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.