I’m not sure what’s going on with the writing staff of The Walking Dead in the second half of season 2, but I’m not going to complain. After a stiff, uneven, and progression-free first half, the series has really taken off with four high quality episodes– probably none better than 18 Miles Out, though none of them slouch and grind anywhere near as much as the initial seven episodes. I wonder if we’ll be able to proclaim the latter chunk of season 2 to be superior than all of season 1 by the time the finale has aired. Regardless, the leap in quality of writing continues to astound me, and if the last two installments of the season are on par with the other four, then we’re all in for a nice ride.
If there’s one unfortunate detail in the excellence of the The Walking Dead‘s most recent two offerings, though, it’s the note on which Judge, Jury, Executioner ends. Shock value tends to override most anything else in its proximity– hence why Pretty Much Dead Already is so highly praised for its ending while the rest of the episode is merely “good”– and I imagine that in the case of Dale, people will be referring back to his untimely demise before they look back to the dual power struggles unfolding in 18 Miles Out. This isn’t a huge surprise, as character deaths tend to stick to viewers in a way that most other elements of plot and storytelling don’t, but Dale, frankly, needed to go if only to keep the wheels greased and prevent the insertion of any democratic response into the slowly brewing war between Rick and Shane over the leadership of the group.
Which isn’t to say I’m happy to see Dale go. Jeffrey DeMunn’s a wonderful actor; for a good chunk of season 1 he stood out as one of the show’s best characters. But for whatever reason he’s become nothing but a giant pain in the neck in season 2, playing the role of “wise old man who knows things” even though he shouldn’t know most of those things. That he’s so utterly right about Shane is frustrating in the face of his blatant speculation. Why was Dale spot-on about Shane’s crime? Because the writers said so. Maybe it’s only just that DeMunn be ushered out of the story so as to find worthier projects to attach himself to; he’s a great actor whose talent was being squandered here. So fare thee well, Jeffrey. Your presence won’t go unnoticed.
That brings us back to our two cowboys jockeying for authority on the farm and amongst the other survivors. 18 Miles Out really brings the tension between Rick and Shane to a head in a big, gloriously messy way that marries great character work with some of the best zombie mayhem of the entire series. Rick’s final comment to Shane– about Shane coming back– also feels like a huge reflection on Rick himself, who hasn’t shown off this much chutzpah since, well, the pilot episode. Nice to see you back on the horse, Rick, and even if you are still figuring things out for yourself it’s a big deal to go from being the most spineless and indecisive character on the show to the guy who shoots a dead zombie through the mouth to destroy another zombie. Certified badass.
And even though it boasts the zombie kill of the year, 18 Miles Out‘s best attribute is seen in the back and forth between Lori and Andrea. While the show has been doing very well at giving everyone’s point of view a fair shake, it’s hard to side with Andrea in the end here; her concept of choice is incredibly skewed, and while she didn’t outright direct Beth’s actions she certainly offered enough “advice” to have an influence. The discussion of choice kind of paints Andrea as something akin to a member of a weird religious cult, though she’s certainly correct (irritatingly so because of how vehemently I disagree with her worldview) that Beth’s will to live should be unshakable now; regardless, I’m going to have to agree with Lori on this one, and if that’s not a major achievement I don’t know what is.
Beth’s suicidal tendencies aside, Lori and Andrea lock horns over more than just their right to intervene with the younger Greene girl’s choice to live or die. Gender issues become a big point of contention for both of them, and it’s about time The Walking Dead addressed the disparity between the Carols and Loris of the show and, well, the one and only Andrea of the show. Andrea’s the only woman in the cast who’s invested enough in defending herself and others to become proficient with a firearm (Daryl certainly remembers what a great shot she is), and Lori resents her for putting the burden of maintaining the farm on each other female character who’s still alive and kicking. Their argument might be the best example of ambiguity the show has produced to date; ultimately it’s impossible to say who’s right here, and yet I could probably spend an entire article talking about just that debate alone.
The other big factor in play in 18 Miles Out is Randall, and in Judge, Jury, Executioner, he’s pretty much the center around which the entire episode revolves. Is anyone surprised at Rick’s ultimate decision to spare him? Maybe that shoves Rick slowly back into “wimp” territory, but then again, I wouldn’t want to encourage the sudden sociopathic and just plain creepy behavior traits being exhibited by my son either. (And where the hell is that coming from? If I have one big criticism about this episode it’s that Carl’s acting strange out of the blue.) Besides, Randall being alive or dead won’t prevent his people from finding the farm if they really are thirty deep; with that many rape-happy gun-toting bastards roaming the countryside, it would have just been a matter of time until they stumbled upon the farm regardless of Randall’s fate at the end of Triggerfinger. The survivors are barking up the wrong tree now. Forget about Randall, start preparing for his people. (Aside: who wants to bet Merle is part of that group?)
I bet Shane’s wishing he’d left the barn closed last season, because a pack of zombies that can be called on demand makes for a great ace in the hole in a firefight. All that the survivors are left with now is an abused prisoner and a dead Dale. I wonder how his passing will impact the rest of the characters; will they become more fractured, or will they remember his disdainful words about the group being “broken” and finally unite?