The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 9

Triggerfinger

The Walking Dead (Season 2)

Strike me pink, there were actually some zombies in The Walking Dead this week! Sightings have been so infrequent of late that I was almost beginning to forget that it’s, you know, a show about zombies.

A little glib, I know, but the general lack of any walking dead in a show called The Walking Dead has been a pretty obvious sign of the budget cuts the show’s had to cope with this year. Well, that and every episode being basically set around one house and one field which I’m now becoming resigned that our characters will be stuck at for the rest of the season at least.

And even when zombies have shown up in recent episodes, they’ve been less than a threat. Hershel’s barn full of walkers were fairly easily dispatched as they shuffled blinking into the sunlight, that chubby one down the well literally went to pieces, and the ones Daryl encountered in the woods were too pathetic to threaten him much even though he was actually unconscious.

Here, though, I think we were presented with more zombies in the first half of this episode than have been in the last seven combined (I’m not counting the season premiere, with its impressive freeway herd; the last time we saw zombies as any kind of threat in the show). I suspect their numbers may have been digitally enhanced, but if so, it was done well – since I only suspect it.

And they were genuinely threatening too, and gruesome. We were thrown right into zombie mayhem from the outset, as one of them literally scraped off its own face trying to get through the hole in the windshield of Lori’s overturned car. Eww! Thankfully Lori seems to have got back some of her previous gumption, and had the presence of mind to rip off the indicator stalk and shove it through the creature’s eye socket. Menaced by another zombie, she used a handy wheel trim to knock it off its feet, then having run out of bits of car to use, got her gun and shot it.

Meanwhile, in the local town that seems to consist of a bar, a pharmacy and three anonymous buildings, Rick, Glenn and Hershel were faced with a veritable swarm of the beasties. First though, there was a nicely tense standoff with the fellow travellers of the two reprobates they’d shot last week. I was a bit confused by this, as I’m sure it was still daylight when Rick shot them, but it was full dark as we heard (presumably the same) gunshots echoing outside the bar. I did wonder whether one of the thugs hadn’t been shot in the head, and had risen again – the show has yet to establish whether it’s only bite victims who come back as zombies, or everyone who dies. But apparently not, so the day/night discrepancy remains a mystery.

The remaining bandits were put to flight by a rapidly approaching crowd of zombies, but not before Rick managed to shoot one of them who was then graphically chowed down on, mostly in the nose area. It’s great to have some real gore back in the show, to remind us that this is a horror story as well as thoughtful post-apocalypse scenario. Another of the thugs was abandoned after having jumped from a roof and impaled himself through the leg on a railing; cue Rick’s usual, perhaps non-pragmatic, insistence on trying to rescue him, even in the midst of a crowd of rampaging zombies. But after much umming and ahhing over whether to conduct an impromptu amputation, even Rick had to concede that this wasn’t the time or place and simply ripped the guy’s leg off the railing – again gruesomely.

This was looking good, but at that point the action pretty much stopped, and we went back to the character tension we’ve been all too familiar with for most of this season. Admittedly, there is some very good drama to be had out of this, particularly with Shane becoming increasingly unhinged, but the episode felt a little unbalanced as a result; all action the first half, all talking the second.

It’s looking like most people on the farm have now twigged that there’s something a little off in Shane’s account of how Otis died, including Lori, who got a chilling two handed scene with Shane in which he told her that he still loved her, and would do anything to protect her. And I mean anything. Jon Bernthal’s performance as Shane is convincingly unravelling as the situation continues, even while the viewer is often forced to admit that his more pragmatic philosophy is better suited to guarantee survival than Rick’s endless moralising.

Hershel, of course, is still none too happy with Shane after what happened at the barn, even after his change of heart regarding the walkers. Scott Wilson has made Hershel a believably old-fashioned, upright Christian without making him dislikeable, which is something of an achievement in this kind of show. He’s simply a decent, honest man with his own set of values, and Shane has trampled all over them. Which is why his telling Shane to watch his mouth carried some weight.

Indeed, the Shane-as-bad-guy thread may be coming to a head, as Lori had a heart to heart with the ever-trusting Rick, to try and convince him of just how mad his best friend was becoming. This was a chilling scene in two ways. Firstly, Lori’s summing up of Shane’s present state of mind made you realise quite how dangerous he’s become; and secondly (maybe this is just me), it seemed that Lori was virtually egging Rick on to ‘get rid’ of him. It may be that the writers are trying to play up a very selfish streak in Lori that wasn’t there in the comics – in this scene in particular, she came across as rather like Lady Macbeth, driving her husband on to a murder that she wants committed.

Away from the Rick/Lori/Shane triangle, we got to see Daryl again, which was a relief after him having been almost absent last week. Like most fans, I find his character one of the most interesting in the show, and his disillusionment after the death of Sophia is being excellently played by Norman Reedus. This week, he had a revealing scene with Carol, who’s rapidly shaping up into a sort of love interest for him. Perhaps it’s because their names rhyme.

Their scene together, as Daryl vented his anger by verbally attacking Carol then almost physically attacking her, was cleverly laden with what was unsaid. Daryl’s plainly racked with guilt, about Sophia and even Merle, and unsure of his place in the gang. Carol, for her part, encouraged him to “let it all out”, while almost seeming to brace herself for what she saw as the inevitable moment that he started to hit her. As Carol, Melissa McBride gave quite a lot of weight to her domestic abuse plot thread last season, and I liked the way that was subtly referenced here. I was also glad that Daryl, for all his anger, and his necklace of severed zombie ears, obviously remembered it too, pulling back at the last moment as he almost struck her.

As character stuff went, I’d say that was probably the highlight. Maggie and Glenn had a bit of business about Glenn’s crisis of confidence; elsewhere, Beth was still catatonic, so she at least didn’t have to have any lines written for her. T-Dog did get one line this week, consisting of three whole words –“Who is that?”. It’s a shame the writers can’t think of anything to do with him this season, as though his character only existed to counterpoint Merle’s racism last year. The irony is that he now seems like the show’s token black guy, with nothing to do or say, which is surely a little bit racist in itself.

An odd mixture of action and character drama then, this week, with the balance not well struck between the two. But the zombie mayhem was most definitely welcome, coming close to the heights of the season premiere and reminding us that this isn’t just any apocalypse – it’s a zombie apocalypse. Let’s see if they can keep us from forgetting that.

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 8

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!

Nebraska

WalkingDeadRick

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…

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 7

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!

Pretty Much Dead Already

WalkingDeadRickSophia

And so, finally it’s the big mid season climax. The part where, traditionally, the viewers are whipped up into a frenzy of excitement and then left, hanging on a cliff and breathless for more. So did The Walking Dead manage to achieve that? Well… not really. At least not in this viewer’s opinion.

There was plenty of drama at least, as many of the character conflicts that have been simmering away over the last few weeks finally boiled over. As Glenn said, “secrets are killing us.” So after last week’s orgy of revelation, this week people started to confront each other over what had been revealed. Rick told Shane about Lori’s pregnancy – though, significantly, he didn’t let on that he knew about Lori and Shane too. Shane immediately went to quiz Lori over whether the bay was his, only to receive the terse reply, “even if it’s yours, it won’t be yours”, leading to a pissing contest in which Shane tries to prove that he’s saved Lori’s life more often than Rick.. Dale, worried after last week’s confrontation with Shane, went off to hide the guns. Because Dale and Glenn were about to reveal the one important secret remaining – Hershel’s barn full of zombies.

All the threads were fairly neatly drawn together. Shane is finally at snapping point with the discovery that Hershel’s been keeping a barn full of walkers next to where they sleep. Maggie’s furious at Glenn for divulging the secret, but as we discovered in a conversation with her father, she’s less convinced than before that the zombies can be cured. Daryl’s intent on searching for Sophia, even though her mother Carol is on the point of finally giving up; meanwhile Shane’s insulting him because of his poor background. And Rick’s trying his best to be understanding about Hershel’s view of the walkers, because it’s Hershel’s place and Rick’s a reasonable man – even though being reasonable may not be a factor in favour of survival in the new world.

There was much pontificating on that this week, as character after character seemed forced to concede that, while Rick was the better man, it might actually be that Shane is the better equipped to survive. This point was rammed home by Rick’s insistence on continuing the search for Sophia when, even in the old world, the police would surely have given up by this point.

But the ethical question remained of whether Shane’s pragmatism was worth giving up civilisation for. There was another electric confrontation between him and Dale, as Shane went to retrieve the guns that Dale was hiding, so that he could exterminate Hershel’s barn full of "sick people”. This was a tense scene with the threat of actual violence emphasised by Jon Bernthal’s tightly wound physicality; for a while, I actually thought he might kill Dale to get the guns. Then, as Dale pointed his rifle unwaveringly at Shane, I wondered if Shane would be the one to go out this time – after all, he’s long dead by this point in the comics.

But Shane’s shaping up to be the real antagonist of the series. Every zombie story needs one, from Cooper in Night of the Living Dead to Captain Rhodes in Day of the Dead. Zombies are a mindless menace; for true evil, you need a human. Dale summed it up with his opinion of Shane: “at least when the world went to shit, I didn’t get dragged down with it.”

Rick, meanwhile, was continuing to be reasonable, and trying to persuade Hershel that his group should stay, on the grounds that his wife is pregnant. He’s so desperate, he’s even prepared to help Hershel rope in a pair of zombies that have got stuck in the swamp for storage in the barn.

Which led, inexorably, to the ‘big climax’. Shane, already wound up by Lori’s dismissal and Dale’s contempt, saw the procession bringing the new undead arrivals and lost it completely. Fed up of Rick’s reasonable approach, he demonstrated the true nature of the zombies to a devastated Hershel by riddling one with bullets to show that it still wouldn’t die – until he blasted it in the head. Of course, for a medical man, Hershel was a bit blinkered in not noticing the creatures had decomposed so much as to be incurable, but that was another factor for comparison with Shane. Hershel had been so shut away from the chaotic apocalypse that he’d had no real inkling of what these creatures really were.

And of course, Shane then finished what he’d started by opening the doors of the barn to let loose “more than a dozen” zombies. It was here that I started doubting that this would be a particularly ‘big’ climax; there’d been more zombies than that in almost every episode of season one. Nonetheless, the scene had some dramatic impact as we saw our gang , left with no choice, pick up their guns and blast away at these people who had been Hershel’s friends and family as the man himself looked on in shock.

You could say Hershel was being naive. But then the script pulled out a bit of a surprise, that actually put the gang – and by extension, the viewer – in his shoes. For the last zombie to stagger out into the sunlight was none other than little Sophia, another in a long line of horrifying little girl zombies that started all the way back in Night of the Living Dead.

I must say, this took me by surprise, though with hindsight it seems an obvious dramatic denouement; I suspect I was wrongfooted once again by expecting the scenario to end as it did in the comics, which of course don’t feature this subplot. But it did pack a real punch as Carol shrieked hysterically, and even Shane had the anger stunned from him. In the end, it fell to Rick to put Sophia down, and the first half of the season ended with him standing over her body. Perhaps he is well enough equipped to survive this new world after all. The question posed by this episode being, at what price?

As a cliffhanger, intended to leave the viewers breathless for more, this didn’t seem particularly effective; the zombies in the barn have been put down, all the gang’s secrets are out, the search for Sophia is (finally!) over, and they can all take a breather and deal with the fallout. At no point was anyone in serious jeopardy from any of the zombies, and with them all put down, nobody was left in danger either. It felt, more than anything, like the kind of semi-conclusion often used on a season break when the writers aren’t sure if the show’s coming back.

But coming back it is, not just for the second half of this season but reportedly for a third too. Whatever happens, I think they’re going to have to up their game quite a bit. After the really effective first season, this one has overall felt very draggy, with its limited locations and endless infighting. Sure, there’s been some very effective character drama so far, but at the expense of the zombie apocalypse scenario. At times, it’s felt as though the writers have just chucked in the occasional shambling ghoul to remind us we’re not watching another soap opera.

Even this supposed cliffhanger break episode spent more time on the talking than the action, and when the zombies did show up, it still wasn’t what you’d call exciting; certainly not in the same way as the thrilling set pieces in season one in Atlanta. I’m certainly not saying that depth should be sacrificed for thrills – but some thrills to go along with the depth would be nice. It’s a balance the first season struck well, and one that, so far, this season is finding hard to replicate. I’m more and more convinced that this is due to AMC’s insistence on having a longer season on a smaller budget. I’ll be back to watch the rest of the season in February, but with the fervent hope that enough money’s been held back to make it pacier and more expansive than the first half.

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 6

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!

Secrets

WalkingDeadLoriDale

It’s a very straightforward, to the point episode title for The Walking Dead this week – Secrets. Our heroes may not be moving, but the character development – or soap opera, if you’re being more critical – aspect of the plot was very much to the fore, and the festering secrets held by so many of the characters started to come out, one by one. And some of these have been long overdue for an airing; this show has often been one of those cases where the drama is driven by secrets, to the extent that if the characters would only tell each other what they all knew, their lives would become infinitely simpler.

To start with, I was a little surprised when the episode opened at plainly the day after Glenn’s discovery of Hershel’s barn full of zombies. You’d have thought Glenn might rush to tell the others what he’d found that night, so immediately I started to wonder whether he’d been tied up somewhere. But no, he’d apparently been convinced by Maggie not to tell anything to the others. I have to say, I wasn’t totally convinced by this turn of events; budding romance or not, you’d think most people in Glenn’s shoes would think a secret barn full of zombies was something that shouldn’t be hushed up.

And of course it wasn’t, not for long. In an episode filled with people’s secrets, poor old guileless Glenn was stuck with not just that one, but the one about Lori’s pregnancy too. And you could tell he wasn’t very good at keeping secrets: “I can’t even play poker. It’s too much like lying.” So, inevitably, when Dale caught him out in a lie about helping to “clean spark plugs”, he just blurted it straight out: “Hershel’s got a barn full of zombies and Lori’s pregnant.”

Dale looked somewhat taken aback at this. It was a nice scene, very well played by Steven Yeun and Jeffrey DeMunn, both of whom got some meaty material this week. Glenn’s been very much to the fore the last few weeks, which I’ve enjoyed; this week, he was given cause to question his place in the group, much like Daryl last week. Having acted as Lori’s confidante, then placed both his and Maggie’s lives at risk to get Lori some morning after contraceptives, he heard some unpalatable opinions from Maggie. She sees him as taken for granted by the group as an errand boy; basically, as she put it, “walker bait”. Again like Daryl, he got some immediate reassurance, this time from Lori, who considers him a supportive friend. But in both cases, Daryl and Glenn, I can see the seeds of self-doubt will likely lead to plotlines to come.

Glenn may have had a lot of the limelight this season, but Dale’s hardly had much to do apart from uttering the occasional wise and gnomic remark. This week changed all that, and we saw how wily he really is – and occasionally, perhaps, a little foolish. Armed with the information about the barn, he quietly confronted Hershel about it, in a well-played scene which revealed Hershel’s motives in keeping the zombies captive. They’re his friends and family, and as far as he’s concerned they’re sick people. And you don’t kill someone when they’re sick, you wait for a cure. Meanwhile, he’s been feeding them live chickens to keep them docile, and we got to see an all too realistic depiction of the chickens having their legs broken so they couldn’t run away. For a vet, Hershel has interesting priorities about avoiding suffering; but then again, he’s also a farmer. And I’m sure the American Humane Association made sure the chickens weren’t really tortured like that!

Dale couldn’t convince him that what was in the barn was actually walking corpses, and there’s no coming back from that. So, rather than jeopardise their already shaky toehold on Hershel’s farm, he agreed to keep the zombies a secret himself – one more secret stored up. But he’s obviously better at keeping secrets than Glenn, and this episode revealed just how much he had known and kept secret for the good of the group. His chat to Lori not only revealed that he knew about her pregnancy, but also that he thought the baby might be Shane’s – so he’s known about Lori and Shane all this time.

Not only that, but he also remembers how, back in season one, he came across Shane sighting his rifle at Rick in the woods. This came up in an electric scene in which Dale confronted Shane with advice that now might be a good time for him to move on. This exchange positively crackled with tension, as Dale told Shane, “I know what kind of man you are.” And it turns out Dale even has his doubts about Shane’s story of how Otis died – something else that may well come out in the near future.

For his part, Shane was coldly furious and not a little scary. Yes, he’d done what he did to Otis to ensure Carl would be ok; but as he put it, if Dale was right about what kind of man he was, threatening to reveal that information might not be the smartest idea. Jeffrey DeMunn and Jon Bernthal were excellent in this scene; Dale full of anger and contempt, and Shane plainly heading deeper into darkness with his cold, quiet threats.

Elsewhere, Shane was coaching the gang in how to shoot, and just like in the comics, Andrea turned out to have a surprising aptitude for it. But Shane went too far in trying to motivate her to hit a moving target when he shouted that she should imagine it was the walker who killed her sister. This led to a mini-subplot about Andrea’s shooting ability, which was resolved when she accompanied Shane to a nearby housing development in the latest development of the seemingly interminable background plot of the search for Sophia.

It really is beginning to stretch the bounds of credibility that our heroes still hope to find Sophia alive, and as a plot, I’m very much hoping they drop it soon; either by finding her, alive or dead, or accepting that they won’t and giving up. Nonetheless, this week’s instalment of the search was a nice set piece that gave us some more good zombie action, together with a chilling depiction of the aftermath of the apocalypse. Shane and Andrea’s search took them through a suburban street where the houses were filled with corpses, including a quite gruesome pile of charred bodies in a burnt out garage. And then quite a horde of zombies turned up, allowing Andrea to perfect her shooting skills. It gets easier after the first one, apparently.

And obviously zombie killing is a pretty aphrodisiac pursuit, as in the car on the way back to the farm, Andrea couldn’t wait to grab Shane’s crotch, to which he responded by dragging her over to the driver’s seat and getting it on then and there. Cut to a long shot of the car with a (presumably unintentionally) hilarious sound effect of the horn going off as Andrea bounced off it (the car’s horn, not Shane’s. Well, both, presumably).

So that’s one more secret to be kept. But the really big one was about to come out – finally. After having changed her mind about the morning after pills, it was time for Lori to talk to Rick about the baby. Actually, it turned out Rick had already figured it out when he found the empty pill packets, and he was less than happy about it.

This was another cracking two-handed scene in an episode full of them. As a character, I’ve never found Lori all that interesting; it’s no reflection on actress Sarah Wayne Callies, it’s just that she’s not written particularly deeply either here or in the comics. But this scene allowed her to reveal some more depth, and reflect yet again on the fairness or otherwise of bringing a child into such a world. Kudos to Callies, and also to Andrew Lincoln as Rick, but the writing was the star here; Lori’s conceit of surviving via good memories of the world that’s gone was an incisive one. As she said, Carl has little enough of that to remember, and any new child wouldn’t remember it at all; he/she would only know the hell of the world they were born into.

Rick was understandably angry at having been kept in the dark, both about the pregnancy and Lori’s dilemma about ending it. If nothing else, that rules out the pregnancy as being the subject of what Dr Jenner whispered into Rick’s ear at the end of season one, leaving me with no clue about that now. But the pregnancy wasn’t all that came out. Rick had also figured out that Lori and Shane had slept together while they thought he was dead, a fact that she now guiltily confirmed. Rick seemed understanding, given the circumstances; but I can’t help thinking that this is far from forgotten.

So, an explosive episode for the characters, even if little else happened in the way of driving the overall plot forward. Some great performances on the parts of all the regular cast, though it must be said that most of the inhabitants of Hershel’s farm remain sketchy and ill-defined – for example, who’s the teenage boy that occasionally pops up? I don’t think we’ve even been told his name, or if we have, it was a fleeting reference and hasn’t been mentioned again.

And there was, thankfully, rather more zombie action than usual amongst all the character drama. Besides the shambling inhabitants of Hershel’s barn, we got not only the horde of walkers encountered by Shane and Andrea, but also a nicely gruesome bit of business with Glenn’s rather sloppy killing of a zombie in the town pharmacy. With recent zombie appearances seeming rather tokenistic, it was good to have more than two around this week.

With next week’s episode being the last before the mid-season break till February, it looks like the events of recent weeks will probably blow up in everyone’s faces, and this week has been as much about moving pieces into the right places as anything else. It’s well done, and seemed less like filler than some weeks. But I’m hoping we can get a bit more momentum back for the second half of the season; resolve the interminable search for Sophia, move the gang on from the rather static setting of Hershel’s farm, and get back to some epic zombie action. It might make the characters’ lives hellish, but it makes the viewers far more entertained.

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 5

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!

Chupacabra

The Walking Dead (Season 2)

It was a slow burn for The Walking Dead this week, after the major character revelations of the last few weeks. Nonetheless, tensions are really starting to build, both within our original gang and between them and Hershel’s crew, and it feels like the show is ramping up the tension for the mid season break after episode 7.

With the seemingly neverending search for little Sophia forming a backdrop to explore how het up the characters are getting, it’s a little easier to forgive the fact that it seems to dragging on interminably. That was actually addressed this week in a revealing scene between Rick and Shane as they combed the woods near Hershel’s place. Starting out with blokey banter about their high school love lives, the scene gave you the impression that these really were two very close friends; but then it took a darker turn as Shane reflected that all that, the old world, was gone now, and harking back to it constantly was a nostalgia that bordered on dangerous in their current situation. Given that, Shane angrily told Rick that he wasn’t up to making the big decisions – the crucial one being that now would be the time to give up on Sophia.

I must confess, I found myself agreeing with him – both from a pragmatic perspective within the drama and also as a viewer who’d like the plot to move on a bit, thank you very much. I’ve not harped on about the alleged budget cuts for a couple of weeks, but with the setting now being largely restricted to Hershel’s farm as the search continues, it is beginning to look like both plot and setting are a cost-saving measure. Still, at least the writers are addressing it in the script, and the doubt-ridden Rick conceding that he wouldn’t give up the search if it were his son that was missing came across as believable enough.

I don’t mind my post-apocalypse drama being character-driven and thoughtful as well as spectacular – as I said previously, this was a positive strength of the BBC’s original Survivors in the 70s. But it’s worth noting that even that began to drag in its middle series, with the characters mostly settled in a farming commune and having minor disagreements about using manure as fuel. The Walking Dead hasn’t quite reached that level of static inaction – yet – but the limited setting and plot inertia is beginning to look tellingly cheap compared to season one.

Given the limitation – if it is a limitation – the writers are at least making the best of it, introducing more tension this week as Hershel begins to think Rick and his crew are basically freeloading. It doesn’t help that Glenn’s getting noticeably close to his daughter, his adoptive son’s heading off into the woods with Andrea and T-Dog, and Daryl’s nicked his horse.

Much of the focus this week was actually on Daryl, who’s fast becoming one of the best characters in the show. Apparently given the challenge of “making a racist likeable”, Norman Reedus has taken Daryl from strength to strength these last few weeks, and made us realise that a poor redneck can still be a decent guy.

The potential class turmoil of Daryl’s background was thrown into sharp relief this week with the surprise (and very welcome) reappearance of his no-good brother Merle. Memorably incarnated by Michael Rooker, Merle was one of the scene-stealing characters in season one, and many of us have been waiting to find out what happened to him after he sawed off his own hand to escape from Rick’s handcuffs then headed off into the Georgia wilderness.

But while it was nice to see Merle again, these answers weren’t forthcoming. For the Merle we saw was actually a hallucination of Daryl’s after falling down a hill and impaling himself on one of his own crossbow bolts. Rooker was as memorably monstrous as last year, but Merle’s function here was to act as an inner voice for Daryl’s fears and self-doubt; it was pretty obvious that it wasn’t the real Merle as he had a full complement of hands.

So (imaginary) Merle taunted and insulted his little brother with his fears about how Rick and co looked down on him: “One day they’ll wipe you off their shoe like a piece of shit”. And for a while it looked like Daryl was convinced. The way his hallucination faded into what was actually a zombie trying to chomp through his boot was a nice touch, and it was Merle whose goading prompted Daryl to tear the bolt from his torso the hard way and use it to despatch the next zombie along. But when he cut off their ears and put them on a bootlace to wear as a necklace, it seemed that he was well on his way to losing the decency we’ve seen and becoming just like Merle.

It was a good depiction of Daryl’s long dark night of the soul. There was a genuinely tense sequence as he staggered, bedraggled, back to the camp and Andrea, assuming he was a walker, had a damn good go at shooting him in the head. Thankfully the bullet only grazed him, and later his doubts seemed to be assuaged when Carol thanked him for risking his life to look for her daughter: “You’ve done more for her than her daddy ever did in his whole rotten life.”

Nonetheless, I wonder if this issue has entirely gone away; I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this potential class conflict. And I’d like to see Merle come back properly to bring it to the boil. If they can get Michael Rooker back to play a hallucination of himself (and I wish they hadn’t given it away with his name as a guest star in the opening credits), then it would only be logical for Merle to come back in person in the near future. Watch this space…

Elsewhere, Lori was still troubled by her confirmed pregnancy, the more so since Glenn has figured it out and hasn’t – yet – sworn himself to secrecy. But Glenn has other things on his mind, as he and Maggie continue to act like smitten high school sweethearts. The none-too-well-concealed passing of notes at the dinner table didn’t go unnoticed by anyone; and Glenn has also let slip to Dale (with smirking teenage obnoxiousness) that he and Maggie have done the deed already.

Unfortunately Glenn’s choice of venue for their next sexual assignation turned out to be rather ill-advised – and we finally got the payoff to all those heavy hints about the contents of Hershel’s barn. It turns out that, as in the comics, it’s full (well, as full as the budget will allow) of locked in zombies. “You weren’t supposed to see that,” says Maggie, looking aghast.

So, some good character development this week, but the show is starting to feel as though it’s dragging a little again. It didn’t help that there wasn’t much in the way of zombie action this episode; after only seeing one of the buggers last week, it really is starting to seem like a budgetary consideration. There was a slightly spectacular pre-credits flashback to our heroes trying to reach the refugee camps in Atlanta, only to see the city napalmed. That looked like it cost a fair bit, but seemed oddly pointless; there was no payoff anywhere in the plot of the episode, and unless it relates to something in the coming weeks, I’d rather have seen the money spent elsewhere.

Still, with the reveal about Hershel’s barn full of zombies coming on top of the stress between the two groups, it does look as though things are set up for next week having rather more excitement than this week. I’d say this part of the plot – the search for Sophia, and being mired at Hershel’s farm – may well come to a head after the mid-season break, and the plot can move on more significantly. I certainly hope so; while there’s been some good drama in the season so far, it’s worth noting that it seems far more static than season one. After all, we’re at the fifth episode now, and compared to the first season’s entire run of six episodes, it’s felt overstretched and draggy from time to time. It’s still a good show, with some good drama, but it needs to pick up the pace a little.

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 4

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!

Cherokee Rose

WalkingDeadGlennMaggie

After last week’s intense, character driven episode of The Walking Dead, comes… another one. And that’s not a bad thing, as last week got me really interested in the characters again, to the extent that I wouldn’t have minded a comparative lack of zombie action. As it happened, last week didn’t stint on the zombies, but this week did, and I found myself not missing them… too much.

After the extreme darkness the characters were exhibiting last week, with their constant talk of death and ending it all, this week saw them lightening up somewhat. Which was not only a relief but quite plausible; if they’d remained in that kind of mood on an ongoing basis, I’m pretty sure that there would have been a few suicides.

Not that it didn’t start a bit dark, though. The pre-credits sequence showed us Otis’ funeral, a sad cairn in lieu of a body, and focussed very much on Shane’s obvious (to the viewer) guilt. As Hershel eulogised Otis and his wife cried, the camera kept lingering on Shane’s face, and credit to Jon Bernthal for an expression that screamed guilt to the viewer while giving nothing away to the characters onscreen. As if to make things worse, Shane was then called upon to recount Otis’ last ‘heroic’ moments as a memorial, and I found myself grimacing as he told a patently false tale of self-sacrifice cleverly intercut with flashbacks of what actually happened.

As I said last week, keeping Shane as a main character longer than the comics did is one of the best decisions in the TV show. Part of the appeal is that even though he’s a baddie, he’s clearly ended up there with the best of intentions. He really loved Lori, and started an affair with her when he believed her husband was dead; now that he’s back, Shane’s finding it hard to shut off those feelings, and that’s leading him down a very dark path. And I got the impression that he also genuinely loves little Carl, and that his cold-blooded use of Otis as zombie bait was purely to ensure that he managed to get back with the medical supplies needed to save the boy’s life. Not that that makes it any better, of course – you know what they say about the road to hell and its construction methods.

The gang also got back together again at Hershel’s farm this week, which was something of a relief; dramatically, it was all beginning to feel a bit scattershot with various parties heading off in various different directions. Now that they’re back together again, there’s time for some good old fashioned woolgathering as they contemplate the situation they find themselves in. Carl’s out of the woods, but there’s still no sign of little Sophia; and Daryl’s lonely search for her was a key to making his character even more sympathetic.

It would have been easy to portray Daryl, as Merle’s brother, as just another thoughtless, bigoted redneck. What the writers have done with him is far more interesting; he’s a man from a very poor background who may well be somewhat uncivilised, but comes across as genuinely decent. We saw that last week as he bolstered the depressed Andrea’s spirits, and saw it again this week when he comforted Carol as she busied herself tidying up the RV in the hope of her daughter’s return. Norman Reedus made Daryl’s tale of the Cherokee Rose (from which the episode drew its title) genuinely affecting, and you could see how touched Carol was not just by the flower he brought, but also by the hope. In a genre which so easily turns to survivalist wank fiction, it’s nice to see that the backwoodsman who’s so good with the crossbow is also a decent, caring human being.

Also building on the depth he was given last week was Steven Yeun as Glenn. He’s been perfect in the role, and the costume has made him look exactly how you imagined the comic character to be. But up till now,he’s been relatively little used. That’s changed these last couple of weeks as the show gets closer to his pairing up with Hershel’s daughter Maggie. The scene between them in the abandoned pharmacy was both touching and hilarious, as his attempts to disguise what he was really taking by picking up a pack of condoms led to them inevitably having sex. It was sweet, and in keeping with the Glenn the comic fans know, that even confronted with an outright verbal offer to have sex, he still couldn’t keep his foot out of his mouth: “I’d never have sex with you… I mean, of course I would… but…” Later, Maggie tells him it’s a one time thing, but I think the showrunner would be wise to retain their rather charming relationship from the comics.

It wasn’t just free love that Glenn was getting up to this week, though; he was instrumental in dealing with the lone zombie the gang did encounter, a rotted, corpulent thing who’d stumbled down one of Hershel’s wells. Reasoning that shooting it in the head would contaminate the water, an ill-thought-out plan was created to extricate it with a rope by dangling Glenn down as bait. Of course, this all went pear-shaped as the rusty pump they were using as a pulley gave way, leading to a real heart in mouth sequence as Glenn dangled screaming just above the ravenous corpse and the others struggled to drag him out before it bit him.

Thankfully he was fine – I’d hate to lose Glenn, one of the comic’s mainstays, so early in the story, but I didn’t rule it out – and not only that, he had managed to snag the zombie in the rope. It was a big fat one, and quite rotten; you didn’t have to be a genius to predict the result of trying to drag a severely decomposed corpse out of a well with a rope tied tightly round its shoulders. With gruesome inevitability, it happened; the corpse split in half, the lower half tumbling back down the well trailing guts and all manner of organs with it. So much for not contaminating the water – it’s lucky Hershel’s got other wells.

The only zombie sequence in this week’s episode, this was well-directed, going from direct tension to gruesome gore pleasingly for zombie fanboys like me. It also felt a little like an unnecessary subplot tacked on solely to provide a bit of zombie action in an episode light on it. But I’ve got a feeling some of the stuff we saw here is going to pay off later on. Most noticeable was Maggie’s sickened face as T-Dog smashed the zombie’s head in; later, Glenn suggested that this must be the first time she’s seen one of them killed. But last week, she alluded to having lost several relatives to the plague, so there’s something not right there.

I don’t want to go into too much detail for those who haven’t read the comics, but if they’re doing what I think they’re doing, further hints were given by the revealing conversation between Rick and Hershel as they gazed out over the beautiful view from the farm and discussed God. It’s plain that Hershel’s a God-fearing man, but he’s also a vet and committed to relieving suffering. He’s no mad fundamentalist, but his quiet certainty about his faith in the face of recent events seems a little foolhardy. Playing Hershel, Scott Wilson has endowed the character with the same old-fashioned morals (not necessarily a bad thing) as the comic character. But his insistence that Rick and co surrender all their arms seemed odd when they could be surrounded by zombies at any minute, as Shane pointed out. And while he’s obviously considering letting the group stay on at his farm, he wouldn’t hear of them having to sleep in his barn. Good old hospitality? Perhaps…

Andrew Lincoln continued his convincing Georgia accent as Rick got some more bonding done with his family too. After confessing to Hershel that he didn’t have much truck with God any more (interesting to know that he presumably used to), he had to confess to his son that he’d lied earlier about little Sophia being OK. It was a sweet scene, and I’m impressed with young Chandler Riggs as Carl; he perhaps seems a little too sweet for a boy in this situation, but the loving relationship with his father is crucial to the narrative, and this scene really brought that home. Plus, he finally got to inherit Rick’s sheriff’s hat, his trademark in the comics (he’s rarely seen without it). And this version had the added verisimilitude that Rick was going to have to pad the hat out so it would fit!

Rick also symbolically discarded the rest of his police uniform this week, packing it away in a drawer at Hershel’s, presumably not to be seen again. As a piece of symbolism, it was a little heavy handed; the uniform obviously the last representative of a once-secure world now vanished forever. But the look on Rick’s face, and the way Lori sadly embraced him as he closed the drawer, gave it a real dramatic heft.

Lori too was troubled, after sending Glenn with a secret requirement from the pharmacy and insisting on his absolute discretion about it. So much discretion in fact that even he didn’t know what he was looking for; presumably Lori just used a brand name. But she told him to look in the feminine hygiene section, and even if you haven’t read the comics it was fairly obvious what she was after. Of course it was a pregnancy test, and of course it was positive. Even Glenn, who now knows what she wanted, doesn’t yet know that she really is pregnant; but Rick might. I’m still betting that’s what Dr Jenner whispered in his ear just before he left the CDC, based on the blood tests they all had.

Of course, if Lori is pregnant, the question is, who’s the father? She slept with Rick as soon as he found her near Atlanta, but she’d been sleeping with Shane up till then. And Rick may be wondering too. Why else, if Jenner has already told him, hasn’t he mentioned it to Lori himself? It’s another interesting dynamic to add to the tensions in the group, and I’m sure it won’t be the last one.

As I said, after finding its feet with the characters again, the show does this kind of drama well, leaving you wanting eagerly to know what happens next. It’s a mark of the drama’s priorities that this week’s cliffhanger was nothing to do with menacing zombies; rather, it ended with a shaken Lori squatting in the dark holding her positive pregnancy test. Tonally, the show is beginning more and more to remind me of BBC 70s post-apocalypse drama Survivors, with its focus on real, sympathetic characters dealing with the practicalities of life after the end of civilisation. The mainly rural setting is another similarity; it’s lucky for the budget that in a post-apocalypse scenario, cities would be best stayed away from. I’m not sure how many episodes could have been set in the deserted Atlanta without breaking the bank!

A similarity to Survivors is no bad thing (to my mind, it’s the most comprehensive exploration of a post-apocalypse scenario ever shown on TV). But the show’s still not forgetting it’s also a zombie horror, and even the brief encounter with the undead this week was satisfyingly gruesome. Although the ‘looking for Sophia’ plot is beginning to drag somewhat, these last couple of weeks feel like a show finding its feet again after an uncertain start to the season.

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 3

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!

Save the Last One

WalkingDeadShane

It was (almost) straight back into the thick of the zombie action in this week’s Walking Dead, but for the first time this season, it felt like the characters had more dramatic heft than the events surrounding them. For the first time this season, this episode felt like a drama punctuated by zombie action, rather than zombie action interrupted by lulls in which characters stated the obvious.

It was dark territory indeed this week, no mean feat for a show that’s set in a post-apocalyptic hell roamed by flesh eating corpses. But it wasn’t the scenario in which our characters found themselves that made it so dark; rather, it was a series of cleverly intertwined musings on the desire for survival versus the choice to opt out and die.

That this seemed more interesting than the zombie shenanigans faced by Shane and Otis at the infested school medical centre was perhaps the first time this season that the characters have felt fully rounded enough to actually care about. The depth of the characters in the first season was one of the reasons the show was part of that group – including Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones – that propelled genre television into the ‘serious drama’ realm. I must confess that, until this week, I hadn’t really felt that season 2 had managed to recapture that; this episode, by show newcomer Scott Gimple, amply made up for it.

The theme of whether it was worth living in a world like this, or better just to give up, was what drove the episode, and was first brought up in a truly intense scene between Rick and Lori. With their son Carl still in critical condition, and Shane’s return with the necessary medical equipment very much in doubt, Lori had started to wonder whether it would be better if Carl didn’t make it after all. Why, she argued, would a child want to live in a world like this, eventually to become nothing more than a hunted animal himself?

This is a theme touched upon in the original comics on several occasions, but the performances of Andrew Lincoln and Sarah Wayne Callies gave it a lot more oomph than just reading it on the page. And as in the comics, you found yourself wondering whether giving up might be the more sensible thing to do. As Lori pointed out, their friend Jackie (who chose to die in the explosion of the CDC) hadn’t had to see any of the terrible things that had happened since. Rick, of course, was more optimistic – he’s the hero, he has to be. But even then, when it looked like Hershel was going to have to take the risk and operate on Carl without equipment, it was Lori he asked to make the choice.

In an episode where death seemed more significant than it has recently, Andrea and Daryl found themselves having a similar heart to heart as they went on a (somewhat inadvisable) trip to the woods by night to continue their search for little Sophia. Darabont regular Laurie Holden (best known to me as Marita Covarrubias in The X Files) has been varying anger and despair in her portrayal of Andrea since Dale persuaded her not to remain in the CDC as well, and this is obviously going to be a running character thread.

As I mentioned last week, of all the characters, Daryl seems best equipped psychologically to deal with the situation, and he countered Andrea’s hopelessness with similar optimism to Rick. He’d been lost in the woods as a child too, and after all, he’d made it ok. But he gave Andrea’s death wish short shrift as they encountered an all too gruesome reminder of the consequences; a man who’d hanged himself from a tree but neglected to shoot himself in the head, leaving his reanimated corpse dangling helpfully while others munched on the flesh from his legs.

This was a nicely gory way of ramming home the point of their argument, as Andrea confessed she wasn’t sure if she still had a death wish. But later, as Dale apologised for taking away her decision and gave her back her gun, you had to wonder. You also had to wonder whether Dale had a death wish of his own as he went on a ramble through the darkened traffic jam in search of cigarettes. I’m a hopelessly addicted smoker myself, but even I would probably rather endure nicotine withdrawal than wander around a dark area that might be full of zombies. Still, nice to see that Dale smokes Morleys; this fictional ‘almost-Marlboro’ brand may be most associated with The X Files, but it’s been a staple of TV shows since at least the early 60s.

In contrast to last week, pretty much all of the characters got a moment in the spotlight here, with none given a raw deal. We got to know Hershel’s daughter Maggie better this week, and I particularly enjoyed the growing intimacy between her and Glenn. Glenn as a character has sometimes got short shrift in the comic, but has sometimes seemed even more perfunctory in the TV version; it was nice to see Steven Yeun given some decent material at last, as he caught the character’s blend of smartassery and adolescent awkwardness. Lauren Cohan as Maggie seemed a lot more ballsy than she does in the comics, which is no bad thing, and it looks like she and Glenn might grow close…

Leaving earlier than he did in the comics, though, was Pruitt Taylor Vince as Otis. Otis in the comics always seemed a bit of a spare part, as though Robert Kirkman introduced him then had no idea what to do with him. Vince’s characterisation actually gave him more depth, but he certainly didn’t outstay his welcome. I may have been concentrating on the character drama this week, but the intervening zombie action was still pretty thrilling as Otis and Shane struggled to get away from the infested school.

There were some well-directed shock moments like when Shane was about to jump from a window and a zombie suddenly reared out and grabbed him; or when a horde of them, previously unseen, lurched into the chain link fence Shane and Otis were resting against. But nothing like the shock moment that was revealed in flashback after Shane returned, alone, to Hershel’s farm. For it transpired that, despite Shane’s tale of heroic sacrifice, Otis had actually been shot by Shane himself to decoy the zombies while he got away.

The moment this happened was a genuine shock, despite previous heavy signs that Shane was a wrong ‘un. Remember last season, when he sighted Rick with his hunting rifle before Dale turned up? Or when he practically tried to rape Lori in the CDC? Shane’s badness came to light fairly early on in the comics and he was duly despatched (though Rick had to dig him up again later to shoot him in the head properly). It’s one of the best decisions of the TV version to change this, as Jon Bernthal’s charismatic performance makes him believable and likeable even though you know what he’s capable of – in this case, not even leaving poor Otis the last bullet to shoot himself before the zombies tore him apart.

As Shane took the opportunity to shave his head back at the farm (to hide the marks Otis had made struggling with him), he looked like the very devil himself in the steamy bathroom mirror. Unfortunately, in one of the few missteps this week, we’d seen this in the pre-credit sequence. It works well as a device causing the viewer to wonder why this was significant, which was revealed at the very end of the episode. But while I can see the intention, I thought it also drastically undercut the tension of Shane and Otis’ deadly mission; after all, we always knew Shane would make it back, because he hadn’t shaved his head yet.

That criticism notwithstanding, this was far and away the best episode since the show’s return. The drama was compelling, the zombie action thrilling, and the dramatic balance between the two far better struck than in previous weeks. The characters too seem finally to be shining the way they did last year. Despite the fact that the overall plot has, technically, barely moved, I was gripped throughout, and hope we can have more episodes of this kind of quality.