S2E13: Stick a fork in her, she's done. If we didn't understand just how over civilization really is for the characters on The Walking Dead, the Season Two finale clears that up pretty resolutely. In one hour, we watch the world burn, lose a few slightly significant characters, and witness the death of the Rick we know and his resurrection as a new, darker leader. The world as we know it is over.
"It's my farm." -Hershel
"Not anymore." -Rick
For fans who've been wingeing all season about the lack of blood, guts, and groaning walkers, the finale delivered a larger order than any of use could have anticipated. The first scene takes us back to Atlanta, where the helicopter Rick saw in Season One is once again patrolling the air. The walkers population has run out of food and a swarm of undead vacate the city and head out into the wild. We watch the walkers discover Hershel's farm from their perspective: Carl's gunshot sounds in the distance and they all charge towards them.
We've never seen how extensive this epidemic really is. We've only heard numbers and projections from other scared survivors, so to see the lack of hope manifested in an overwhelming herd of walkers was not only emotionally wrenching, but a confirmation of our worst fears.
And it's a confirmation of the survivors' worst fears too. Rick and Carl, left in an open field, escape the walkers by sheltering themselves in the barn long enough to lure the flesh-cravers in and burn them (un)alive. The rest of the group realizes the house won't hold and they use the cars to get close to the herd and pick them off one-by-one. That plan works until it doesn't and they realize there are too many to even make a dent before they run out of ammo. As if the situation wasn't hopeless enough already.
And that's when we start losing people. Lori and the women are in the house with Hershel out front shooting approaching walkers, but she won't leave because she can't find Carl. Fight or flight eventually kicks in and she, Patricia, Carol and Beth escape, but not before Carol gets separated and Patricia is taken down by a walker. And the judgement calls keep coming: Jimmy saves Carl and Rick but pays the price of a gory death, Lori and T-Dogg have to leave Andrea and Carol, Rick and Hershel leave without knowing if Lori survived, and Maggie and Glenn have to save themselves. Luckily for Carol, Daryl hears her screams and picks her up on his hog; they ride away as countless walkers crawl over the farm and the burning barn collapses in a fiery implosion.
While Season One's CDC explosion was huge, nothing has appeared quite as apocalyptic as the final shot of Hershel's beloved farm. Coupled with the impact of the visual, we're faced with a crippling notion in this scene: our heroes, the people we've followed blindly for two seasons, are forced to make selfish decisions in order to survive. The images of the farm are awash with the guilt the massacre's survivors.
"Where? Where is safe? We're not splittin' up." -Rick
The survivors all take off like bats out of hell, but it's not long before the weight of the last few hours take hold. Maggie is racked with guilt and begs Glenn to go back to the farm - an option that would only result in more deaths. He calms her down, tells her there's nothing to go back to and finally admits that of course he loves her and he has for a long time. (Coming face to face with a barrage of walkers will do that.) Glenn takes the wheel and heads towards the highway pileup where Season Two began.
Rick is the first there and he almost leaves - signalling his need to survive over waiting for his wife to potentially return - but just as he tells Carl they need to leave, Daryl, Glenn and T-Dogg all pull their vehicles up to the resting spot.
The survivors discuss who's been left behind, causing a wave of tears for viewers and characters alike. Everyone who's gone was seen by at least one survivor, but Andrea's death is unaccounted for. They all look to Rick for guidance and he's determined not to make the Sophia mistake again: he opts to give up hope for Andrea despite the lack of evidence of her death and they all move on. The image of the message they left for Sophia, now washed away by the elements, is the lasting visual mark of Rick's new philosophy.
"What ever it is, we all carry it." -Rick
But the survivors can't stay on the highway, they learned that lesson in the first episode of the season. They all move on, but it's not long before one of the cars runs out of fuel, leaving just one compact SUV and Daryl's motorcycle as transportation for a sizable group of people. Rick makes the judgement call that they all stay together no matter what. Evening is nearing, so he commands they camp on the road until morning. The stationary moments get everyone talking and Rick finally comes out with his big secrets.
Rick finally needs to come clean, but not about Shane: about what Jenner said to him as the CDC was about to explode. The secret message explains the biteless walkers: everyone is infected, which would indicate that the virus is actually airborne.
Rick's omission causes a rift in the group, but he tells Lori he wasn't sure until he killed Shane and his best friend reanimated in minutes. She's shocked and he explains that Shane drew on him first, but then he confesses the truth we suspected, but didn't know for sure: Rick wanted Shane dead because he couldn't take the rivalry any longer. That kills Lori, but the real punch to the gut seems to be the fact that Carl, her sweet innocent child, had a gun and used it to shoot Shane. That was the one thing she fought most ardently, and not only did Carl shoot, but he shot his surrogate father. In a few short minutes, Rick's bond with his wife is ruptured.
But then, it's time for Rick to confess to the group. When Carol challenges his expertise and authority, he rants so hard he comes out with the truth about Shane, something that shocks everyone: this person isn't Rick, but a terrifying unpredictable leader they've got no choice but to follow.
In the final moments of the episode, just before Rick's big speech, we find Andrea still trucking somewhere in the woods, but she's running out of steam and a walker finally catches up to her. Just as it seems she's fought through the night, killing walkers with her bare hands, all for nothing, a hooded figure with a katana slashes the walker and saves Andrea. (We've got a rundown of who this mysterious character here, but don't click if you want to avoid spoilers.)
The final shot of the episode should inspire excitement in any fan of the comics: not far from the survivors' makeshift camp is The Prison, one of the most exciting settings from the series. The following day, the group will seek fuel and we can bet they will find the fort instead. And if showrunner Glen Mazzara's teasers about Season 3 are accurate, it won't take them long to find this exciting, new place.
Are you still team Rick? Has he lost his humanity, or is he just adapting to the new world? Who do you think the hooded character is and why does he or she keep two walkers chained at her side? Let us know in the comments or get at me on Twitter @KelseaStahler