And so the first half of The Walking Dead‘s second season ends with a bang, and not some pathetic whimper. (Note: If you haven’t seen this episode, don’t bother reading past this point; the episode’s climax is central to this article.)
If the writing staff puts their heads together and does nothing but produce episodes of this caliber from here on out, I’m not going to complain. Pretty Much Dead Already does what a great episode of The Walking Dead should do, and even acknowledging its warts the installment makes for a great hour of riveting, captivating television. I’ve had many qualms with S2, notably involving its sluggish sense of pacing and its apparent lack of direction, but the midpoint finale goes a long way toward making amends for this season’s bad spots.
But it also introduces a dichotomy of viewer’s catharsis and irksome frustration. My biggest complaint across the season has been the handling of Sophia’s disappearance, a plot thread which I viewed (and at the time rightly so, in my opinion) as something of a distraction after two episodes dedicated screen time to tracking her whereabouts. Where’s Sophia? Is she alive? Is she dead? Is she a walker? My answer to these boiled down to “who cares” in shorthand, and “why do we need to halt plot movement to find a little girl” on a more expansive note. So with the revelation that Sophia has been shambling around in the barn with Hershel’s zombified family is something of a relief; she’s been found, and while the circumstances of the discovery are less than pleasant, we can put that barking dog to rest. At the very least we can say with certainty that the second half of the season won’t waste any time looking for her.
At the same time, she’s been in the barn the whole time. That feels like a huge flip of the bird from the writing staff, directed right at their audience. If the search for Sophia has to end with her being undead, why does she have to be in the barn? On the one hand that does feel consistent with Hershel’s wrong-headed philosophy regarding containing the zombies rather than killing them, but after a few seconds thought and the subsequent realization that Sophia’s been in the barn with the Greene family probably since the second episode, consistency doesn’t matter. Sophia’s location feels something like a cheat.
There’s one other way to look at the reveal: as a huge macabre joke being played on the survivors at the writers’ behest. If nothing else The Walking Dead is a show that’s directly concerned with the psychological states of its characters. Everywhere they go, they experience death; for them, hope has been all but siphoned out of their world. Though Sophia’s disappearance began as something of a frightening tragedy, the search to find her eventually came to symbolize a bid to maintain a degree of optimism in post-apocalypse America…and then the other survivors find that she’s been dead in the barn the whole time, meaning that their efforts to find her have been for naught all along. If it’s a writer’s prank at the expense of the cast, it’s a damn effective one.
What that moment does signify, though, is that Rick’s in control and finding his backbone again– something that I hope the show continues to develop in February. For a good amount of time leadership and decision-making has been placed on Rick’s shoulders and yet contested constantly by the minor characters and, most of all, by Shane, with whom Rick appears to be struggling for dominance in both his familial affairs and his leadership over the group. Most recently, Rick has really become something of a weak leader, a bit of a milquetoast incapable of maintaining control and keeping his people firmly in his corner. With Pretty Much Dead Already, Rick seems like he’s back in the figurative saddle, and not a moment too soon as my predictions about Shane seem to be coming true.
Shane remains the best realized character on the show overall, but I’ve said for a while that he’s going to reach a breaking point and experience something of a meltdown. Well, time’s proven me right. Shane’s behavior in the last ten minutes of the episode is jaw-dropping; as Dale seems to fear, he’s lost his last vestiges of humanity and fully succumbed to the world he and the others inhabit. Strictly speaking, nothing that he expresses in his rant is wrong; the walkers are dangerous, they aren’t just sick people, they do represent a threat to the Greenes and the others. Put bluntly, they need to be eliminated, but he exhibits a frightening lack of compassion and decency as he raves about the circumstances he and the other survivors face. Giving him some credit, he’s at least professional in his unraveling– nobody gets hurt, and nothing disastrous befalls the group when he tears down the barn doors. But nothing needs to happen for Shane’s actions to ostracize him from his more civilized fellows.
Pretty Much Dead Already really brings it in the climax– you may have figured that out based on how much time I’ve dedicated to covering its events. In fairness, the rest of the episode works well too, with some great character stuff for Maggie, Hershel, and Glen, but it’s the way that 2.7 ends that really makes it worth talking about. (Arguably that doesn’t speak well for the writers, but I really think they’re doing a great job at making Glen and Hershel into the real characters they must be; they’d just better be careful about having too many extraneous background figures clogging things up.) With any luck, the mid-season cliffhanger will influence the shape of the rest of the season for the better; all of the elements are in place for Pretty Much Dead Already to possess that sort of impact. We’ll see come February.
I was blown away by the ending. It literally left me tearing up, which says a lot for a TV show, let alone one about zombies. I think this is one of the strongest series on the air right now. I’m glad it’ll be returning in February rather than making us wait a whole year like “Falling Skies.”
I’ll say this, the ending definitely presented something of a change of pace for the series.
I hate to quash your hopes on the pacing, but I’m realtively sure they’ll stick with slow burn slow burn BANG pacing… could just be me though. But thats my read.
You’re totally right on Shane being the fullest character, but you know what? He’s actually become my favorite. I’m rooting for him to kick Ricks bitchy little ass and take the lead. I said it. Seeing Rick haul walkers out of the swamp on sticks made me completely turn on him. I’m glad it was him that shot Sofia at least so that I didn’t cringe every time someone looked to him for “leadership”
Shane has some serious points. He certainly doesnt express them calmly, but Rick has sucked ass as leader.
Anywho, at least this episode fired me up again. It was interesting, it was thought provoking… Sophia didnt surprise me cause I ran across a spoiler, but it was still a nice plot twist.
Nice review, and glad to have a place to discuss the show. Thank you for hosting.
I’m sure that they’ll stick to slow pacing, but one can always hope. I’d like to see significant things happen every episode, not just every 3-4 episodes.
While I actually agree with your assessment of Rick versus Shane, that final moment could potentially signify that Rick’s regaining his druthers as a leader. When Shane freezes up and can’t make a decision, it’s Rick who does what absolutely needs to be done regardless of how horrible the task is.
Personally, I actually liked that Rick helped Hershel lead the zombies to the barn. I don’t think he’s doing it because it’s the right thing to do in the situation but because he knows that it’s the right thing to do for his people. At the end of the day, Rick’s correct about their chances in the outside world versus staying at Hershel’s farmhouse, and he’s willing to do what’s required of him to make sure that they remain there. Walkers should die, but in that situation I can’t say I’d do anything differently. For his people’s sake, I think he made the correct call.
I avoided spoilers for this as I do most episodes, so the Sophia reveal raised the hairs on my arms.
As for hosting– no problem! Thanks for adding to the discussion, Dan! I’ll pick it back up in February, of course.
Shane is such a fucking hypocrite. Likes to think himself a big badass, but when push comes to shove–killing Sophia–he wimps out. He is nothing but a monster posing as authority.
I think that that moment goes a long way toward underscoring Shane’s weaknesses as an authority figure– he can make an easy decision, like breaking open the barn door against a defenseless old man’s wishes, but he can’t put a bullet in Sophia once she shambles out into the light. Rick has his shortcomings as a leader but he did what was necessary there.
BTW Andrew, you won the contest over at NMPF
Viva le Crump
I just got down to watching this episode and wow! The last half hour made all the bland moments in the season all worth it. Damn, that was intense. You are right that Shane is by far the best realized character so far, he’s just a lot of fun, one of those characters you love to hate.
I agree completely, Cas. Shane’s just…he’s just compelling. More is put into his character than any others, which is frustrating and rewarding at the same time– if the writers can create a guy like Shane why can’t they put the same effort into their other principles?
But I digress. That last chunk of the episode really had me on the edge of my seat.