I don’t know if I can take it anymore. These past few episodes of The Walking Dead have just been too emotionally draining. Like good sex, they get my heart rate up and leave me a little weepy afterwards.
I guess I’m just a little too cynical when it comes to stuff like this. I’m used to shows seizing on a good thing — in this case, the rising tension between Rick and Shane — and dragging it out for as long as they possibly can. And considering the fate that befell poor Dale last week, well, this was a development I just wasn’t expecting. But hindsight is 20/20, and looking back we see that Rick and Shane weren’t unlike those other cops, Vic Mackey and Shane Vendrell from The Shield, after (spoiler) Vic discovered that Shane had killed Lem. Things between Rick and Shane had gotten so bad that there was really no hope of making things whole again. Shane’s confidence in Rick as a leader had all dried up, and his feelings for Lori obviously weren’t going away. Rick knew both of these things, so we knew that eventually he was going to have to show Shane the door.
But while I didn’t expect to see the show arrive at this point this soon or in exactly this way, I will say that it could have come maybe four or five episodes sooner than it did. I think we all accept the fact that Rick isn’t an idiot. But after having him drive the whole “WE DON’T KILL THE LIVING” thing into the ground up until they met Randall, and then watching him hem and haw over what to do when it looked like he was putting the group in such obvious danger stretched his credibility and really kind of made Shane’s argument for him. So for the last few weeks we’ve been stuck between Rick’s inability to make a decision and Shane’s mental unhinging. And after too much of this there comes a point when you’re just like, “enough already.” Yeah, we all loved Dale, but who cares. Kill him just to get us out of this rut. And if you kill Shane too, well, even better.
But even though some of these developments came a little late in the game, it was still one of the season’s strongest outings. I thought it did a really good job reminding us that, even though we can get a little annoyed at these characters when they drag us down into the muck and mire of their moral bullshit, we still care about them. Glenn’s moment with Andrea while trying to fix Dale’s RV was a nice moment. Especially for Andrea, who really needed something to help pull her out of her own asshole.
It’s kind of interesting to compare the death of Dale and its aftermath with Sophia’s. When you set the two up side by side, you see one as flip-flopped from the other. Sophia’s death was like a punch in the stomach. Definitely one of the show’s strongest, most emotional moments (if not the strongest). But unfortunately, no one really cared about Sophia. She was never really central to any storyline. And over the course of the seven episodes we saw her in, we never really got a chance to get to know her. So after Rick pulled that trigger, it seemed like the sorrow the show was trying to drum up for her felt a little fake. Dale is the complete opposite. My wife is constantly amazed — and a little turned off — by the gruesome kill-shots the show goes for more and more these days.** And while some of them I think the show really earns, Dale’s felt like overkill for overkill’s sake. But the aftermath, like the moment between Glenn and Andrea, felt good. It felt authentic.
(**And for those of you out there who agree with her, you might as well get used to it. Something like is of course going to appeal to a large chunk of the folks tuning in. And the way in which the show does it is kind of unique, so it’s already kind of turned into its thing. And again, with the ratings it’s pulling in, I wouldn’t expect them to change the formula up too much.)
But the tussle between Rick and Shane was definitely the episode’s main course. That Shane was going waaay off the reservation I thought was clear pretty early on. But when I thought that Shane’s plan was to let Randall go then force Rick and everyone else into making a move against them, he was actually planning on taking Rick out into the woods and shooting him in the head. And if I wasn’t expecting that, I definitely wasn’t expecting Rick to talk him down, convince him to go back to the farm and talk things over, then whip out a knife and stab Shane in the chest LIKE A BOSS. Rick screaming, “This was you, not me!” was the cherry on top.
And on top of that we found that a lot of what we thought we knew about the virus was wrong. It turns out that you don’t necessarily have to be bitten to turn into a zombie. Just being dead works fine. To be honest, I don’t know how that affects anything going forward, besides forcing the survivors to put down anyone who may die of natural causes.
However it affects things, it’s coming on top of a huge effing zombie horde headed toward the farm and Randall’s people camped not far away, not to mention the splainin’ Rick’s going to have to do re: the Shane situation. It won’t all get taken care of in the finale. But at least we won’t have to some 17-month hell to see how it all shakes out the way we are with Mad Men.
Well, of course the big news this week is that Dale’s DEAD. And I mean deader than dead. He had his guts ripped out by a zombie, and then Daryl shot the poor guy in the head. In front of Shane. So it was kind of a perfect storm of shitty ways to go.
Now, something like this coming hot on the heels of Rick shooting poor, zombie Sophia in the head may cause some of you to say, “Holy crap! No one on this show is safe! Truly heroic storytelling!” And it’s possible that this storytelling truly is heroic. But I think Dale’s exit from the show may have more to do with Jeffrey DeMunn than the dictates of this season’s story. Aside from occasional guest spots on Law & Order, The Walking Dead is the most work DeMunn has ever done on a TV show. And after the departure of Frank Darabont at the start of the season, I think it’s entirely possible DeMunn reassessed and realized this wasn’t something he wanted to do for years and years. And make no mistake, if this show continues to pull in the ratings it’s been getting, it’ll get at least seven or eight seasons.
But whether it was DeMunn’s choice or the writers’, it’s happened. So there isn’t much to do besides clean up Dale’s guts and try to move on. Which, now that Dale and his BIG MOUTH are gone, should be much easier. Or so you’d think, although I have a feeling Rick and the gang will find plenty of reason yet to waffle over whether or not to kill Randall. Because just when you think the show was giving the survivors every reason to get the hell off Herschel’s farm, we’re given this moral conundrum. Yes, Rick and everyone else have Herschel and his family to think about, but if they weren’t planning on sticking around for a while, I don’t think they’d be wrestling with this decision the way they are.
Although that’s not to say that the question the survivors are asking isn’t a legitimate one. If they choose to kill Randall — even for their own protection and survival — what is that saying about themselves? Do they lose the moral high ground? Could they still claim to be better than these people they’d hypothetically be fighting against (if Randall escaped and brought them back to the farm)? I think that question is best answered by Carol, in their little group powwow. While Rick is going around, asking for a show of hands of who agrees that Randall needs to be taken care of, Carol says, “I didn’t ask for this.” Meaning, she never asked for this sort of responsibility to be thrust upon her. She never asked to be making these sorts of decisions. Well, that’s true. But it’s also true that nobody asked to be thrown into the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Nobody asked to raise their kids teaching them how to shoot because one day, a walker might jump out of the bushes and rip their faces off. Nobody asked for that, but, Carol, to quote Shakespeare, that’s just tough. And here’s another Shakespeare quote: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” In a very similar way, some have hordes of bloodthirsty zombies thrust upon them. And it’d be great if we didn’t have to worry about the Randall’s of the world, running back to their camps and coming back with all their friends and their guns. It’d be great if, in the middle of all this, we didn’t have to make any tough decisions. But that’s just not the way things work anymore.
And as much as Shane’s pissing and moaning about Rick not being able to keep anyone or anything safe is beginning to chafe juuust a little bit, he made some good points this week. They could keep Randall alive, but to make sure he never ran off to tell his friends about Herschel’s farm, they’d either have to keep him locked up all the time (what’s the point?), or keep someone on him at all times (and who wants to do that?). When you get right down to it, their options are pretty limited. Again, that isn’t to say that Dale’s a complete doe-eyed optimist living in some fantasy world for wanting to keep the guy alive. But the world has changed, and that’s going to require some compromises in everyone’s moral code.
But, Dale’s dead now. So, you know, whatever.
What does this mean going forward? Well, Rick obviously agreed with what Dale kept repeating the entire episode. Although he also recognized the fact that he may be required to make decisions he finds morally questionable. Andrea agreed with him, too, although she’s slowly coming under Shane’s spell and has to be beaten over the head with Dale’s argument before the rest of the group votes him off the island. Carol’s too timid to really say much of anything in defense of the little man. And Daryl’s transformation into Joe Kurtz continues unabated. So, going forward, maybe we will see the group take a little more hard-nosed stance to situations like this. Or maybe not. Maybe what we’ll get are more close in shots of Rick, all pensive and watery-eyed, lamenting everyone’s lost humanity.
“18 Miles Out” could have also been called “The Gaping Plot Hole.” Even in the middle of Rick and Shane’s slap fight, all I could focus on was the nerd minutia, like how the two of them could cut their hands open, run around sticking their them in dead people’s mouths and knife wounds and somehow not get infected. Some might call this a trifle BUT IT’S NOT. If the zombie virus is transmitted through blood, are you going to be in any rush to tear another person apart and drape their intestines over your shoulders? What an absurd show.
When I looked back on the episode, I felt that my focus should have been on Rick and Shane’s fight, and where it left the two once it was over. Conflict is good, but I do enjoy seeing these two guys working together. And for a moment there at the end, I thought that they may have come through this whole thing with a new understanding for each other. Then I thought about it, and the sun sank toward the horizon, and I realized that these are two men who will never again understand understand each other. I realized that what Andrea said about Lori is also true of Rick. He’s living a blessed life, here at the end of the world. He came out of nowhere to find his wife, his son, and his one-time best friend alive. And while he’s lost people, those losses haven’t been close enough to change his worldview the way it has Shane’s. While I’m sure Shane has lost people close to him, the biggest loss he’s suffered, at least that we’ve seen on the show — is his relationship with Lori. That’s the rest of his life.
So while Rick will tell Shane that he wants to take a night to debate whether or not to kill the kid they have tied up and blindfolded in their trunk, Shane will be stomping his feet, pissed off that he doesn’t get to shoot the kid RIGHT NOW. Things will remain this way until Lori and Carl are eaten or something.
Of course, this is assuming the show can keep itself on some sort of semi-rational track. I was kind of surprised to see Rick taking this kid to dump him off in the middle of nowhere in the first place. And in the middle of town, no less. He tells Shane that he’s looking for a place that’ll give him a fighting chance of survival. So instead of cutting him loose in the middle of nowhere, he stops off at an abandoned bus depot. Letting him go like this already seems to be going against his philosophy. AND THEN, when Rick and Shane find out that this kid went to school with Maggie, they start debating whether or not to shoot him in the head. How does this make sense?
Back at the farm, Lori and Andrea are also throwing down. And after their argument, I have to say I had a hard time figuring out which one I agreed with more. I agreed with Andrea in that neither Lori or anyone else could butt in and tell Beth or whoever that they had to carry on in a world like this if they were dead set against it.** What’s the point? If someone is that determined to kill himself, he’s probably going to find a way to make it happen. But I also agreed with Lori in that Andrea wasn’t really doing anything to protect the camp besides shoot people like Daryl in the face. I’m not saying Andrea needs to settle into a long life of washing shirts in the creek or cooking the men’s dinners, but her grabbing a shotgun and jumping on top of Dale’s RV does seem a little overexcited. In the end, the argument between these two is the argument between Rick and Shane. It’s just being played out a little differently. And while they’re both likely to come down on the side of their respective man, Lori does admit that Andrea’s little stunt with Beth — leaving her alone long enough to make the decision whether or not she wanted to kill herself — worked, and everyone now and then you had to do something crazy and over the line like that, for great justice. Maybe Lori and Andrea will be able to see past their differences and work together. Women truly are the more sensible sex. But that “boyfriend” remark Andrea made to Lori? Not cool, man. Not cool (Lori kind of had it coming).
(**And speaking of which, how selfish is this girl? I understand her wanting to kill herself. But how to do you go and beg someone else to kill herself, when two seconds before she was asking you to give life another chance? “Hey, how about instead of your idea, you go a million miles in the other direction and commit suicide instead?”)
While the ladies may be able to put their differences aside, I don’t think the same can be said of the men. Shane’s got too much skin in this game. And Lori throwing him to the curb, parading around with Rick on one arm and Carl on the other is just too in his face to be swept under the rug. I guess the question we have to ask now is who’s going to land on whose side. Maybe Rick should take notice, keep himself from killing that kid. As Bert Cooper said, you never know how loyalty will be born, but you have to imagine not killing someone is a pretty good start.
I’ve said before that the biggest problem the first half of this season was that the payoff — zombie-Sophia stuck in the barn with the other walkers – didn’t justify all the time we spent at Herschel’s farm. And if there was any doubt about that before, I think “Triggerfinger” finally put it all to bed. The first half of the episode was great. Lori got into a wreck, and her escape from the two zombies trying to bust their way into her car was pretty cool. And we saw Rick, Glenn, and Herschel almost get lit up by the rest of Michael Raymond-James and his fat friend’s group (and didn’t they get their asses handed to them?). But as soon as these guys got the hell out of Dodge and back to the farm, the episode just kind of heaved over, like a beached whale taking its last water-breath (sorry, I’m not a water magician).
Now, there are lessons to be learned in both halves of this episode. One, despite the action, tension, and all the cool blood and guts stuff of the first half, there isn’t an infinite amount of good material to be mined from these sorts of situations. In its first season, The Walking Dead paid attention to the uber-arc of the show — Rick getting out of Atlanta, hooking up with the other survivors, etc. — but each week it gave everyone a smaller task to accomplish, something they’d be able to do by the time the episode ended. That sort of thing is a good way to draw in new viewers who may otherwise be wary of jumping into a serialized show. But you draw even those sorter beats out just a little too long and they can get to be a bit of a slog. There was a moment there where I was watching Rick and co. trying to sneak out of that bar where I asked myself, “Do we really need to be seeing all of this?” Fortunately, I thought the show pulled it out in the end. This kid you who got left behind by his posse was a nice bit of business, if only to see Rick rip his leg off that fence.**
(**Although even that had me rolling my eyes a little. If Herschel’s the one telling you that things are hopeless, that the zombies are almost there and can we please just shoot this kid in the head and be done with it, maybe you should listen.)
The second half of the episode rehashed the same lesson we learned from the front half of the season. Even though the dynamic at Herschel’s farm has changed a bit — hopefully Herschel’s had some sense talked into him, and Shane is more overtly hostile to the rest of the group, a little crazier in his obsession over Lori — I think we can say with some degree of surety that we need to be moving on now. Yes, the dynamics have changed, but these pissed off conversations between Shane and Dale, or Shane trying to convince Lori that WHAT THEY HAD WAS REAL just aren’t offering us anything new. And at this point — the season’s only got four episodes left — I’m not even very particular on what the season needs to switch to. It just needs to be something else. Leave the farm. Have Shane make a move against Rick. Whatever. I’m not picky.
The biggest problem with the show marking time like this, besides the fact that it’s marking time, is that after this long it begins to stretch the show’s credibility. The sort of feelings we’re seeing Shane broadcast to the rest of the group can only be kept under control for so long. The guy’s gonna blow sooner or later.
Or, I suppose it’s possible Rick grows a pair and goes after Shane first. Listening to Lori whisper all sorts of fiendishness in Rick’s ear at the end of the episode filled me with hope that we wouldn’t have to wait another year to watch those two throw down on each other. Rick constantly talks about all that sentimental bullshit, how important it is to protect each other, that the group is essentially all the group’s got right now. If someone — in this case Shane — comes in and threatens that, what sort of hero is Rick if he refuses to put him down? He didn’t think twice about drawing on the two guys in the bar. What’s he going to do when his family’s in danger? I’m sure we’ll probably have to wait longer than we’d like to find out. But I’m confident the show will finally deliver in its customary bloody, gratuitous fashion.
The Walking Dead has improved by leaps and bounds since its debut in 2010, although getting from there to here has been a bit of a rocky road. The end of season one left kind of a bad taste in my mouth, seemingly leaving behind the characterization which has been a hallmark of the comic series in favor of the Lost-style mystery that in the end, will never be a satisfying story.**
(**Now hear me out. Lost taking six years to explore the ins and outs of what the island was, why the island was, and why Jack, Kate, and everyone else had been brought there was interesting because there was an actual mystery to explore. And the answers to that mystery would inform the characters’ lives and the decisions they made once they got off it (the ones who got off it). There’s no mystery on The Walking Dead. There was a virus. It may have been created on purpose, or it may have been created naturally, like that weird pig-bat thing on Contagion. But beyond that, what else is there? Also, who cares? There is no life after the plague, that we’ll see in this show, anyway. Everyone’s dead. Hopes of some survivor oasis evaporate almost as quickly as they appear (tonight, we learned that Fort Bennington had been overrun by “lamebrains”). So, episodes like “TS-19″ seem like mostly buildup with very little payoff. You see what I’m saying? I’m glad we were able to spend this time together.)
Season two has seen a huge jump in quality. The way I see the show now, it’s standing right at that line between great and just really good. “Pretty Much Dead Already,” the show’s mid-season finale, was great. But the show’s still got some splainin’ to do for the first half of the season. The payoff hasn’t really justified the amount of time we’ve spent on Herschel’s farm (although it was a really good payoff), so I’m hoping the show moves on and still keeps up the quality of these past few episodes.
“Nebraska” picks up right where “Pretty Much Dead Already” left off — Sophia dead, the smoke still rising from the barrel of Rick’s gun — and concerns itself almost entirely with the aftermath of Shane’s Great Zombie Massacre. With his wife now well and truly dead, Herschel takes off to an old bar he used to frequent in his wilder, rowdier days, turning to that brownest of the brown liquors to help dull the pain. But not before telling Rick and co. — in true old man fashion — to get the hell off his lawn. Now things between Rick and Shane look like they’re really going to blow up. Rick’s still concerned with making nice. Herschel, crazy old man he may be, still owns the farm and was nice enough to let Rick and everyone else stay on it. Shane sees the entire thing as having put the group in danger.**
(**Although I’m not really sure of what. Yes, they were all camped out right next to a barn full of walkers. And there was always a risk that they’d break out and wreak all sorts of havoc. But what’s new? Another one of Shane’s complaints was that the group wasted time looking for Sophia when they could have been on the road to Fort Bennington. But as we learn later, it’s been overrun. So, you could make the case that Rick’s bleeding heart kept the group safer than they would have been otherwise. Just sayin’.)
So while Rick goes off with Glenn to bring Herschel back to the farm, the job of getting rid of the dead is left to Shane, T-Dog, and Andrea. And Dale is there, too. Slinking around in the shadows. Telling Lori that he can’t prove it, but he’s pretty sure Shane shot Otis and used him as bait so he could get away from the walkers. Which as it turns out is right on the money. Who knows where that’ll go. Characters in these sorts of shows have an uncanny knack for taking huge revelations like that and putting them completely out of their minds to focus on some other stupid thing. And what Lori chooses to focus on in this case is truly stupid. Rick’s gone out to get Herschel. But he’s just taking too long, so Lori sets out to bring Rick and Herschel back. We’ll go ahead and chalk this one up to PREGNANT HORMONES. Although how much longer those will afflict her is unclear, since the first thing she does after getting out on the road is smash right into a walker a flip her car over. In these past few episodes, Lori was worried about bringing another child into this brave new world**, but I think there’s a good chance the entire thing is going to turn out to be a nonstarter.
(**Sorry for all these asides. It’s just that I’m so full of feelings right now. Anyway, part of the reason Lori’s so nervous about having another kid is that she sees the effect their situation is having on Carl. She gets all spooked when he tells her that Rick made the right decision, shooting Sophia. That he would have done the same thing given the chance. I can understand her being upset at the whole thing, but what does she expect? In a world where shooting/bludgeoning people in the head has become a commonplace thing, you’ve got to expect that the kids you’re raising are gonna have a few problems.)
After Rick and Glenn find Herschel (that was easy) and listen to the man lament what an idiot he’s been this entire time, they’re met by two fellow travelers (PLAYED BY MICHAEL RAYMOND-JAMES FROM TERRIERS and some fat guy no one cares about). Now, you know things with these guys are going to go south right from the start, but it’s all over much faster than I thought it’d be, and gave Rick a chance to show the world that he isn’t all hugs and sunshine with every survivor they come across who’s got a sad story to tell. This sequence, and the one right after it, with Shane and the other burning the pile of dead walkers, was a lot moodier than a lot of what we’ve seen on the show so far. This batch of episodes were done well after Frank Darabont had left the show, so I’m wondering if this is EP Glen Mazzara’s (a Shield alum) influence on the show rearing its head. If so, more please. A big part of this show is always going to be these people’s decline. Their slow, gradual breakdown in the face of the apocalypse. It ought to look really cool while it’s playing out onscreen.
There came a point in tonight’s mid-season finale (such a ridiculous concept!) where I looked down at my watch and said, “Only ten minutes left. They better get to some killin’! And quick!” Well, now that the dust has settled I have to say they pulled it out, and turned in what may be the show’s first great episode and definitely the strongest since the pilot.
If anything, this first half of season 2 should remind us that, if this show isn’t handled with care it’s going to get repetitive really quick. And I don’t mean just by spending too much time on Herschel’s farm or wherever else the group finds itself a year or two or three from now. This is a show about zombies, and after a while hiding from zombies and running from zombies and shooting zombies in the face could get really old. “Pretty Much Dead Already,” or at least its last ten minutes, was a great way to show how much emotion the show’s capable of squeezing out of the right material.
Was what we saw incredibly surprising? That’s a tough question to answer. We hadn’t seen Sophia since the season premiere, so I was firmly in Shane’s camp in thinking that they were never going to find her alive. In hindsight, throwing something like this at the audience wasn’t something I was necessarily waiting for, but does seem like one of those things the show would be keeping in its back pocket. But regardless of whether it was expected or not, HOW EFFING INSANE WAS IT?!?! When you find yourself watching TV on the edge of your sofa and eating your hands, there’s a good chance that whatever you’re watching is doing its job.
And the show did its job and then some. After Shane’s run in with Dale, he stomps out of the woods with a look on his face that says I’M GONNA KILL SOMEONE. And we knew he was only looking for an excuse — or waiting for Rick/whoever else to push him over the line — before he dragged those walkers out of the barn and started shooting them in the head. But I was really wondering whether he’d open up on Herschel or anyone else who tried to stop him. That never happened, although I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Herschel have a heart attack at the scene unfolding in front of him. When Shane and the others catch him and Rick trying to herd two walkers they’ve found out of the woods into the barn, Shane snaps and finally draws his line in the sand. People are either going to step up and defend their camp or they’re not. The way he made his point to Herschel, that the walkers are dead and not just sick by shooting one of them in the heart and stomach and asking how it could keep coming at them if it were still alive, was actually pretty smart. And the look on Herschel’s face during it all was of a man whose world was crashing down around him.
So Shane opens up the barn, the walkers come out and the shooting starts. Daryl and Andrea jump in with Shane right away. Others, like Glenn, help out almost despite themselves. These guys doing their thing while the group watches on was some pretty heavy stuff. But almost as soon as it starts, the zombies stop coming and everyone’s got a chance to catch their breath. Then we see Sophia. And watching the group’s reaction to that was kind of heartbreaking. Keeping up the search for her like they were was I think more a symbolic gesture than anything else. Rick would probably have kept it up another month if something like this hadn’t of happened, regardless of what he really knew must have happened to her in his head. But while the group has had the past couple of weeks of fruitless search to mentally prepare themselves for the possibility that they were never going to find her, seeing her like this opened those wounds up all over again. And while everyone is standing there, wide-eyed and in shock, it’s Rick who steps out and puts her down. Rick, who Shane had just described as “not built for this world.” In the past, Rick has complained about the group singling him out as their leader, saying it’s something he never asked for. And while I’ve never seen him take any steps to distance himself from it, maybe there’s something about him, and his willingness to make those hard decisions, that naturally sets him up in that role.
Despite all of this, the show is still struggling in other areas. Namely, giving characters consistent motivation for the things they do. Sometimes these are deep-rooted problems, like Dale’s whole thing with Shane. We know Dale caught him aiming at Rick down the barrel of his shotgun last season, we know he caught wind of Shane’s plan to leave the group. But I’m still trying to figure out how this translates into as deep-seated a mistrust as it obviously is, and why Dale’s picked this moment to confront him, or why he’s taking the guns, when there’s just as much chance that Rick’s going to ask for them as Shane. And how the hell does he know about what Shane did to Otis?
Sometimes these problems come right out of left field, like everything we saw tonight between Daryl and Carol (and please don’t let these two end up together). When Daryl’s saddling up again to go out and look for Sophia, Carol tells him he needs to rest, that there’s a good chance they’re going to lose her, and she couldn’t stand to lose him, too. So, Daryl does what you’d expect, also known as the opposite of what you’d expect: he calls her a bitch and stomps out of the stable. The next time we see them, they’re looking at flowers and reflecting on how lucky they are to have found each other. I understand these are emotional times, and when someone like Daryl has really got nothing to live for, it’d be easy to latch on to something like this, looking for Sophia. But I still didn’t think that justified his outburst. And let’s not forget Shane. Poor, crazy Shane. Who, after learning that Lori’s pregnant — and hearing her insist that the baby is Rick’s and not his, regardless of who the father is — may have been pushed right over the edge. I think his response to all of this is much more understandable than Daryl’s, but we want to make sure that he doesn’t turn into a caricature of himself.
I’m also hoping that the group leaves Herschel’s farm behind when the back half of the season starts up in February. I haven’t gotten as tired with this arc as I know some others have, but especially now I think it’s about time to move on. Whatever’s coming between Rick and Shane needs to come, and then we should start chapter 3 of this thing.
So, the show’s still working some things out. But overall I’ve felt these seven episodes to be such a jump in quality from what we saw in season 1 that I can easily overlook them (well, mostly). And if the show can give us more like what we saw tonight, Dale, Daryl and Shane can do all the crazy crap they want.
I think I felt worse for the chickens hobbled at the start of this episode than I did all the men, women and children I’ve seen slaughtered in the series so far. So I think I’ve got my priorities in the right place.
What we saw in this week’s teaser does bring up an interesting question. We see Patricia feeding a barn full of walkers. Now, we know the food isn’t doing anything to sustain them; it’s not being used up by natural metabolic processes (although I do wonder where it all goes when they’ve eaten too much of it), but how long can these things actually survive? Walkers aren’t alive, so despite the fact that they’re all running around and doing stuff they’re bodies are pretty much just wasting away. Isn’t it possible that eventually they’re all just going to fall apart? I understand that there’s a steady stream of new zombies replenishing their numbers, but that’s not going to hold out forever, right? So maybe in a sense Herschel’s got the right idea. Maybe holing up in out in the middle of nowhere and waiting for the whole thing to blow over isn’t the worst thing he could be doing. Keeping all those zombies in the barn, though? That will only get messy.
Could it be that our heroes are finally getting ready to get the hell out of here? I sure hope so. Spending this much time at Herschel’s may have been something the show needed to do after its less-than-stellar first season. With the apocalypse kept mostly at arm’s length, we’ve been able to focus more on the characters and their relationships with each other. And even though a few of them are still kind of a pain to be around — *cough* Andrea *cough* — this time has made everyone more bearable. But we’re starting to get the feeling that it’s time for the gang to move on. And so is Herschel, from the sound of it. You had to wonder — but maybe not too much — at why he’d be keeping a barn full of walkers, keeping them “alive” with the blood of innocent chickens. And now we know. Herschel’s wife and step-son are also in that barn, and he’s holding out hope that eventually they’ll find a cure and get better. I wonder whether or not he actually believes that’s a possibility. His family sounds like they believe it, until you prod them a little bit. Then they snap back to reality pretty quick. At least Maggie does. And I wonder if that’ll lead to any sort of split once Herschel runs Rick and co. off the farm.
So, things are relatively calm right now. But that’s not to say that everyone’s walking around hand in hand, kissing each other on the cheek. For some reason, Dale’s chosen this week to tell Shane he knows he’s planning on leaving the group, and not to think he forgot about that time in the woods when Shane and Rick were hunting and Shane held Rick in his sites and watched him with those dead eyes of his. Now, we’ve already established that Shane is a very bad man, but did Dale have to bring all this up now? I don’t doubt for a minute that Shane’s still got Lori on the brain, but for just a minute, things were beginning to look up for him. He had a nice afternoon with Andrea. They drove out to case a neighborhood, had a run in with a group of walkers, got their adrenaline all pumped up and had sex in the car. And then Dale had to get all in his face and ruin that. Maybe he had a legitimate beef, or maybe he got jealous when he saw Shane moving in on his woman. Whatever the case, Shane made it very clear that if he were the kind of person who’d kill his best friend, he’d do all sorts of nefarious shit to Dale, who he doesn’t even like for some reason. I like Dale, and I’d like to think that Shane wouldn’t do anything crazy to him. But I keep flashing back to poor Otis, getting shot in the leg, having a pack of zombies bite into his fleshy hindquarters. So who knows.
Speaking of Shane and Andrea’s afternoon outing, I’d like to say a couple of words on how characters who are usually at least moderately smart sometimes do the stupidest things in service of the plot. Like tonight, when Andrea and Shane get caught in the middle of a group of walkers while going through that neighborhood. They run out of the house, stop 20 feet from the car and start shooting. The car is 20 feet away! Why are you wasting ammunition on zombies you could be driving away from? But I guess if it weren’t for their high-octane escape, they wouldn’t have so easily given in to their primal carnal urges.
A little surprisingly, Lori wasn’t able to keep her pregnancy under wraps very long. Her confession to Rick led to another over-dramatic conversation about bring children into such a bleak world and if they can’t keep hope alive then it’ll only become bleaker and bleaker. Just before you hear yourself telling them (out loud) to stop it, Lori tells Rick that she slept with Shane. And Rick tells her that he knows. And he sounds cool with. Because Lori thought he was dead, RIGHT?! I wonder if there’s the teensiest bit of self-delusion in all of that. After all, Rick seems like he’s developing a talent for ignoring life’s ugly truths. Or at least pushing them off to the side. But if Rick knew that Lori slept with Shane, what else does he know? Does he know about Shane’s feelings toward him, and the feelings he still has for Lori? And what was it that Jenner whispered into Rick’s ear at the end of last season? Sure, he could have said that Shane was sleeping with Lori, but I think the show would want to make that particular secret a little darker, like Shane trying to rape Lori. Or not. I’ve been wrong before.
In any case, it was refreshing to have Rick in the know, and for he and Lori to that whole thing out in the open and move past it. The show had dragged that out long enough. And now that it looks like the group’s going to be leaving Herschel’s farm in their rear view, they’ll have some fresh new hell to deal with.
I think it’d be easy to look at these teasers the show has been doling out this season and think that it was just a nifty creative choice on the part of the writers. Flesh out a bit of the apocalypse story and what our characters were doing in the middle of it. But I think there’s at least the smallest thematic link between what we’re seeing in the teaser and what we see in the episode. This week showed us the group stuck on the highway outside of Atlanta, watching as army helicopters dropped napalm on the city. As Shane held Lori and wiped the tears from her dirt-streaked face, you have to wonder whether or not he had a huge rager, and if he considered all this death in destruction a small price to pay for getting a shot at the woman he had had his eyes on for so long.
Shane loves Lori. The zombie outbreak allowed that love to come out into the open, but Rick’s return shooed it away. I’d say that Shane was going through the 5 Stages of Grief in handling the whole thing, but he seemed to be stuck in anger, bargaining and depression before finally settling on denial. After abandoning his idea to leave the group behind — in which Lori’s protestations played no small part — he tells her this week that his greatest concern is to keep her and Carl safe. So after being told point blank that whatever fling they had was a mistake and now that Rick was back, Lori was staying with him, Shane’s strategy is basically to force Lori to love him. He’s stuck in denial, and I have a bad feeling that acceptance only comes with a bullet in his head.
But as crazy as Shane may be, he is talking some sense. As he and Rick go out once again to comb the woods for Sophia, Shane tells him that the decisions he’s making are hurting the group. If they hadn’t wasted so much time after she first went missing, Shane says, they’d be halfway to Fort Benning and Carl would never have gotten shot. That may be a little cold-blooded. I and I imagine most people would have spent at least some time looking for her. But when Shane says, ”She only matters to the degree in which she doesn’t bring the rest of us down,” he’s absolutely right. And Shane keeps on making sense. He says that when a child goes missing they’ve got a window on 72 hours to find them. After that they’re looking for a body. I mean, Daryl couldn’t go out into the woods for an hour before he was thrown off his horse, fell down a cliff, impaled himself on an arrow and had a zombie almost eat his foot off. What the hell kind of chance does Sophia have? And she’s been out there for days now. So, as much as it hurts me to admit it, Shane is right. Rick is holding on to a way of thinking that doesn’t make sense anymore. Sophia is just a for instance.
And while I guess a nice quiet farmhouse with lots of land and a big shade tree with a tire swing becomes pretty tempting in the middle of the hell that the rest of the world has descended into, if I were Rick I’d rethink my decision to stick around Herschel any longer than I needed to. The main reason for that: he’s turned into such a little bitch. First he tells Rick that once Carl gets better, they need to be on their way. Alright. I understand that. Herschel’s got to look out for him and his. But now every little thing has to be run past him. Herschel doesn’t want the horses being taken out. Herschel doesn’t want Jimmy going out with Rick and the group. Herschel doesn’t want Maggie fornicating with that “Asian.” What the hell is this guy’s problem? Well, as it turns out, it’s probably the barn full of walkers Glenn stumbles upon at the end of the episode**. I can see why Herschel would want to keep that under wraps. It’s like someone looking through your closet and finding a box full of sex toys. “What?! Oh… haha. *cough* Yeah, those are my ex-girlfriend’s. I keep them there, like, as a joke.” Whatever Herschel’s reason for keeping a barn full of zombies, it’ll be sure to drive our characters away from the farm. Off to some fresh new horror on their way to Fort Benning. The whole thing is kind of like a metaphor for life, when you think about it. No? Whatever.
(**I might have felt vindicated, thinking that I had called this in my review of last week’s episode. But I’m pretty sure I had just read it in the comics and then forgotten where I got the idea.)
I’ll say a few words on Mr. Norman Reedus, who’s quickly become the show’s most interesting character. I’m not exactly sure what the point of Daryl’s little adventure was, except to spend some time alone with the character. But I thought his conversation with Merle to be one of the most illuminating the show has done in quite a while, even though I felt a little betrayed by the fact that Merle hadn’t actually returned to the show. But as much as I liked all this, I’m still at a loss to explain his necklace of zombie earrings. I mean, if it were Shane pulling crap like that I’d understand. But Daryl… it seems like it’s something moving in the opposite direction of the character itself.
And lastly, if Daryl = good, Andrea = bad. I almost wish she had shot Daryl in the head just so someone — preferrably Dale, but, you know, anyone — could have gone up and punched her in the head. “Back off, Dale! I know what I’m doing. Is the sun supposed to be in my face when I shoot?” That whole thing had me grinding my teeth. I’m glad she’s finally smoothing things over with Dale, that that whole mess is finally being put to bed. It makes her a lot less irritating, but stuff like this kind of ruins it. Maybe once Rick and the others hightail it out of there, they could leave Andrea behind to keep looking for Sophia. I think that’s a plan everyone could agree with.
Well, Carl’s still healing from the surgery, and there’s no rushing that. And you don’t want to leave too soon, in case Sophia shows up. So why don’t ya’ll sit a spell. Have some lemonade. Enjoy the porch swing. I think we’ve got some games or something around here we could play. Stick around. Why you always gotta be going somewhere?
Was I in love with “Cherokee Rose”? No, I wasn’t. For me, much of the hour felt like it was spinning its wheels, waiting for the next episode to start. But sprinkled throughout there were some pretty good bits. Glenn got laid, which he really deserved. And the well-walker set a new standard for the show’s gross-out aesthetic. And we learned more than we ever wanted to know about Cherokee’s and roses, so that’s cool.
But we should probably stop and talk about that well-walker, because I think that whole thing’s setting up what we’re going to be seeing in these next few episodes. After the group’s ill-fated attempt to hoist the thing up out of the well, we see Maggie walk away, her head lowered and looking upset. When she and Glenn are on their way to the pharmacy**, she still looks shaken, and Glenn talks a bit about all the death they’ve seen and how desensitized they’ve become to it. But Maggie’s all hardcore so she doesn’t say anything. But wait. If she’s such a badass, why would seeing one zombie ripped in half upset her? Is it possible there’s more here than meets the eye? Is it possible that zombie was stuck in that well for a reason? And why the hell does Herschel all of the sudden have such a hard-on for shooing the group out the door?
(**And why keep making pharmacy runs, when it’s in a relatively deserted part of town? Just bring a few extra people with you, or that truck of Otis’, and clean the place out.)
It’s been some time since I’ve read the comics, and even then I’m not sure if I ever got this far, but I think there’s a very specific reason Herschel is so optimistic about a cure for the plague eventually being found. And I’m betting that in the next couple of weeks we’ll meet exactly who Herschel’s holding out hope of a cure for. GET IT? Isn’t that effed up? What a world of horrors our characters are living in.
Despite the lack of what some might call forward momentum, we got some good Shane material. Which is as frustrating as it is compelling. Shane’s already torturing himself, trying to justify what he did to Otis. And all of that’s made worse when Otis’ wife asks him to repeat the story he’s concocted at the memorial service. Sure, putting Shane on the spot is fun to watch, but getting him there makes you roll your eyes just a little bit. Otis’ wife says she needs to hear about her husband’s last moments, to know that his death meant something. Is seeing the medicine Shane brought back with him and the fact that Carl survived his surgery not reason enough? What else do you need to hear? But Shane’s happy to lie, and Otis’ wife feels a little better, I guess. So, time well spent.
I did think it was funny to see that Shane’s reconsidering his decision to leave the group. In the middle of all this craziness with Otis, he finds Lori and asks her if she was serious about wanting him to stay. So he’s falling into that hole again, and that’s going to be a big problem once everyone sees Lori’s baby-bump. And yes, Lori’s preggers. Which is about as surprising as it was to find out that The Walking Dead was about zombies. How long until Rick and Shane beat the hell out of each other? That’s a fight I want to see.
And just like Shane seems to have rethought his decision to leave, it looks like Andrea may have done the same thing. I think both of them still have reasons to be pissed off. Perhaps not horribly legitimate ones, but reasons still. But while she’s talking to Shane — or rather, listening to Shane self-justify killing Otis — and he brings up how angry she’s been at Dale since the CDC, she says that bad feelings aside, he did risk his life to save hers. So maybe she’s coming around.
And while we’re wrapping up loose ends, I enjoyed Daryl’s conversation with Carol. Not so much for the conversation itself — I had a little trouble understanding its relevance to the larger story — but because it illustrates how much Daryl has evolved as a character from season 1 to season 2. I’ve said before that he’s turning into this show’s Sawyer, and that trend seems to be continuing. He just needs to work on his nicknames.
One final thought. I’m really starting to get sick of the way Rick talks. So over-dramatic. “These people look to me for answers. I didn’t ask for it, but they do. But I’m not asking for them. I’m asking for my boy. Also I enjoy offering up bits of pointless information.” He may not have come and asked to be the group’s leader outright, but he certainly never did anything to shy away from it once people started looking to him. So, go ahead and give your hat to Carl, and put your badge away in a drawer. It doesn’t matter. You can’t stick who you are into a drawer… or give it to your son.
Yes, that may have been a bit of a detour from my problems with the way Rick talks, but it’s still a legitimate gripe. But going back to that, the show is doing some really great character work right now — much better than anything it did in the first season — now the dialogue needs to catch up.