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'The Walking Dead' Finale Review and Recap: Movies vs. TV

Thompson on Hollywood By Terry Curtis Fox | Thompson on Hollywood March 18, 2012 at 11:16PM

The structure of tonight’s "The Walking Dead" finale is indicative of where the show is right now: struggling to come back to television.
'The Walking Dead'
AMC 'The Walking Dead'

The structure of tonight’s "The Walking Dead" finale is indicative of where the show is right now: struggling to come back to television. (Spoiler Alert.)

For the first half hour, picking up a bit before the penultimate episode left off, we are treated to a zompocalypse.  The herd of zombies who came out of the woods after Shane’s killing are discovered in Atlanta, low on food but startled by the sight and sound of a helicopter. (No, we don’t see the copter again; it’s a little fan-boy tease, presumably to return in another season.)

We already know, of course, where they are going to end up: on Herschel’s farm. The result is a half-hour of action film. Ernest R. Dickerson, once again directing, is fine at this. But, of course, action is one of the few things that American films still do well. Television doesn’t have the budget.

So the first half of the finale hovers between B-movie on-a-budget grit (the source of the underlying material) and the somewhat more expensive, slicker style of the series.

Notice, however, that the big action sequence came first. This is usually what you build towards, not move away from.

What distinguishes TV right now is that it has become the refuge of character drama. And "The Walking Dead" at its best serves simultaneously as a genre and a character drama. In its moral complexity, it has staked out exactly the territory that film had mid-century.

And that is where this episode, written by Robert Kirkman & Glen Mazzara, finally goes: towards Rick finally walking over the edge, more than a little mad (in the mode of James Stewart’s psychotic period), terrifying the others who can’t really get away from him. (Except for Andrea – a woman of action left in serious jeopardy.)

Watching this, I couldn’t help thinking that it must be very strange to be Kirkman, who plotted this entire thing out for years, only to now be working on the alternate narrative version of the same story. Of course, with Shane dead and Rick out of control, we’re about where Kirkman left us at the end of Book 3 of the comics, emotionally and morally if not physically.

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.