Nobody really knew what to expect from the second season of The Walking Dead. The six-episode first season featured significant departures from the plotline of the original graphic novel. The off-season featured the significant departure of showrunner Frank Darabont — who directed the show’s cinematic premiere and wrote or co-wrote half of the first season. It didn’t help matters that Dead‘s network AMC spent most of 2011 caught in ugly contract negotiations with Mad Men‘s Matthew Weiner and Breaking Bad‘s Vince Gilligan, while also airing the controversially dull The Killing. But, after a slow start, Dead‘s new season picked up considerably in the last couple of weeks. And that was just a warm-up for tonight’s midseason finale. To put it mildly (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER): Oh my holy good sweet Lord, the motherf—ing s— just hit the motherf—ing fan!!!
The episode built up to a double climax: One inevitable and darkly fascinating, the other twisted and genuinely shocking. After Glenn told the Grimes Gang about the zombies inside the barn, Shane and Rick had a severe difference of opinion about how best to handle the undead infestation. Diplomatic Rick sought to make peace with Hershel; militant Shane wanted to kill them all. Shane got his way in a horrifyingly extended sequence. He opened up the barn door, and one-by-one the walkers emerged, and one-by-one they were shot by Shane, Andrea, Glenn, Daryl, and T-Dog, who were all lined up as a firing squad. This scene went on for a long time, and what made it so disturbing was that none of the humans were really in danger.
Then, though, the knife-twist. One final walker tentatively emerged from the barn: A little undead girl, with blonde hair and wide dead eyes. And thus, the season-long Search for Sophia plotline came to a horrifying, bleak conclusion. Sophia’s final fate made much of this season seem darkly funny in hindsight. (Remember when Daryl found the pretty flower and said it proved they’d find Sophia? Nope! It was just a stupid flower! There is no God!) It was a great payoff, especially when Rick stepped forward to put a mercy bullet in her corpse-skull. (If you think about it, there was a neat bit of symmetry there: The first time we ever saw Rick, he went to a gas station and killed a little zombie girl.)
Check out Ken Tucker’s thoughts on the finale, and come back to EW.com at 1 AM ET/10 PM PST for Clark Collis’ interview with Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman, and for my full recap of the episode. In the meantime, start the conversation! And remember: No more Dead until February 12.
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich