In preparation for tonight’s mid-season premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead, I went back and reread the previous reviews I did of the first half of the season. Not because I am some strange self-absorbed narcissistic ass (I am, but that’s not why I did it). I know I am not alone with the criticism that that first seven episodes of the shows sophomore season dragged on a little to long with the cyclical optimism vs realism conversation and the endless spinning of wheels in the search for little Sophia. My intention is to hit the back half of episodes with a new found sense of optimism, I want to like this show very much, I do like this show very much.
In the reread I realized something. It is hard to follow along and on such a bleak and hopeless situation. As the first half of the second season wore on, it was a slow decent into a darker territory, we may not have known it and the characters sure as hell didn’t. They, and we, were set up on a one way street to the eventual demise of little girl Sophia and the loss of all hope. Well, her second demise that is. My guess is the kid was bit and zombified very shortly after her disappearance, but when Rick’s bullet tore through the zombie child’s skull at the end of the last episode that darkness finally set it. This is where we are as the credits role in this episode.
We will now sit back and watch the emotional fallout of the long search for Sophia being fruitless and the tension raised by Rick and his group discovering that farmer Herschel was running an undead daycare the whole time snaps. Welcome back Walking Dead. Now hit us with something good.
We continue after the jump.
We start moments after the last episodes ending. Shane had threw open the doors to Herschel’s zombie petting zoo, everyone opened fire cutting down all the undead only to find it was little Sophia that walked (shambled) among them. The clean-up of the decayed and finally less undead bodies begins, well one was apparently playing possum. Crafty little flesh eater even almost got Herschel’s stepdaughter, Beth, before it was brain spiked. Turns out the zombie was in question was Beth’s mom/Herschel’s second wife, part of the ones he was keeping penned up in the barn in his optimistic hope that this could all be cured somehow. Shortly after this the breakdown between the residents of the farm and Rick’s crew starts to take hold for the obvious reasons. We also see the death of optimism, for both sides. Herschel now knows a cure is impossible, Rick and team have lost the one sense of direction they had, finding little Sophia alive and well. Right about here is where it becomes clear that the past seven episode grind was a buildup to this breakdown. Each and every character cracks in their own way, everyone of them suddenly realize they have been completely directionless of the past longest while. Notably, and echoing the comic books (but much earlier in the story) Carl grimly says he would have shot the zombie Sophia as well, in a cold and emotionless way.
As the corpse clean-up begins, you see how it’s sullen and tedious. A half hearted attempt at honoring their friends and family is made, but you still get this overwhelming sense that everyone is slowly shutting off. For Carol, Sophia’s mother, It makes sense and is done an a very heavy scene. She has quickly come to grips with the situation, but it’s toll has it’s effect as she (very understandably) breaks down. Even Glen, the boyish and optimistic light of the group seems tired and torn by the turn of events. Of course Rick and Shane, the two characters that battle to hold the alpha male spot on in this group of survivors, are buckling under the pressure. Shane more so as the weight of his own actions seem to be taking their toll. For Rick, it is the same as before, he questions his place as the leader of the group and his ability to do so. To be honest, we’ve seen this happening already. Most of the characters have spent the last few episodes (or in Shane’s case, every episode) slowly descending into chaos. The turning point comes from small town vet and farmer Herschel. He rather ceremoniously announces to us that he is going to start drinking again.
As the episode reached the halfway mark I found myself sharing in this dark and foreboding tone. Feeling that heavy weight in my chest that really made the build-up over the last seven episodes make more sense. Dale, Andrea and, T-Dog’s continued clean-up of the zombie bodies was mechanical, the dropped arm that Andrea retrieves and tosses back onto the truck shows just how disconnected they are becoming to the situation. Right about now is a good place to speculate if the first seven episodes really where just a set up to this. There was not one character or plot line (save for hillbilly death machine Daryl) that saw any real growth. The constant rehashing of the optimist vs realist debate with the odd dash (very few and far between) of a zombie cameo to spice it up a bit. I know, and somewhat share, the feeling that the show is light on zombie action is out there. The first season was a little more adventurous and involved the group on the move, while this season as been more sedentary and (for both us as views and the characters) frustrating. As the second half of the second season starts, we are still in the same place having the same conversations, but finally the characters start to feel our same frustrations.
Enter the McGuffin. Beth, you know who she is right? Herschel’s stepdaughter, almost got bit by her zombie mom, has never really had any purpose until now? Well, she has a seizure/plot point and falls into the ever popular ‘catatonic state’. While I agree something had to happen soon, since all this doom and gloom was starting to feel like I had just been surfing LiveJournal for the past few hours, it just seemed forced. Well, the good news is since Herschel is off the wagon he’s back at the small town bar he frequented when he drank, ’cause you know the best thing to do in a town crawling with zombies is dull your senses and your reaction time. So, with whatshername in her plot pushing coma, Glen and Rick are off to retrieve the small town vet. sandwiched inbetween this and the episode moving forward are two scenes. One between Shane and Carol that just seems awkward and pointless, I really assume I missed something as to why we had that. The other is Dale revealing to Lori that he knows Shane killed Otis, since… apparently he’s psychic? If the writers want to explore this further, they really need to work the Dale/Shane angle further. To quickly go through the clunky part of the episode, for no apparently reason Lori runs off to find Daryl who’s working on his fletching skill (clearly to boost dexterity), tries to send him off to get Rick and Glen who are already off to get Herschel… cause… um… Why? Anyway, Daryl basically says ‘screw you’ and announces he is now looking out for number one, she then leaves herself and, to prove that she is the least interesting character, fails to yield at a zombie crossing and rolls her car, I’m struggling to care about this turn of events.
This brings us to the bar where ‘everyone wants your braaaaaaaaaaaaaains’ (words can not express how happy I am to finally, lamely, unite my love of zombies and the sitcom Cheers). The first half of the season’s long realism vs optimism battle is apparently over, we have Herschel (optimism) tell Rick (realism) that he won and everything is hopeless. Rick can’t let Herschel give up since he needs his medical knowledge to keep moving forward (and for his unborn baby). Before this can be resolved, a new combatant arrives. Douchebagary. Proving that after the end of the world assholes will still exist, enter Dave and Tony. Apparently two scouts for another group of survivors that have chosen to send their worst out ahead (please tell me these two are their worst, if not then I want them eat by zombies as soon as possible). Here we get a bigger picture of the Walking Dead World, it’s bleak. Fort Benning is no longer an option, hell, nowhere seems to be an option anymore. As the douche twins quickly out stay there welcome, the tensions raise. For the first time in a long time I found myself bouncing through possible outcomes, unsure of will happen next, and what did was honestly a surprise. Cue a very kick ass song by Clutch.
The start and finish of this episode where great examples as to what I love about the show. The middle was honestly the far to familiar slow pace redundant conversations that only now seem to fit since we know the hopeless bleak future set out before those that remain. If it was the writers intention to spend the past 7 episodes showing us the futility these characters have faced, then now is the time for us to see something, anything to cling to. Don’t get me wrong, I do love how dark things have become in this show. but, as you can see from the sneak peak below, things will continue to get dark.