By Art Schmidt

Season 2 of AMC’s series The Walking Dead aired its Season 2 finale on Sunday night, and as the final seconds of the show slipped away all too quickly, I heard a distinct shout of fanboy jubilation erupt across the world.

“Michonne!!!”

I know I said it aloud, and from the way my wife eyed me, I likely said it a bit too loudly.  Almost as loud as I shouted ‘Ding-dong, Shane is dead!’ last week.

(I’ll save the spoilers until the end)

To start, let’s go back one week before the finale.  The climax from last week’s episode was Shane’s double-death.  His half-baked plan to get rid of Rick unraveled and although he had the chance to off his former friend, Rick got the upper-hand and knifed him in the gut.  Then Shane re-animated (!) and Rick’s son Carl overcame his man crush on the bastard (seeing a shambling zombie coming to eat your intestines will do that to a kid) and Carl put Shane down for good, his first kill of any kind in the show.

Afterward, for every online post echoing my sentiments (Ding-dong, Shane is dead!), there was one decrying the drastic mistake the show’s producers had made in killing off what they claim was the show’s greatest source of struggle and drama.  That is the struggle for the soul of the group between Rick, the thoughtful moralist, and Shane, the ruthless survivalist.  I never liked Shane, even the few times he was able to justify his self-centered motivations.  Killing innocent people to stay alive is no way to live, regardless of the circumstances.  And his obsession with Lori and Carl was unhealthy for everyone.  Admittedly, it did make for some good drama, and perhaps the writers will need to work a bit harder to continue the great story-telling they’ve accomplished over two short seasons.

But that was never the deal-breaker between me and Shane.  Not really.  And although I’ve read the comics and was happy with his very early demise in them, it wasn’t really that, either.  He died in the comics, he lived in the TV series, no biggie.  I’m glad the two are different; otherwise I probably wouldn’t enjoy the show very much.  No, Shane bothered me for a different reason, and shortly before he was killed last week, I finally put my finger on it.

They couldn’t leave.  Herschel’s farm was a great place to find and explore, but they’ve been there waaay too long.  The group needed to move on, even if not in the way they did in the comics (and boy, was the finale different, huzzah!)  No, somehow the turmoil between Rick and Shane had to be resolved before they could leave the farm.  It just had to.  No way could they leave, when the split leadership wanted to go in different directions, take on different goals, and treat its members differently.  Shane’s survival was blocking the storyline from progressing forward.

Maybe that was just how it felt, but to me that’s how it was.  Shane was a story bottleneck, and he had to be ‘resolved’.  And bless his black little heart, he wasn’t going to turn over a new leaf (as much as he claimed to be able to do so), he was never, ever going to accept Rick as the leader, and he wasn’t going to budge from that farm, no sir.  In a way, his self-centered ‘survival of the fittest’ mantra was as short-sighted as Herschel’s ‘keep on keepin’ on’ belief.  Both thought they could command the farm and its environs to keep them safe from the outside world, and both were wrong.  Dead wrong.

So I’m glad that Shane is gone, aside even from my dislike of the character.  Now the group can leave the farm and move on to bigger and better things.

Side Note:  Shane actor John Bernthal is starring in The Walking Dead developer Frank Darabont’s new television series L.A. Noir, and I wish him all the best!  It’s his great acting that made Shane credible and gave the character such a deep impact.  In a lesser actor’s hands, Shane Walsh would have been a stereotypical loud-mouthed jerk and dragged the show down.  Good luck in L.A. John!  L.A. Noir is being developed for TNT based on the novel by John Buntin.

So with Shane dead and a herd of walkers shambling toward the farm, the penultimate episode left us hanging from the proverbial cliff, dangling by one hand and hoping that the season finale would come along like a knight in shining armor and rescue us from both our breathless expectations and our fear of disappointment.

And boy, did it.

The finale was everything a fan of any television series could ask for.  Well, it could have been two hours long, but that’s really just picking nits.

It was exciting and revelatory and hopeful and well-written and gruesome in all the right ways.  Producer Robert Kirkman had promised character deaths in the season finale, and while none were as surprising as the previous episodes’ offing of both Shane and Dale (Oh, Dale!  Oh, why Dale?!?), the episode certainly did not disappoint.

Ok, I’m done with the non-spoiler portion of this article; here come the GOODS!!!

I’m glad in particular about the exit of Herschel’s son-in-law (?) Jimmy, who never said two words in two episodes and was always in the background waiting to be told what to do in any given situation.  The character was a can of walker spam all season long.

And I’m glad T-Dog survived as well.  It’s bothered me all season that he hasn’t had more to do or say, and hopefully he’ll have more of an active role in the group in Season 3.  His scene with Lori in the truck, while short, was great and shows the ongoing turmoil with the daily choices all of the characters in this upside-down world are forced to make again and again.  Long live the T!

Same for Daryl, though of course there was no real chance of him being killed off.  For one thing, I’m convinced that Daryl could kill ten walkers with his bare hands, using only one finger for each.  I hope that with the exits of Shane and Dale, both of these characters have more up-front time in episodes to come.

And speaking of episodes to come, how about the fade-out shot of the area surrounding the group, with the large ‘facility’ in the background?  Fans of the comics will know what it is, but I won’t spoil it for non-readers here.  Suffice to say, that’s where the group is headed, and there is all sorts of interesting stuff awaiting them when they get there.

And then there’s Michonne.  She’s the bad-ass character every fan of the comic series has been waiting for, the figure in the hooded robe.  Michonne finally slipped in like a ghost and announced herself with a near-silent swish of her samurai blade, saving Andrea in the process.

But of all the big ‘reveals’ (as they are called) in this episode, the departure from the farm, the appearance of Michonne, the glimpse of the large ‘facility’ where Season 3 will take them, I think the most important and interesting piece from the finale is Rick’s speech at the end, in the little encampment “Beside the Dying Fire” (the title of the episode).

Full of regret at being betrayed by and then having to kill his best friend Shane, wracked by the frustration of losing people to walkers even in the relative safety of Herschel’s farm, frightened of the desperate situation the group suddenly finds itself in, and bitter about the apparent rebuke of his own wife, Rick blows up.  He never asked to be the leader of the group, a point he’s made more than once in the past, but people keep looking to him for leadership.  But when things go poorly, he gets the disappointed looks and feels the whispered judgments of everyone around him, his wife and son included.

As next season unfolds, it is likely that Rick’s speech will prove not only to be a critical turning point for the show, with his declaration that “if you choose to stay, this isn’t a democracy anymore!”  It will also be the highlight of the first two seasons, a definitive climax for the first chapter in this awesome, complicated, engrossing story.  Rick tried to keep the peace, tried to give everyone a voice, and tried to mend every broken fence he came across.  And from almost everyone, the only thing he’s gotten in return is grief for the less-than-perfect outcomes and second-guesses at most of his decisions.  Rick Grimes tried to live in the past, as did everyone else.  Much as Herschel tried to mold the environment of the farm into an echo of the former world, so too did Rick try to mold the group into a democracy despite the fall of any discernible civilization around them.

Finally, fed up with trying to do things the old world way, Rick is adapting to the new world around him at last.  In a way, some of Shane’s constant rambling about the necessities of this walker world have rubbed off on him, though not in the way Shane had always hoped.  Rick still values the lives of the group members, and he still wants to keep them all safe, unlike Shane.  However, similar to Shane, Rick no longer values the group’s individual opinions on the best way to get that done.

“Maybe you people can do better without me,” Rick snarls while gesturing with a loaded pistol.  “Go ahead.  There’s the door.  Send me a postcard.”

LOVE IT!!!

I think the most support for Rick’s new attitude came from the most unlikely but perhaps most appropriate member of the group.  When Carol asks Daryl “Does this sound right to you?” Daryl’s mumbled response sums everything up entirely.

“Rick’s always done right by me.”

The rest of the group should sit up and pay attention.  Daryl, the most level-headed and best suited of everyone to survive in this new walker world, Shane and Rick included, is right on the money.

And so was the Season 2 finale.  Bravo!

Advertisements