The entire half season has been leading up to this. In true The Walking Dead fashion, the final scene of “Pretty Much Dead Already” redefines the ongoing soap opera elements and brings human ethics back to the forefront. It shows our heroes shooting the walkers in Hershel’s barn not as a climactic action sequence but as a personal tragedy. The old vet had good reason to hide his unorthodox approach to the zombie plague. Whereas he sees the infected as victims, friends and neighbours in need of compassion, his guests consider them predators, dangerous monsters that must be put down. When you get down to it, though, each takes arm for a different reason.
Shane, for example, stages the massacre as much to neutralize a threat as to convince the tribe of his point of view. Simply put, the sheriff’s deputy is setting an ultimatum, though I don’t think he would’ve acted as radically if Lori hadn’t marginalised him, confusing “right to choose” with “right to choose the father after the fact”. It’s worth noting as well that the man hatches his mad plan after Carl, his surrogate son, pretty much orders him to make the farm their home. Of course, Dale doesn’t help matters by accusing Deputy Walsh of belonging to the new world. Saying, “You’re a perfect fit for the situation we’re in,” isn’t going to dissuade a guy from following his instincts, you know?
On a related note, the second person to open fire on the walkers is Andrea, who’s decided to follow Shane’s lead and grab life by his balls. Ba-dum-tish. Like Dale, she senses darkness in his approach. The difference lies in her wanting to reap its benefits. After all, the sheriff’s deputy makes a good point about the walkers being as dead as Steven Seagal’s career. Mind you, it wasn’t so long ago that she argued the exact opposite about an infected hangman. Andrea’s come a long way since her conversation with Daryl in “Save the Last One”.
The golden-hearted hillbilly hasn’t changed his stance, on the other hand, so he’s more than happy to gun down walkers and add to his nifty ear collection. In “Chupacabra”, Carol mentioned seeing a leader in Daryl, but his taking shots from the edge of the frame, even further from center than T-Dog (T-Dog for crying out loud!), indicates a marked disinterest in the position. Then again, maybe the producers just needed him there to catch Carol as zombie Sophia makes her way out of the barn. In light of their touching conversation in the stable, I can’t imagine either character walking away from this unscathed.
Glenn also sticks to the sides, which shouldn’t surprise anyone, given he’s the sort of guy who, when hit with an egg, shows more concern for the egg. More to the point, the former “walker bait” asks for Maggie’s permission before going Call of Duty on her infected friends and family. Again, that’s to be expected from someone who only means to protect his loved ones. What struck me, though, is the farm girl giving her approval despite her father lying devastated in her arms. The young lovers have reached a true understanding, which comes as a breath of fresh air after seven episodes of Mr and Mrs Grimes’ continuous dysfunctions.
As I mentioned last week, Rick’s recent spiritual crisis caused the others to question his leadership. Here he proves himself the tribe’s one true chief, taking on a responsibility no one else dares. Earlier, Hershel tries to sway the sheriff’s deputy by reminding him that every walker was once a person, but the guy never forgot. He too sees the ghouls as diseased victims, but he considers the illness terminal, or post-terminal to be precise. As such, firing a bullet into Sophia’s cranium should be viewed as an act of mercy, the only humane thing to do.
Despite Shane’s claims to the contrary, Rick fully understands what the world has become, which makes his compassion all the more compelling. Hershel and his crew are certainly put to shame. Consider the hypocrisy of criticising the Atlanta survivors’ treatment of the walkers while paying so little attention to those in the barn that no one noticed the little girl everyone’s been looking for. Come to think of it, how do they get stray zombies in there without the others rushing out?
Never mind. As a reviewer, I should focus instead on the fact all these ideas are conveyed in a single sequence full of gunshots and exploding heads. You can imagine how happy that makes me as a highfalutin horror fan. This sophomore season of The Walking Dead has had a rough start, what with two staff overhauls and a reduced budget already half spent. I confess to growing a bit impatient with the endless string of bottle episodes featuring the same camping site from week to week. I’d be lying, though, if I said it wasn’t all worth it.
Death count so far: seven. Number of weeks until the next episode: eleven.