Rick and Shane come into conflict over the fate of an outsider. Andrea helps Hershel's youngest daughter face a crucial decision.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9:00 on AMC.
Now I feel silly for worrying.
What I'd feared was capitulation to rabid fanboyism turns out to have just been a dud week. This week, The Walking Dead brings back veteran writers/producers in Scott M. Gimple ("Pretty Much Dead Already" (2.07), "Save the Last One" (2.03), and El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera) and new show-runner Glen Mazzara ("Bloodletting" (2.02), "Wildfire" (1.05), and The Shield) and the strongest director in the Walking Dead bullpen, Ernest R. Dickerson (Dexter, Treme, The Wire, Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight) for what was maybe the best episode this season.
And that's in a pretty strong season already.
The story this week is broken up into two narratives. For our A Plot, we have Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Shane (Jon Bernthal) driving their captive Randall (Michael Zegen) 18 miles out so they can let him loose and hope that he can't find his way back to the farm. The secondary plot, which actually turns out to provide a helluva lot more insight than expected into the psychology of the leading female characters on this show, centers on Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), and Andrea (Laurie Holden) trying to deal with a suicidal Beth (Emily Kinney) – who has come out of her feverish coma with little to no drama at all.
It's as if the writers this week realized that Beth's situation was really kind of random and just decided to move past it. Sorry all you viewers who were arguing that she'd been infected and the characters were being stupid for ignoring it. You lose.
After the melodrama of last week, it was nice to see Rick confront Shane without going over-the-top (although stopping at a crossroads to have their chat was borderline). These are the moments that really make this show work for me. Lincoln is at his best when he's being asked to just be straight and serious. Don't try to push him into acting moments that aren't natural but weaker writers think equate to drama. Let him find his way through tense, but restrained, confrontations.
And it was a joy to watch Bernthal try to hold it together when finally being confronted with what he'd been up to. Especially when Rick says he heard what really happened at the school with Otis. It was a bluff, we know, but Shane admits to Rick what happened. And Rick doesn't question it. That's the shit right there.
He lets Shane know without making a melodramatic scene that he understands. It was about saving Carl (Chandler Riggs), period. Otis was secondary.
But at the same time, it establishes for Shane that Rick understands the new morality that the zombie holocaust has forced upon them. He doesn't have to like it, but he understands it. At the same, though, he makes it clear that his family is his. He won't truck with any interference there.
It's maybe the best scene of the season. I loved it.
And it wouldn't have worked nearly as well it they'd rushed it. You've gotta remember, only about two weeks, give or take a day or two, have passed for these characters (since Rick woke up, anyway). What seems slow and ponderous for the audience is really a short amount of time in-narrative. Maggie is rushing things with Glenn (Steven Yeun). Andrea is coping with her issues in a very effective way. Shane thought he and Lori and Carl were a family just two weeks ago.
(Check out this Walking Dead Timeline for a detailed breakdown of the show so far! Thanks, Zombiehunter!)
What you've been complaining about as ponderous and boring has been an attempt to maintain a sense of Real Time. We get it spread out over weeks/months, but for the characters, it's a different story. And two weeks later, Shane is being confronted at the crossroads by the best friend he thought was dead about having an affair with his wife. And he's dealing with it the best he can. Both of them are.
Put's Lori's pregnancy and Rick's acceptance of it in a whole new light, doesn't it?
Shit, I could write this whole review about just that scene, but back at the farm there's excellent character work going on as well.
Now that we've decided to just pretend Beth's illness was shock and stress all along, we can really start addressing the psychological issues that the zombie holocaust opens up. And here, we go right back to Camus and are forced to address the fundamental existentialist question of whether or not to commit suicide in a godless universe. At the same time, we get a pretty bold and surprising look at the state of gender roles in the zombie holocaust.
What we've got is this: Beth is awake and suicidal. Maggie and Lori want to keep her from killing herself, while Andrea says it's a personal decision and the others should butt out. That's a pretty harsh reaction, but it's the natural stance of someone who was suicidal just a week and a half or so ago and came through the other side much stronger.
There's a psychological realism to Andrea's reaction that really resonates and makes Maggie's shouting and Lori's guilting seem shallow and insignificant. And while it's a nice change of pace seeing Lori acting maternal and suppressing her natural bitchiness, I can't explain how satisfying it was when Andrea shoved her bullshit right into her face.
Lori's steadfast refusal to acknowledge that considering suicide is a natural reaction that should be addressed and worked through rather than just suppressed and ignored provides some real insight into her personality and provides Callies with some of the strongest material she's had to work with as an actor.
This is especially relevant when we see the tack she chooses to attack Andrea. Her insistence that Andrea is putting strain on the women in the group because she's not helping with the washing and the cooking and instead standing guard with the men was a little startling. It serves as a nice reminder that when hard times hit, the most comfortable and clichéd social roles are those that are most easily reinforced.
I was immediately reminded of the scene back in Season One when the ladies were doing the washing and Jacqui (Jeryl Prescott) questioned the way they'd just slipped into those predefined roles.
And Andrea's response is perfect. Lori hasn't lost a goddamn thing so far. She's got her husband, her boy, and a baby on the way. She's also had Shane. When Andrea made it clear that the affiar was no secret, she really made a good point. Lori has assumed the role of Camp Mother, but as we all know, she's about the worst choice for that role. Her character is shallow, bitchy, manipulative, and an all-around pain in the ass. Her only claim to authority is being Rick's husband.
It's nice to see Andrea lay that out.
Then, once t
he psychological groundwork has been laid, we get loads of zombie action! And thanks to the mad skills of the writers and director, it all gets shuffled up so we open with zombie action and end with zombie action while all our character bits get spread out in between.
Watching Rick have to deal with making the decision Shane wanted to make from the start – killing the hostage – was very nicely done. And if Randall had kept his mouth shut and not mentioned knowing Maggie, everything would have been much neater. Instead our characters are forced into making the decision to let him go or kill and it is glorious.
Not only does it force Rick to address Shane's attitudes immediately, it provides Dickerson with an opportunity to really emphasize the whole "We are the dead" aspect of this show.
The scenes where Rick and Shane are beating the shit out of each other as Shane tries to kill Randall and Rick tries to hold onto his humanity are most effective when the characters are off-screen. The grunts and groans as they fight are pretty much the exact sounds the zombies make as they attack later. And if that wasn't clear enough for you, we have a fantastic moment where Shane sees himself reflected in the broken glass of a window pane, bloodied and panting, and he is indistinguishable from a walker.
And then walkers begin pouring out through the window.
That's the good shit right there.
I have to admit, after everything we got this week between Rick and Shane, when Rick took off with Randall, leaving Shane to fend for himself, trapped in the school bus, I didn't know if they'd come back or not. It would have been daring to have Rick abandon Shane, and I wouldn't have faulted him for it. That's what good writing does for you.
Rick's pausing and the lingering of the camera on the bodies of the two zombie security guards they'd put down earlier were subtle enough to really reinforce the thought process behind Rick's returning to rescue Shane. It was sentimental, but at the same time was better than that. That could be them. And he didn't have to talk about it!
This is a great example of letting the actors act naturally as opposed to the final shot last week. Here we see Rick's thought process – we can see the wheels turning in his head as he works out what he's got to do. Last week's vacant stare was weak because the scene was weak, the motivation wasn't there, and it was held for the melodrama of the final shot before fading to black.
Compare that to the final shot this week as Shane stares out the window of the car, watching the lone walker shamble through the field. The symbolism is clear and effective. Not only does this scene serve to emphasize the new world, where zombies are as much a part of the landscape as a deer or a turkey are. You won't always see them at the edge of woods while you're driving, but when you do, it's not a surprise.
They're part of the new natural order of things.
At the same time, the isolation of that lone walker is clearly a reflection of Shane as he watches it. It's a visual reinforcement of the visual cue earlier when Shane saw himself in the glass and a thematic reinforcement that he is already dead. It doesn’t bode well for his character at all, but it was handled perfectly. Rick's line, "If you wanna be with us, you gotta follow my lead," is echoing in his head and he may not be able to trust Rick's decision making.
I don't know if this is going to push Shane into being a different character or not. Probably not. That would be the thing to do dramatically, of course, but at least it lays the groundwork for complication in Shane's coming moral choices. Again, that's what good writing does. It plants seeds for emotional development down the line.
And this episode was all about emotional development.
We've only got three more episodes this season, folks. And it was just announced that they've cast British actor David Morrissey as the Governor and he'll debut in the Season Three opener. So much for those yearnings for Michael Rooker to return in the role, eh?
If you're a fan of the comics, you know what that means. It looks like we're not getting much, if any, time at the prison. Although, Michonne is still rumored to make her debut in the Season Two finale, so that's something to look forward to.
Honestly, given how well they've done with Shane after veering clear of the comic's fumbling of the character, I'm willing to give the creators the benefit of the doubt when it comes to how closely they stick to the source material. And after the quality of this week's episode, I've not got too many worries overall.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot, Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. 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.