Although fans of the series peg the finale as the best episode of the series, I much prefer “Pretty Much Dead Already.” It’s when the survivors really go for each other’s throats, and the cast’s performances are top notch. Particularly Jon Bernthal who is just a bull dog ready to do whatever it takes to keep himself safe. Hershel’s big secret was a gruesome one in the comics, and here it works to the same effect.
Hershel is convinced the dead are just sick people, and he’s convinced his family of the same idea. And this has pretty much halted their survival, for better and for worse. They’re lucky they’ve been generally untouched by the apocalypse, but living in such denial eventually leads to catastrophe.
It’s a wonder Hershel never fell victim to the infection. I can only imagine how Maggie and co. would have coped with a zombified Hershel. In either case, while the barn full of walkers is gruesome and spooky, the eventual unleashing of the victims inside the barn as they’re mowed down by bullets is gut wrenching.
Something in Hershel, Maggie, and Beth really believed these were people capable of rehabilitation, and Hershel’s farm has been kept preserved like a mausoleum for their return. It’s only when the survivors arrive do things finally begins to reveal themselves, and Hershel is given a wake up call once and for all. Shane’s insistence on leading the team, Andrea’s genuinely dunderheaded means of following his example, and Rick’s scattering to preserve their environment really chips away at the false Xanadu that is the Greene farm.
The revelation that Lori is having a baby only makes Shane more rabid and out of control. Though he doesn’t say it, he knows it’s his. And Rick has somehow convinced himself that the baby is his own. Either way, this really does carve out the remaining storyline for Lori, and especially Shane. Much of the build up to the barn explosion is pretty fantastic, as Rick runs around trying to calm everyone down, while everyone has their own motives and plans for the barn.
Shane’s confrontation with Dale in the swamp is very tense as I’d originally expected the moment to be the death of either Dale or Shane. While not as effective, it’s interesting to see how Shane accepts his own psychotic persona, and may have even murdered Dale in cold blood if the struggles with the guns persisted.
I really love the finale, if only because director Michelle McLaren stages the execution wonderfully. The reveal of Sophia as a walker is heartbreaking. There was really no other direction her storyline could have gone, but it sucks that the writers never sought fit to expand her character like she’s been expanded in the comic books. She’s alive and well in the original comics, and has grown in to someone really tough. Maggie is also her surrogate mother.
Here, she was nothing more than a side character that proved to be cannon fodder and a giant plot device for the season. That doesn’t detract from the impact of watching her stumble out of the barn, either way. Her look as a zombie is gruesome, but she still looks human, and her flinching at the sun light as she shambled out of the barn is a wonderful touch of humanity in these monsters. Its telling how when the chips are down no one in the group could step forward and end Sophia save for Rick.
In the end, he really has to be the executioner and end all the madness. Despite his willingness to play along with Hershel’s guidelines of treating the dead like they’re people, he still firmly believes that they’re just walking corpses. The final shot to the head of Sophia is just one of the best moments of the series so far. It’s tear jerking, it’s sad, and it depicts how Rick is no nonsense with the important and dirty tasks.
He really becomes the Dirty Harry of the group, committing to tasks no one else wants to do, until season four. The score matched with the final shot to Sophia’s head is brilliant, and it’s definitely an episode that keeps me glued to the screen every single time.