The ending of Sunday's midseason finale of The Walking Dead, AMC's massively popular zombie apocalypse drama, is being hailed as one of the best scenes on TV this year. (Warning: Spoilers lie ahead.) During the episode's last sequence, the show's protagonists are shooting a group of zombies that had been trapped in a barn. Then out walks little Sophia, a young girl who had been missing since the season premiere. The catch? Sophia has been turned into a zombie, and emerges from the barn alongside the rest of the undead. Rick Grimes, the leader of a ragtag band of survivors, shoots and kills Sophia. The show won't return until February, but its rabid fans are still debating every detail of Sunday's "shocking" episode, and what's to come for the series. Here, five talking points:
1. The final moments were superb
That was a "slam-bang-holy-geez-boom-boom-KAPOW episode," says Darren Franich at Entertainment Weekly. The firing squad at the end was certainly a chilling visual. And when Sophia surfaced as a zombie, it was not only "a huge surprise," but redefined The Walking Dead as a show "defiantly willing to go there." Having Rick shoot her was a "gleefully outrageous" way to end what had otherwise been a boring searching-for-Sophia plot line throughout the first half of this season.
2. Actually, that last scene might have been a bad idea
"You don't kill the little girl," says Verne Gay at Newsday. It's a rule of television. Child characters on TV shows — particularly grim ones like The Walking Dead — represent the future, hope, and heart. Killing Sophia takes that away, robbing viewers of the promise that the series' morbid journey would eventually be worth the anguish. With her gone, "there's no real reason to get emotionally involved in any character," as they are all now dispensable.
3. And the rest of the episode was typically frustrating
Until the fantastic finish, this episode was The Walking Dead's "usual mix of pretty good and deeply irritating," says Zack Handlen at The A.V. Club. The main characters are unlikable and their motivations often lacks coherency. When Shane "freaks out" on Dale, for example, the ex-cop's intensity seems to come out of nowhere. Such inconsistences give the show a "loose, reeling vibe" that fails to build suspense. The Walking Dead is too often "more interested in the effect than the cause."
4. Regardless, killing Sophia was a game-changer
Up until now, says Handlen, the characters had been determined to live "like it's the old world," when searches for the missing were considered noble, risks be damned. Now, "everyone is presumed dead, until proven living." It should also be interesting to see if this is the catalyst that will get the characters to finally leave Hershel's farm, says Nate Rawlings at TIME. Plus, Rick shooting Sophia could cause a moral shift that affects Rick and his wife's debate over whether it's a good idea to bring their unborn baby into the grim, zombie-plagued world.
5. There are still plenty of ways to improve the show
Now that The Walking Dead has produced a "solid payoff after seven weeks of wheel-spinning," says Scott Meslow at The Atlantic, there are easy fixes for the show that will keep it on track. For example, the show needs to stop repeating scenes. Rick and his wife have had the same argument so many times that it appears the "series is cutting costs by recycling scenes." Let's move the action along. That starts with a change of setting. Being stalled on Hershel's farm has exposed the series' writing and dramatic flaws. Leaving will allow the action to pick up, reintroduce more zombies, and help The Walking Dead embrace its genre. "If The Walking Dead isn't going to be a smart show, it should at least be a fun one, and that means embracing the all-out gore… of the dead walking the earth."