As I sit here wrapping presents for Christmas and sipping on hot chocolate, my thoughts naturally turn to the undead and those who fight them.  Season 2 of The Walking Dead has been a slow, steady build-up to the dramatic and powerful mid-season finale.  Season One was about our favorite team scrambling to find a safe place and someone who could help them.

Season Two has been about the zombie-fighters discovering how to rely on themselves.  I like to think of the first season as cautiously optimistic – “If we can just get to Atlanta-”  “If I can just find my wife and son -”  “If we can just make it to the CDC-” then everything will be okay.  But when all their hopes and plans literally blow up in their collective faces, it’s a new and dangerous horizon they’re heading towards, and there’s no cavalry coming to the rescue.

Daryl taking the lead

(Spoilers ahead!)

All of our beloved characters have changed quite a bit in just a half-season.  Daryl had already become a key member of the group, and one of the best strengths.  His dedication to finding Sophia was touching, especially when everyone else gave up hope of ever finding her alive.  His friendship with T-Dog has grown as well as his tenderness with Carol.  Daryl has shifted from caring about only himself and his brother to defending and protecting the group.

As a foil, Shane has grown more isolated.  Lori has made it clear that he will have no place in her family, and the severing of this tie is what I think is driving him to become ruthless and brutal.  He even accuses Rick of not having what it takes to survive, despite being best friends with him.  Dale has developed a keen eye, and is the only one who sees the alarming change in Shane.

Andrea taking aim

Andrea and Glenn have both become tougher and more confident.  Andrea is finally allowed to shoot her gun, and her ability takes off like gangbusters.  You can see the exact moment where she comes into her own, when Shane takes her shooting in the abandoned suburb.  Something clicks and she becomes unstoppable – calm and composed and killing lots of zombies.

Glenn not only catches the eye of a pretty young thing, but he also understands what it means to be fighting for someone.  When Shane is handing out guns to take out the barn full of walkers, he offers one to Glenn and asks, “You gonna protect yours?”  Glenn accepts.  It’s apparent to me that this is another life-changing moment.  Glenn, whose skills so far have been maneuvering in and out of tight places safely, does want to fight.

Rick trying to grease the wheels with Hershel

The most dramatic change so far in my opinion belongs to Rick.  He has a tough job – the unappointed leader of the group.  So far he’s been so careful to keep the peace between not only the people he leads, but also the people they interact with.  He’s the go-between for his group and everyone on Hershel’s farm.

This season has been full of tough decisions about Sophia – where to find her, how long to look for her, and when to give up – as well as his own family’s safety.  He’s trained his people to shoot and done his best to stay on Hershel’s good side.  But again, Rick has a game-changing moment when Zombie Sophia stumbles out of that barn and he is the only one who can shoot her.  In that moment Rick does what no one else can to protect his family and friends.  He changes from Peacemaker to Leader.

Of course, Sophia has a pretty significant storyline as well. ;-)