Rick versus Shane, Shane versus Dale, Hershel versus Rick, Rick versus unknown but hostile living people, Lori versus her own stupidity, and hope versus no hope. It’s a contentious time on the first new episode of ‘The Walking Dead’ back from its hiatus.
The first half of the show’s second season, presumably due to budget issues, had been much less exciting than the first season. The group spent most of its time combing the woods looking for a little girl. Little development was made in the story, other than finding out that Lori is pregnant and that Glenn has it in him to get some post-apocalyptic booty. The rest of the time, I wondered if this wild goose chase would ever end. Not because I didn’t want them to find the little girl, but because the rest of the show was suffering for it. Characters were becoming stagnant and immovable, and only served to take up space on the farm they’ve been squatting on.
The sole “Oh my God!” moment of the season came in the mid-season finale, when little Sophia shuffled out of the barn, putrefied and hungry for humans. It was a jarring moment, which felt all the more stunning because we hadn’t had something like that the entire season. The closest we got was when Shane sacrificed poor, crippled Otis to the zombie gods in order to escape.
I think some people, myself included, were hoping for a change of scenery. We wanted Rick and company to pick up, leave Hershel’s land and never look back. I found myself hoping that maybe the show’s writers use the time off to work on the script, perhaps by skipping the action forward a couple months. Certainly, an episode title like ‘Nebraska’ hints at something like that. Maybe that was just my cautious optimism that this show would leave the uneventful farm behind and get back to zombie killin’.
Instead, we pick up right where we left off (inside, I sighed, still at the farm). The Walkers in the barn have been dispatched in a merciless but all-too-fun shooting gallery of blood and guts. People are reeling. Carol just witnessed her daughter as a zombie for the first time, and then watched as Rick put a bullet right through her skull. It was kind of a traumatizing five seconds for her. Hershel also lost loved ones. Holding out hope that there might be a cure, he hid his wife away in the barn. When the zombies were let out, Shane took her down and, as Hershel would later admit, he lost all hope.
As the camp set about wondering if they should bury the dead and have a service for them, I began wondering if this show will ever find its stride again. Sure, the bubbling contention between Shane and Rick seems to be reaching a tipping point, but that was bound to happen whether or not they found themselves stuck on this tractor beam of a farm. They keep getting sucked back in.
Rick is still trying to solve everyone’s problems, but his motives are pure (if not a bit misguided). When Hershel goes off to find solace at the town bar, Rick and Glenn head into town to bring him back. Hershel’s daughter Beth has gone comatose, and Rick uses that information to try to pry Hershel away from his drink. In reality, Rick wants Hershel close so that he can help with Lori’s pregnancy.
Meanwhile, after asking an unwilling Daryl to bring Rick back to the farm, Lori decides in her pregnancy stupor to search for Rick herself. Pregnancy stupor is a real thing. When my wife was pregnant, we called in “Pregnancy Brain.” She’d forget all kinds of stuff. However, I don’t think she ever would’ve driven alone, with what appeared to be a small pea-shooter of a gun, into a deserted town that’s most likely going to have a zombie problem. Even a couple zombies would be enough to overrun Lori. But Pregnancy Brain affects everyone differently. Lori’s decision is nothing but dumb, dumb, dumb. We can tell that something bad is going to happen when the camera suddenly cuts to Lori driving alone on a deserted highway. Soon enough, a lonely Walker meanders out into the road, causing Lori to swerve. As a person who has lived in deer country his whole life and just recently hit a deer, you should never brake or swerve when animals (or the undead) find themselves between your car and the rest of the highway. Just keep going. It’s the only way to avoid crashing.
The episode’s plot picks up when Glenn and Rick run across a couple of real live dudes who just so happen to saunter into the same bar. I like the idea of people pitted against people in a show like this. It’s inevitable that whatever groups are left will end up vying for control over each other, trying to grab as much safe land, water and shelter as possible. That’s why, when Tony and Dave, the visitors from up north, suspect that Rick, Glenn and Hershel are staying at a nearby farm, they begin frothing at the mouth.
Now it’s Rick’s turn to play the bad guy, to turn away someone who needs help. Are Tony and Dave bad dudes? Perhaps not (although Tony doesn’t exactly make himself too welcome by pissing on the floor in the middle of the bar). Maybe Tony and Dave have kids, and are just doing what Rick would do. After a short discussion with all kinds of hidden agendas and Rick trying his best (the worst) poker face, Tony and Dave know that something is up. They try to take the others by force. That doesn’t work out so well. Rick is too fast. He dispatches these guys like a Western gunslinger. Irony of ironies, in a world full of the undead, the living have to kill the living. Don’t that just suck all?
So, here we are. Lori is lying in a ditch somewhere because of her incompetence. Shane is slowly losing all rational thought and is about to crack faster than a Walker’s skull meeting a baseball bat. Dale is still moping around the camp wide-eyed, full of conspiracy theories and moral righteousness. Carl is becoming jaded. Maggie loves Glenn, but Glenn has never had a girl love him before. It took the end of the world for someone to finally say, “I love you, Glenn.” That’s not really a self-esteem booster. Beth is comatose. Carol might as well be. Daryl is off whittling somewhere. T-Dog had a couple lines. And there’s no promise that we’re ever leaving this farm. None at all. That’s the saddest part of the episode for me.
As far as we know, right now, Rick wants to stay at the farm, and may have formed an even stronger bond with Hershel after the encounter at the bar. Lori will need help, so she’ll be laid up at least a few days at the house. Rick will stick around, Shane will keep yelling at him and maybe even take off on his own. Unfortunately, we all know that the show sticks with Rick, and Rick wants to stay. Damn.