The second season of The Walking Dead has been filled with ups and downs... tense nail bitters and simply stupid decisions... characters you care about and the ones you don't... exciting twists and contrived cliches... and pacing and storylines that often stopped and started like a driver who wasn't comfortable handling stick shift.
Maybe the bumpy road had to do with Frank Darabont leaving the series and the changing show runners and dynamics in effect altering the way the season ultimately turned out. Don't get me wrong, when the show was on, it was pulse-poundingly on, but there was plenty that left me scratching my head and wondering what or even where the story was headed after the complacency of the farm forced the characters into making inane choices for the sake of creating the danger the show desperately needed.
And, in turn, the second half of the season garnered a spark that pushed things forward while reigniting interesting confrontation and situations, even if there were times where it still lacked something.
Ultimately, "Beside the Dying Fire" had a mixture of everything: all the zombie fun you could love, a few surprising twists and some truly confounding moments.
It was interesting that the show opened up by essentially explaining how so many walkers happened to arrive at the farm. It's pretty clear they are attracted to noise and eagerly follow it to what seems like the ends of the earth; unless that is, another sound makes them turn in another direction. Maybe a bit forced, but it worked in getting the group off the farm and for that I am thankful.
The way that the walker arrival was shot was visually dramatic in following Rick and Carl stumble along in the darkness before panning in front of them to reveal the herd in the background. It was a moment that gave you a feeling of gleeful terror with a realization that everything was about to become chaos.
And chaos it did become with an action sequence that involved a lot of shooting, car driving and fire burning. Yet as the zombie shoot out continued and the barn came to a crashing end (fun to see, but glad we're finally done with the place), even more characters beyond Shane, Dale, Randall and Sophia met their death.
Who were they? I forgot their names when it happened and had to look it up to remember Jimmy and Patricia (yes, Otis' wife). To be honest, I just didn't care that they didn't make it. And it's not as if their characters were so crazy or so obnoxious or so anything that would make me want them to see their end - but rather the lack of any development for them at all. They were merely walker fodder, a chance to show a lot of blood squirting everywhere and zombies chewing them apart.
It's just hard to care about characters with no depth. Such was even the case when Sophia's fate was revealed. I understand sometimes minor characters have to go, but give them something to do, give them meaning, make the audience care when they finally go. I'm sure you'd have far more of a dramatic impact if Daryl died, if Rick died, or sure, even if Hershel died.
There's no shock and no awe with someone when you can't even remember their name, compared to someone you've learned about and watched grow. I can only hope that season three gives the other characters a chance to be something more, to matter as characters instead of turning them into plot devices. Jimmy and Patrica just turned out to be disappointing throw aways because they never even got the chance to be explored. RIP... whoever you were.
Of course, the series - which does boast a large cast of characters -continued to paint the women as overly emotional, unhelpful and constantly causing more problems. It's just hard to want to like the situations they put themselves in or the way that they act. Why would Maggie try and convince Glenn that they should leave the group? Why would Carol tell Daryl that he's just a henchman and Rick shouldn't be the leader? Why would Lori, who told Rick he should deal with Shane, look disgusted beyond belief that Rick killed Shane?
Really, though, the more I watch her, the less I want her around. Lori can't keep track of Carl to save her life, she makes stupid choices like running after Rick, she tries to tell Rick what to do and then she gets overly upset when Rick tells her he killed Shane. Lori just makes me roll my eyes every time she does something. I can't take her seriously because she seems all over the place.
I really would enjoy watching a female character prove herself as strong, stable and helpfully supportive in surviving the zombie apocalypse. At least, Andrea is certainly headed in that right direction after all her positive efforts in this episode.
Is that possible with the fantastically slick introduction of the hooded figure? I hope so. Many fans of the graphic novels will be pleased with this entrance of the sword wielding, chained zombie totting character, and I can only hope that she remains positively bad ass.
As for the male cast, Rick really had the most time transitioning his character towards something colder and more in control. Declaring no democracy will be an interesting turn of events, but it marks a change in the man. I love getting some great scenes with Rick, although I was surprised at the group's lack of backing in terms of their leader. I mean, c'mon, give the guy a break. He's constantly saving everyone's life. I just hope this new path doesn't send him spiraling out of control like Shane. We all know how Shane ended up.
I'm even glad he told everyone about Dr. Jenner's whispered secret. It not only gave the mythology of the show some progress but finally revealed the unsettling truth that you don't have to be bitten to turn into a walker.
Even his declaration that he killed Shane was a great out in the open revelation. Although I really can't understand why everyone seemed upset with his decisions. Finally, someone makes some good choices and everyone gets mad? Why don't we try jumping back down into wells containing walkers? I just hope their disagreement doesn't last long. The survivors need some unification.
But the true final moments were worthy of that season three set up concerning a new location. What is that gigantic building? Is it a prison? Will it be a far better set up then the farm?
It's hard not to like The Walking Dead. Even with its missteps and leaps of faith regarding choices and plot direction, the show proves to be an addicting piece of television. Sure, it wasn't a perfect finale but it did offer plenty of tidbits to prepare viewers for what's to come and successfully closed the doors on Hershel's farm. And what was up with that helicopter...
What did you think of the finale? As always, sound off with your burning comments and questions below!
Sean McKenna is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.