The Walking Dead killed Sophia 9 years ago today

It’s been 9 years since The Walking Dead season 2 “Pretty Much Dead Already” aired

Today marks 9 years since possibly the most pivotal and impactful scene from The Walking Dead aired – the moment Sophia walked out of Hershel’s barn as a walker.

It was at this point, 7 episodes into the second season, that TWD became a cultural phenomenon. Although the show had been successful and steadily building an audience and critical acclaim, this was the moment when the show broke away from the pack, stood out on its own and became a water cooler classic.

For the previous 6 episodes we had seen the search for Carol’s daughter Sophia lead the events of the second season. From the moment Sophia ran into the woods to avoid the herd on the highway the stakes were heightened, yet few fans imagined what the outcome would be.

The show had set the tone in season 1 for no character being safe with the deaths of Jim, Amy and Jacqui. In fact, it has set out its stall in the show’s very first scene when Rick kills a child walker. However, most people assumed they would not kill off a child that had already been on screen for over a season.

The assumption was that Sophia was alive off screen and would be found safe and well, for a triumphant end to the story arc, bringing hope to our weary bunch of survivors. But the producers had other more ground-breaking thoughts, and the stage was set for “Pretty Much Dead Already” to reveal its mysteries.

Tension prevails throughout the episode as secrets and relationships began to unravel across the board. Whilst the characters learn about the walkers in Hershel’s barn, so too did Lori’s pregnancy news begin to spread, twisting the love-triangle with Shane and Rick into new knots.

Meanwhile the two elder gentlemen, Dale and Hershel, find themselves at odds with the group. Hershel is angry at the interference into his life and wants them all off his land, much to Maggie’s disapproval, and Dale is trying desperately to hang on to his humanity and peaceful nature in the face of Shane’s growing brutality.

Amongst all that anger, Carol is desperate and afraid, fearing the group will go on with their plan to move on, abandoning the search for her daughter. Daryl seems still to be the only one determined to look for Sophia, but that in itself is a double-edged sword.

In the stables, Carol pleads with recently injured Daryl not to go out looking for Sophia and risk his own life, as she couldn’t bear to lose him. It’s one of the first scenes where Carol reveals how much she has grown to feel for Daryl, and how much she is leaning on him emotionally to help her through.

And that support would very quickly become literal as well as emotional, as the climax of the episode unfolds.

Shane and Rick’s differing leadership ideals, and how to deal with the barn full of walkers that Hershel had been keeping secret, comes to a head, and Shane unlocks the barn door.

As the walkers flood out into the farmyard, the group takes position using Shane’s contraband weapons to put them down, in a beautifully shot tableau. Each character dealing with their own issues – Glenn tearfully looking for permission from Maggie to put down her family members; Hershel on his knees as he is forced to face the reality he has been trying to ignore; and Rick trying to keep Carl and Lori safe as he stands helplessly watching his control of Shane, and the situation, vanish.

Through this melee of noise and gore and horror, Carol stands at the back, a literal background character in both the show and her own life.

There is a moment of calm when it seems the barn has emptied, but then in silence a tiny, stumbling figure emerges through the door, and everything changes. Sophia as a walker stops them all in their tracks.

Shane, Andrea and the others are suddenly all still and dumbfounded, their weapons dropped to their side, whilst Carol barrels forward throwing herself at Sophia with only Daryl standing between her and her daughter.

He grabs her as she falls reaching out to the creature wearing Sophia’s rainbow t-shirt, a walker bite clear on her shoulder; Daryl’s hand across Carol’s chest as though literally holding her heart inside her body.

Only Rick finds his senses and has the strength to end the story by shooting Sophia in the head, in a moment that takes us back to that very first scene of the first episode when he shoots the little girl in the bunny slippers.

Sophia’s death was the turning point for the show in which we see our group of survivors truly change and realise how much this world was going to change them, and how much they would need to change if they wanted to survive it.

It was a scene that was talked about across the media, for its courage, its impact and its haunting beauty. This was the moment the world knew that The Walking Dead was here to stay and was going to tell a brave and complete story about the humanity – both in the apocalypse and in our own lives.