At last the finale, the day we all knew was coming eventually: The day the farm ceases to be a viable microcosmic civilization for Rick Grimes, his family, Herschel’s family, and their ragtag social contract. And, more essentially, the day we find out the secret that was planted just out of our earshot at the conclusion of the first season.
But first we get a little Planet Earth-style walker footage, with the story of a walker migration told through a series of powerful visual anecdotes. First, the helicopter. Where did that come from? Someone’s flying it, and if you know anything about helicopters you know they are a bitch to maintain. So there’s capacity to keep the thing in the air. OK. That sounds like infrastructure. Good sign.
But I digress. First we have the walkers shuffling in pursuit of the helicopter and, apparently, never stopping. A walker in motion stays in motion. Do they follow flocking rules the same way that birds do? Flocking rules call for alignment—averaging out the distance between members of a flock—and cohesion—steering toward a common long-term location. For birds, it also includes separation—avoiding obstacles and other near-term navigational hazards. While the flock of walkers seems to abide by the rules of alignment and cohesion, they utterly lack in the separation department—as we see when they coalesce behind a fence en masse until the pressure grows too great and they burst through. This inevitable force never met an immovable object.
And what an unfortunate thing to come creeping up just as Rick was dispensing Shane. It makes for a taut opening to the episode: The long shot of Rick struggling through the difficult revelation to his son of if/why Rick killed Shane. With darkness as a backdrop, we’re left with a delicious bit of dramatic irony, waiting for the walkers to emerge out of the darkness behind our heroes. And as soon as we see them, we know it is on.
Things move quickly from here. How apt that Rick and Carl end up trapped in the barn—now it’s the walkers on the outside and the people on the inside, an inversion on the farm when they found it, with Herschel hoarding loved-ones-turned-walkers in the same barn.
The rest of the farm springs to action and the fog of war takes over. As everyone in the house takes to the cars and starts picking off walkers cavalry-style, it becomes hard to account for everyone. Andrea gets separated and no one knows if she is hurt or dead. Rick tries to be noble but gets talked out of it by Herschel, who points out it’s all about the boy. We’re reminded of The Road, where the hope we place in the offspring becomes the only meaning left on a bleak landscape.
The fog of war also nearly claims Lori, who for a moment seems likely to be T-Dog’s unwilling captive as they flee the scene, but T-Dog relents (since he’s a prop, not a character), and in no time we have a reunion back where this season started. I saw some folks on Twitter complaining about how Lori is the source of every problem in this show, and while that’s a little drastic, I share the overall yawn.
All the driving around shooting walkers and the slow overrun of the farm offers quite the suspenseful finale, but it’s what happens after the survivors get away that leaves us all on edge for next season. Rick seems to snap, confessing to the group after they’ve set camp that it was he that killed Shane, that he did it for them, that he “had no choice,” and that this is no longer a democracy (so long for that social contract). And, oh yeah, all of us are infected, too. When we die we’ll be walkers. Just in case you were holding out for heaven or a natural death.
We’ve talked before about the existential milieu at work in this series, and this revelation takes it to a new level. While I’ll be the first to admit I feared a slippage in the zombie rules, the “all infected” revelation rings true, and it ties the season together and drops it in the bottom of a bleak existential pond. Camus said that
The good man, the man who infects hardly anyone is the man who has the fewest lapses of attention. And it needs tremendous will-power and a never ending tension of the mind to avoid such lapses.
That all rings true for the Walking Dead world as we knew it prior to this dirty little secret coming out—I figured Rick was all about being this “good man” who doesn’t infect. But when everyone is infected yet another pillar in the need for meaning is cast aside and we’re left teetering on the edge of why bother.
But fortunately there’s something new. A prison! Yes, there’s a secure place to hang out. Let’s just lock ourselves in there. And there’s a ninja in the woods! With pet walker amputees in tow! Yes, that should be good, especially with Andrea now playing ninja sidekick (clearly this is Michionne, well known from the comics).
A new setting, a new house to be locked into with the monsters, and some new blood all offer some promise, but it will be interesting to see how the dramatic tension is maintained now that no one is uninfected. The stakes have been raised, and at some point I start to wonder what’s left. These people are all seriously fucked.
We’re left with Rick. The fascinating psyche Shane brought to bear has been stabbed in the heart, and the less-interesting protagonist remains. He’s got some demons now doesn’t he? He really wants to clean his hands of Shane’s murder, as if this were possible. I’m thinking of Lady MacBeth again, but this time it’s Rick and not Lori following her lead. Rick dips his hands in the ocean, wishes for absolution, eyes closed as all the season incarnadine.