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.