The Walking Dead: Beside the Dying Fire

Posted on March 19, 2012

For the first time since last season, we realized at the commercial breaks that we’d been holding our breath and didn’t even know it. Welcome back, Walking Dead. We missed you.

We’re not supposed to let perfect be the enemy of good (or so we’re told), so we’ll try not to rant too much that in an episode where so many things were done right, the writers still couldn’t find a way to not make Lori look like an unreasonable bitch. But let’s shelve that for a moment so as not to sound too negative right off the bat.

Like a lot of people, we weren’t particularly invested in, or had high hopes for, the season finale. In fact, as late as yesterday evening we were asking each other, “Is there anything good on TV tonight?” forgetting completely about this show because it rarely gave us much reason to look forward to it this season. But from the opening seconds right to the very end, we got exactly the kind of show we always knew Walking Dead could be: gripping, horrifying, and full of human emotion and characters worth rooting for. With Shane and Dale gone, we truly didn’t want to see any more core members die right now and that says pretty good things to us because a couple of weeks ago, we wouldn’t have cared if the whole group got wiped out and a new one inserted into the story, so badly were these characters handled this season.

Granted, if you want to be a total bitch about (if we didn’t already know people with the name, we’d start an online campaign to turn “Lori” into a synonym for bitch, as in “if you want to be a total Lori about it…”), you could say that even in this episode, it got a little hard to root for this group because of all the incredibly stupid things they did, one right after another, but hey, we got to see zombie carnage and isn’t that at least half the reason why one watches a zombie story? Not long philosophical conversations or dysfunctional love triangles or pregnancy drama; not nameless suicidal characters or weeks-long searches for characters whose names we didn’t even know before they went missing, just a lot of terror and the occasional exploding zombie head is enough to keep us in the game. That makes us sound like a couple of mouthbreathers, but really, what’s the point of doing  zombie story if you’re not gonna occasionally take a pickaxe to some zombie head? Sure, the human drama is what drives the story, but the problem with Season 2 was that none of the human drama was particularly interesting.

But that’s what made this episode such a standout, because not only did we get zombie heads exploding left and right, when the characters stopped shooting long enough to have a conversation, they were actually talking about stuff worth listening to. That doesn’t mean everything that came of their mouths was perfectly realized, however. Lori, as we indicated, may just be the most unlikeable woman on television right now. If we thought the writers intended that, we’d applaud them for their deftness, but since she’s easily the least consistent character on the show, we doubt that was the goal. In the books, Lori’s not particularly likeable, but that’s mostly written as a result of stress. She has a tendency to argue a lot and mouth off to people when they piss her off. That’s not the worst trait in the world to have and we always liked that Lori had such a strong personality in the books. But the Lori of the TV show isn’t like that. She’s manipulative and high strung; she attacks other people at the drop of a hat; she’s somewhat appallingly retrograde in her ideas about women and men, yet still can’t manage to be a mother to her child for longer than 2 minutes at a time; she cheated on her husband and then pushed him into thinking he would have to kill her lover in order to protect her family, and then acted with revulsion when she finds out he actually did it. What exactly is this character about? Except for embodying all the very worst traits women-hating men think all women possess? If they want to go ahead and make her villainous, fine; just give her the slightest bit of consistency, would you, writers? Give us a reason why she acts the way she does. Lori wasn’t the only woman who came off a little crazy this season and even in this episode, Carole didn’t wind up looking so hot. Where did this sudden resistance come from? “We deserve better?” Really, Carole? The world has fallen apart around you, your whole family is dead, and you’re whining to Darryl about self-respect? Come on now.

But those are the only complaints about the interactions. The scene at the end where Rick finally loses it was chilling and even better, offered a philosophical question worth pondering. Enough of this paper-thin crap about hope in a hopeless world. “This is no longer a democracy” is MUCH more engrossing a concept to consider. The whole point to post-apocalyptic stories – or at least, a big part of the appeal – is to force the audience to ask the question “What would I do in this situation?” Listening to Rick coldly go just a little crazy in front of the group, and watching the group fearfully and wordlessly eye each other around that meager campfire was one of the best moments of the series yet. What WOULD you do if you needed to rely on someone to keep the group together, only to find out that person is cracking under the strain? And does Rick have a point? Is it better to just turn over the decision-making to him? It’s easy to argue that he’s made a lot of dumb choices, but it’s just as easy to point to the group and say, “None of you would be here if it weren’t for Rick.”

And it makes a certain amount of sense for the character. After all, if there was an underlying theme to this season it was about a group where too many people were trying to take control, from Herschel, to Dale, to Shane, and even in her own manipulative way, to Lori; it seems like everyone this season was up in Rick’s grill, bitching about his decisions or trying to change his mind. In Rick’s mind, the invasion of the farm was a result of all that in-fighting and if he’d just been allowed to be the dictator he thinks he should be, things would’ve gone a lot smoother.

On the other hand, it gets a little tough to root for people who are so consistently stupid. Why any of them thought they could stay on that farm indefinitely was never really explained. Why they never considered fortifying the area or coming up with defense and escape plans also eludes us. They spent their entire time on that farm arguing, but never doing anything to prepare for the inevitable day when their oasis would be challenged.

But what’s passed is past and we’d rather focus on the show’s newfound energy, hoping that the creators will be able to sustain it going forward having learned what not to do with these characters. They are finally off that frigging farm, and with the last-second introduction of one of the books’ most memorable characters and a literal last-second hint as to where the group is going next (no spoilers in the comments section, please), we’re at that place we didn’t think as recently as a week ago we’d ever be: missing the show already and counting the days until season three. In the immortal words of RuPaul, writers, don’t fuck this up.


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