We couldn’t help feeling last night that, even more so than last week’s season opener, this episode was written in direct response to fan and critic complaints regarding last season’s various plot strands, including a long, meandering slog through the woods to look for a character no one cared about, more explorations of the Grimes marriage than anyone wanted to hear, and an ill-advised philosophical showdown between Rick and Shane in which the guy you ostensibly were supposed to be rooting for was an idiot and the dangerous, psychopathic asshole just happened to be the only smart person who made any sense. Also: talking. Lots and lots of talking: outside churches, inside churches, outside farmhouses, on the porches of farmhouses, and inside various rooms of farmhouses. The entirety of season 2 seems to have been nothing more than a series of conversations about the zombie apocalypse rather than actually dealing with the zombie apocalypse.
But they’ve really hit the ground running with season 3 and like we said last week, this is a leaner, meaner, more well-oiled machine which, with the increasingly wild-eyed Rick at its head, is less likely to wring their hands over the kind of sentimentality that got people killed in the past. There’s no question that a dying man, no matter how beloved or useful to the team, needs to be handcuffed, with someone at the ready to put a bullet in his head should he stop breathing. There’s no question that handing Carl a gun and continuing not to pay any attention to where he goes and what he does is probably a net positive for the group if Lori can just learn to deal with it. There’s no question that if you find a well-fortified safe space loaded with food, you should probably just kill the people who already live there; especially if they’re dangerous assholes. And perhaps the most illustrative example of the group’s new hardness: there’s no question that, when you need to perform a C-section and you have no anatomical knowledge, it’s just good common sense to put a spike through a lady zombie’s eye and then calmly dissect her in a prison court yard.
The centerpiece of the this episode was Rick’s wild-eyed -and highly successful – attempt to assert control over the former prisoners of the jail, but to us, the sight of the former weepy, useless, laundry-folding Carol quietly slicing into a woman’s decomposing body for the good of the group was the real eye-opener; the real indication that we’re now in a story well past the point most zombie movies end. We’re in the “living in a post-plague world” portion of the story, where kids get guns and the law is an axe to the head. Where people are hardened to the point that they don’t look or act like people anymore. Where daughters beg their sick fathers to die because living incapacitated in this world would be a kind of slow, humiliating death. In other words, we’re living in a world where the undead are a pestilence and an annoyance, but the sight of other people is an instant indication of danger, and blood is almost certainly going to be spilled.
We’re kind of loving that.
After all, you can only get so much mileage out of “AAAAAHHH, a dead person bit my leg!” Rick and Lori’s conversation in the prison yard was the best scene those two characters ever had because they finally felt like a married couple after the apocalypse, instead of a married couple arguing about child rearing and who’s not doing the communicating, and I might be in love with someone else who might be the father of my child – all that soap opera bullshit from last season that had seemingly half the viewership exclaiming “WHAT IS ALL THIS ‘DAYS OF OUR LIVES’ BULLSHIT DOING IN MY ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE?” Their conversation was brief, painful, and cold – but things got said that needed to be said. Earlier, she told him straight out to kill their co-habitants and not give it a second thought. Later, he commended her on saving Herschel’s life. Between those words were years of pain and emotional neglect, but this simply wasn’t the time and place to utter them and besides, they’re exhausted with the business of just staying alive and finding a place to stand still for a second. This is their marriage post-apocalypse, and it’s not pretty. But what’s kind of great is that the writing was bold enough to go this direction, because their marriage pretty much sucked pre-apocalypse and it would have been boring – and quite the cliche – to have the horror bring them closer together. Instead, the story did what all good horror – and especially post-apocalyptic ones – does well: it shines a light on the human existence, turns the dials up to eleven, and doesn’t flinch at showing us what people are really like. Rick and Lori are a mess as a husband and wife, but they always were. Right now, they’re winning the only game there is left: the fight to survive. And that’s good enough. This is first class genre writing and it’s a joy to see. More, please.
[Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC]