THE BELOW REVIEW CONTAINS MUCHO SPOILERS. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN YESTERDAY’S EPISODE OF “THE WALKING DEAD”. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Who lives? Who dies? Who gets eaten? And gosh darn it, will they ever find that Sophia girl already? It’s been what, nearly half a season since the little tyke’s gone missing?
In the mid-season finale of “The Walking Dead” Season 2, one of those questions posed above gets answered. Or two. Or three. Well, it all depends on how you look at the definition of “dies”, right? This is a movie about flesh-devouring zombies, after all. Er, I mean, walkers, since apparently the word “zombie” does not exist in the universe of “The Walking Dead”.
Episode 7 of Season 2, titled “Pretty Much Dead Already”, finds the gang all conflictin’ and such, with everyone’s secret now essentially out in the open. Lori’s pregnancy is revealed to Shane (who is very sure it’s his baby), Glenn finally sticks up for himself (and gets a kiss out of it — yeah!), and those walkers in Hershel’s barn take center stage, as you knew they would when their presence is revealed. Shane is, of course, right in the thick of it — demanding, knowing, wanting to take over as Alpha Male of the survivors. Poor Rick, meanwhile, is just trying to keep it all together. And so what do we learn about Rick’s handling of the situation? Man, it sucks to be the leader that everyone else (well, except for Shane) looks to for answers. Poor guy looks like pressed. Really, really pressed.
And of course, with the behind-the-scenes shenanigans about an impending death among the survivors (a “Darabont loyalist”, we’re told, is due to get their walking (ahem) papers) fresh in our minds, everytime Shane, Andrea, or Dale find themselves alone with each other with tension running like a chainsaw through a tree, you expect someone to drop dead at any moment. Tell me none of you were expecting Shane to turn Dale’s rifle back on the old fogey and shoot him dead in them there woods. You know you were waiting for it to happen. Probably just as you were waiting for Carl to whip out that gun Shane just handed him and shoot his former father figure dead at the end of the episode.
None of those things happen.
Instead, “Pretty Much Dead Already” brilliantly sets the stage for a harrowing 15-minute finale, where Sophia, at long last, resurfaces. Her big reveal at once proved that on “The Walking Dead”, the writers do not enjoy taking the easy way out. The writers have been reminding us that this is not a world for softees over the last few episodes: Shane has to become a selfish prick to survive (oh sure, he tells himself he did it to save Carl, but you know that’s bullshit), and when we suddenly expect Sophia to yes, be found very much alive … she was finally found … and already turned. After that sweet scene between Daryl and Carol and those purty flowers, the episode was definitely lulling us into believing things would work out for spunky Sophia. (Man, what a set-up! You bastards!)
Oh, “The Walking Dead” writers, I hate you so much, and yet I completely respect your decision to kick me in the nuts. Bravo, sirs, bravo!
So who do you side with on “The Walking Dead”? I’m not sure myself. The writers have done such a great job presenting both sides of the issue that it’s hard to fault the two warring Alpha Males of the group. On one hand, Shane does what is needed, though one suspects it’s not all about “surviving”, there’s also a lot of “showing Lori he can be the caveman she needs” aspect to his actions, too. Oh, who are we kidding. 90% of everything Shane does is to prove to Lori that he can be her baby daddy. But hey, he’s only human, right? And who can really quibble with his reasoning that a barn full of walkers next door that could, at any time, break free and munch on them is not exactly an ideal situation.
But then there’s Rick. He makes the tough choices. Sure, he could take the easy way out and grab his six-shooter and start dictating terms to Hershel, but he doesn’t do that. Because that would be the easy way out (the Shane way, as it were), and talking, debating, hashing it all down so everyone gets what they want and need, is so much harder. As they say, it’s easier to tear down than to build. Rick is a builder. You gotta respect the man for his dogged determination to hold onto his ethics, his morals, his sense of decency in an increasingly indecent world. You can feel his breaking point nearing. Oh, so near, and yet, and yet … not yet, not quite yet…
I couldn’t think of a better way to close out “The Walking Dead” until new episodes emerge next year. “Pretty Much Dead Already” was brutal, dramatic, and just dripping with tension for much of its 40 or so minutes. At this point in the show, you either totally dig its excellent balance of human drama and horror, or you’ve already checked out and searched for the latest gore-filled backyard-shot zombie film. If Shane and Rick’s shared need for survival (and yet such polar opposite approaches to that end) didn’t have you clinging to the edge of your seat throughout the episode, “The Walking Dead” TV show is simply not for you.
The second half of “The Walking Dead” Season 2 returns in 2012. Here’s a preview of 2.08, “Nebraska”: