Well, that was cathartic. After an entire half-season of meandering around the barnyard, The Walking Dead closed out with a few dozen bangs...and a few euphemistic bangs deferred. By the time the episode ended, we saw that everyone wants to rule the world. Or at least those hectares Hershel's farm sits on. Spoilers!
As I commented last week, the watchability of this show ramped up considerably as TWD approached its mid-season hiatus. Tonight's episode, "Pretty Much Dead Already," kept up the momentum after last week's revelation that Rick knew Lori was slumber bag wrestling with Shane.
Sure, there were some off moments tonight — namely more of Lori pregnancy histrionics, Dale's weird horny pleading with Andrea, Darryl spurning Carol, and Maggie's egg-in-Glenn's-hat vaudeville gag — but the episode got good in the last 10 minutes. You know, the scene where Shane started screaming like a mercury-poisoned aerobics instructor and opened the barn door to dispose of Hershel's zombie collection.
And the big reveal that Sophia, that pint-sized MacGuffin sapien, has been zombified probably since the season premiere? Holy crap, was that heart-breaking. For those of you who saw the Season 2.5 preview that aired during Hell On Wheels, Hershel posits that Otis must have corralled her before Carl was shot. But wouldn't one of Hershel's brood noticed a little zombie girl during the daily chicken toss? If so, Hershel wouldn't exactly have been able to say, "Oh yeah, that little girl you're going bonkers over? She's in the barn with Uncle Boaz and Great-Aunt Dorcas. Did I mention we have zombies in the barn?"
Given the time the survivors squandered searching for Sophia, Hershel's complicity in Zophia's internment could break his character. If Hershel allowed Rick's crew to endanger themselves because he hoped to someday cure the walkers (I'm guessing that's what he was researching when Rick confronted him) then his leadership potential is nil.
Also, the zombies did a number on that door when they saw Shane peering in. A few rotting boards (or a few less rotting walkers) and Cousin Clovis and Widow Figgins from around the honeysuckle patch are filling their bellies with T-Dog or Carol or another throwaway character.
Sure, the characterization on The Walking Dead has been more grating than gratifying as of late — Shane, Darryl, and Glenn (75% of the time) excluded. But this season is doing a great job of showing how close the survivors are to the state of nature. On one hand, you have empty-mandate-yelling Dale, Rick, and Hershel, who cling to quaint notions of property, good manners, and chain of command. They believe in the old laws, even if nobody can adequately enforce them.
On the flip side, there are folks like Shane and Darryl (when he's making ear lanyards), who are wild-eyed but pragmatic. I really liked the fake-out when it seemed like Shane had offed Dale for his gun-hiding insolence. Shane may have been right, but he's a few years away from donning some Lord Humungus armor.
I'm also predicting that the firing squad who rushed to Shane's side (T-Dog, Andrea, Darryl) will coalesce into Team Shane come February. With the baby on the way, I can't see Rick and Shane becoming closer chums.
(It's worth noting that Rick only migrates over to Team Shane and ignores Hershel's rules after everyone's too stunned to shoot Sophia. Similarly, Shane's affection for Carl is the only thing keeping him around Team Rick. They're more alike than everyone would like to admit.)
So yeah, Season 2 started off strong, dipped, and ended with a legitimately screwed-up finale. It was pokey in the center, so here are some ways The Walking Dead could get back on track:
Big Reveals Don't Necessarily Make The Journey Worthwhile
It was good TV when we learned that Rick knew Lori slept with Shane and that Sophia was hanging with moldy Uncle Nicodemus, but the fleeting shock can't outweigh the talky slog that came prior. Sure, keep Sophia lost and Rick emotionally stunted, but other things have to be interesting in the meantime.
Nobody On The Cast Can Be Expendable
At this point in The Walking Dead, they've pared down the cast to a handful of survivors. But how many of them do we actually know? Well, obviously they can't kill Rick or Shane just yet. It would just be plum dark if they offed starry-eyed Carl, goofy Glenn, or sensual ranger Darryl Dixon.
But how would you feel if Lori died? Would you care if T-Dog or Carol fell into a tiger trap? What if Dale and Andrea were obliterated by a tidal wave of pistachio butter? What if every single member of Hershel's gang (save Maggie) spontaneously combusted into a rainbow of taffy? It's the post-apocalypse, every death must count. Also, the audience really shouldn't be rooting for characters' deaths simply because they're annoying. Sorry, Dale.
This Is A Zombie Show, There Should Be Dread
This is the biggest thing we need come Season 2.5. Things don't have to be deathly dire all the time, but the audience must feel like impending death is always a possibility. The zombie scares shouldn't have the regularity of a pop-up book. No, The Walking Dead should be marinating in tension. Hershel's farm may have provided sanctuary for the survivors, but nobody should feel entirely comfortable. The possibility of Otis' torso rolling home has to be real. The last grimace-worthy zombie scene was the highway herd from the season premiere. More of that come February 12, please.