Her chance of survival on Colony is slightly higher than on The Walking Dead. (Image: USA Network)

I gave up on The Walking Dead back in season two. While I like bleak slogs toward the extinction of mankind as much as the next girl, it had started to feel like the show had no interest in moving forward, and no interest in building a larger storyline. But imagine if it did? That is Colony.

The USA Network show, in which the citizens of Los Angeles are forced to live in a walled version of the city after an alien invasion, will end its second season tonight in a much bleaker place than it began. (Earlier this week, it was renewed for a third season.) And while we all enjoy cheer, this show’s brand of gut-punching reality is as refreshing as it is shocking.

In Colony’s first season, you were certain in every episode that the writers knew exactly where the show was headed, and it didn’t hesitate in introducing a messy idealogical war between the primary characters. But the show also seemed poised to expand its world greatly by the season finale. Instead, season two emphasized claustrophobia.

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We’ve gotten more glimpses of the world beyond the walled city of LA, including extended stays in a hellish version of Santa Monica, and brief jaunts to Europe. Yet Earth is besieged by aliens who can incinerate with a look. They have all the power, have corralled all the citizens, and now it’s just a matter of destroying us in as expedient and useful a matter possible.

Another change this season: Colony gave humanity a ticking clock that’s upped the stakes, and allowed the show to cut away any excess fat. Every storyline has a purpose and (so far) a payoff. From two sisters forced to choose between rebellion and collaboration, to two children challenged by their complacency—the show is pulling no punches and is taking its stories to their natural, and awful, ends. The plots have also been punctuated by shocking violence, the kind you’d expect in a world where everyone’s number is going to come up before the series is over.

What’s more, Colony is a god damn bloodbath this season, and it has elevated a previously tame little alien invasion yarn into something deliciously rare and exciting. In an early season two episode, Colony featured one of the bleakest suicides on television. A few weeks ago I watched a likable side character pulverized into mist by an alien drone. Then another one exploded in a ball of fire. Two evil characters caught bullets in brutally shocking moments, and one poor schlub, well out of their league, was heartbreakingly murdered by their friends.

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I’ve never exactly understood the enduring appeal of The Walking Dead. The makeup is cool, and the violence is nice, but it’s a show steeped in nihilism and it’s made it difficult for me to engage. Colony is a very similar show in that the violence is well shot (at one point, there’s a 10-minute tracking shot that’s a beautiful combination of Children of Men and your favorite first person shooter) and its characters are all doomed.

But it still finds a bit of hope in each episode, and scrubs away just enough nihilism each week to give us a glimpse of the humans beneath that engenders that hopelessness. If you’re wondering what the slow crawl towards the apocalypse might look like, Colony is giving you a great glimpse right now.