Last night the groundbreaking AMC series The Walking Dead, developed for television by acclaimed filmmaker Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist) and blockbuster producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator, Aliens) and based on the Image Comics series created by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard, ended its first season on a somber and occasionally revealing note that valued the further development of the show’s principal characters and the severity of their situation over gruesome zombie carnage, and it proved to be a powerful finale that raised a few questions and for me at least was only somewhat disappointing. The ratings for the finale are not in yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the episode pulled in even more viewers than last week’s edition, which drew 2.8 million viewers, the show’s biggest audience since the highly-hyped Halloween night premiere.
Continue reading for a SPOILER-filled overview of The Walking Dead Season 1 Finale.
The season finale, titled “TS-19”, was directed by Guy Ferland from a teleplay by Adam Fierro. After suffering heavy losses following an attack of “walkers” (the humans’ nickname for the zombies), a group of survivors led by former Georgia sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), the show’s central male character, head for the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, a city that the characters of The Walking Dead have spent a lot of time in despite it being overrun by flesh-eating shambling corpses. At the beginning of “TS-19” Grimes and the group, which includes his estranged wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), his son Carl (Chandler Riggs), his best friend and partner on the police force Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal), and survivors Andrea (Laurie Holden), Dale (Jeffery DeMunn), Glenn (Steven Yuen), Jacqui (Jeryl Prescott), Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), Carol (Melissa McBride) and her children, and T-Dog (IronE Singleton), are allowed entrance into the sealed CDC facility by skeptical scientist Dr. Jenner (Noah Emmerich), the last man left in the center after the others either fled for the lives or committed suicide.
Jenner offers the group a sanctuary in the underground portion of the center complete with all the comforts of home, albeit with limits: good food, hot showers, and couches and cots for sleeping. After living a life on the run from hordes of the undead for what seems like an eternity, Grimes and the other survivors feel like they can finally take a breather, but all is not well in their new residence. They expect Dr. Jenner to provide them with some answers behind the cause of the zombie outbreak and maybe a sense of hope but the besieged scientist, who was prepared to take his own life before the survivors showed up on the doorstep of the CDC, has hit a dead end with his research. He shows the others a brainscan of “Test Subject 19” (the identity of whom provides an illuminating revelation in the final moments of the show), a human who was bit by a walker and volunteered to have their own transformation recorded for posterity. The recording of the human brain as it dies from the infection and then is slowly resurrected with only the need to eat and survive the last remnant of the subject’s brain functions gives Grimes and company an insight into how the virus works but doesn’t give them any hope for a possible cure.
Adding to their problems is Jenner’s revelation that in less than eleven hours the center’s power surplus will run out completely. The doctor is then forced to accept that this may truly be the end for the human race and takes drastic measures to ensure that he and his fellow survivors don’t have to face a world of constantly living in fear. He seals himself inside the main research area along with Grimes and the others as the center’s main computer prepares to launch a containment protocol (established to protect against a terrorist attack or any catastrophe that would unleash the many viral weapons inside the CDC upon the world) that would vaporize the facility and everyone left inside. With time running out Grimes takes it upon himself to try and convince the haunted Jenner to let him and the others take their chances in the outside world.
“TS-19” is not without its fair share of harrowing and emotional moments, the most disturbing of which is the scene where Shane attempts to force himself sexually on Lori, the wife of his best friend and partner. Early in the series it had been revealed that Lori, under the impression that her husband Rick was dead, had been carrying on an affair with Shane, the de facto leader of a group of survivors living in a wooded area on the outskirts of Atlanta, and her own son Carl had come to accept Shane as a surrogate father in Rick’s absence. After Rick re-entered the picture, Lori furiously rejected Shane and accused him of taking advantage of her following her husband’s hospitalization in the opening moments of the series premiere, but Shane insists he really thought Rick was dead the last time he visited him in the hospital as all hell was breaking loose. Meanwhile Rick still isn’t aware of what happened between Shane and Lori while he was gone, and in the fifth episode, “Wildfire,” as he and Shane were in the woods checking for possible walkers, Shane contemplated shooting his friend. The Rick/Lori/Shane triangle remained unresolved at the close of the finale, leaving the complex situation to continue well into the next season, which looks to premiere next Halloween.
Another of the show’s emotional highlights involves the decision made by Andrea to remain in the facility as the others try to escape. Having lost all hope following the brutal death of her sister Amy (Emma Bell) in the zombie attack that concluded the fourth episode “Vatos,” Andrea’s choice compels her friend Dale, the oldest and often wisest member of the group, to stay behind as well in an attempt to talk her out of staying in there to die. Ultimately Dale manages to talk some sense into her and they are able to escape before the CDC is destroyed by the containment protocol, but the moment is so rushed that we never get to see Andrea come to her senses and choose life in the end, and the look on her face in the final moments of the episode indicate she may have regretted her decision to leave.
Before the survivors flee the center, Jenner offers some parting words to Rick, words that he whispers in his ear. Since what the scientist said was inaudible to the audience, it will doubtless be a topic of debate among fans of the series for the next eleven months.
Here are some other questions and minor complaints that were on my mind as the end credits rolled on “TS-19” and the first season of The Walking Dead:
– Whatever happened to Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker), the problematic member of Shane’s group who Rick first met, along with Glenn, Andrea, T-Dog, and several others in Atlanta in the second episode, and was forced to handcuff to a pipe on the roof of a building that, at the close of that show, was about to be invaded by walkers? When last seen Merle was left behind by the others, and without the handcuff key and the rooftop door being beaten down by zombies he looked to be out of options. At the end of the third episode Rick returned to the city with Glenn, T-Dog, and Merle’s brother Daryl. Reaching the rooftop they find Merle long gone, but he left something behind… the hand he was forced to hack off in order to escape. It’s possible he’s still out there somewhere and it’s possible he led the walkers back to the survivor camp since he knew the location and by then was nursing a mother of a grudge against the others.
– Speaking of Daryl, after Jenner sealed the facility he must have tried to attack the doctor more times than I can count. After the first three times I think it’s safe to say it ain’t gonna happen. Move on already, time’s a wastin’! Still at least thanks to Norman Reedus’ performance the character of Daryl came out to be a great deal more sympathetic than his brother, and I can certainly understand why he would want to take out a few of the people he holds responsible for leaving Merle behind to die in Atlanta, but I admit to losing count of how many times Rick had to point a gun at Daryl when it looked like the younger Dixon brother was about to go postal on one of his fellow survivors. It looks like he’s going to be another question mark in later seasons, as well as his brother, who is… still out there. I was hoping to see more of the great Rooker this season, but it was not to be. Who knows what the future holds for the brothers Dixon?
– I miss Glenn. Steven Chau’s performance as the wisecracking and very wise survivor who knows how to get in and around the city of Atlanta better than anybody else was a highlight of the earlier episodes, but as the season continued his character sort of faded into the background only to occasionally surface, crack a joke, and then get back on wallflower duty. I understand that with a large cast of characters and only six and a half hours (with commercials) of air time to work with, some cast members often have to be moved to the back in favor of the main characters and the primary storyline, but it’s characters like Glenn that make the show memorable in the first place. I hope Darabont and company give Chau and his character more to do next season.
– I was sad to see Jacqui remain behind to die with Dr. Jenner. Her character didn’t get nearly enough to do in the show except for some fleeting moments and I would’ve liked to see how she would develop further over the course of the series, and that’s due mostly to the sensitive acting by the excellent Jeryl Prescott.
– Damn it, what did Jenner whisper to Grimes before he and the others escaped the CDC? I’m very curious to know. Was he passing on a few words of wisdom? The location of another place of possible sanctuary? The key to finding a cure for the zombie virus? Rachael Ray’s recipe for french dip brisket? We may find out next season, but I know a lot of us are going to be pondering what Jenner said for some time to come.
– It’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of Morgan Jones (Lennie James) and his son Duane (Adrian Kali Turner), the first survivors Rick encountered after waking from his coma to discover the world he knew was no longer. When last we saw them Morgan was drawing a bead on his wife, who had become one of the undead, with a rifle but unable to take the shot that would release her. I was hoping Morgan and Duane would return and become part of Rick’s group, but maybe they’ll return sometime next season.
In closing, I have to say that despite a repetitive structure (in six episodes they went from the camp to Atlanta three times) and an occasional moment that seemed out of place (in the third episode, Carol’s husband, who we knew next to nothing about, suddenly becomes an abusive brute, mostly to provide Shane with an excuse to beat the shit out of someone following his rejection from Lori), the first season of The Walking Dead was a solid outing with many great performances and more than a few standout moments. Some episodes were better than others (that third episode-yeesh), but that’s the way it usually is with television shows like this. The quality often varies depending on who’s behind the camera and manning the writing room, but this show was clearly Frank Darabont’s baby and with his guiding hand The Walking Dead, at its finest, often resembled the best works from the vaunted director’s own filmography.
British actor Andrew Lincoln made for a fine lead, underplaying his character in a manner that Western film icons like John Wayne and Gary Cooper would be proud of, and he was surrounded by a first-rate supporting cast. There were several good character arcs that were handled with care and intelligence, particularly the Rick/Lori/Shane love triangle, and the decision by the show’s creative staff to put the development of plot and character over gruesome spectacle put this show in a class of its own high above the glut of often unimpressive zombie films. In its best moments The Walking Dead stands tall alongside classics of the genre like George Romero’s Dead trilogy (1968-1985) and Richard Matheson’s seminal novel I Am Legend, which has been cited by Romero as a key influence on his own films, along with great tales of humanity surviving in a post-apocalyptic world, one of the best known being Stephen King’s epic novel The Stand.
By far one of my favorite shows on television right now, The Walking Dead is a remarkable series that I hope will keep going strong for years to come.
One last thing….
It’s a damn good thing Carol still had that hand grenade.
Now what did you think of The Walking Dead Season 1 Finale?