The Walking Dead: “Chupacabra”

Posted on November 14, 2011

“It’s a wonder you people have survived this long.”

Gotta love Hershel. He may be a xenophobe, and dangerously naive about the nature of the zombie plague, but when the man speaks, true things tend to fall out of his mouth. When a traffic jam causes one child to go missing, another to get shot, a sliced-open arm in one member of the group and a bullet wound AND an arrow through the side in another, it’s time to start asking whether or not Rick, the de facto leader of this band, is doing all that good a job in protecting or leading this group. Unfortunately, the person doing the asking is Shane, who’s kind of crazy and has his own reasons for wanting to challenge Rick’s authority; namely, his obsession with protecting Rick’s wife and son. The group, such as it is, is an absolute mess and can’t seem to handle getting through each day without being torn apart internally by all the competing agendas or almost literally falling apart whenever they encounter the slightest crimp in their bare-bones plans. When you see the group – wild, dirty, and violent – in contrast with Hershel’s idyllic farm life and extended family, with their clean clothes and dinner with tablecloths, you have to wonder if Hershel isn’t at least partially right in asking them to hand over their guns. This is why Rick, in a moment of total clarity, ripped the zombie-ear necklace off Darryl before Hershel and his family could see just how barbaric Rick’s group really is.

But of course, Hershel has a secret of his own and as is so often the case with the outwardly-perfect, the truth of what lies beyond the facade is dark, dirty and dangerous. And as is so often the case with the dark, dirty and dangerous, the situation arose out of the very best intentions.

If there’s a theme to Walking Dead – besides “Look out!” that is – then it’s about hope in a world that can’t afford it anymore. It’s about answering the question of why any of us should keep on when everything around them has turned to shit. Rick has always served as a figure of hope for the group. He embodies it by being the man who came back from the dead and into the arms of his family, against all odds. He also embodies it by being the man who continues to believe that if they all just stay together and soldier on, things will get better for them somehow, somewhere. Almost every argument he’s ever had with Shane has centered around Rick’s need to hold on to hope and Shane’s need to protect his adopted family from immediate harm. Hope vs. pragmatism. A pragmatist wouldn’t keep looking for the inexplicably ninja-like Sophia; nor would he continue to leave radio messages for a man and his son alone in a town full of zombies; nor would he have ventured to the CDC for answers; nor would he have hopped out of a coma and immediately focused on the impossible task of finding his wife and son in the aftermath of the apocalypse. Rick has been nothing but hope since this whole thing started.

But if Rick is the embodiment of hope and all the ways it can sustain you and keep your family together, then Hershel is the flip side of that; hope so far beyond the bounds of reason that it borders on madness; hope that is so fevered and without common sense that it will keep the undead locked in a barn, waiting for the day when a cure will come and all can return to the lives they had before. Rick’s boundless hope may not always serve the group as well as it should, but Hershel’s is the most dangerous form of hope of all; one that breeds paranoia and xenophobia; a hope that’s gone beyond hope into a dangerous form of faith. All will be well if we just be patient and not let outsiders upset the apple cart. Even if Rick’s track record as leader of his group isn’t exactly sparkling, nothing compares to the sheer blind stupidity that would cause Hershel to start rounding up zombies for safekeeping on his property.

Turning the camera away from the two leaders and onto their followers, let’s all hear it for Andrea, folks. She’s been a pouting, increasingly nasty person all season and her reward for defying the menfolk and refusing to do laundry is to show her for the useless thing she is. Finally putting a gun in Andrea’s hands and having it result in almost the worst possible thing to happen, in light of her constant complaining about the men trying to control her, doesn’t speak well of the show’s take on gender politics. Those silly gals shouldn’t worry themselves over menfolk problems because when they do, disaster happens.

And exactly why are Carol and Lori hanging laundry while Glen plays the guitar and T-Dog and Dale do precisely nothing? Why are the mothers of the seriously wounded or missing children doing housewife drudgery?

But the man of the hour was Darryl, who, it turns out, is like Redneck Terminator. A good ol’ boy so badass, he can climb a mountain with an arrow sticking out of him, then yank that sucker out and fire it into the head of an approaching zombie. In his own twisted way, Darryl too is an avatar of hope in this world. It’s not the flowery, naive hope of Hershel, or the survival-by-inches hope of Rick, but he believes Carol’s little girl is out there and not only does he risk his life to go into the wild to track her, he takes time out from all the various disasters that befell him on the trip to make sure he brought home Sophia’s doll … to give her mother hope.

We’ve been pretty annoyed with the way the plotting stalled once Sophia ran off into the woods, but more episodes like these, where we get fantastic character examinations and deepening of the themes of the series will go a long way towards shutting up whiners like us who complain that things are moving too slow. They can move them as slow as they want so long as we get an engrossing hour of television. This episode was easily the best of the season and one of the best episodes overall in the show’s short history. More Darryl and less Rick/Shane/Lori drama, please.



[Photo Credit: AMC]

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