The Greene Family and the Grimes family wait for Otis and Shane to return with the medical supplies for Carl. Meanwhile, Shane and Otis find themselves trapped in a school with hungry walkers waiting to eat them. Finally, Daryl and Andrea continue the hunt for Sophia.
The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights at 9:00 on AMC.
There's a lot of internet chatter about how boring this season is, that nothing has happened in the two episodes since the stellar Season Premiere. Well that's just ridiculous. In the first place, the premiere wasn't all that, falling extremely flat in its second half. And last week's focus on trying to save Carl's life was a perfect example of just what this show is really about.
It's not about zombies jumping out at you from behind trees. When that does happen (as it did last week) it's usually just a cheap thrill and adds nothing to the actual story being told. Now when the zombies show up as part of the natural progression of said story (as they did last week as Shane and Otis went to get medical equipment to save Carl), they are used effectively and sometimes even horrifically – which is a good thing in this context.
If you're watching this show just to see zombies eat people, then you really don't get it.
Like every great work in the zombie genre, whether that be film, television, comics, prose, or whatever, this is about the people dealing with the end of the world – not the end of the world itself. And we're finally getting some good character development, now that we've gotten a strong dramatic event to circle our story around for a while.
Of course it's not perfect. Carl's life or death struggle is thinly balanced by T-Dog's blood infection. Where Carl's gunshot wound allows for Rick, Lori, and Shane to grow and change, T-Dog just gets hampered with racist anxieties and isolation. That's not a good sign, although with this week's arrival of actual medical treatment, hopefully we'll be moving beyond that. And Andrea's still circling a thin characterization that will hopefully get kick-started by hanging out with Daryl.
I'd even go so far as to say that the arrival at Hershel's farmhouse may be the catalyst needed to kick these characters out of the narrative ruts they've been in while on the road. It can't be a coincidence that the characters still out on the highway are those that are fixed in a very limited range of character development.
Maybe the writers just can't figure out yet how to actually craft these characters when being forced by story requirements to keep them off-balance and afraid. It's not impossible, but it's definitely more difficult.
It was a similar situation with Season One's two-part finale at the CDC Headquarters. Being somewhere safe for a little while allowed them to decompress and process what had been happening. That's where the little personality defects begin to flare up and the social structure they're being forced to create on the fly starts to gel and/or break down.
It wasn't perfectly done, and oh how the fanboys wailed, but I liked it.
And I love this time at Hershel's farm.
It's the time spent here that, I think, is going to allow Lori to develop beyond being just the bitch she's characterized as at the moment. This week's debate between she and Rick over whether or not it would be better to let Carl die was a perfect encapsulation of this possibility. And the sense of relief expressed at the end, when Carl is saved should, in a fair world, allow for her to move past the negative aspects of her character that have been in the forefront so far.
Rick, on the other hand, remains essentially the same, although Carl's survival does seem to have sparked a stronger sense of hope and purpose in him. This is the sort of emotional development that actually works on-screen – reaction to events – and helps to expose the horribly cliché "talking to Jesus" bits from the premiere for the garbage they were. This isn't empty words and attempts at meaningful monologues. This is emotionally raw and powerful.
I like both Rick and Lori a lot more after watching them go through this. They've both become more well-rounded characters and hopefully the writers can maintain that momentum.
But the real star of the show here is Shane. Jon Bernthal's performance here is so good it's scary. Opening the show with the slow shaving of his head (reminiscent of the similar scene in Natural Born Killers) was risky, as the only framing devices used so far have been flashbacks. By framing the episode this way, we know at the start that Shane makes it back and that something traumatic has happened.
And since we, as an audience, can be pretty sure Carl isn't going to die, we can only assume that something bad has happened on the mission for medical supplies. Which means Otis probably didn't make it. And to trigger this kind of cathartic act, we can guess that Shane had a hand in something going very bad.
But as the story develops it doesn't look like that's going to happen, although that flimsy gate collapses before we even get moving this week. When we see that the zombies are in the building, chasing Shane and Otis through the dark hallways, there's still some hope. Both men are keenly aware of their situation and they're working together well.
Hell, by the time they were trapped in the gym, I had practically forgotten about the head-shaving opening. Otis leads the zombies off in another direction, allowing Shane to escape through a second-story window with the equipment, and I thought that might be the tragic end.
Given Shane's extremely freaked out reactions upon getting the medical equipment back to the farm without Otis, I was hoping that he'd just seen Otis give his life to save both Shane and Carl.
But that Natural Born Killers moment was nagging at me and sure enough, what happens to Otis is far worse.
I've been saying for a while now that Shane is the real star of this show. That Lori and Rick are boring and the real dramatic work is being done by Shane. Well, here's another example.
While Lori and Rick stay in the light, deciding that life is worth living after all, even during the Zombie Apocalypse, Shane is forced to make the tough decisions and deal with the results of mistakes and shattered hopes. Shane is the one who's had his heart broken. Shane is the one who's dealing with the guilt of leaving his best friend in the hospital, unable to save him. Shane is the one who's lost the relationship to the son he never had. Shane is the one who's guilt and fear has driven him to a desperate drunken and nearly tragic assault on the woman he loves.
Shane is slowly breaking under the strain of being the better man and doing the right thing.
And now, in order to escape the undead and provide the means to save Carl's life, he decides to shoot Otis, allowing the zombies to overtake him and allow for his own escape. The squirming an
d visceral guilt and fear Bernthal brings to the performance is believable and justified. And given the world around them, everyone can rightly accept his reaction as the reaction of someone who just watched a good man die.
Because that's exactly what he did.
But I'm afraid that this might be Shane's breaking point. I don't think he can handle the guilt.
I hope he can, because he's my favorite character on this show (Daryl is a close second, but mostly as a novelty – Shane's the real deal), and I don't want to see him dead and gone.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook, or can be sampled and/or purchased at Smashwords. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.