Before we get started, we would just like to remind all those people on twitter who are saying that last night’s episode was “AMAZING!!!!!!” that at every point in the episode prior to the final ten minutes, many of those same twitterers were going on and on about how much the show sucks now. We mention this not because we’re butthurt over something on twitter but because yes, those last 5 minutes were pretty amazing, but the previous 55 were just as talky and slow-moving as the rest of the season. One good set piece does not a good TV show make.
Yes, we’re a little cranky.
Season 2 has been, mostly to its detriment, one long, extended philosophical conversation between two opposing points of view: Rick’s hopeful idea that if everyone just keeps their wits (and more importantly, their morals) about them, then they can somehow find/build a decent life for themselves post-apocalypse, and Shane’s rather more pragmatic view that hanging onto old ways is going to kill them all. These two points of view have been reflected in almost every single altercation and conversation since the beginning of the season, whether it was Dale vs. Shane, or Rick vs. Lori, or Andrea vs. Dale, or Darryl vs. Carol, or T-Dog vs. Dale (funny how much Dale figures into the debate), everyone just couldn’t stop stating and restating their positions. Instead of a thrill ride, we got your average mid-level management conference.
But with last night’s episode, this long-simmering conversation was taken to its natural endpoint, except it wasn’t really about Rick vs. Shane. It was about Herschel vs. Shane. Or at least, it was about taking both sides of this debate, hope and pragmatism, and blowing them way out to their most extreme. Since Rick isn’t really capable of being extreme (at least not yet), he found himself, for once, exactly in the middle of an argument. Rick’s always been the avatar of hope for this story, but Hershel represents hope’s most maniacal extreme. His intentions are good, but Hershel is so blinded by the naive belief that things will get better somehow that he’s pretty much thrown all sense out the window. It’s hope without reason, and facing it horrifies Rick almost as much as Shane’s pragmatism without reason. The result of these two extreme philosophies clashing was, well, what always happens when extremists clash: violence. And while the argument hasn’t really been settled, the appearance of the much-lamented Sophia effectively put a capper on it; especially when it was the supposedly weak and naive Rick who was the only one with the steel in him to do what needed to be done.
Yes, those last five to ten minutes really were engrossing, but after it was all over, we found ourselves as annoyed as we’ve always been with this season. Why did we have to wait so long for this? It occurred to us afterwards that Sophia had been gone for so long and the character really only had a handful of lines before her disappearance (Show of hands: Did anyone who didn’t read the books have any idea what her name was prior to this season? Could you pick the actress who plays her out of a lineup?) that the big reveal almost fell flat because for at least a second or two. We weren’t really sure if the little girl emerging from the barn was Sophia or not. All this drama hinging on a peripheral character was a mistake. If Carl had been the one missing then we as the viewers would have felt so much more urgency because both his parents are at the center of this drama and one or both of them is in almost every scene. Had Carl emerged from that barn after all this time then we would have fallen out of our chairs. As it is, we just went “Is that…? Oh. Yeah. That’s Sophia.”
As an aside, Rick’s getting really good at shooting little girls in the face, isn’t he? Maybe it’ll be his thing from now on. You need to get someone in and out of a tight spot? You send Glen. Need laundry done? Carol. Need someone to keep watch? Dale. Need to shoot a little girl in the head? Hey, any of you guys seen Rick around?
Anyway, our point is, we were a little pissed at the show last night for ending the mid-season on such a finely crafted note, because it can’t be stated strongly enough that the show is still in a rut. There was very little sense of urgency from the second the group arrived on the farm, with only sporadic scenes reminding us that as idyllic as the setting is, they’re still living in the post-apocalypse. Without that sense of urgency, the character work they were clearly trying to do during this pause in the horror fell flat. Pregnancy drama and young love have their place in a story like this, but only if you don’t effectively remove the characters from the story. Imagine Glenn and Maggie falling in love in the midst of devastation and despair, instead of cleanly dressed on a sunny day. Imagine the horror of Lori’s pregnancy revelation coming while the group was on the run, rather than while they’re safely camped. Imagine the debates over whether or not to continue the search for Sophia occurring while the group was in real danger, rather than in a series of repetitive conversations held in dining rooms and on porches or while hanging up the laundry.
Or, alternately, imagine if this respite from running really did consist of time spent defining each of the characters, most of whom are largely (and at this point in the story, appallingly) undeveloped. Dale’s a busybody moralist, Andrea’s bitter, Glen is sweet, Darryl is a tough-but-tender redneck, T-Dog is black, Carol hangs laundry. That’s it. That’s all that’s been established about the people in the group who aren’t Lori, Rick, or Shane.
The story of The Walking Dead is not strictly speaking a zombie story. People who have read the books know what we mean by that. We don’t need to see zombie massacres every week, nor do we need every scene to be tense, scary, and disgusting. There’s a lot of dramatic fodder inherent in this setup and with good writing, pregnancy drama and philosophical arguments can propel the story in all sorts of interesting directions. With hindsight, we can say pretty firmly that either the search for Sophia should have been spread out over no more than 3 episodes or that there should have been better-crafted human drama if we we absolutely have to spend so much time on the farm. We want to feel Lori’s urgency or Carol’s despair or Shane’s growing madness (Which would have been so much more effective had it been dialed down quite a bit. He was, after all, correct in a lot of ways. But it’s hard to rally behind such spittle-flecked fury.). Instead, we keep getting told about it.
We still love you, Walking Dead, but you’ve got some work cut out for you when you come back in February.
Things to discuss in the interim:
* Shane has been mostly right about everything. This bothers us.
* But Rick is still the leader because he was the only one who raised his gun and did what had to be done with Sophia.
* Did you notice how Glen looked to Maggie and she gave her assent to start killing the walkers in the barn? Nice moment.
* Did Hershel know about Sophia? It doesn’t look that way. Otis collected the walkers wandering around and put them in the barn. It’s likely he found zombie Sophia, locked her up, went hunting, and shot Carl, which then led to a lot of running around and panic, giving him no real time (or reason, really) to tell anyone that he found an unknown child zombie.
* Either way, Hershel should sleep with a gun under his pillow for the foreseeable future.
[Photo Credit: AMC]