So, work… yeah… As many of you may know, I’ve got an internship in New York City writing about music. This last week or so has been a pretty busy one for my company because the annual SXSW Music Festival is being held in Austin, Texas. Much like CMJ in the fall in New York City, SXSW is supposed to be a week long showcase of up-and-coming independent music acts (though there are some fairly big names there this year like Jay-Z), and my company is hosting one of many showcases in Austin. My boss flies out Thursday to start shooting for the event and doing artist interviews with the musicians who are playing our sets, and he wanted me to help him come out with the questions for half the artist interviews, so for obvious reasons, I’ve been pretty busy since The Walking Dead aired the penultimate episode of Season 2 doing research on the artists playing our shows and coming up with questions that would be appropriate for all of these different musicians. On that note though, Holy Hell! What an episode! Actually, let me rephrase that. What an awesome beginning and then end with an okay and considerable step forward from last week middle. As long as you don’t screw up the finale horribly, The Walking Dead has re-earned its trust with me and I will be returning for next season despite my concerns last week that the show was beyond repair.

After Dale got his stomach ripped out (and then got put out of his misery by Daryl), the Grimes gang has had a chance to recollect on the slippery slope they had been going down when they were about to execute Randall. While Rick is making a grand speech about living up to the better part of their nature and honoring Dale’s memory by being better men/women, the scene is edited with back and forth shots of some of the angrier survivors (Daryl, Shane, Andrea, T-Dogg) going on a Walker hunt and brutally murdering every Walker they could find. It turns out that after deciding to let Randall live, the group is going to go back to their original plan of letting him free as far from the camp as possible. Shane still isn’t happy about this and hatches a plan to bust Randall free. He leads Randall into the woods pretending that he wants to join Randall’s group; instead, Shane snaps Randall’s neck and then busts his own head against a tree to make it look like Randall attacked him. Shane organizes a posse to track down Randall so that he can get him and Rick alone to kill Rick. When it is just him and Rick, Rick realized what Shane’s plan was the whole time. When it first looks like Rick is trying to talk Shane out of killing him, Rick gets close enough to stab Shane in the chest. Carl shows up and points a gun at his dad although he’s not really pointing the gun at Rick because Shane has turned into a Walker (because you turn just from dying not just being scratched/bitten), and Carl shoots Shane in the head. As Rick holds his son, the camera pans over the hill where a horde of Walkers is amassing.

Part of me just wants to breeze through this review (because Justified comes on at 10 and I still need to finish watching Downfall which I was really enjoying), but this episode represents The Walking Dead at its best and at its occasional worst so we’ll give this one the examination it deserves. How about that long wide-angle shot of Shane and Rick in the field where all we can see is their silhouette and the nearly full moon above them? AMC is the home for programs with cinematic visual ambitions (think about how gorgeous the cinematography is on Breaking Bad and how distinct the visual style of Mad Men is), and for the first time since that scene with Carl and the deer (before Carl got shot), the show achieved an almost Mallickian level of visual beauty. Similarly, the decision to edit together the scenes of Rick’s eulogy for Dale with the rest of the group showing that perhaps they didn’t have “better angels” of their nature was brilliant. I actually kind of thought it was a little heavy-handed at first, but it’s grown on me in retrospect especially considering how Shane proved just how far he’d snapped. The Walking Dead will never be a top-tier drama, but it has the ability to be stylish and Sunday’s episode captured that spectacularly. Those final scenes between Rick and Shane were just ultra-tense and you knew that they weren’t both making it out of their alive. I thought Daryl was going to show up and put a crossbow bolt between Shane’s eyes (or that Carl was going to do it pre-zombie like in the comics). I did not think that Rick had it in him to stab his best friend in the chest, but it made for great TV.

The middle part of the episodes were a little weaker but not nearly as bad as last week’s shit show. Hershel is potentially bipolar considering how often that man changes his mind about what to do with these guys, and Glenn and Maggie started out cute and a highlight of the week season. Now that the show is adding seemingly unnecessary drama to their courtship, they’re becoming as annoying as everyone else. Rick is continuing to prove Shane’s point that he’s kind of a shitty dad because it basically took Shane calling him an asshole to talk to his son about what happened with Dale. Lori remains one of the most aggravating lead characters on TV and nothing can happen that won’t make me cringe every second she’s on screen unless a zombie eats her. The episode was sort of unnecessarily cheery at times, but since it was setting up for the big shock at the end, I understand why they wanted to get you emotionally off guard. I guess things were going so well that it just seemed like they were over-selling that something bad had to happen. However, I am terrified of the dark (or at least being outside in the woods in the dark) so the moments where Daryl and Glen were looking for Randall in the woods worked very well because they definitely captured the sheer paranoia of a situation like that.

I’m actually excited for this season’s finale. It can’t be any worse than the CDC debacle from last year, and the trailers seem to promise a pretty epic conclusion. This series works best not as an action-fueled bullet fest like the Dawn of the Dead remake but instead as a tense and suspenseful horror series with characters we care about. This season has done a really bad job of making us care about the characters (in fact, it’s made me actively dislike most of them) and it’s tried to be a legitimate drama instead of a thriller. I am predicting that the Grimes gang (along with Hershel’s family) end up trapped in the farmhouse as the Walkers swarm it at which point everyone is forced to abandon the relative safety of the farm which will provide the lead in to next season. I’m just hoping that we see the prison by the end of the finale or at least a glimpse of Michonne or the Governor. All in all though, it was a good episode with great moments and a lot of mediocre stuff in between. We’ll call it progress.

Final Score: B+