Patricia and Jimmy's deaths will affect more important characters, such as Hershel (Scott Wilson). Hershel was originally supposed to die in season two, which makes a certain amount of sense, in that as the others abandon the farm, they leave behind the man who runs it. But, thankfully, this creative decision was reversed, and Hershel, after a close call, makes it to safety. Wilson plays the part with such gravitas, and leaves enough unanswered questions behind to keep viewers engaged with his character moving forward.
As everyone flees in "Beside the Dying Fire," only Andrea (Laurie Holden) is left behind alive. It's a tragic moment, and very frustrating, given the place Andrea holds in many fans' hearts. Not that anyone is in any position to rescue her, but abandoning her still feels wrong.
Somehow Andrea escapes into the woods. This is believable because she is at the fringe of the confrontation, and because she is then pursued for hours by lots of walkers, whom she tries to take out one by one. Not many could live through such an escape, which tests endurance to the limit, but Andrea is one of the most capable characters, and so is a good choice to put in this situation.
Of course, even Andrea can't keep up the pace forever. She stumbles and faces imminent death. So enter Michonne (Danai Gurira, Treme).
All right, so Gurira has just been cast, and a stand in is used in "Beside the Dying Fire." That doesn't change the fact that viewers are now introduced to a pivotal character from The Walking Dead comics who is coming on board on television program next year. Michonne is hooded, wields a samurai sword, and is trailed by two arm-less, jaw-less walkers on chains. She is an imposing figure, making for a heck of a reveal in the finale, even if her face remains hidden.
On Talking Dead, producers speak of Michonne being the first character introduced in The Walking Dead who has learned how to survive in this post-apocalyptic world. The already familiar characters have been growing, as mentioned above, and are starting to figure out what it takes to survive. But Michonne already knows. Will they be open to learning from her, or will they clash as Rick resists handing over leadership? And that's assuming, of course, that Andrea and Michonne even connect with the group.