The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 13

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!

Beside the Dying Fire

WalkingDeadWalkers

So this is it – after thirteen weeks, it’s the culmination of The Walking Dead’s ‘difficult second album’. This has been a patchy season after the compressed, high-octane drama of the first. With more than twice the number of episodes for apparently about half the budget, the first half of the season was frustratingly meandering and slow-paced, with a restrictive claustrophobic setting that worked to the detriment of the drama, and a little too much post-apocalypse soap opera.

The show’s return after its mid-season break found a massive increase in quality. Its settings opened up to take in the town near Hershel’s farm, and most importantly we got a return of the show’s proper USP – zombies. After their near absence for most of the season’s first half, recent episodes have sated the audience with horde after horde of stumbling revenants, reminding us that this is a post-apocalypse scenario far more hazardous than that of, say, Survivors. Not that the character drama has been neglected for zombie action, mind – the two episodes prior to this finale have had some heart in mouth moments of tension with no zombie involvement at all. They’ve also had, it’s fair to say, a number of whopping great plot contrivances that don’t hold up to close scrutiny.

This mostly excellent finale had its share of those too, though I’ll come to those later. But with original comics’ creator Robert Kirkman co-scripting with new showrunner Glen Mazzara, this was for the most part a thrilling, gripping piece of TV that might almost redeem the uneven pacing of the season as a whole.

After last week’s cliffhanger ending of a horde of walkers stumbling towards the farm, this week’s cold open cleverly didn’t pick up right from there. Instead, cleverly, it eked out the tension with an epic sequence of how this previously unanticipated horde came to be there. Starting out in a city (presumably nearby Atlanta), they’d taken to following that helicopter we’d all forgotten about from way back in the first season. As in the behaviour described in the comics, more joined them and they continued to stagger in the same direction, gaining numbers as they went, until long after the object of their initial interest had been forgotten. Until, now numbering in the impressively visualised hundreds, the gunshots from the farm caused them to turn in a new direction. Seeing the end of last week’s episode, this time from their point of view, was an excellent lead in to the credits and the action proper.

And action it certainly was. Taking the climax of most classic zombie movies as an inspiration, the episode showed our heroes’ refuge being overrun by a horde of ghouls so large it was quite simply unstoppable. Most of the episode’s first half was a frenetic melee of chaos as the farm was overrun, with the characters scattered hither and yon across the fields as they took to the cars in an attempt to shoot and then distract the herd.

Rick and Carl, for their part, were left hiding in the barn as they found themselves unable to make it through the hordes to the farmhouse. Everyone else being unaware of this, they had to fend for themselves by setting the barn – and the walkers Rick rather fearlessly let in – ablaze, in a set piece that surely consumed a fair chunk of the season budget.

With all the shooting, burning, and mad driving, the script took the opportunity to kill off those characters who’ve been a complete waste of space since the season began. Jimmy, the mostly mute teenage boy who was on the farm for some reason or other, perished after foolishly forgetting to lock the door of the RV, letting in some hungry corpses; catching light from the barn, the RV – so closely identified with the now-deceased Dale – is now toast. Back at the house, Otis’ wife Patricia, who’s uttered barely a word since her husband died, was dragged away from Beth for some chowing down.

These deaths provided some welcome gore – this is a horror story, after all – but served to underline how badly these characters have been served by all the scripts since the season began. Were they introduced solely with the intention of becoming zombie chow in the last episode? Even if they were, some kind of character description might have made us care, like we did about Dale and even Shane last week. As it was, I simply shrugged and considered the show well rid of them. It might have had more impact to have lost at least one of the main characters; but I suppose having killed off two in as many weeks, the writers didn’t want the action undercut by that kind of trauma.

This elongated sequence provided some memorable moments. Hershel, futilely blasting away at the unstoppable horde approaching the house; Lori, screaming for Carl and being dragged away to the pickup truck; Glenn blasting away out of the Hyundai’s window as Maggie drove like a lunatic. Some excellent direction from Ernest Dickerson gave the whole thing a real sense of urgency and tension; more than once, I found myself pointing at the screen and yelling, “behind you!”

Eventually though, everyone had the good sense to realise that this wasn’t a battle they were going to win, and to get the hell out of there. Along the way, Daryl rekindled the spark he has with Carol by sweeping heroically in on his bike to rescue her from pursuing walkers. Elsewhere, Rick, for a wonder, managed to convince the stubborn Hershel that the farm was lost, and there was no point dying for it. Even T-Dog finally got some actual lines, as he drove Lori and Beth away in that tatty old pickup that shows not all the vehicles in the show are product placements. Having all, independently, made the decision to flee the farm, these separate groups all, independently, decided to head back to the highway, and the place they’d left supplies for the missing Sophia way back in episode 2.

And this is the whopping great plot contrivance I had trouble with. Yes, it might have been annoying to spend the first few episodes of the next season with the group trying to find each other. But for all of them, independently, to have decided to meet up there having made no prior rendezvous arrangement? That, I’m afraid, is just not believable. I could have accepted it if some of them did that; hell, even if most of them did. But all of them? Er, no, I’m not buying that.

A similar thing happened way back in episode 8, when Rick guessed that the missing Hershel was in the town bar (and he was), then Lori, having no knowledge of this, correctly came to the same conclusion when she set out to find him. I appreciate that sometimes you just want to move the plot along to a certain point, but for heaven’s sake do it in a believable way that actually makes sense!

Having ranted about that, I’m bound also to say that the second half of the episode, with the action over, was much more slowly paced. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as our heroes have to pause to take stock, count their losses, apportion blame, and so on. Dramatically it makes sense. But perhaps less so in a season finale, when you’re wanting to stoke the thrills to fever pitch and leave your audience hanging in eager anticipation of the show’s return.

That said, there was some good character drama in this latter part of the episode, as the group’s morale plummeted and Rick began to seem increasingly unhinged in a way that might have made Shane seem preferable. Carol’s all for splitting up; T-Dog just wants to head ‘east’; and Lori, having been told that Rick killed Shane “just to get it over with” finds it hard to even touch her husband.

To add to that, we finally found out what Dr Jenner whispered into Rick’s ear at the CDC last season. As we suspected after the last few episodes, it was, “you’re all infected”. That Rick had known this all along and not told anyone did not go down well; but it looks like, for pragmatic reasons, they’re willing to sullenly accept him as leader. For now. It can’t have helped when he declared that, “this is no longer a democracy”. Having killed Shane, it seems like he’s rejected Dale’s way of thinking and adopted Shane’s anyway.

This is an unusual way of developing your ‘hero’, but it shows that The Walking Dead is not going to make compromises about how nasty even the best of people can be. The Rick in the comics developed along similar lines, his worldview hardening in light of the circumstances. He’s hardly recognisable now from the clean-cut cop at the story’s beginning. The development is unsurprising with comic creator Kirkman on scripting duties, and Andrew Lincoln rose to the challenge well, managing to make us angry with Rick while still sympathising with his viewpoint.

And speaking of the comics (which I’ll try not to spoiler too much), we finally got the much-anticipated arrival of one of their most popular characters. As the abandoned Andrea, finally having run out of bullets after fleeing the walkers all night, was pounced on by a huge ghoul, it looked like the end for her. Until, that is, its head was unexpectedly sliced off by a sword, wielded by a mysterious hooded figure accompanied by two chained, armless, jawless zombies. Without wanting to give too much away, comics readers will know exactly who this is, and may, like me, have punched the air at that point.

Back at the camp, the arguing over, the episode climaxed with an impressive crane shot. As the camera panned up, and across the river, we saw something else familiar from the comics – a massive, fenced prison complex in the near distance. Again, without wanting to give too much away, it’s not hard to guess where this is going, particularly after the group’s discussion about finding a ‘safe place’. And given the major comic villain we now know will feature next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was accompanied by the popular TV character of Merle Dixon too.

The show is back “in the fall”, though I’ve seen no firm date for its return yet. Apparently season 3 will have 16 episodes, giving more scope for storylines. We can only hope that AMC will be generous enough to give it a commensurately higher budget, to reflect its undoubted popularity; and that the showrunner manages to keep up a better balanced pace across the season, with rather less of the endless chit chat that characterised the first half of season 2. Still, uneven though the second season may have been, its second half more than made up for its first, and I’ll certainly be back to watch when it returns.

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 12

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!

Better Angels

WalkingDeadShaneRick

With the season end in sight, this week’s Walking Dead suitably ramped up the tension in another gripping episode that seems to demonstrate a show regaining its form. Brilliantly paced, Evan Reilly and Glen Mazzara’s script built from a slow burning character drama to a climax that’s been seemingly waiting in the wings for weeks.

First though, the gang had to mourn Dale after his shock death last week. The show’s cold open nicely intercut Rick’s eulogy at his graveside with an incredibly brutal and graphic zombie hunt. As Rick solemnly intoned that he was going to do things Dale’s way from now on, a close up on Shane showed him looking distinctly unimpressed. The zombie hunt flashed through the ceremony, showing Shane’s preferred method of doing things – brutally, pragmatically and finally. The effects here gave us some top notch gore, as walkers were dispatched in some inventive, non-gunfire ways.

There was some time to take stock, as Rick set about organising the proper fortification of Hershel’s farm – something that they might sensibly have done some time ago. Having resolved to follow Dale’s moral compass, Rick was still set on reviving the plan to release the hapless Randall a long way from the farm, and from his well-armed comrades. He plainly didn’t trust Shane to help him with this, choosing Daryl instead. A sensible choice, but one that Shane saw straight through; as they argued the toss, it was interesting to see Shane as the calm one for once, with Rick acting like an arrogant hothead who knew all the answers. This, surely, was what precipitated the later, tragic events of the story.

First though, Carl confided in Shane that he saw himself as responsible for Dale’s death, by failing to kill the walker he taunted last week. Shane’s advice on this was as pragmatic as ever; it wasn’t Carl’s fault, but he should keep the gun and learn how to protect himself. The grownups wouldn’t always be there to watch out for him. Actually, by the end of this episode I was beginning to wonder whether anyone was keeping an eye on him at all!

Rick having finally taken Shane’s advice on talking to Carl, there was a touching father/son bonding scene, in which Rick almost tenderly outlined the new realities to his son. It was interesting to note that, after having proclaimed he’d do things Dale’s way, the thrust of this was Rick’s firm persuasion that Carl really should be armed. There was much debate after last week’s episode as to whether Dale’s pre-apocalypse, ‘civilised’ approach was the wrong way to go with the way things had become; it looks like Rick has decided that civilisation has to be tempered by the brutal realities of the situation. He continues to develop as a character, much as he does in the comics, and Andrew Lincoln was particularly good this week with some very strong material to work with.

Sarah Wayne Callies got some good stuff too, in a significant scene with Shane in which Lori finally acknowledged her own responsibility for the impossible situation between him and Rick. Lori’s been arguably the most annoying character this year, presumably intentionally; selfish, indecisive and occasionally incompetent at basic self-preservation. Seeing her finally admit some of her own shortcomings was a surprise, and the scene with Shane felt like the beginning of some kind of closure.

In hindsight, a lot of the early part of this episode was indeed building up to closure on Shane. The fuse was lit as he stalked into the barn where Randall was tied up, then began flipping out and smashing himself on the head. After weeks of gradually unravelling, it was plain that he’d finally, completely, lost it, and this made for interestingly tense viewing as I genuinely couldn’t tell which way he was going to jump. As he led Randall through the woods, encouraging him to spill all about his gang, I really believed that Shane might take the step of joining them. So it took me quite by surprise when they disappeared behind a tree and a distinctly nasty, neck-snappingish noise was heard.

And then, as Shane smashed his head against a tree, his plan became clearer – he was faking Randall’s escape. But why? Plainly he was up to no good, but even here it was hard to see what he was hoping to gain.

It all came to a head in one of the tensest scenes the show’s done, as Rick and Shane came to a desolate, moonlit field near the woods. Director Guy Ferland gave the scene some excellent visuals as Rick and Shane stood silhouetted facing each other, the moon high behind them, as if reaching the final showdown in a classic Western. The implication was clear, and Rick, a trained cop after all, figured it out quickly. “So this is where you’re going to do it then?” he asked, knowing that this was Shane’s endgame. “Good a place as any,” Shane replied laconically. The showdown vibe was unmistakeable; that same laid back attitude the antagonists display at the end of every Sergio Leone movie. I fully expected a long, drawn out standoff with increasingly close shots of the actors’ faces interspersed with shots of fingers twitching near triggers.

And what we got, cleverly, was something quite different. Having built up that vibe, the script switched tack as Rick went into classic ‘police negotiator’ mode, trying to persuade Shane that, if he only gave up the gun, all this could be forgotten and they could move on.

This was certainly the ‘Dale-like’ thing to do, and was reminiscent of the more peaceable philosophy of heroes like Jean-Luc Picard or the Doctor. It was also, in light of Shane’s increasing insanity, plainly the absolute wrong thing to do here. This played out for a tense few minutes, until Rick took the step of holding out his gun to Shane. At this point, I was prepared for two outcomes; Rick getting killed (unlikely), or Shane accepting his terms and condemning the viewer to more endless weeks of seething tension between them.

Instead, I was again genuinely surprised that the scriptwriters had the balls for Rick to finally accept what had to be. As Shane reached for the gun, Rick, sobbing, stabbed him through the heart. It was a shocking moment, well-handled by both actors. The look of amazement on Shane’s face as Rick finally bought into his way of doing things was priceless. Mind you, I also wondered whether the whole thing had been engineered by Shane as an elaborate, unhinged way of committing suicide; the scene seemed laced with deliberate ambiguity on this.

Even than, the shocks weren’t over, nor the script’s clever mind games. Carl suddenly popped up, having seen everything (really, does nobody keep an eye on what he’s doing?). And it looked for a moment like he was going to shoot his father. Rick certainly thought so, an indication of how he’s not getting the changes in his son.

But no, as the gunshot rang out, it was the stumbling, now zombified Shane that Carl shot; possibly a clever nod to the comics, in which Carl shot the living Shane much, much earlier. It also served to establish (along with the discovery that the strangled Randall was now a zombie too) something we’d suspected for a few weeks now – you don’t have to be bitten to come back from the dead. This is a potentially interesting development; it means that, if this is caused by some kind of virus, everyone is a carrier, with death waiting to trigger it. I wonder if that’s what Dr Jenner whispered into Rick’s ear at the end of Season One? Still no resolution on that – yet.

As a prelude to the season finale, the episode ended with a swarm of walkers, drawn by all that gunfire, stumbling across the field towards Rick and Carl – and the farm. Clearly, in time-honoured zombie movie tradition, the climax to this season is going to see an invasion of the undead laying siege to our heroes’ refuge. Will they survive? Will they have to move on from the farm? (God, I hope so!) And more importantly, will they have the sense to get guns with silencers?

With the episodes of the last few weeks, The Walking Dead really seems to have got its mojo back after a distinctly patchy, often badly paced season. This was another strong story, and a great sendoff for Shane. Jon Bernthal has been excellent in the role, and will be missed. Zombie stories really need a human villain to work; the zombies are an all-pervading danger, but they’re essentially mindless. For genuine nastiness, you need the living, something George Romero’s movies always remind us of. I gather that another of the comic’s well-known baddies is due to put in an appearance soon to fill the void. First though, our heroes have got what looks like an all out zombie onslaught to contend with. If it can match the quality of the last few episodes, roll on next week…

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 11

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!

Judge, Jury, Executioner

WalkingDeadRickShaneRandall

After the last couple of zombie-heavy episodes, this week’s Walking Dead was back to the zombie-light character drama that has been, on occasion, so frustratingly slow-paced. But this was no letdown; rather, it was one of the most intensely dramatic episodes the show has done in ages. This time, you found yourself really caring about the characters and how they were adjusting to this cruel new world, in perhaps the cruellest episode yet.

As I predicted last week, there was more than an echo of classic BBC post-apocalyptic series Survivors, specifically a similarly talky but nailbiting episode called ‘Law and Order’. The story’s basic structure even resembled it, as it all built to a central ‘trial’ scene at which the group had to debate the morality of, and potential alternatives to, summarily executing their potentially dangerous prisoner.

As an examination of one of the central dilemmas faced by survivors of the collapse of civilisation, the episode pulled no punches. When those who survive have no authority structure left, they must necessarily take law and order – and its prosecution – into their own hands. This is a responsibility that most people simply don’t want, as we saw here – Hershel, Maggie and Carol were all more than willing to take no part in the debate and leave it to others. The trouble was, as Dale put it, that taking no part was tantamount to carrying out the ‘judicial murder’ themselves.

With Rick having thought long and hard, and having come up with no reasonable alternative to killing Randall, it was left to Dale to be the sole voice of what used to be called ‘civilisation’. The first half of the episode showed him roaming the farm and trying to change the minds of the gang one by one. As he said to Andrea, “the world we knew has gone, but keeping our humanity? That’s a choice.”

Andrea wasn’t initially convinced. When Dale reminded her that in the world before she’d been a civil rights lawyer, she simply replied, “who says we’re civilised any more?” But it was Daryl, still tormented, who had the most revealing assessment of the situation. Rebutting Dale’s assertion that the group respected him and his decision counted, he accurately summed up the state of affairs: “This group’s broken.”

It was later to become clear why the episode focused on Dale so heavily; but in the mean time, other characters were getting a little more screen time than usual, particularly Carl. Chandler Riggs has been putting in an amazingly confident and solemn performance for a twelve year old actor as Carl heads into dark territory this year; never more so than here, where for the first time the episode focused strongly on him. Even more so than in the comic, his pragmatic, child’s-eye view is a disturbing foretaste of the way humanity’s next generation could head, even while the aging Dale represents a world now long gone.

From Carl’s disturbing encounter with the desperate Randall in the barn, through his angry denial of Heaven to Carol and ultimately two hair-raising scenes of him taunting a stuck-in the-mud zombie, this was as much Riggs’ episode as it was Jeffrey DeMunn’s as Dale. With the very real moral dilemma taking centre stage, that zombie (gruesomely realised with some excellent makeup) was the only one in sight this week. But it was to take a vital role in the plot as basically a symbol of the very situation our survivors found themselves in.

First though, there had to be the showdown between old world morality and new world pragmatism, in that ‘trial’ that was so reminiscent of the one in Survivors. Dale passionately made the case for mercy, arguing that it was patently immoral to execute somebody for a crime he had yet to, and might never, commit. Shane’s pragmatic approach, with Rick’s agreement, was that the risk wasn’t worth taking.

The look on Jeffrey DeMunn’s face as Dale realised that he was alone in his views, that even his admirer Glenn wouldn’t back him up, was heartbreaking, tears shining in his eyes as he realised his world was probably gone forever. And then, surprisingly, it was Andrea he convinced. After she spoke up, a discussion was had as to the alternatives; keep Randall prisoner (a mouth to feed contributing nothing), dump him somewhere far away (considerable risk to whoever had to take him) or trust him to contribute by working with the group (either meaning someone would have to watch him or running the risk that he’d slip away and bring his thirty heavily-armed friends with him).

In the end, though, just as in Survivors, the pragmatic argument won out over the compassionate one, and Randall was dragged out to be shot. Rick having insisted that he had to shoulder the responsibility of carrying the act out himself gave Andrew Lincoln the chance to look unutterably tormented as he tremblingly held the gun on the weeping, terrified boy blindfolded before him.

And then a surprise, as Rick was confronted with the consequences. Carl turned up unexpectedly, urging his father to go through with it, perhaps with even a hint of bloodlust. And Rick, shamed by facing up to what his son was becoming – and what he might too – couldn’t pull the trigger.

It was a heart-stopping moment in an episode full of them. I was hugely impressed with director Greg Nicotero’s handling of his cast with Andrea Kang’s hard-hitting script; the more so because Nicotero is usually the king of zombies, having begun as a makeup man with Tom Savini on Romero’s Day of the Dead. You’d almost expect a Nicotero episode to be a gore-heavy one, but this was real drama, and sensitively handled.

And even after Randall’s last minute reprieve, the script had one last punch to deliver. Dale, wandering disillusioned out to the fields, was grabbed and disembowelled by a wandering zombie – the very same zombie that Carl had taunted and singularly failed to kill earlier, and may even have led to the farm. And finally, with Rick having been unable to shoot the untrustworthy prisoner, the episode concluded with Daryl having to shoot one of their best friends, just to save him from his death agonies.

It was a jaw dropping shock, and yet another clever example of wrong-footing those familiar with the comics. In the comics, Dale survives much, much longer than this, eventually striking up a romantic relationship with Andrea. Here, a character we thought was safe was ripped from the show brutally. The message was clear – forget what you think you know from the comics, all bets are off.

And it was also a final, nihilistic bit of symbolism in an episode that was full of them. Dale was the last representative of the old, good, compassionate world, and here he was, his guts ripped out by the world that was now, having to be put out of his misery.

This was an incredibly powerful episode for much the same reasons as the Survivors one, but given an extra level of tension by the fact that almost every US state still has the death penalty. In Britain, even in 1975, the debate was old news, but in the US it’s still very much current. What this episode does, as its very title indicates, is ask the viewer how you would feel about it, particularly if you were the one who had to not only make the decision but carry out the execution itself.

And finally, if you have any sympathy at all for the characters, it was an incredibly cruel episode. Rick is confronted with his son turning into a cold-hearted pragmatist like Shane; Carl is left with the knowledge that he may be indirectly responsible for Dale’s death; and Dale himself goes to his grave never actually having been told that his arguments for civilisation ultimately won the day. Good drama works by putting its characters through the wringer – this did that in spades. A superb episode even with only one zombie in it, impeccably written, directed and acted.

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 10

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!

18 Miles Out

WalkingDeadRickShane

This week’s close focus on just a few of The Walking Dead’s ensemble cast made for an impressive episode that should be known as ‘The One Where Rick and Shane Have a Long Overdue Punch-up’. Zombie mayhem was present and correct again, with the character drama being threaded through it, and informed by it, better than last week by some margin.

In some ways, it was a very traditional format for series drama; there was an A plot – Rick and Shane’s excursion to dump off teenage bandit Randall – and a B plot – Lori, Maggie and Andrea have to deal with the now-conscious Beth’s apparent desire to commit suicide. If you were missing your favourite character this week, consolation could be taken that the very tight focus on, effectively, just six characters made for a gripping piece, and left nobody with the sort of perfunctory role that T-Dog seems to have every single week. On the whole, if there’s nothing for a character to do, I’d rather not see them at all that episode than have them mill round in the background and occasionally say one line.

The two plot threads were balanced far better than last week’s ‘first half action, second half talking’ approach, and worked better for it. Of the two, it was necessarily the A plot that got the most attention, as alongside some more actual zombie action, the increasingly poisonous nature of Rick and Shane’s relationship came to a head. Rick put his cards on the table, telling Shane that he knew everything – about Lori, about the death of Otis, about Shane’s twisted love for his wife. Shane initially seemed to take this on board, looking chastened for the first time in about ever. But as they found themselves stuck with a dilemma about whether or not to kill Randall, then a swarm of walkers descended, Shane took the opportunity to have his say. And he was pretty firm about it too.

Jon Bernthal’s been pretty impressive as Shane this season, all glowering anger and frightening obsession; by comparison, Rick’s obsession with what may be a now obsolete morality has meant Andrew Lincoln has had far less of a chance to impress. Let’s face it, the goody-goody hero is usually the less interesting part to play. But Rick’s definitely changed over the last few episodes, and this week Lincoln got a chance to impressively show us the extent of that.

His no-nonsense roadside speech to Shane showed us a man to be reckoned with, and also a man who these days won’t shy away from doing what needs to be done, however horrible it might be. It was telling that he accepted Shane’s reasons for sacrificing Otis, and admitted that he might well have done the same thing. But the crucial difference between them, which drove this episode’s conflict, is that Rick will take the time to consider before doing the horrible thing; Shane will just charge in and do it as a first response.

Hence, when they discovered that shifty teenager Randall, pleading not to be left at an abandoned Public Works Depot 18 miles out from the farm, knew Maggie and had therefore known the location all along, Shane’s first instinct was to kill him right there. Rick, typically, didn’t altogether disagree, but wanted to take the boy back to the farm and think on it overnight. But this was what pushed Shane right over the edge, as he came to the conclusion that Rick didn’t have what it took to do the hard thing. The look on his face said it all as he told Rick, “you don’t have what it takes to keep us alive.” And from that moment, the punch up was on.

They weren’t messing about, either. This was a seriously nasty fight, with both parties struggling for possession of the gun. Clearly, Shane meant to use it on Rick; Rick, presumably would have just threatened Shane with it. But if there was any doubt about Shane’s murderous intentions, that went out the window when he flung a giant wrench right at Rick’s head.

Fortunately for both, he missed, though his intention was now in no doubt. Unfortunately, the wrench went sailing through a window into a room full of ghouls, who shuffled out en masse for another tense bit of zombie mayhem. Surrounded by some quite fast-moving walkers, Rick and Shane scarpered in different directions; the fight put on hold, but far from resolved.

We’d seen part of this action sequence in the show’s cold open, but this time I’d say it hadn’t been needed. I like non-linear narratives, but I’m not keen on the practice of grabbing the viewer pre-credits by taking an exciting bit from halfway through the story then rewinding to the start. It smacks of a lack of imagination – what, you couldn’t write an exciting scene at the story’s beginning? Particularly when, I felt, writer Scott Gimple had done so this week. I would have been grabbed quite sufficiently by Rick’s opening speech to Shane, with a zoom in to the latter’s surly face leading to the credits.

Still, at least we knew there was going to be zombie action. While less numerous than last week, it didn’t disappoint, particularly for taking place in daylight where the detail of the impressive make-up could clearly be seen. These were some nasty looking corpses, particularly the big, lipless brute that ended up toppling on Rick – the first of three to fall hungrily on him, pinning him to the ground while he frantically shot them in the head, unable to wriggle out from under.

Shane too had problems as he bolted into a school bus with a door that couldn’t be locked, and tried to knife each zombie in the head as they squeezed through the gap. Randall arguably had it even worse, as his hands and feet were still tied. Even with this stricture, he managed to graphically snap an undead woman’s arm before reaching the knife he needed.

This was some tense stuff, and well done – there was no stinting on the gore, either. But it was also integral to the progression of Rick and Shane’s fight. As Rick managed to grab Randall and run for the car, Randall made the fairly sensible point that it made no sense for Rick to rescue a man who several minutes ago had been trying to bash his brains in. For a minute, it looked like Rick agreed, as he hared away in the opposite direction; like Shane, I was totally taken in by that, so it was a surprise when the car roared up next to the bus, with Rick exhorting Shane to make his escape via the back door.

On the drive back, Shane was more docile, but the look on his face made me think that we’re far from seeing their rivalry resolved. But all the secrets between them are now out in the open, and the field of battle is laid. As a result, I’m now seeing Rick less as a do-gooding moraliser, but as someone whose judgement is more measured and considered than Shane. It looks like he really does have what it takes to survive. But somehow I don’t think Shane will be convinced.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, Beth unexpectedly got a plot thread as it became clear she was hellbent on killing herself. Lori and Maggie, inevitably, were horrified, but Andrea had a more Shane-like pragmatism given her own recent desire for suicide. We’ve not really seen any interaction between Lori and Andrea before, but this week they got an electric face-off in Hershel’s kitchen; neither pulled any verbal punches, and we were left in no doubt as to the contempt they hold for each other. Lori sees Andrea as lazy and not pulling her weight; Andrea, for her part, sees Lori as selfish and spoiled, taking for granted all the good things she has in such a horrible situation.

I have to say, it was Andrea I really sided with. It’s no fault of actor Sarah Wayne Callies, but Lori really is irritating and comes across as always wanting more from everybody. This is now so consistent that it must be an intention on the part of the showrunner – I’m sure her selfishness will lead to much trouble in the upcoming weeks. Andrea, meanwhile, had an uncomfortably sensible pragmatism about the desirability of suicide in the scenario they all face. In the event, she left Beth to make her own decision, and the half-assed attempt she made at slashing her own wrists betrayed her lack of conviction in killing herself. Eventually, even Lori had to concede this had probably been the best approach. Trouble is, I’m betting that, having had this one plotline, the writers will be unable to think of anything to do with Beth afterwards. After all, her boyfriend Jimmy has still barely had more than a handful of lines despite having been in it since the second episode of the season.

This dark philosophising on the attraction of suicide was efficiently threaded through the action with Rick and Shane, so the episode as a whole felt far better balanced than last week. There was also some touching on an issue I mentioned last week – is it only bite victims who rise as zombies, or everyone who dies? This came up as Rick and Shane puzzled over some zombies they’d just killed who seemed to have no bite marks at all. Eventually they concluded that the infection must have got in through scratches on the victims; which should worry them both given the open wounds they both got during their fight, and the amount of zombie blood liberally sprayed about near said wounds later on. It could be that one of them isn’t long for the world of the living – my money would be on Shane.

A gripping, action and character filled episode ended with Rick and Shane back where they started, heading back to the farm with a bound Randall in the trunk. Next week, it looks like they’ll have the unpalatable dilemma of whether to kill him in order to ensure their group’s safety. That could be interesting, and intentionally or not shows yet another resemblance to classic BBC post-apocalypse drama Survivors.

There’s a truly gripping episode in the first series of that in which the settlement of plague survivors debate whether to kill an apparent murderer in their midst; with no judicial system any more, it could be the only way to deal with the situation. Eventually, the ‘murderer’, a man with the mind of a child, is indeed executed. And then the group find out that he was innocent after all. It made for an enthralling moral dilemma, and it looks like Rick’s gang are about to find themselves in a similar situation. This could be the ultimate test of Rick’s considered judgement versus Shane’s bullheaded pragmatism –  and could be very interesting indeed.

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.