Review: The Walking Dead – Season 2, Episode 13: “Beside the Dying Fire”

The season finale of “The Walking Dead” was, for lack of a more captivating word,  fantastic. It was beautifully photographed and choreographed packing the right amount of action with solid narrative. It was very reminiscent of the types of episodes we got to see in season 1. In fact, this was the best episode since the pilot.

Iconic Shot Into Atlanta

I couldn’t care for most of the second 2 and its soap opera/love triangle/who is the father of my baby/the jilted ex lover going psycho/Days of Our zombie Lives stagy drama about basically two Alphas being engaged in a “who has the bigger dick” debate.

Or that dumb kid Carl roaming around the farm in the zombie apocalypse unsupervised for no other reason than to move the plot along when convenient; or the trite, oftentimes idiotic and hollow dialogues apparently written by a bunch of college freshmen who still haven’t taken that “Writing 140 for Freshman” class read any literature other than comics it seems; or how the entire season was about those three above mentioned people and their petty problems while the other characters were grossly neglected and in fact were slowly moved to the background becoming mere props and scene fillers while Rick and Shane worked out the question of who exactly has ownership of Lori and Carl.

I didn’t care for any of that and most fans of the show didn’t either. Season two was mostly slow and uneventful with boring episodes interspersed sparsely with real thought and engagement.

But the finale almost made up for all those comatose episodes. This episode was intense, dark, scary, heart-breaking and terrifying – all at once. I was nailed to my seat the whole time, which I can’t say of any of the other episodes in this season really.

A few thoughts:

– Lori has got to go. She is selfish, unreasonable and ungrateful. An overall unlikable character and actress. Totally miscast. She is a terrible mother (she fucking never knows where Carl is),  disloyal wife, lousy friend and she’s always treating Rick like crap.

Even in the pilot, when Rick talks about her and what she said to him in front of their son and when she herself, in flashbacks, talks about her marriage and what she said to Rick, it is evident that she treated him like crap all the time. She slept with Shane a couple of days after her husband was murdered and when the shit hit the fan, she refused to take any responsibility for it and instead hid behind Rick to fix it.

A few episodes ago she pillow talked Rick into getting rid of Shane or doing something about him. Now that he did fix it – and that only in self defense – she is all upset and disgusted and looks at him like he was the worst human being. Urgh. This woman. I cant wait for her to turn into the zombie she really is at heart.

Daryl and Carol

– Carol is meek and annoying. I am tired of her victim, door-mat mentality. She always complains, whines and blames others for not doing stuff for her: whining to Rick, whining to Daryl. She never does anything but clean and cook and whine. Daryl was right “What do you want?” What does she want? She is stabbing Rick in the back for no apparent reason and questioning his dedication and leadership. Rick only treated her with utmost kindness and respect, he never raised his voice on her. And it wasn’t his fault Sophia got out from under the car and ran into the woods and then again moved even though he told her to stay put.

And so what he lied about the virus? That doesnt make him someone “who is capable of anything. ”

I thought Carol’s character was interesting at first but I don’t see it going anywhere except for her just instigating hate and making people turn on each other. She strikes me as one of those people from the Salem Witch Trials who just screams “witch” and everyone listens to her because she is quiet and calm otherwise.

I also don’t get what the deal is with Daryl and her. What does Daryl see in her? And what does she want out of him? Love, romance, protection? What?

– I like Maggie. I didn’t at first but she is cool and she finally grew up and she has integrity too.

– I don’t like that they are trying to make Rick sound mean or as some sort of a second Shane. They all looked at him like he was Ted Bundy when all he did was defend himself. I mean, the guy was being led to the woods to be murdered by his best friend who was after his wife and son. And people look at him like it was his fault. Rick gave everything for the group; he has character, integrity and loyalty – which is more than can be said of a lot of people here – yet the first respite they get, they blame him.

– Andrea is a trooper. I love her. She is the only woman who doesn’t act like a stereotype and like she couldn’t take a step without a man telling her or ordering her to – like Lori and Carol and those farm girls (except for Maggie). Lori is an idiot who defines herself based on the men she sleeps with it. Carol is meek, but Andrea, she risked her life to rescue Carol and she made her way out of that terrifying chaos surrounded by Walkers; on foot no less. She kept running and running and the whole time I kept thinking “how does she do that, she is amazing.” She is a fighter to the last minute and she has character and is loyal.

It strikes me as bizarre that everyone is always interested in Lori and Carol and that throughout most of season 2 Andrea’s character was neglected.

Andrea has great leadership potential  and is overall just a great and quite intriguing character. If Rick takes his head out of Lori’s ungrateful ass for once and stops being hung up on making her happy, he will see that and actually work with Andrea as opposed to ordering her around. I think they are all taking her for granted but they know that if push comes to shove, she is “the man”. Remember Rick entrusted her last episode with keeping an eye on Shane. He knew he could count on her and if you noticed, he doesn’t talk to her the way he talks to the other woman. He talks to her like she is one of the guys. She should go out there with Daryl too taking down Walkers – they’d make a great team.

– Glenn is cool. I have always liked his character. He was made to be meek halfway through season 2 but they picked up his character finally.

– Hershel is cool too. I forgive him his references to christ and the bible. He is an old man set in his ways and he views the world from that angle he was indoctrinated into, even though I think he actually has come to terms with the fact that all that christ stuff is nonsense at this juncture.

I sincerely hope the writers don’t venture out into soap territory come season 3 and are able to keep a deft balance between character development and adventure. The slow parts should built up to something like we have seen in this episode. In fact, this episode is great because they have moved away from that petty party that was the farm and the love triangle.

Where to now?

I understand that not all episodes can be about running away, but the focus of the show must shift from soap opera drama into survival and overcoming real life and death challenges as opposed to bickering internally. Confclit is good but it shouldnt hijack the show’s overarching theme.

The Walkers have to also be treated as another character as opposed to the incidental backdrop for these characters to work out their petty quarrels and for the producers to check off their list that they made an appearance for posterity in any given episode.

I also hope they actually use Daryl, Andrea and the other characters more during the next season, develop them and their friendships and roles in the group. It is a shame a lot of them were neglected so badly that the actors playing them (Jeffrey DeMunn and Jon Bernthal) felt the need to quit.

This episode introduced an important character form the comics, Michonne, who is seen in one shot here saving Andrea with two zombies in tow as pets almost. It had a very comic-y feel to it and I am afraid that this might be the direction the show will take on in season 3.

I always thought that one of the strengths of this show was that it depicted a sense of “realism”.  There weren’t any instances of magic guns with unlimited ammo, there weren’t really illogical twists, there was emotion with the death of friends and loved ones, and there was a feeling of doing whatever it takes to survive. In fact, when I was watching season 1, everything made sense and I felt like I had to suspend disbelief minimally. I was totally blown away because that is rare.

But as season 2 rolled along,  making it the disappointment it has been for the most,  I felt that I had ot suspend disbelief quite frequently, which I must says has been a contributing factor of my stark criticism of season 2 thus far.

I still love the finale but eventually all this bad writing and sloppiness has been catching on, such as stealthy zombies, or Daryl saying “I got a tip Sophia is in this direction“, as if there existed some sort of a zombie tip off hotline in the apocalypse, Rick and that horrible woman Lori letting Carl roam around without supervision in the zombie apocalypse, a zombie tearing off a man’s chest cavity with his bare hands, not having a contingency plan or meet up point in case the farm is overrun, risking Glenn getting killed in the well with the dead Walker even though the contamination had already occurred and there was fresh bottled water at the freeway jam, Hershel’s son sitting in the RV with the windows rolled down casually and the door unlocked…you name it.

For most people this is no big deal, but it gnaws at the believability of a show.

Everyone is Infected. Everyone is the Walking Dead

The most unbelievable part of The Walking Dead has been how they treat the infection issue, asserting that this was Jenner’s secret he whispered into Rick’s ear and that the child Lori is pregnant with might possess the immunity in its blood from which antigens can be created to save the survivors.

It is unclear, however, why Jenner would have lied to them about the virus having infected everyone. He had them locked up and tried to convince them to blow themselves up and die. He was having a hard time convincing them and only reluctantly opened the door. Such a revelation would have served beautifully in that capacity. So why did he not say it? And how would they even get the antibodies of that baby to vaccinate everyone. There are no labs left, no equipment, maybe even no scientists. It’s not like you are baking a cake and just need to come up with the ingredients. Making a vaccine is not something you can just do without proper facilities.

In this regard this show doesn’t make sense more often than not and it looks like season 3 will be more of the same, especially now that they will enter comic book characterizations and story lines.

I don’t know what is worse: soap opera story telling when you write about the apocalypse or comic book story telling. I do like comic book villains but not in The Walking Dead. Such fantastic depictions would really take away the show from its powerful origins and realism that has made it so enticing.

If there is one thing I have learned about what makes a great zombie movie, then it is the extent to which the story is truly believable.  The closer to real life the zombie apocalypse is depicted, the more authentic, more sinister and terrifying it appears because it allows the audience to identify with the protagonists and those in peril as opposed to just being the audience watching what happens to others with whom they do not share much. The more you share with movie you are watching, the more authentic and cerebral the experience.  That is what draws you in. Moving The Walking Dead into comic book realm might really work against this goal.

There is a great canvas to work with here and I hope the writers will see that and stop messing up or making this up as they go along. I mean don’t these people rehearse the scripts they write first, wondering whether what they have the actors say makes sense and is something real people, in real situations, would say and do? Just because this is a movie, one should not write a script with the “suspend disbelief” factor as a given or get slopping hoping the audience will either not notice or “understand” because this is a movie after all and you have to suspend disbelief.

Overall, this was a great episode paying homage to some of the best and most exciting zombie moments and greatly enriching the genre.  The best since the pilot.

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