discovered that this hooded being is a fan-favorite from the comic books named Michonne (Danai Gurira). Michonne, much like the burning barn, is an extremely cool image. But, again, that's the problem: so far, she's nothing more than an image. For Th Walking Dead to be a great show, hell, even a good show, it is going to have to put as much effort into substance as it does style.
Lingering Thoughts on "Beside The Dying Fire":