All hail Glen Mazzara!

Season 2 of The Walking Dead was a season of two halves.  The first part of the season was still Frank Darabont’s show, but his vision was starting to go wrong, and there were apparently clashes between him and the network, with his film background not translating to television as well as had been hoped.

So when the show took a mid-season break, Darabont had been replaced and Glen Mazzara was now the show runner.  He had a big task on his hands too, with the show not really going anywhere (the search for Sophia was far too long and resolved poorly), and some particularly unlikable characters all stuck on Hershel Green’s farm.  But while the second half of the season started slowly, it finished on a high, with characters like Dale (who was incredibly annoying, and played by Darabont favourite Jeffrey DeMunn, which might have also been a factor) and Shane killed off in a frantic final few episodes that saw the group mercifully fleeing the farm after a swarm of walkers left them with no choice.

Abandoning the farm saw Andrea separated from the group, only to be found by Michonne, a popular character from the comic series, while the others eventually found themselves a prison to live in, at least temporarily.  The first two episodes focussed mostly on Rick and the others clearing the prison (with Hershel losing a leg), while the third picked up on Andrea and Michonne’s story, and how they came to meet The Governor (played by David Morrissey and another comic favourite).

Those first three episodes have all been good, but episode 4, ‘Killer Within’ is the best episode yet, and may actually be the best ever episode of The Walking Dead.

The episode opens with someone enticing walkers with deer meat around the prison.  After the credits, Hershel is ready to get back on his feet (well, his foot), and has crutches to help him get around.  Rick wants the cars moved inside the prison, to a position where they can be used to help them escape should they need to.  Oscar and Axel appear to try and convince Rick to let them join the group, but despite T-Dog believing they should help, Rick stands firm; he won’t risk the lives of everyone else to save them.

The group are happy to see Hershel emerge outside the prison, but that joy turns to fear as walkers start to pour out into the prison yard; somehow they’ve gotten out and are getting dangerously close.  This splits the group up; Rick, Daryl and Glenn are down at the fences, Beth and Hershel manage to shut themselves into a caged doorway, T-Dog and Carol are killing off walkers together while Lori, Carl and Maggie hide in a boiler room.

The Walking Dead has never shied away from bloody violence, and there’s a lot more of that in this episode, as Glenn uses a sword to slice the heads of walkers clean off, and the others use guns and crossbows to splatter walker brains all over the prison yard.  But there is blood spilt on the group’s side too, as T-Dog is pounced on from behind, with a walker taking a bite out of his shoulder.  He and Carol get away inside the prison, but he knows he is done for.  He holds off two walkers to allow Carol to get to safety, but they tear him apart.  T-Dog wasn’t exactly an exciting or well-developed character, but he’d had more to do this season, and at least gets a hero’s death.  He won’t really be missed, but it’s a good way to die.

But there’s more to come in this episode, and we come to what many people have been waiting for; the death of Lori.  Lori has been the source of much internet lamentation, especially after an incredibly annoying season 2, and her pregnancy has been something that always seemed likely to be problematic for the show.  The possibility of a zombie baby eating her after being born seemed popular online, but when she starts feeling contractions, while stuck in the boiler room with Maggie and Carl, she knows she is in trouble.

What makes this episode great is that Lori gets a death that really makes you feel something for her character.  She’s bleeding internally, and the baby isn’t ready to come, but she decides that she has to have it.  In some ways, that doesn’t really make a lot of sense; she will need to have a caesarean birth, but knows that without the proper medical equipment, she’s going to bleed out.  But that thought only occurred to me after the episode was over.  It’s a gripping segment of the show, and despite all the flaws Lori has had as a character, it’s a strong way to kill her off, especially as Carl has to shoot her in the head to stop her from returning as a walker.

It’s a devastating moment for Rick when Maggie emerges holding the baby alongside Carl.  He realises what has happened and seems to be a broken man.  It is something that will massively change things for the group, and how Rick handles it will decide their future.

Elsewhere in the episode, it turns out that Andrew (the prisoner Rick had left for dead) is the one who released the walkers and tried to restore power to the prison, and Oscar proves himself by shooting Andrew dead after he’s fought with Rick, before handing Rick his gun.  In the Governor’s town, Andrea wants to stay while Michonne is still suspicious of him, especially after noticing the army vehicles he’s acquired are riddled with bullet holes, and Andrea gives Merle a map showing him where the farm was, and he seeks the permission of the Governor to go looking for Daryl.

It seems like it won’t be long before the Governor and his men come face-to-face with Rick’s group, but how Rick handles himself with a baby to protect and his wife gone could change the show’s dynamic in a big way.

But The Walking Dead is now fully transformed into a great show and Glen Mazzara has done a great job of solving many of the problems it has previously had.  New characters are being introduced, and less popular characters are being killed off.  This is a new Walking Dead, and it’s all the better for it.