Well, I can’t say I was surprised with the mid-season ender. Much like a walker from the show, the first 50 minutes or so limp sluggishly along with a clear goal in sight, and then the final 5 minutes strike with such ferocity one is taken aback by the jarring change of pace. The good news is with a major plot line finally solved, the next 6 episodes look to provide much darker/intense material for our characters to sort through. The tone of the teaser was riddled with panic and despair, confirming thoughts that the survivors would be at the farm until at least the end of season 2. The bad news? We have to wait until February for the denser and more appealing second half of our season. Right, because I’ll be oh so patient waiting to see how…well…let’s just get right to discussing before I whip out any spoilers….
To start the episode off rolling, Glenn reveals the secrets lurking in the barn. The entire group now knows about the walkers Hershel is keeping, and none take too kindly to the threat they pose. Shane immediately demands weaponry becomes mandatory in case the dead escape from the barn, but Rick stays loyal to Hershel’s wishes. Doesn’t mean Shane has to though, as he rushes to the RV for the weapon stockpile. On the way he confronts Lori about the baby (after Rick told him the “good news”), confident it’s his. Lori brushes him off, saying he’ll never be Shane’s even if biologically he’s right. Back at the RV, Dale, who is sympathetic with Hershel’s situation, takes the weapons and flees into the woods to hide them. Shane, furious, sets out after him.
Meanwhile, Rick tries adamantly to convince Hershel the two groups can work together. Hershel continually shrugs him off, saying his conscience is clear for offering safety thus far. Even Rick’s revealing that Lori is pregnant can’t change Hershel’s mind to this point, and he asks Rick to be gone by the end of the week. That is, until he needs Rick’s help. Jimmy informs Hershel that “it happened again,” and Hershel asks for Rick’s help. The farmer leads Rick into the swamp, where two walkers are stuck. He shows Rick how to wrangle them and move them, and explains that they will be new additions to the barn. Hershel is impressed by Rick’s loyalty and commitment, and says as long as his group abides by the “walkers go in the barn” rule the whole lot can stay.
Back in the woods, Shane tracks down Dale and catches him attempting to hide all the weapons. Dale’s reasoning is to side with Hershel and prove the group can show him respect, but Shane doesn’t care much for being civil anymore. Dale is given the option of shooting Shane or giving him the weapons back, and after some deliberation simply says “At least I can say when the world went to shit, I didn’t let it take me down with it.” Shane grabs the guns and heads back for the farm.
Upon his return, Shane takes control of the situation and starts handing guns out to the party. His plan? Take out all the walkers in the barn and ensure the safety of all. Just at that point though, Rick and Hershel emerge with the two zombies in toe. Shane goes berserk, firing rounds into one of the zombie’s chest to make a point that the walkers are not living people. In his rage, Shane bashes open the barn door and says “If you want to survive, you gotta fight for it!” The zombies start pouring out of the barn, and Hershel watches in horror as what is left of his family and friends are gunned down. Rick does not partake in the slaughter. But then, when you think the barn is empty, a poor little girl turned zombie lumbers out of the barn. Shane was right, Sophia was dead the whole time. Carol breaks down, Daryl has to tackle her to the ground, and everyone else is left shell-shocked. Zombie Sophia creeps closer and closer. Not even Shane makes a move on the girl. So once again, Rick has to assume leader status. He walks up to Sophia, looks her dead in the eye, and plants a bullet directly into her head.
So….wow. At the risk of sounding morbid and deranged, I’ll say it anyway: killing off Sophia gave so much hope for the future state of “The Walking Dead.” We’re how many volumes in comic wise, and not even the ten times more brutally sporadic comic has axed off the little girl. Her and Carl watch out for each other…but not in the show. This element, the bleak realization that this new world knows no sympathy and can kill an innocent child all in a matter of hours, has been missing up to “Pretty Much Dead Already” in my opinion. For what the source material was, the show seemed too safe. No surprise important deaths, little walker action, and filler dialogue plauged season 1 and still snuck its way into a cleaner season 2. I was actually convinced Sophia might discovered cowering under a rock somewhere, but when her zombie form steps out of the barn it’s like a sucker punch to the gut. Me, the guy complaining of slow movie plots and repeated character stereotypes, was in love with how the show transitioned into the break. The show had finally brought out the same emotions that consume me while reading the comic, a step that took all to long to reach. But it did, and I was enthralled with ever single second of it. Not to mention it brought new meaning to some of the actions from earlier in the season. Daryl almost died for nothing, Carl almost died for nothing, travel time was wasted on nothing…the list goes on. The writers pinpointed a well thought out plan to integrate the comic’s tone, and I applaud this story arc after initially questioning it.
Character drama also shaped up optimistically for future episodes. Shane has finally reached the pinnacle, or at least we think, of his diluted self-preservation mind corrosion. He legitimately loses his cool, showing how unpredictable he can be (like shooting Otis wasn’t enough). But more importantly, Shane is starting to bad mouth Rick to the others and question his judgement. Shane is the only one in the group who can challenge Rick, and as tensions flare Shane’s irrational judgement will only clash more with Rick’s level-headed thinking. In the same respect, Rick’s leadership again reigned supreme though, as he was the only character with the sense to shoot Sophia. All the others, including Shane, were paralyzed by their emotions, knowing what it might do to the already devastated Carol. Rick was the only one that jumped into action and did what had to be done. The ONLY one. Ricks strong instincts took over in a time of need, showing no matter how the group interpreted his dealing with Hershel’s decision to let them stay on the farm, he still had a grip on the reality of their situation. Rick and Shane will be butting heads like never before next half of the season, which was set up perfectly by “Pretty Much Dead Already.”
The character that faces the most trauma though, besides Carol who has just lost a daughter, is Carl. His determination to find Sophia and his constant concern was quelled by family members telling him everything was OK. We’re already seeing the loss of innocence in his character, but this may be the straw that breaks the camels back. If you’ve noticed, for a small child Carl is starting to talk with such maturity because of all he’s had to endure. All Carl is beginning to see is death and depression. His curiosity and creativity is fading. But with his only companion in Sophia dead, not to mention shot right in front of him, I’m looking forward to his reaction in the coming episodes. Sure, he’s the child, but his character has the potential to become one of the deepest and darkest of the show if done right.
So, mid-season sum-up: slow-moving, lots of jabbering, one or two exciting moments, and then ends with such a finale I almost fell out of my seat. Has it been better than season 1? So far, even with the complaints, yes. Is that a huge step? A good step, but considering after the hype there were some glaring errors in season 1, I won’t say huge. Part 2 of this season is going to be the true test for “The Walking Dead”, set up for major conflict, huge plot swings, and even better set ups for season 3. The CDC ending was such a heart-dropping let down for season 1. Here’s to the hope that season 2′s end can put the worst behind us for greener pastures. See you after the break!