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…