On The Walking Dead, nobody's feeling particularly friendly

The Walking Dead is back, and it's ready to deal with the fallout from Hershel's big secret. How will our gang of can-do survivors pick up the pieces? What's Lori's new hilarious nickname? And why the hell is this episode named "Nebraska?" Spoilers!

As you may remember, the first half of The Walking Dead's second season revolved around supercop Rick Grimes and his footloose caravan settling down at Hershel's farm, solving brainteasers like some tone-deaf Partridge Family who found the keys to the Mystery Mobile. And Season Two's central head-scratcher was, "Where's Sophia, the lost little girl who couldn't leave a trail of breadcrumbs (because the world ran out of bakeries)?"

Well, after a half-season of deliberation, the gang realizes a zombified Sophia was in the barn the whole time — this secret died with Otis. I was sort of hoping the second half of Season Two would be a replay of the first half from Sophia's point-of-view. For example, there would be an entire episode of her staring at a bale of hay. In another episode, an inquisitive rooster provides endless comic relief. And yet another episode occurs solely in the pitch black of night, where the audience must decipher Shane's muffled yelling far off in the distance.

But no. After the second-most harrowing barn-related scene in television history — here is the first — everyone bumbles around for 45 minutes. And, like some viewers, the survivors are miffed they wasted their time looking for Sophia.

But unlike before, this bumbling has potential. The survivors have lost their purpose, and the show feels like it's ready to take some risks again. Everyone's in shock or emotional stasis. Hershel's daughter has a psychosomatic (or real?) zombie bite. Rick and Shane are bickering in public. Darryl's regressed into ear-collecting-survivalist mode but kept his audience favorite credentials by dubbing Lori "Olive Oyl." T-Dog was so aghast he actually had dialogue. I really enjoyed when Andrea casually picked up the zombie's arm — severed limb collecting is the new normal.

Hell, Lori was so upset about her new moniker that she had a Blues Brothers car crash...after failing to notice a zombie plodding slooowly from 500 feet away. Almost every one of Lori's character moments can be punctuated with a baleful sousaphone sting. She is the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme song made flesh.

Of course, all this hand-wringing was eclipsed by the tense and creepy last 15 minutes of "Nebraska." Hershel confronts the irrationality of his hope and hits the bottle. His wife is never coming back, and he's only now coming to terms with this.

Rick and Glenn go to retrieve him from a nearby bar when two new survivors, Rene from True Blood and Evil Dom DeLuise, show up. We don't initially know if Rene and Dom are bad or just ill-mannered, but they want to know where Rick's farm is. Evil Dom DeLuise urinates on the bar floor, so Rick clams up.

Rene (who seems like Shane with worse jokes, not unintentionally methinks) then gets pushy. Rick tells Rene to screw off to the Cornhusker State. Rene and Dom pull firearms, so Rick gunkatas their asses. Rick and Hershel finally realize they have a symbiotic relationship. Hershel has the resources and medical know-how, whereas Rick can protect the Pollyanna-no-more veterinarian from incontinent clones of deceased comedians.

It's a hard lesson, but it shakes Hershel back to reality. How long will this rekindled friendship last? The preview for next week's episode showed off some angry fellows mulling outside the bar. The state of nature has come a-knocking.