SPOILER WARNING – I’M GOING TO TRY AND REVIEW THESE EPISODES AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE TO THE ORIGINAL U.S. TV BROADCAST. IF YOU’RE IN THE U.K., AND PLANNING TO WATCH THE BROADCAST ON FX THE FOLLOWING FRIDAY, BE AWARE THAT MAJOR PLOT POINTS WILL BE DISCUSSED!
After the brutal slap in the face (and highly effective it was too) that was the last few minutes of the mid-season finale, AMC’s The Walking Dead is back for what I gather is referred to as a mid-season premiere. I must admit, there were times during the draggy first half of the season that I was tempted to stop watching altogether; or at the very least stop blogging about it. But after the slow burn culminated in that incredibly powerful ending to the first half, I thought I’d give it a chance to get moving again.
And has it? Well no, sad to say, not really. I’m starting to get an almost pathological boredom reaction to the very sight of Hershel’s farm now, so it didn’t help that the action picked up exactly where we left off. Having said that, this was the only thing to do from a dramatic perspective – something very shocking had just happened, that would have a profound effect on all those present. It made sense to pick up where they did. Still, this is a show that’s done non-linear narratives before. How much more effective might it have been, given the widespread criticism of the first half’s slow pace, to throw the viewer into an entirely new, refreshingly different scenario, then reveal in flashbacks how we got there?
Be that as it may, there were at least signs that the show might be starting to pick up the pace. There were, inevitably, more of the interminable arguments in the group, as Rick and Shane shouted at each other about whether what Shane did was the right thing or the bloody stupid thing. But a lot of people are starting to see it Shane’s way now. T-Dog was strongly approving of what Shane did, and even Carl seems to be shifting to the pragmatic, survivalist viewpoint. Only Dale, glaring balefully at Shane while Shane ranted, seems to be mired in the morality of the world that’s gone. By the end of the episode, it’s beginning to look like Rick too has accepted that things can never be what they were.
From a character perspective, this episode was full of people having that kind of realisation. As Carl solemnly told Lori that he would have shot Sophia himself, had he been in that position, we saw the look of sheer horror on Lori’s face. But a child growing up in a post-apocalypse world full of hungry ghouls can’t expect the kind of caring upbringing we expect now.
One of the things the show has done rather well is explore the gulf between our ‘liberal’ morality (as represented by Dale and Lori), and the pragmatic realities of survival in such a situation (as represented by Shane, and increasingly, Andrea). Thankfully, given the zombie genre’s tendency to be a survivalist nutter’s wet dream, it’s come down on neither one side nor the other; and paradoxically, it’s been previously stereotypical redneck Daryl who’s embodied the balance between the two philosophies best.
Daryl, though, was thoroughly disillusioned this episode, as was Carol, who accepted that, really, her daughter had been dead for ages. Hershel too was undergoing that realisation, having witnessed the fact that repeated gunshots won’t stop these ‘people’ unless they’re to the head. Hershel reacted in a rather stereotypical way for an upright Christian having his beliefs shattered; he found the nearest bar and proceeded to get roaringly drunk.
With his daughter Beth in a state of catatonic shock, his medical skills were clearly needed, so off Rick went, accompanied by Glenn, to the local watering hole. All right, fine, that makes sense, despite Lori’s rather selfish misgivings – after all, as ‘leader’ of the group, Rick was taking responsibility for what had happened. But what on earth then possessed Lori to firstly try sending Daryl after them, then recklessly go herself?
It’s no fault of actress Sarah Wayne Callies, but Lori is rapidly becoming the show’s most irritating character, in the same way as all those heroines of trad horror movies who, frustratingly, seem to go out of their way to put themselves in as much danger as possible. With Lori having flipped her car after contrivedly crashing into a handy walker (really, even after the apocalypse, it’s still a good idea to look where you’re going), we’ve got a new plotline. Let’s hope to heaven the gang don’t spend the next six weeks poking round the woods looking for her now; if they do, I really might stop watching.
Conversely though, the bar scene in which Rick, Hershel and Glenn were suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a pair of uncouth survivors was rather splendid. It’s a scene I’ve seen before in most post-apocalypse stories, but it was done well. The introduction of a couple of new characters, after the cabin fever of the endless stay at Hershel’s farm, was refreshing, as was their account of the way things were going in the wider world – I just wish the show would start showing us rather than just telling us about it.
The tension built as Rick was clearly not going to let them at the farm, and they equally plainly weren’t taking “sod off” for an answer. The fact that it culminated in a messy exchange of gunfire was no surprise, but what was a surprise was Rick so readily shooting them. It’s a vital bit of character development as he too starts to become more pragmatic about survival; what it says about his humanity is not too complimentary, but it’s believable.
Still, though, this is a zombie show, remember? After the pretty low zombie count in the season’s first half, I was hoping we’d get a bit more undead action amidst all the character development. As was pointed out, you’d think all that gunfire around the barn would have caught roaming walkers’ attention, and the farm might have been besieged by a herd, our gang having to fight their way out and finally get the show on the move again. Or at the very least, you’d think Rick, Glenn, and Hershel might have drawn a few ghouls to them in that bar.
But no, disappointingly, zombies were still pretty thin on the ground here. I say “on the ground”, as the most we saw of them was the now neutralised corpses outside the barn. There was a moment that genuinely made me jump as one of them turned out to be not so dead after all, but she was quickly dispatched. After that, the only undead gore in evidence was that carelessly placed arm in the pickup full of corpses, as it fell off the side and Andrea, plainly now used to such things, unthinkingly picked it up and threw it back in the truck.
Apart from that, the only walker we saw (for a split second) was the one unwise enough to wander into the road at the precise moment that Lori was paying no attention whatsoever to where she was driving. That zombie may or may not be properly dead now, but he didn’t play much of a part.
And that was it for the zombies this week. Again, I think the show’s reduced budget over its longer running time is becoming far too evident. For a mid-season premiere, this had far too little action. After all, when Doctor Who came back after its unprecedented mid-season break, at least Let’s Kill Hitler actually moved (whether its movement made any sense is another matter entirely). By contrast, The Walking Dead’s mid-season return, while a little pacier than it has been of late, still moves at a zombie’s pace in comparison.
Yes, the character development and exploration of the post-apocalyptic scenario is well done. But as it stands, I can’t say I have so much emotionally invested in these characters to want to spend more time on their ruminations than on progressing the story. If I want an in depth exploration of the day to day realities of life after the end of civilisation, I’ll watch the original Survivors. What I want from The Walking Dead is a pinch of this, but with a lot more action. And on this basis, sadly, I may have to wait a while…