(Spoiler alert: The following discusses things that have already happened on "Walking Dead.")
It's hard to say a show about a zombie apocalypse had much innocence to begin with, but "The Walking Dead" has lost whatever innocence it had.
The series, which concludes its second season Sunday, was born from a comic-book collaboration between writer Robert Kirkman and illustrator Tony Moore, who grew up together in Kentucky. Kirkman set out to create a zombie-filled world that would make us question our own.
"Good zombie movies show us how messed up we are, they make us question our station in society... and our society's station in the world," he wrote in the introduction to the first collected volume of "The Walking Dead" comics. "There's always an undercurrent of social commentary and thoughtfulness."
The comics and AMC series have succeeded in making us question our own values, by forcing us to consider their characters' grisly quandaries: Would you risk your life to save someone else's child? Kill to save that child? Hold someone prisoner because he might be a threat, without knowing for sure? Torture the prisoner? Kill him?
But the purity of Kirkman's goal has been tainted, as great stories so often are, by commerce. Even fans with the stomach to watch "Walking Dead" probably wish they didn't have to hear about the show's behind-the-scenes drama.
AMC's firing of executive producer Frank Darabont last year led to widespread fear among fans that the show's glory days would end after its first season. That hasn't happened. Under new showrunner Glen Mazzara, ratings have only improved for AMC's most-watched series.
The show has also had some of its best moments -- including the deaths of Shane and Sophia -- despite some clunkers. The episode leading up to Dale's death felt overly talky and heavy handed in its speechifying, as if it were written to prove to Emmys voters that a show about zombies could be important. But the show righted itself with its conclusion, and came firing back with last week's episode.
The replacement of Darabont has only been part of the creative tension. Moore, who illustrated the first six issues of the comics, sued Kirkman last month, saying Kirkman tricked him into surrendering "Walking Dead" rights in 2005 in exchange for payments that never came. Kirkman has said that Moore regularly receives payment for his illustrations and royalties for the show.
Either way, the dispute mars the kind of success that fuels adolescent fantasies. After meeting in seventh grade, Kirkman and Moore worked together on a series of giddily geeky projects. That comic-nerd dream come true has twisted into a fight over money.
But maybe a story that sets out to make us question our way of life can only benefit from grown-up conflict. Rick, the sheriff's deputy at the heart of "Walking Dead," worries constantly that his son is growing up in a world that will never be the same.
For better or worse, neither will "The Walking Dead."