If nothing else, the first half of the second season of “The Walking Dead,” which wrapped up on Sunday (Nov. 27) with a mid-season finale (the show returns on Feb. 12), was a master class in storytelling: specifically, how one person’s actions — even a character who disappears in a show’s season-opening episode — can have massive repercussions for those around her and, to an extent, people she never even met (at least while alive).
We kind of knew it would come to this — beautiful little Sophia (Madison Lintz) emerging from Hershel’s (Scott Wilson’s) barn as a zombie. Though the journey was the part that mattered most — because it was achingly beautiful and even painful to get from there to here. And, honestly, we can’t wait to see where the story will take us next.
But before where we go next, let’s give credit where due: to Robert Kirkman and the rest of the writing team who, like another amazing AMC show — “Breaking Bad” — showed us it is possible to tell a story over several episodes and to plant seeds early in the season that bear strange fruit only in later episodes.
Sophia’s decision to not listen to Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in the season opener when he told her to wait for him while he drew two zombies away from her hiding place on a river bank, set season 2 in motion.
Because of Sophia, Rick and the rest of his group explored a section of Georgia that otherwise would have been a brief pit stop on the way to Fort Benning. Because of Sophia, Carl (Chandler Riggs) was shot in the stomach by the soon-to-be-murdered/eaten Otis (masterfully played by Pruitt Taylor Vince). Because of Sophia, our survivors were led to Hershel’s farm and all of the complications it brought: Glenn (Steven Yeun) found love. Andrea (Laurie Holden) found her purpose (it involves guns and taking what she wants). Daryl Dixon’s (Norman Reedus) heart grew two sizes. Shane (Jon Bernthal) shot a man in cold blood, shaved his head and stripped himself of his humanity (not necessarily in that order) to achieve his own selfish ends.
Anyone who has read the original comic books — though it certainly isn’t a necessity considering the new ground the show is breaking — knows that Robert Kirkman doesn’t flinch when it comes to painting a full picture of a world overrun by zombies. It’s a world where some people become stronger, better versions of themselves and others — as we may see in the second half of the season — are finally able to give free reign to their sickest most sadistic fantasies; a world where a man (Shane, for instance) can justify killing an innocent man in order to ensure his own survival. And a world where even children are not immune from horror.
We’d call “The Walking Dead” — and it’s wallop of a midseason finale — the feel-bad hit of the year if it weren’t for the fact that we can’t seem to stop watching it. Despite flashes of humor here and there, the show is mostly unrelentingly hopeless. Maybe part of what makes it compelling is that it makes us realize how lucky we are to live in a world where we can emotionally and physically afford to be moved by a show about zombies, of all things. A world where we’re more likely to be pepper-sprayed by a Wal-Mart shopper than eaten by a zombie.
P.S. On Tuesday, we’ll talk about where we’re headed in part two of the second season — including Lori’s pregnancy, Dale’s feelings for Andrea, Carl’s growth and what appears to be a big-time group schism — courtesy of an interview with co-executive producer Gale Anne Hurd.