There was one shot in last week’s episode of The Walking Dead that suggested to me the series was on its way to improvement. It was a quick moment, when dead zombie bodies had been piled into a truck. Director Clark Johnson chose to film it from a slight distance. As the vehicle rumbled along, a stray arm fell off the truck, and Laurie Holden’s Andrea hopped off to toss it back into the pile. A small gesture, to be sure, but so perfectly gross, yet, in the logic set up by the series, in keeping with the casual way this character and others now deal with the walkers.

Similarly, those opening moments of this week’s episode that featured a zombie mindlessly trying to get at Lori, trapped in an overturned car, were hearty confirmation that The Walking Dead has its wits about it again. When the series took its midseason break, it was still mired in the inaction that seemed to be weighing down Hershel’s farm like a swamp. The endless talking, the tedious debates about rules, morals, and plans of action that never seemed to get taken; the drawn-out search for Sophia that, it turned out, hinged solely on the not-so-startling punch line that she’d become zombiefied — ach, just typing it out makes me drowsy.

But I was heartened by last week’s episode, a rip-snorter that forced Sheriff Rick to shut up and shoot. And shoot some humans for a change: That confrontation with two hostile strangers, set in the bar where Hershel had gone to drown his sorrows, was shot like a good gunfight in a Western saloon. Yes, there were some boring moments with Rick debating Hershel. (Why was the former wasting his and our time arguing with a guy who was clearly too drunk to think straight? Because Rick will debate anyone). In general, though, this week and last returned The Walking Dead to its first-season early effectiveness.

Which is to say, this is not a subtle series and it should not try to be. Its entertainment factor depends almost entirely on how low it will go in terms of trying to startle us. We do not come to this show to get “invested” in characters; we come to it to watch them get “eaten.” If anyone in the Walking Dead cast is looking for an Emmy nomination, he or she would be wise to try and get bitten by one of the extras and released into the wild, to try thereafter to land a guest spot on Mad Men or Breaking Bad.

Although I do think Sarah Wayne Callies came as close as anyone on The Walking Dead has yet come to a great performance in the closing moments of this week’s show. There was a wonderfully villainous way Lori cuddled up to Rick to tell him about Shane — “He thinks the baby’s his… He thinks we’re supposed to be together, no matter what… Shane thinks I’m his… He’s dangerous, Rick, and he won’t stop.”

In other words, Lori is planting the idea that Shane is barely one step up from being a zombie in his lizard-brain obsession, and if she can plant the notion that he’ll stop at nothing in Rick’s head, Shane will, in the eyes of a jealous, protective husband, be a dead man walking. Callies’ intensity here was shiveringly good.

What’d you think of this week’s Walking Dead?

Twitter: @kentucker

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