Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review: The Walking Dead "Pretty Much Dead Already"

Non Spoiler Review:
The Walking Dead reaches its midseason finale with a decent showing after what could be described as a rather lazy first half. Shane's frustration with Rick's decisions reaches a boiling point while Rick is doing his utmost to convince Hershel they can all work together to make a successful future on the farm. 

The status quo is overturned by the end, and there is a resolution on Sophia's disappearance. The character drama was delivered in heaps (like it has been the last several episodes), but I was left feeling it was all coming up short when the final credits rolled. Was the twist really any surprise at this point?

My suspicion (and hope) is that this first half of season two has set up all the threads necessary for a more exciting and fast-paced conclusion in the new year. I love the character development that defines this show, but at the same time I want a sense that the survivors are actually heading in a particular direction rather than spinning their wheels.

Spoilers Now!
Breakfast at camp is quiet and pensive. Glen looks off towards Maggie standing on the porch who shakes her head no, but Dale nods to him. Glen then makes an announcement that the barn is full of walkers which gets everyone's attention. Rick is not impressed.

They all go over to have a look. Diplomatic Rick is not alright with it at all, but reminds them they are guests there. Crazy-bananas Shane wants to make things right (kill the walkers) or just go (on to Fort Benning). They can't go, because Sophia is still out there, Carol persists, leading to Shane suggesting they consider she's dead. Daryl steps to Carol's defence and he and Shane nearly come to blows. Rick wants to talk to Hershel about it all. Dale explains he sees them as sick people, and admits he knew a day earlier than the rest. That scores him no extra points with Shane for putting the camp in jeopardy. Glen wanted to be the one to say something.

After everyone's hissy fits, Shane ultimately stands guard at the barn and ensures the doors remain strong, while Glen attempts to make peace with Maggie who is angry with him again. Carl declares to his mother he's not leaving unless they find Sophia, and he doesn't want to go even after that. He thinks she'll like it on the farm. Daryl is preparing to head out on the trail again, but Carol tells him to stop, given he needs to recover. They don't know if they'll find her, and they can't lose him too. Daryl calls her a stupid bitch and leaves. 

Andrea advises Dale she's going off with Rick to look for Sophia. First she's going to stand watch at the barn as per Shane's request. Dale tries to be delicate, but suggests she doesn't really know Shane. Does she want to be like him? He's not a victim, she replies. Andrea says Dale must stop looking out for her, especially now that they've come to some peace. Dale's quite upset over all this and asks Glen to go get him some water because he needs a second (with the guns).

Rick has his discussion with Hershel, who isn't receptive at all to any overtures to help his family out on the farm. When he explains they found the barn Hershel tells him to leave it be and then announces he wants their group gone by the end of the week. Rick suggests the farm is special, shielded from the reality of what's happened in the outside world, then, to add some incentive, reveals Lori is pregnant. Rick tells him to think about it again, because they can't go out there.

Rick advises Shane of his negotiations. Shane is clear he wants to leave or clear out the barn to make the farm safe. Rick seems to think they can make it safe without going against Hershel. Shane doesn't see how, so Rick reveals Lori is pregnant and they need to stay so they'll just have to make it work. Shane manages to hide his shock, but offers congratulations.

Maggie's at odds with her father. He's not impressed she's now referring to the barn's inhabitants as walkers. She starts quoting Bible versus to show he needs to give Rick's people sanctuary. She tells him to stop calling Glen the Asian boy, too, considering he saved her life at the pharmacy. It's all about who Hershel is and who he's going to be. Jimmy comes in telling Hershel it happened again.

Rick and Andrea are planning their search route when Hershel comes over. He wants their help, but just needs Rick. They've found some walkers trapped in a muddy swamp again. Hershel asks him if he can stop killing walkers, given he believes they can be restored, and if Rick's people are to stay that's how he'll have to treat them. Rick agrees. This was a job Otis used to do, Hershel informs him as they snare both walkers with some leashes and collars, and lead them back to the barn.

Shane comes by to see Lori to convince her that Rick is not built for this world. He wants to know how many times Rick saved her life compared to the four times Shane has. Rick's decisions have cost them people all along their journey, including his trip back into Atlanta to free Merle. Shane also knows the baby is his. Lori tells him even if it is his it won't be his and there's nothing he can do to change that. He says he doesn't need to, and walks off.

Carl intercepts Shane as he walks back. He tells him not to stop looking for Sophia and they'll stay there until they find her. Shane seems to agree that they stay, but suggests he will have to do whatever is necessary to make that happen. Lori doesn't like what she sees and calls Carl over. Shane storms back to the RV but finds the guns missing. 

Daryl brings Carol to see another Cherokee Rose growing and apologizes for his behaviour in the morning. She just wants to know why he keeps searching. He thinks she's still out there. And he has nothing else to do, he answers.

Glen tries to make peace with Maggie and explains he told his friends because he had to. As time has passed, he's forgotten the walkers were dangerous and he's sick of secrets that get people killed. That does the trick and she forgives and kisses him. 

Dale is in the woods with the guns preparing to hide them when Shane catches up. He wants the bag back, but Dale won't do it and says he'll shoot him if necessary. Shane dares him to, but Dale ultimately can't. Dale tells him this world is where Shane belongs now and gives him the guns, but at least Dale can say the world didn't take him down with it.

T-Dog and Andrea go to the house and rendezvous with Daryl, Carol, Glen, Maggie, Lori and Carl and wonder where the heck everyone else is. Shane shows up with the guns and announces to everyone it's time to grow up. Maggie tells him if he hands out guns Hershel will make them leave. Shane's through negotiating and tells Carl to take a pistol. Lori is furious and warns him it's not his decision. T-Dog looks down the field and sees Hershel and Rick returning with the walkers. Everyone comes running.

Shane intercepts them and rages about them being dead. To prove it, Shane continuously shoots the walker Hershel is leading, but it won't drop until he finally puts a bullet in its head. As Rick yells for him to stop (he's still holding on to his own walker) Shane runs to the barn and breaks the door down, forcing them to fight. Hershel falls to his knees in shock as the walkers spill out. Andrea joins Shane, then T-Dog, Daryl and Glen to fire at the zombies piling out until they're all dead.

Dale finally walks up and everyone is pretty much stunned with what's just happened. Only there's still a sound from the barn. It's Sophia, and she slowly walks out over the corpses. Carol runs up but Daryl stops her. While everyone else (including Shane) watches in silence, Rick goes up and shoots her in the head. 

The Verdict:
I left a bit disappointed with this mid-season finale. While the last ten minutes certainly ramped up the tension and promise plenty of conflict to come, the actual movement on plot was lacking in a few areas. Specifically, I wanted some indication about what Dr. Jenner told Rick, and we only got the (at this point, most logical) reveal that Sophia was in the barn all this time.

Sophia's death is the bold move from Kirkman, given she lives on in the comics. One positive aspect is that it's going to force Rick to come to terms with his decisions leading to her death. While effective, I question the longterm wisdom of leaving Carl as the sole child, given the behaviour of the kids in the graphic novels is a very important element of the story. It remains to be seen if he introduces additional kids (like the twins) or leaves Carl with no one his age to interact with. I realize there are some logistical challenges with young actors (a long hiatus versus little time passing onscreen), but I'll be disappointed if the themes Kirkman's touched upon regarding the brutal nature of childhood in this new world are absent from the television series. 

Unfortunately, Sophia's presence in the barn leads to some big questions. That was really only the last place that made any sense. But why would Hershel not bring up the fact they brought in a little girl? Or did he even know? How did that go unnoticed, especially since Sophia would have to have been caught nearly immediately before or after Rick and his crew arrived at the farm. We get an interesting bit of information only through external means—AMC's special preview of next episode implies Otis might have brought her in before they arrived, and subsequently on the Talking Dead, Kirkman himself explained that Otis did bring her in and was killed before he told anyone. That still doesn't really satisfy me, given there appeared to be such a tight window for Sophia to be infected and caught before Rick arrived at the farm. I guess we'll see.

Shane's behaviour seems to have reached a point where the survivors can't function as a single unit anymore. Rick's going to have to do a lot of smoothing things over and any overtures to Shane will just make him appear more weak. It seems more logical now that the group will split. Though Rick will have gained some moxie simply for being the one with the guts to put Sophia out of her misery.

Despite all the bickering between pretty much everyone, it has been nice to see Andrea and Dale reach a modicum of understanding. And Daryl and Carol make a great couple. Their scenes together bring out the best in both actors, so I hope something arises out of that. Several of the other characters need to get something to do soon—T-Dog, the Hershel children (other than Maggie), Patricia—we need to get to know and care about them so they actually matter when something bad happens.

Kirkman's proven that he's willing to divert considerably from the source material. But is he willing to put everyone on the chopping block (emphasis on chopping) as he is in the books? Sophia is expendable, but how is he going to write things when it really comes down to getting rid of major characters? I hope he doesn't wuss out on this aspect that is the series' major strength, because right now there's one biggie walking around who should be dying by the end of the season, as far as I'm concerned.

I'm ready for the gang to move on from the Hershel farm. They never seemed to hang out there this long in the books, and I want to see what's waiting at Fort Benning, and any new characters that may be waiting in the wings. The success of the first half is going to be measured by the strength of the second. If the remaining episodes of The Walking Dead knock it out of the park, then this will all be a very satisfying lead up to a thrilling conclusion. If not, it will begin to reinforce the fears of those who feel Darabont's absence will harm the series. But I'll be waiting eagerly for February to see what happens.

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